BEST ROAD BIKES FOR £1,00O

The £1,000 mark is the most com­pet­i­tive around for road bikes, which means you should ex­pect a lot for your money…

220 Triathlon Magazine - - Contents - WORDS BY JAMES WITTS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY ASDESIGN.UK.COM

One-thou­sand pounds – it’s the bench­mark for the in­creas­ingly se­ri­ous rider’s first se­ri­ous bike. But there are a few fac­tors that you need to con­sider be­fore you splash out. The first is the bike’s in­tended use. If you’re spend­ing £1,000 there’s a good chance it’ll be used as both a train­ing and a race bike. That means you need to make a choice be­tween a bike with ge­om­e­try that max­imises speed or one that’ll bet­ter ab­sorb the bumps and let you rack up the miles more com­fort­ably.

Ei­ther way, you’ll prob­a­bly be ex­cited that car­bon fi­bre – the ma­te­rial the pros’ bikes are made from – is now within reach. But should you be? Alu­minium and other met­als are iso­tropic, mean­ing their prop­er­ties are the same in all di­rec­tions. Car­bon, on the other

hand, is formed of fi­bres ar­ranged in a par­tic­u­lar ori­en­ta­tion and tightly held to­gether by resin. That means while it’s in­cred­i­bly strong in cer­tain di­rec­tions, it not so strong in oth­ers. In other words, it lacks the all-round strength of me­tal.

Then again, be­cause car­bon tends to be man­u­fac­tured in a mono­coque – moulded as a sin­gle struc­ture – de­sign­ers can play around with the fi­bres to add strength, im­prove aero­dy­nam­ics and cut weight. Alu­minium, like steel, is lim­ited in this re­spect be­cause frames are made by weld­ing tubes to­gether.

But, as is the case with all frame ma­te­ri­als, there’s good car­bon and, well… not so good car­bon. And at this price the ar­gu­ment for car­bon against other frame ma­te­ri­als, par­tic­u­larly alu­minium, is less per­sua­sive. Es­pe­cially as, when it comes to com­fort, there are of­ten greater ben­e­fits to be had by choos­ing the right sort of tyres and run­ning them at the right pres­sures for you and the ter­rain you ride on.

TWO CARBONS, ONE ME­TAL

With all that in mind, this month’s test pits two car­bon-framed bikes – BMC’s Team­ma­chine SLR03 Ti­a­gra and Board­man’s Road Team Car­bon – against one alu­minium model in the form of Spe­cial­ized’s Allez Elite (in its 2018 spec).

Reg­u­lar read­ers will be aware that all three brands have made their mark in mul­ti­sport. Spe­cial­ized pro­vides bikes for Gwen Jor­gensen, Tim Don and Javier Gomez; Board­man helped the Brown­lee brothers to four Olympic medals un­til Alis­tair and Jonny moved to Scott this year; while BMC spon­sors the BMC-Etixx team, which has a ros­ter that in­cludes Liz Blatch­ford and Will Clarke.

The Spe­cial­ized Allez gets up­dated ge­om­e­try for 2018 so it’s more re­laxed and sits closer to the brand’s Roubaix range of en­durance bikes than the racier Tar­mac mod­els. Its stand­out fea­ture is that slop­ing top tube, which looks steep enough to ri­val the climb to Alpe d’Huez. Its pre­cip­i­tous an­gle is partly due to a head tube that’s grown from 205mm on 2017’s model to 215mm on the 58cm 2018 bike tested here.

Chain­stays and, con­se­quently, wheel­base have also been ex­tended, and to­gether with the 73.5° head tube and 73° seat tube, it all adds up to a frame that’s made for a long day in the sad­dle. Yes, the Allez takes a while to ac­cel­er­ate, but it will bowl along quite hap­pily all day.

Thank­fully, de­spite the ex­tra ma­te­rial re­quired for all that length, Spe­cial­ized has man­aged to cut more weight than its added, to the ex­tent that the 2018 bike is around 500g lighter than 2017’s. Frame ma­te­rial re­mains Spe­cial­ized’s E5 Pre­mium alu­minium. His­tor­i­cally this was re­served for the top-end Allez bikes but is now em­ployed at the bot­tom of the range too. The fork has en­joyed the great­est weight loss, how­ever, and is now fully car­bon, mean­ing both the fork and steerer tube are con­structed from FACT car­bon, whereas pre­vi­ous ver­sions em­ployed an alu­minium steerer.

At the other end of the geo­met­ric and ma­te­rial spec­trums is the BMC Team­ma­chine SLR03 and is a re­sult of the Swiss man­u­fac­turer ‘com­press­ing years of phys­i­cal test­ing and pro­to­typ­ing into Fi­nite El­e­ment Method cy­cles’. That’s just another way of say­ing BMC used com­pu­ta­tional fluid dy­nam­ics to ex­plore thou­sands of po­ten­tial cross-tube sec­tions, car­bon lay-up ar­range­ments and ge­o­met­ri­cal struc­tures to cre­ate a light, stiff and com­fort­able frame.

The Team­ma­chine’s racier than the other two bikes here – its 170mm-long head tube alone is am­ple ev­i­dence of that, when com­pared to the Board­man’s 195mm and the Spe­cial­ized’s 215mm mon­ster. But it’s still com­fort­able de­spite the racey stiff­ness that comes cour­tesy of the over­sized, hexag­o­nal down tube that flows into a ta­pered seat tube and chunky chain­stays.

The top-tube to head-tube junc­tion is sim­i­larly beefy but is just one part of a frame that’s been de­signed to re­sist flex and max­imise each and ev­ery pedal stroke. And it seem­ingly works as this bike prac­ti­cally takes off with ev­ery pedal stroke. It’s also damn fun, which ul­ti­mately is what it’s all about.

Board­man’s Road Team Car­bon isn’t quite as re­spon­sive but that’s hardly sur­pris­ing as it’s built around

the brand’s SLR En­durance frame. So it’s fairly re­laxed and, like the Spe­cial­ized, pri­ori­tises com­fort­able mileage over max­i­mum speed. That said, the orig­i­nal Road Team Car­bon pro­vided the plat­form for Nicole Cooke’s gold-medal-win­ning ride at the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics, in­ti­mat­ing that the ge­om­e­try doesn’t en­tirely sac­ri­fice speed in favour of com­fort.

In fact, the Board­man’s ge­om­e­try sits neatly be­tween that of the Spe­cial­ized and the BMC. Take that 195mm head tube, for in­stance, or the top tube, which slopes more gently than the Eiger-like top tube on the Allez but more steeply than the BMC’s al­most hor­i­zon­tal one.

Like the BMC, the Board­man fea­tures broad, sturdy tubes up­front while the rear tri­an­gle pairs boxy, stiff chain­stays to slim, sup­ple seat­stays. The fork’s also full car­bon with a ta­pered steerer. It’s all stiff enough to spark into ac­tion eas­ily on the climbs and hold pace well.

A MIXED BAG

At this price point, it’s com­mon to find blended groupsets to cut costs. That’s cer­tainly true of the Spe­cial­ized, al­though the 11-speed Shi­mano 105 gears are the most im­pres­sive here. But the money Spe­cial­ized has spent on the gears has been re­couped on the brakes and the Allez runs Tek­tro’s Axis cal­lipers in­stead of Shi­mano stop­pers. They per­form fine, though the com­pletist in us would have pre­ferred 105 brakes, which are lighter. The chain­set is another

“The Spe­cial­ized’s stand­out fea­ture is that slop­ing top tube”

com­po­nent that’s been cho­sen to cut costs, hence there’s a Praxis part where you’d ex­pect to see some­thing from Shi­mano. It’s a stan­dard 50/34t ‘com­pact’ set-up – the tra­di­tional mix for en­durance rid­ing. Al­though it’s pos­si­ble that in the fu­ture Spe­cial­ized might switch to Praxis’s new ‘sub-com­pact’ 48/32t chain­set, which has had plenty of pos­i­tive feed­back.

BMC has stuck with Shi­mano com­po­nents through­out, al­though they’re from the more af­ford­able Ti­a­gra fam­ily. Crit­i­cism has been lev­elled at the SL03 in the past be­cause it has mixed and matched com­po­nents in the in­ter­ests of cost­sav­ing– 2016’s model fea­tured 105 but only the gears. Aboard this BMC, how­ever, Ti­a­gra per­forms well. Its 34-11t cas­sette of­fers a slightly wider choice than the other bikes here, al­beit with larger jumps be­tween sprock­ets.

Board­man has plumped for 10-speed Ti­a­gra for its Road Team Car­bon, al­though with FSA’s Gos­samer 50-34t chain­set. At the back, how­ever, the Shi­mano 12-28t cas­sette of­fers a nar­rower range of gears for climb­ing. FSA pro­duces an im­pres­sive range of com­po­nen­try so they’re per­fectly ac­cept­able sub­sti­tutes for Shi­mano parts. It also means that there’s very lit­tle to sep­a­rate the three bikes as far as shift­ing is con­cerned.

ROLLING COM­FORT

At this price point, we’re look­ing for all-round com­fort. De­spite the R&D thrown at frames, the contact points re­main the most im­por­tant fac­tor. The Spe­cial­ized comes specced with the brand’s own 25mm Espoir tyres hooked on to DT Swiss R460 wheels but could eas­ily ac­com­mo­date 28mm tyres thanks to the clear­ances be­tween the fork and stays. Un­like the Board­man and BMC, there are also mounts for mud­guards and pan­niers.

Ul­ti­mately, if your one-grander is go­ing to be pressed into ser­vice as a com­muter or you’re look­ing to oc­ca­sion­ally de­vi­ate into tour­ing, that fea­ture alone could eclipse all the ad­van­tages of the other two bikes. The Espoir-DT Swiss R460 tyre and wheel com­bi­na­tion is bet­ter suited to rack­ing up off­sea­son miles than for rac­ing so you’ll want to swap in a set of race slicks if you’re plan­ning on pin­ning a num­ber to your back.

For a frame with such a racy ge­om­e­try, the BMC gets wheels that are closer to be­ing carthorses than race­horses. Shi­mano’s R501 weigh 1.9kg for the pair, are durable, ro­bust, re­li­able and… ready to be up­graded with a set of deep rims for rac­ing. The tyres are live­lier, though: Con­ti­nen­tal’s Ul­tra Sport II. They fea­ture a sup­ple 180 threads per inch (tpi) cas­ing, up­graded from the 84tpi cas­ing of the pre­vi­ous model to of­fer more speed. BMC has also de­fied the cur­rent 25mm con­ven­tion and stuck with 23mm. In all hon­esty, 25s on the rather more gen­teel Spe­cial­ized and Board­man give the im­pres­sion of com­fort over speed, so the thin­ner tyres prove a wise op­tion here.

As for the Road Team Car­bon, over smooth roads it flowed as nicely as the BMC and Spe­cial­ized, but over pock­marked and pot­holed tar­mac the bike damp­ened vi­bra­tions less ef­fec­tively than the other two. Car­bon’s es­tab­lished a rep­u­ta­tion for com­fort, so we looked at the wheels for an ex­pla­na­tion as to why the Board­man felt so com­par­a­tively un­for­giv­ing.

Now, we’ve used the Mavic’s CXP-Elite wheels in the past and

found them fine. So we turned our at­ten­tion to Vit­to­ria’s Zaf­firo Pro tyres. They’re 25mm so, should, pro­vide greater com­fort, but fur­ther re­search showed they’re just 26tpi. That’s great for dura­bil­ity and pro­tec­tion against cuts but makes them roll no­tice­ably slower. Your first up­grade should be to swap th­ese for a faster set of rub­ber.

SADDLES AND CA­BLES

Across the board, sad­dle choices proved to be com­fort­able. BMC’s Selle Royal Sirio S1 sad­dle has been crit­i­cised for be­ing un­com­fort­able on long rides but we had no prob­lems. Spe­cial­ized and Board­man’s own-brand saddles were also im­pres­sive.

Each sad­dle also proved ad­e­quate enough when we added a set of clipon aer­o­bars and slid for­ward onto the saddles’ tips, though you could al­ways pur­chase a tri-spe­cific perch for races. De­spite the dif­fer­ences in their ge­om­e­try, we could nes­tle into a com­fort­able, sus­tain­able po­si­tion on all three bikes; in fact, Spe­cial­ized’s more up­right po­si­tion and slop­ing top tube pro­vided pos­si­bly the most sus­tain­able po­si­tion of the lot.

The other stand­out fea­ture was the cable rout­ing. What Spe­cial­ized has proved re­peat­edly in its wind tun­nel is that for such an ap­par­ently small piece of equip­ment, ca­bles can cre­ate rel­a­tively large amounts of drag. To that end, all the ca­bles on the Allez bar the front brake are routed in­ter­nally. Yes, this makes main­te­nance more chal­leng­ing but it makes the bike more aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing as well as more aero.

All the BMC’s ca­bles run ex­ter­nally, which in­creases drag. But, of course, it makes them eas­ier to faff around with. And as with so many other as­pects of this test, the Board­man lies in-be­tween, with an in­ter­nally routed rear brake cable but ex­ter­nal routes for the gears.

All three bikes have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics that’ll suit dif­fer­ent am­bi­tions and anatomies. But which one comes out on top?

“That’s great for dura­bil­ity but makes the tyres roll slower”

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