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From the pages of Velo: VeloLab’s Aero Revisited

  • By Nick Legan and Caley Fretz
  • Published Oct. 10, 2012
  • Updated Jul. 22, 2013 at 10:19 AM EDT
Velo May 2012. Photos by Brad Kaminski

Aero: Not Always Narrow

The Scott Foil’s victory here proves that the aero road segment continues to evolve and, in a way, fragment.

A new breed has arrived, with versatility across riding styles deemed more important than absolute speed against the wind. We now see an influx of wider tube shapes with innovative aero profiles that provide most of the wind-cheating benefits, particularly in crosswinds, without hurting ride quality. These new frames strive to remove the compromise in ride quality that we’ve always had to accept in our quest to shed drag.

The top two performers in this roundup are of the new school, coming within spitting distance of the best in the wind tunnel while maintaining superior stiffness and ride quality. They are, in other words, better allaround bikes. Are they quicker on a solo attack? Probably not. But they are far better to ride and race every day.

The victorious Foil placed only third in the wind tunnel, tightly packed with the Venge and C1, but walloped the rest in the stiffness lab and blew us away with its race-worthy ride quality. It rides exactly like a quality, non-aero race frame should: ultra stiff with impeccable handling, if a somewhat harsh ride. When a bike rides this well, the aerodynamic benefit is just the icing on the cake.

The Specialized Venge also takes a step away from traditional thin airfoils in favor of more rounded tube profiles. The result is a frame that was thoroughly consistent, testing well, but not at the very top of the heap in both the wind tunnel and the stiffness lab. A close second behind the S5 in the wind tunnel proved it can be quick against the wind, and its third place at Microbac turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the Venge proved more comfortable than its nearest competitor.

Against the wind, the more traditional shapes of Cervélo’s S5 still reign supreme. It is unquestionably the fastest road frame available today, very nearly a time trial bike with drop bars. But the narrow front end, teardrop down tube and ultra thin seat stays that make it so slippery hurt it in the stiffness lab and on the road.

The venerable S5, which can trace its lineage back a decade, may not have taken the same steps towards versatility as some of its competitors, but it is still wider and stiffer in crucial places than any of the lower branches on its family tree. That means that even though it placed last in our torsional stiffness test, it’s still 16% stiffer than its predecessor, the S3. For the speed freak and the solo breakaway artist, it still cannot be beaten.

Wind-cheating frames are getting cheaper, too, as our fourth-place bike proves. For $5,600, you can land Litespeed’s C1 Dura-Ace, which may have been slowest in the wind tunnel here, but is still considerably faster than any round-tubed frame. It did well in the stiffness lab, placing second, and can be had as low as $3,000 with a cheaper group. At that price, why not take the free speed?

Last year, we called aero road frames “the new frontier.” Now the wagons have arrived. With the introduction of new-school frames like the Foil and Venge, the settlement process has begun, and the downsides of going aero have slipped from slim to none.

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