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

Procycling - - Probike -

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

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