From boundary pushing concept bike beginnings, Factor is now owned by a former pro and supplying a WorldTour team. Procycling’s Jamie Wilkins tests the "lagship model
Pro team bike sponsorships are usually all business. While every team is looking for advantages, few can afford to opt for the superior bike that comes with a smaller cheque. However, the new partnership between Ag2r and Factor Bikes that begins next season came about in a very different way.
Having learned mid-season that Ag2r was splitting from long-term supplier Focus, Romain Bardet began doing his own research, we’re told. He found Factor Bikes online (interestingly, not from spotting them under ProConti squad One Pro Cycling who raced the bikes in 2016) and asked his own agent to get in touch. By August he was riding a Factor O2 in training and the team were in talks with the manufacturer. But the deal first hinged on Bardet approving the bike.
“Usually, as a pro, you’re the last to find out what bike you’ll be on next season,” the owner of Factor told us. He should know, he’s Baden Cooke, winner of the Tour’s green jersey in 2003, 14 years a professional.
Cooke bought Factor Bikes in September 2015 (from founders Beru F1, see ‘Brand History’), along with Rob Gitelis, a 20-year veteran of the carbon bike industry, former racer and owner of both the Black Inc wheels brand and a factory in Taiwan. This set-up is a huge advantage, saving Factor from having to buy wheels or compete for factory space and enabling much faster prototyping and refinements. Cooke took advantage of it right away, by roping in an old friend.
“Baden called me last autumn, said he’d bought a bike company and asked if I’d help develop the bikes,” says David Millar when Procycling meets him in London at a combined event for Factor Bikes and his ChptIII clothing brand, with a limited edition, £10,500 collaboration bike as the centrepiece. “We have 32 years of race experience between us. We wanted to build a pro bike. Many superbikes are actually built for sportive riders with lazy geometry and tall headtubes. Cervélos always seemed to be made for doctors not racers. I once had a rather shouty phone call with [Cervélo co-founder] Phil White about geometry.”
Cooke, Gitelis and Millar share a vision for Factor: a luxury brand with racing in its veins and engineering at its heart. “We will only make high-end road bikes, plus TT and tri bikes,” says Cooke. “You will never see a Factor with a 105 groupset. No other bike brand in the WorldTour does that. There are boutique brands making high-end only but they don’t have a team in the WorldTour. We want to control everything from design to manufacturing to building to the shops. It’s all about delivering the best customer experience.”
The Factor One is a development of the radical Vis Vires which launched the brand back in 2013. It has matured but hasn’t lost its character. The external steerer fork and split downtube are retained and, says Cooke, always will be on the top models as signature features of the brand. The frame is from the same mould as the Vis Vires but the carbon lay-up has been refined to improve stiffness and comfort. The new fork has a single aero section in front of the headtube and mounts a Dura-Ace brake in front; the Vis Vires had a ‘Twin Vane’ steerer and a hidden aero V-brake.
The Factor range also includes the One-S, which swaps in Factor’s conventional ‘Shank’ fork, and
the O2 which pairs that fork with a superlight, singledowntube frame. It’s the O2 that Romain Bardet has been testing and will be the team’s main bike in 2017.
Our test bike is the range-topper, with a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset, Black Inc 45mm carbon clinchers (called Fifty, confusingly) and a carbonrailed Fizik Arione saddle. It’s a smart build but it’s a lot of money and isn’t bundled with as many goodies as its predecessor. The top Vis Vires came with a Garmin 810, Scicon AeroComfort travel bag and Beru F1’s highly regarded (but rarely seen) power meter for £9,500 in 2013. This top-spec One has the same groupset and wheels but switches an Enve bar for Factor’s own one-piece cockpit and does without the computer, bag and power meter for £8,500. Value for money is almost a moot point at such prices but a BOGOF deal on downtubes doesn’t seem enough to keep this bike from looking a touch expensive.
Conspicuous by its absence is a disc-brake version. Neither Baden Cooke nor David Millar is in a hurry to see a Factor race bike thus equipped, yet while they began their careers on aluminium frames their reasoning has nothing to do with tradition; they embrace electronic shifting, after all. “No one ever said they lost a race because they couldn’t brake hard enough,” says Millar. “You have these tiny tyre contact patches so there is only so much braking power that you can use.”
While the essence of the One’s design predates their involvement, Cooke and Millar’s influence is as tangible in the things they didn’t change as in those they did. The steering geometry is still aggressive, the headtube still short… and in bad weather the split downtube still sprays your bottles with muck. It’s a pain to clean, too. It feels like a bike made for the sunny rides out to a café that Millar describes in Factor’s promo video, and for riders bored of the usual brands. It’s a bike made by ex-pros who live in Spain, for ex-pros who live in Spain. Back in 2013 I was the first journalist to ride the Factor Vis Vires and more than three years later the One feels very familiar. This is a quick bike that likes to be ridden hard. The fork may have changed but it hasn’t lost much of the torsional stiffness that made the Vis Vires so direct. Combined with a head angle of 73.5º and a fork offset of 43mm, the One changes direction like a terrified squirrel. It’s the bike’s defining characteristic.
The one-piece cockpit is stiff but the drops are a little short, costing wrist clearance when sprinting, and of course the bar can’t be rotated back. A Garmin out-front mount is included, usefully, though it’s too short to take an Edge 1000. And for this money, we expect to see Di2 sprint shifters included.
The split downtube sprays your bottles with muck…It’s a bike made by ex-pros who live in Spain, for ex-pros who live in Spain
The Black Inc wheels are impressive. They may not be quite as sophisticated – or, more to the point for many buyers, illustrious – as the Zipps and Enves, or indeed Bontragers and Rovals, that you’d get on similarly priced rivals but they’re stable in gusty winds and respectably stiff. Braking is okay, no more, in both wet and dry.
The Twin Vane downtube was originally designed in 2008 to boost lateral stiffness without adding weight. It was only later that it was discovered to have an aerodynamic benefit, apparently handling the wash from the front wheel more effectively than a single large downtube. Factor claim that it saves 100g of drag at 40kph, equal to around 1s/ km. We weren’t able to run a timed test but on our most oft-ridden roads the Factor always seemed quick relative to our power output. Lateral rigidity under big efforts is good, neither disappointing nor dazzling, though it isn’t up with the best and given the price it should be.
Aside from the increased chances of catching cholera, dysentery and other nasties from your dirty bottles, the Factor has few flaws. It isn’t very light for a superbike, at 7.22kg, and the ride is firm despite the claimed changes to the carbon lay-up and the skinny, curved seatstays. Swapping the 23mm tyres for 25s would be an easy win. The Schwalbe Ones are very good but even Black Inc’s own website says these wheels are designed for 25s and both comfort and grip would get a much needed boost.
The Factor One is a really good bike and one that I’d happily race but it hasn’t come very far in three and a half years and there are plenty of bikes, many of them much cheaper, that I’d grab from Procycling’s secret underground bike bunker instead of this, whether for a long ride with friends or a race. However, while time has dulled the shine of the Factor’s performance, it still has truckloads of character. If you’re looking for something that’s different, exclusive and still fast, this could be the One. Especially if you’re an ex-pro and you live in Spain.
This is ‘ Secret Agent Black’. Will 2017 see a ‘ Tour Winner Yellow’, or maybe a ‘ Flu fed The GC Polka Dot’?
Factor’s signature feature is the Twin Vane downtube, which is said to o fer a signi icant aero boost