TOUR BIKES FOR TRI

After an­other en­thralling edi­tion of the Tour de France, we as­sess the tri cre­den­tials of three bikes that helped light up 2018’s race. And they’ve all got disc brakes…

220 Triathlon Magazine - - CONTENTS -

The disc brake de­bate will, it seems, keep rag­ing for as long as we need to slow down a bike in mo­tion. Discs rule the roost in cy­clocross, gravel and in­creas­ingly with triathlon-spe­cific bikes, but the pro ranks have been slower to ac­cept this ‘new tech­nol­ogy’. This is chang­ing, as re­stric­tions have been lifted to al­low rid­ers to choose whether they race on ro­tor or rim brakes. Trek-Se­gafredo have said they’ll be us­ing disc-equipped Émon­das through­out the Grand Tours and many brands have made sim­i­lar pro­nounce­ments.

Now a few years into road disc de­vel­op­ment, there are some se­ri­ous ad­vance­ments tak­ing place at the sharp end of rac­ing bikes. Two of the brands we’re look­ing at here, Cervélo and Ar­gon 18, are now pro­duc­ing disc frames that are even lighter than their rim-braked equiv­a­lents. This means bet­ter brak­ing power with­out the weight penalty, and goes some way to counter the ‘discs are heavy’ ar­gu­ment. To see how the other ar­gu­ments stack up, we’re tak­ing a look at three of the best pro-level bikes raced in July’s Tour de France – each of them disc-brake equipped.

Cervélo’s re­design of the leg­endary R5 came last year. For the first time, the brand took their R Se­ries back to the draw­ing board to make it more ag­gres­sive with sharper han­dling. The in­tro­duc­tion of the disc brake ver­sion tweaked the ge­om­e­try even fur­ther, re­duc­ing the frame­set weight and adding pro­vi­sion to use big­ger tyres, should you wish.

It soon saw suc­cess with a stage win in the Giro d’Italia un­der­neath Di­men­sion Data’s Omar Fraile. The disc ver­sion ar­rived a lit­tle later than the rim brake re­vi­sion, with Cervélo hop­ing this new gen­er­a­tion R Se­ries flag­ship will con­tinue the se­ries’ suc­cesses – which be­gan in 2003 with the R2.5 win­ning stages un­der­neath Tyler Hamil­ton and Car­los Sanchez, and the R3 scor­ing vic­tory with Fabian Can­cel­lara at Paris-Roubaix in 2006.

Light­weight for big climb­ing days and com­pli­ant enough to cope with the cob­bled clas­sics, the R5 has al­ways been the aero-op­ti­mised S5’s – as rid­den by Mark Cavendish – sim­pler, more un­der­stated cousin.

EYE FOR DE­TAIL

Cervélo have re­vised the ge­om­e­try on the R5, mak­ing it more race ori­en­tated, with the stack drop­ping by 8mm

and the reach be­com­ing a lit­tle longer. Frame stiff­ness has in­creased com­pared to the pre­vi­ous ver­sion, and sees the in­tro­duc­tion of Cervélo’s Squo­val Max tube shape, which blends a square tube pro­file with ovalised cor­ners and curved sides, top and bot­tom, while the term Max de­notes im­prove­ments in th­ese struc­tures with re­gards to weight, stiff­ness and aero­dy­nam­ics. The big­gest sur­prise comes with the weight – the R5 Disc frame is just 831g, even lighter than its rim­brake coun­ter­part (850g).

The R5’s de­tail shines through; Cervélo have adopted Fo­cus’ RAT sys­tem that’s among the best with its fast-re­lease thru-axle with T-bar end and quar­ter­turn lock and un­lock. Cervélo’s taken this de­sign, re­worked the ad­just­ing nut to make it a bit more min­i­mal, changed the de­sign of the threaded base (into which the T-bar locks) and changed the lo­ca­tion of the spring to give a lit­tle more re­sis­tance.

SMOOTH OP­ER­A­TOR

Cervélo part­nered with Enve for the R5’s wheels, and it’s a fine choice with the 3.4 Discs. Enve vary the depths of their rims, so the rear is deeper at 42mm to serve-up max­i­mum aero­dy­namic ben­e­fit while the front is shal­lower at 38mm to pro­vide a lit­tle more sta­bil­ity in cross­winds.

The equip­ment on the R5 is as we’d ex­pect, with Dura-Ace Di2 fill­ing du­ties on shift­ing and brak­ing, and 160mm ro­tors front and rear for a brake-feel that’s spot on. The sad­dle is Fizik’s well­re­garded Antares, but only the base model R5. Sad­dles are a per­sonal choice though, so we don’t mind that it’s not a car­bon-railed fancy edi­tion as it may get swapped.

The tyres are Con­ti­nen­tal’s Grand Prix rather than their flag­ship GP4000 S IIs but they felt sim­i­lar in test­ing: sup­ple, grippy and tough. The newly-low­ered front end doesn’t feel overly slammed on our 58cm bike, in fact it feels just right for a bike we’d be happy to ride all day, ev­ery day.

On the road, the R5 Disc com­bines a taut feel with pos­i­tive power trans­fer that’s ready to go, and rock-solid rigid­ity when putting the power down on the flat, get­ting ahead in a sprint or pow­er­ing up­hill. Ride in the sad­dle, up on the hoods or over poorly-sur­faced roads and you’ll find that the R5 is im­pres­sively smooth, and the aero­dy­namic D-shaped car­bon seat­post, with its long, laid-back head, of­fers heaps of com­pli­ance.

You’ll also come away im­pressed after a de­scent. The R5’s steer­ing re­sponses are quick enough to make rapid di­rec­tion changes, yet sta­ble enough to control the bike with some sim­ple weight shifts and the slight­est steer­ing in­puts. The end re­sult is a mod­ern racer that brings together laser-guided han­dling, with solid power trans­fer and some se­ri­ous smooth­ness.

“The big­gest sur­prise comes with the weight. The R5 Disc frame is just 831g, even lighter than its rim-brake coun­ter­part”

Ar­gon 18, like their Cana­dian coun­ter­part Cervélo, have built a rep­u­ta­tion for mak­ing well-en­gi­neered bikes that com­bine light weight with ex­cel­lent ride qual­ity and clever de­sign touches. The Gallium Pro hits the light­ness mark, and Ar­gon 18 state that this disc brake ver­sion of the Gallium Pro is even lighter than the rim-braked model, which it­self has a sub 800g frame.

The Gallium has the lat­est it­er­a­tion of their press-fit 3D head­set sys­tem, where in­ter­lock­ing solid parts ex­tend the ef­fec­tive head tube height to al­low for per­fect po­si­tion­ing. Ar­gon 18 claim that this sys­tem keeps more stiff­ness in the head tube com­pared to stan­dard spac­ers, which can leave room for flex. Ev­ery frame size has three head tube height op­tions, and we set our medium test bike at 165mm. The 72.7° head an­gle and 73.5° seat an­gle add to a race-fo­cused ge­om­e­try that’s built for World Tours, mak­ing the Gallium a pack-lead­ing bike. With its low, slightly for­ward ride po­si­tion you feel on top of the ped­als – and en­cour­aged to go.

Our test bike, put together by UK Ar­gon 18 dis­trib­u­tor I-Ride UK, in­cluded a set of re­cently-launched To­ken Zenith Ven­tous car­bon clinch­ers. Th­ese 36mm deep rims are wide at 27.4mm, and their aero pro­file with its 20mm in­ter­nal di­men­sion shapes the Con­ti­nen­tal Grand Sport tyres very well. The To­kens roll well, are quick to ac­cel­er­ate and feel feath­ery on the climbs, mak­ing the claimed weight of 1,404g easy to be­lieve.

The wheels lock into place with 12mm thru-axles, and it’s here where again, Ar­gon have scored well. Us­ing the in­te­grated NAILD sys­tem, which uses the Locit lever, the large quick-re­lease has an­other lever set into it. To open, you de­press the red in­ner lever, al­low­ing the black lever to ac­ti­vate. Like Cervélo’s Rapid Axle Tech­nol­ogy sys­tem, a quar­ter-turn pulls the axle out. The beauty is that it’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for it to loosen on its own.

UN­DER­STATED GLORY

The Gallium of­fers glo­ri­ously fine han­dling with the chas­sis stiff through the head tube, bot­tom bracket and chain­stays. Above this solid un­der­tray, the Gallium has beau­ti­fully smooth com­pli­ance mak­ing it fan­tas­tic for cov­er­ing ground, fast.

On de­scents we’d have pre­ferred a 160mm front ro­tor in­stead of the 140mm Ice Tech Ul­te­gra fit­ted. On longer de­scents we man­aged to make the front disc pretty vo­cal, which didn’t hap­pen on the same de­scents on bikes equipped with 160mm units. Shi­mano’s Ul­te­gra is used through­out the Gallium which, com­pared to the well-priced Cube and Cervélo, doesn’t make it as good value. In pure per­for­mance terms, Ul­te­gra is ev­ery bit the equal of Dura-Ace with elec­tron­i­cally as­sisted shifts that are spot on and a brake-feel that’s ev­ery bit as good, but you com­pro­mise in the weight stakes and, ar­guably, a few fin­ish­ing touches too.

The Gallium Pro’s won­der­ful ride is bal­anced by such a clean piece of de­sign that it runs the risk of be­ing over­looked in favour of more flam­boy­ant bikes. Just a few tweaks to the build would take the Gallium Pro Disc from a very good to stun­ning su­per­bike.

Ger­man brand Cube have a well-earned rep­u­ta­tion for damn fine bikes at very com­pet­i­tive prices, con­sis­tently of­fer­ing value in high street bike shops that com­petes with online-only spe­cial­ists. Their new Aerium C:68 SLT triathlon­spe­cific ma­chine – rid­den by Ger­many’s for­mer iron-dis­tance record holder, An­dreas Rael­ert – has turned heads in 2018, and Cube have an ex­ten­sive range of tri, gravel and moun­tain bikes to pick from. Like most of its ri­vals, Cube of­fer road bikes in a range of car­bon grades and tech­ni­cal build specs, with the pin­na­cle be­ing the re­mit of the Liten­ing C:68.

The lat­est ver­sion uses Cube’s ad­vanced twin-mould tech­nol­ogy, where two solid pieces are used to form tube shapes, rather than the tra­di­tional mould-and-in­flated bag method. This makes for bet­ter control of the resin-to-car­bon ra­tio, ef­fi­cient man­age­ment of im­per­fec­tions (creases) and bet­ter control of the over­all struc­ture. The shape main­tains the tra­di­tional twin tri­an­gle de­sign and, while it’s quite sim­ple, we pre­fer to think of it as un­der­stated.

Ge­om­e­try-wise the Cube fol­lows the clas­sic short, sharp ge­om­e­try found on a lot of Euro­pean bikes, and mixes par­al­lel, steep 73.5° an­gles with a short 991mm wheel­base. The ride po­si­tion is ag­gres­sive with a low 563mm stack (ver­ti­cal dis­tance be­tween the bot­tom bracket and top of the head tube) and a long 398mm reach (hor­i­zon­tal dis­tance).

ALL-ROUND AP­PEAL

Hit the tar­mac and the Cube feels ev­ery inch the pro tour su­per­bike. The han­dling is ra­zor sharp and the short wheel­base of­fers an in­cred­i­bly nim­ble ride through even the most tech­ni­cal twists and turns. Like the Cervélo on test, the SLT is run­ning Shi­mano’s ex­em­plary Dura-Ace Di2 with a well-placed range of 11-28 com­bined with a 52/36 chain­set. Un­like its ri­vals, the Cube’s front disc had suf­fered a knock in tran­sit so we did get a bit of tick­ing on our first ride out from a slightly bent Ice Tech ro­tor, but some fet­tling with a ro­tor-straight­en­ing tool soon sorted it for suc­ces­sive rides.

Cube’s new in-house com­po­nent line New­men sup­plies the slick car­bon seat­post, well-shaped car­bon bar and min­i­mal al­loy stem. The bike should have been shipped with match­ing New­men wheels but pro­duc­tion de­lays meant that it came with Dutch wheel brand Scope’s ex­cel­lent tube­less- com­pat­i­ble R4Ds in­stead, re­plete with Sch­walbe’s equally im­pres­sive Pro One tube­less tyres.

The ride felt firmer than its ri­vals we tested here, but that was coun­tered some­what by the great tyres and wheels. Rid­ing the Liten­ing never felt harsh, and the firm­ness feels well bal­anced with the sheer speed at which it can be shifted in any di­rec­tion. The ac­cel­er­a­tion is par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive thanks to the so­lid­ity through the driv­e­train. It’s only on the climbs that the Liten­ing doesn’t quite match up to the fly­weight Cervélo R5 with its strato­spheric abil­ity to shine up­hill, but we’re re­ally split­ting hairs here be­cause the C:68 SLT is a bril­liant all-round per­former.

While the Cube isn’t the most re­fined or light­est of the three on test, we think it’s by far the best value, and would even go so far as to say it’ll be the best value in the whole pelo­ton.

“The short wheel­base of­fers an in­cred­i­bly nim­ble ride through even the most tech­ni­cal twists and turns”

WORDS WAR­REN ROS­SITER IM­AGES ROBERT SMITH

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