ALU­MINIUM BIKES UN­DER £1,600

Three alu­minium mod­els that are hell bent on shed­ding off its ques­tion­able rep­u­ta­tion. But is the road feed­back as in­vig­o­rat­ing as the mar­ket­ing claims?

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

The £1,500-plus price point – we’re talk­ing se­ri­ous bike ter­ri­tory now. You’ve rid­den rough shod over the gov­ern­ment’s £1,000 rideto-work scheme and are look­ing for a bike that re­flects your grow­ing stature as a triath­lete. That means one thing and one thing only: car­bon. Or pos­si­bly not…

The three bikes we’ve got for you this month are all con­structed from alu­minium, the ma­te­rial that once dom­i­nated elite triathlon and cy­cling be­fore car­bon and its un­ri­valled strength-to-weight ra­tio ar­rived on the scene. To­day, car­bon dom­i­nates tri at the top end, seen by Cervélo once again clearly top­ping the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship bike count with 570 com­peti­tors scorch­ing around the lava fields of Hawaii on their bikes. Alu, on the other hand, and its rep­u­ta­tion for

rel­a­tively af­ford­able man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses and ma­te­rial sourc­ing mean it’s nor­mally the pre­serve of those spend­ing less than a grand.

But not any­more. Gone are the days when tub­ing and un­wieldy weld­ing pro­cesses lim­ited ge­om­e­try and looks. New man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques and ad­vance­ments in ma­te­rial tech­nol­ogy mean alu can now be shaped to im­pres­sive aero­dy­namic ef­fect, while re­tain­ing a strength-to-weight ra­tio that’s stronger than many steels. No longer do many strains of alu re­sult in a harsh ride; in fact, for this price point, ar­guably you’re buying a bet­ter bike than if you went for a cheaper grade of car­bon. Of course, the proof is in the rid­ing so it’s time to put Trek’s Emonda ALR 5, the Spe­cial­ized Allez Sprint Comp and Hoy’s Alto Ir­pavi .003 to the test.

WELD­ING WINFALL

No mat­ter how much we deny it, aes­thet­ics is a key fac­tor in pur­chas­ing a bike. Part of car­bon’s ap­peal is its mono­coque com­po­si­tion, mean­ing the joins are in­cred­i­bly smooth. Alu tubes, on the other hand are of­ten un­sightly lumps that might add strength but look sec­ond rate. That’s not the case with Trek’s Emonda ALR 5, thanks to what the Wis­con­sin brand term ‘in­vis­i­ble weld tech­nol­ogy’. Trek hy­dro­form each tube, mean­ing pres­surised fluid changes its shape to suit the bike’s aim, which here is com­fort. Each tube is then shaped so that it fits the next tube like a glove, re­sult­ing in less weld­ing ma­te­rial. Not only does it look smooth but re­duced weld­ing cuts weight; in fact, the only sign it’s not of mono­coque con­struc­tion is down at the bot­tom bracket, that high­stress area re­quir­ing more weld.

As for the alu­minium it­self, that’s all-new ‘pre­mium 300 Se­ries Al­pha’. Trek say that the man­u­fac­tur­ing of the 300 re­sults in a more com­fort­able ride, and they’ve a strong ar­gu­ment. It coped ad­mirably with our usual test routes, in­clud­ing from Bris­tol to Cleve­don and back, pro­vid­ing com­fort as well as a kick on the oc­ca­sional hill. That com­fort is height­ened by the head tube – 19cm for our 58cm test model – and the rel­a­tively com­pact 57.3cm top tube. It’s what Trek call per­for­mance­ori­ented ge­om­e­try but it’s a lit­tle more re­laxed than their racier H1 set-up. Throw in the gen­tly-slop­ing com­pact ge­om­e­try and car­bon fork, and you have one com­fort­able ride. It’s cer­tainly smoother than many en­try-level alu­minium bikes…

BOLD CLAIM

Smooth is cer­tainly a tag you’d ap­ply to Spe­cial­ized’s Allez – well, the £1,000 Elite model we tested in is­sue 343. But what about this slick­look­ing Sprint Comp, which comes in £600 more ex­pen­sive and has the Mor­gan Hill brand call­ing it the ‘most ad­vanced al­loy road bike we’ve ever made’? That’s quite a claim for a 43-year-old com­pany. Or maybe not… as our 58cm model came in at a pretty floaty 8.3kg. Like Trek, core to the build is Spe­cial­ized’s high-grade of al­loy – in this case, E5 Pre­mium alu­minium. Like Trek, it’s the weld­ing that draws your at­ten­tion. Un­like Trek, it’s the ex­plicit na­ture of the joins that catches your at­ten­tion. It’s Spe­cial­ized’s trade­mark Smartweld tech­nol­ogy, cre­ated by one of their de­sign­ers, Chris D’Aluisio.

A FASH­ION­ABLE SHOW

In­stead of us­ing mitred alu­minium tubes that are TIG-welded to­gether, the hy­dro­formed tub­ing is ‘rolled’ and welded in what he calls a val­ley where the tubes meet. Take the bot­tom-bracket shell, where two enor­mous hy­dro­formed ‘clamshell’ pieces are brazed to­gether to which the down tube, seat tube and chain­stays are welded. The re­sult is a BB shell more akin to car­bon fi­bre than alu­minium. Vis­ually, Spe­cial­ized have made a fash­ion­able show of the joins, draw­ing your eye to them rather than away.

That Smartweld tech­nol­ogy plus the E5 alu com­po­si­tion is vis­i­ble on the ride, too, de­liv­er­ing ar­guably the stiffest al­loy ride we’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced. Spe­cial­ized claim that lat­eral stiff­ness is right up there with the racier Tar­mac SL4 in this re­spect and it’s cer­tainly ev­i­dent. Ac­cel­er­at­ing away from traf­fic lights is com­pa­ra­ble with many car­bon bikes we’ve tested.

Balanc­ing that firm en­er­gypro­ject­ing stiff­ness with com­fort is

the eter­nal balanc­ing act and, de­spite the FACT car­bon fork they’ve swiped from the pricier S-Works, this is one rigid ride. It’s the alu equiv­a­lent of bare­foot run­ning with first im­pres­sions fo­cus­ing on ev­ery bump and stone. Over the test­ing pe­riod, it’s some­thing you par­tially be­come more at­tuned to, though it’s prob­a­bly more at home with clipons at­tached and trounc­ing a smooth, closed-cir­cuit triathlon (Eton) than as a mileage-con­sum­ing train­ing bike. Its speed-seek­ing DNA’s also clear in the seat tube, which is gen­tly shaped around the rear wheel. It’s not as pro­nounced as some bikes but is pretty im­pres­sive for alu tub­ing. Whether it makes a dif­fer­ence is an­swered in the labs… but this is fast.

As is the man be­hind the fi­nal bike… Hoy Bikes have been at an Evans store near you since 2013. As for the Alto Ir­pavi, it takes its name from the high-al­ti­tude velo­drome where Chris Hoy broke the 500m world record. That might sound a touch self-serv­ing but, well, if I did sim­i­lar, it’d be em­bla­zoned across my tri-suit, wet­suit and of­fice suit.

As well as hav­ing the most grandiose name, in our opin­ion it’s the most stylish bike here. We’re a sucker for glossy sil­ver and it flows into the darker down tube, top tube and seat tube with ap­pre­ci­ated el­e­gance.

NEAT AND TIDY

Hoy and Evans has kept the road brief sim­ple with each Alto Ir­pavi –

“The Hoy Alto Ir­pavi begs to be rid­den for hours and hours”

there are four – and each Ao­mori (named af­ter the Ja­panese venue where sen­ti­men­tal Chris won his first keirin race) – there are three plus a ju­nior’s bike – con­structed from alu. In all but the two most af­ford­able mod­els, the alu used is like on our test model – 6066 triple-butted. What does butted mean? Sim­ply that, dur­ing the tube-man­u­fac­tur­ing process, the tubes have added thick­ness on ar­eas of stress. Dou­ble butted is when the tubes are thicker at the end for added strength. Tripled butted means it has three dif­fer­ent wall thick­nesses along its length. For in­stance, 0.9mm, 0.5mm and 0.7mm with the thicker mea­sure­ment at the end of great­est stress, like where the seat tube reaches the bot­tom bracket.

And we can’t ig­nore the weld­ing. In sum­mary, they’re as neat and tidy as Hoy roar­ing past his ri­vals. And as for the ride, it’s re­ally rather good. Yes, it’s not as sharp as the Spec in a 0-60 (okay, 0-40km/hr) con­test but it’s no slouch, ei­ther, and any ac­cel­er­a­tion deficit is eas­ily coun­ter­bal­anced by com­fort – as­sisted by the car­bon fork – as it begs to be rid­den for hours and hours, its slightly more lan­guid ge­om­e­try eas­ing aches and pains.

We don’t apol­o­gise for such focus on the weld­ing and tub­ing this month as these are po­ten­tial alu­minium ground­break­ers, but clearly the groupset plays a key role, too, with all three dressed with the re­li­able 11-speed Shi­mano 105. The only ma­jor dif­fer­ence is that while Spec and Hoy have gone for a 52-tooth/36-tooth combo up­front, Trek has cho­sen a slightly more laid-back 50-tooth/34-tooth mix.

COM­PO­NENT HIGHS AND LOWS

Yes, that’s a lower top-end than the other two, but it’s use­ful for steep hills, though thun­der-thighed triath­letes might pre­fer the 52-tooth up­front, de­pend­ing on their pre­ferred cadence.

Mind you, stud­ies show that gen­er­at­ing 100rpm with the 50/34 set-up here re­sults in a pretty swift 35.5mph. Hit 120rpm and you’ll eclipse 42mph. A higher cadence is of­ten pre­ferred with a run leg to fol­low as there’s less mus­cu­lar de­mands than a high gear and lower cadence; then again, mul­ti­ple stud­ies have come to the rather unin­spired but un­der­stand­able con­clu­sion that you nat­u­rally cy­cle at your pre­ferred cadence, based on sub­tle phys­i­o­log­i­cal signs, in­clud­ing sig­nals from your car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem and skele­tal mus­cles.

What­ever your chain­ring de­sires, we all want wheels that are fast, durable and rel­a­tively light­weight. Trek’s ef­fort, as is stan­dard across their bikes, comes from their com­po­nent brand Bon­trager. Its ‘TLR’ name es­sen­tially means it’s tube­less ready, en­sur­ing it can be used both with and with­out an in­ner tube. That’s down to the tyre and rim be­ing de­signed so that they di­rectly seal to each other. The benefits of go­ing tube­less are that re­mov­ing the in­ner tube means you can lower tyre pres­sure with­out sac­ri­fic­ing speed. That adds com­fort, al­beit adding the spe­cial sealant milk can be a par­tic­u­larly messy af­fair. The 25mm wide tyres also add com­fort. That said, they lack a lit­tle oomph, so un­less you’re think­ing of go­ing tube­less, your first up­grade should be here.

Spe­cial­ized’s choice, the DT Swiss R460, roll ad­e­quately, but they’re a lit­tle unin­spired as it’s the same wheelset we tested on the £600-cheaper Elite model; in

fact, the com­po­nent list is near iden­ti­cal apart from the tyres, which means al­most the en­tire ex­tra out­lay goes on the weld­ing. It’s an im­pres­sive in­no­va­tion but £600 worth? Ques­tion­able.

Hoy’s wheel of choice – Alex ATD470 rims and Joytech hubs – also lacks a lit­tle speed, though they’re ad­e­quate for win­ter use. If you’re look­ing to dou­ble up for rac­ing, you’d def­i­nitely be seek­ing a light­weight up­grade. But just re­mem­ber you’re af­ter disc wheels as these are brought to a halt via Shi­mano’s RS505 hy­draulics.

MIX AND MATCH­ING

Those of you who reg­u­larly ride moun­tain or cy­clocross bikes dur­ing the win­ter months will be aware of the mooted benefits of hy­draulics over caliper brakes, in­clud­ing im­proved, more re­li­able per­for­mance in the wet and bet­ter brak­ing mod­u­la­tion. Both are ap­par­ent here and, when it comes to brak­ing, it’s hard to beat discs at this price point. Yes, that 160mm ro­tor (smaller on smaller mod­els) up­front and out back adds a mod­icum of weight, but with no calipers, Hoy has saved weight by re­mov­ing the seat­stay bridge. Just be­ware that some races still don’t ac­cept disc brakes be­cause of ap­par­ent scyth­ing ro­tor is­sues.

Shi­mano 105 and Tek­tro Axis pro­fi­ciently cover caliper brak­ing du­ties on the Trek and Spe­cial­ized, re­spec­tively, al­though marks are gained for Trek for stick­ing to the same model as the groupset. Mix and match­ing is never ideal in our pu­ri­tan­i­cal books.

Fur­ther high­lights from across the three bikes in­clude: Trek’s Bon­trager Mon­trose sad­dle whose gel fill­ing and cut-out cen­tre is ex­tremely com­fort­able; neat in­ter­nal ca­bling on the Spec; and the Blue­tooth-ready chain­stay on the Trek that’s just ripe for fit­ting a speed or cadence sen­sor. Yes, the trio has their pros and cons, but which is best?

“The Trek strikes the per­fect per­for­mance/ com­fort bal­ance”

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