Reviewed: Argon18 Nitrogen
The Nitrogen doesn’t sugarcoat its ride characteristics. It transfers rough roads to the hands and backside in a way that suggests comfort is an afterthought. But for cirts, you want power transfer and confident handling, and the Nitrogen has plenty of both.
Argon 18 took few chances with geometry, using a 72.7-degree head angle and 98.7-centimeter wheelbase for its medium frame. The result is stable handling at high speeds, particularly in the drops, when there’s extra weight on the front end. It’s twitchy enough to be a true crit racer but versatile enough for traditional road racing—and with aero tube shaping and a reversible seatpost that the tri-curious will appreciate.
The frame also has a 75-millimeter bottom bracket drop (the vertical measurement from the rear hub to the height of the BB). This is where the handling equation can get personal. A higher bottom bracket (smaller drop) makes for a more responsive ride. A lower bottom bracket is more stable, especially in sweeping corners, but also leaves one vulnerable to pedal strikes while pedaling through corners. But that’s just a rule of thumb. In practice, the Nitrogen rips any kind of corner, wide or sharp. That’s because the steadiness that comes from that bottom bracket drop works in conjunction with the quick and responsive steering; the two don’t fight each other. As a result, the bike is well balanced, though you might need to watch out for pedal strikes on the tightest corners.
While the Nitrogen isn’t the stiffest aero bike we’ve tested, it puts up respectable numbers in the lab, especially at the head tube. With 0.48 millimeters of head tube deflection, the Nitrogen is not quite as stiff as the Trek Madone (0.41 millimeters) but is slightly stiffer than Specialized’s Venge ViAS (0.51 millimeters), two of the quickest aero bikes on the market. Both of those best the Nitrogen at the bottom bracket (0.41 and 0.43 millimeters, respectively, compared to the 0.69 millimeters of deflection on the Argon). We’re talking fractions of millimeters, though.
A few companies have stepped away from traditional dual-pivot calipers on aero bikes, often because aero tube shapes can’t accommodate traditional brake mounting, and because moving the brakes from the front of the bike can improve aerodynamics. The Trek Madone is one example; Giant’s Propel is another. Argon 18 has made a similar departure with linear-pull-style brakes tucked behind the fork and on the seat stays. The stiff, short arms of the Nitrogen’s integrated brakes offer a positive, modulated feel in a sleek, drag-reducing package. That feeling will come in handy during the flow—or lack thereof—characteristic of crits.
Shimano Ultegra Di2 makes for smooth shifting, and there’s another advantage to the electronic groupset: A short shift throw means less hand movement, which in turn means more stability in pulse-pounding traffic where confident handling is vital. While shearing an Ultegra Di2 derailleur in a crash would sting, it wouldn’t be nearly as draining as it would with a Dura-Ace spec.
Vision’s Metron 55 wheels are plenty wide at 24 millimeters, meaning you can run a wider tire at lower pressure for improved rolling resistance and a larger contact patch, which will come in handy when cornering hard on the inside line.
All told, the Argon 18 is built with a smart components spec, making it a bike that could just as easily tackle a stage race as it could the weekly crit series.
Component highlights: Shimano Ultegra Di2 drivetrain, 53/39 crankset, 11-28 cassette, FSA cockpit, Vision Metron 55 wheels, Vittoria Corsa CX tires