The Segal I rode most of last season was without a doubt the finest Israeli-made magnesium road bike I’ve ever had the occasion to try. That’s an admittedly subjective statement, but I feel pretty sure I can back it up.
I’m also fairly confident the assessment will past muster with Segal’s U.S. importer, Trish Cohen, whose sense of humor is only surpassed by her interest in establishing the Irsraeli bike brand on U.S. shores. This is the woman, afterall, who operates www.oyvelo.com, a site for Jewish cyclists “(other than the great Eddy Merckxstein and Lance Armstrongberg).”
The Segal is a serious bike, however. (By the way, as evidence by the brand’s winged logo, the name rhymes with the ocean bird, not with the under-appreciated auteur, Steven Seagal). The company sponsors the Israeli national team and Portland, Oregon’s Team HP Chiro/Hammer Nutrition. The manufacturer even presented a magnesium-framed mountain bike to former President Bush.
Magnesium is used frequently on bikes, for suspension fork legs, disc brake cylinders, American Classic rims and other parts. Avid has made magnesium brake levers and linear-pull brake arms, and Ellsworth machines magnesium suspension rockers for its Epiphany frame.
Segal claims, as others do, that magnesium is an excellent material for frames because of its low density (it’s a third less dense than aluminum and has half the density of titanium) and its ability to damp vibration. Its damping properties make it a common material for tennis rackets and speakers.
Magnesium is so light that it can substitute for plastic in some electronics packaging, and proponents point out that magnesium is more easily recycled than plastic. The same green argument could be made for a mag bike frame versus one made of carbon fiber, although most potential bike buyers don’t like to contemplate which recycling bin their beloved frame will end up in.
There have been magnesium frames on the market for decades, most famously (and regretably), the crack-prone Kirk die-cast frame from the early 1990s. Builders have had three main mag difficulties:
- getting tubes in the necessary sizes and shapes
- producing reliable welds, and
- eliminating magnesium corrosion caused by the environment and galvanic corrosion from contact with steel and other materials.
Segal, owned and founded by Arie Segal, has been making bikes for more than 20 years and has developed its own tubing and M-tig welding process. The brand’s parent company, Alubin, manufactures magnesium for automobiles, sound systems, heavy machinery, home appliances and military use. The company coats its frames with a special chromium layer inside and out to eliminate corrosion.
Segal is not shy about heavily manipulating its tubes, extruded in its own factory, into oval and teardrop profiles. The frame I rode had welded-on external reinforcement gussets under the downtube, in the bottom bracket area and near the dropouts on the chainstays. The stays feature a large dent for crank clearance. Aesthetically, all these welds and dents, while expertly done, turned off some VeloNews staffers. But the tasteful two-tone ivory paint job at least partly made up for the gnarly metal work.
The claimed weight for the 54-centimeter frame I tested is 1177 grams, and the complete bike as tested — with SRAM Red components (with a standard SRAM cassette instead of the Red version) and American Classic 420 clincher wheels — weighed 15.6 pounds on the VeloNews shop scale.
The frame was well prepped and the bike well assembled, except that it arrived with a loose bolt holding the removable derailleur hanger, which I did not notice until I was diagnosing the bike’s inconsistent shifting after the first ride. After tightening the bolt and checking the hanger alignment, shifting was excellent.
The Segal at a glance looks like the large-diameter aluminum frames that were popular a decade and a half ago. Those who remember the ride on those bikes will be digging out their physical therapist’s number at the mention of a long test ride. The bike arrived with 20-millimeter clinchers, too, that did not promise comfort.
Ride quality is very subjective, of course, and influenced by wheel, tire and component choice, as well as frame geometry, as much or more than by the frame material. That said, it seems valid to note, for the record: the Segal felt smooth and shock absorbing to me. It reminded me much more of a nicely tuned carbon fiber frame than an oversized aluminum beast.
The geometry is aimed at racers, with a relatively short wheelbase and chainstays. While my racing career is, um, on sabbatical, the Segal held together nicely on some fairly spirited staff lunch time rides and descended well on the roads around Boulder. My subjective assessment of the Segal in this article’s first sentence may seem like faint praise, but the bike gave every indication that it could stand up to a wider comparison.