By Zack Vestal
BH Bikes USA president and CEO Chris Cocalis stopped by the VeloNews office this week to show the new BH G5 frame and fork, which will be debuted at the Tour de France by Team AG2R-LaMondial this weekend. If the G5 bike is any predictor of the team’s pending performance, expect AG2R riders to be climbing and sprinting to victories left and right.
BH Bikes – Big in Spain, still growing in the USA
BH Bicycles is a Spanish company that’s only recently landed on U.S. soil. It’s the largest cycling manufacturer in Spain, accounting for 47 percent market share in that corner of Europe. But the brand is still in the early stages of establishing a beachhead in the USA.
Cocalis is the former owner of Titus Cycles, and his relationship with BH began when the Spanish company was distributing Titus in Spain, Portugal, and France, from about 2003 to 2005. “They were actually our largest customer,” said Cocalis. When he sold Titus and eventually began Pivot Cycles, BH expressed interest in distribution of Pivot, based partly on their strong personal relationship with Cocalis. And since Pivot is a distinctly American mountain bike brand, Cocalis saw opportunity on the pavement side when he caught a first look at the European BH road bike line.
“The bikes looked really nice, and it fit what I wanted to do,” said Cocalis. “If I was going to do both road bikes and mountain bikes, they had to be distinctly different companies, and different images,” he added. “So there was really nothing better than to be involved with a Spanish company with a long history of racing in Europe.”
It turns out that BH has a history of firsts that lend credibility to the brand’s commitment to racing and pushing the boundaries in product design. BH was the first company to do an integrated seat mast. They were one of the first to push frame weight under 1000 grams, working closely with carbon suppliers to evolve the boundaries of their material capabilities.
BH evolves again, in partnership with BH USA
“I’ve always been with engineering-based companies,” said Cocalis. “Unless I can say that I do something for a particular benefit, we’re not really interested in doing it, just because it is the cool thing to do.” Recently, frame development at BH Spain was driven mostly by the racing teams the company sponsored. Occasionally the result was limited sizing and the unusual geometries demanded by team riders and management. “That got them pretty far, but I wanted to take it to another level,” said Cocalis.
BH USA is not just a distributor for BH Spain. “We’re 50-50 partners,” said Cocalis, who is now personally involved in helping the company develop new designs. He hired a BH engineer based in the US office, and last year, BH USA contributed significantly to the engineering of the frame designs from BH Spain.
One of Cocalis’s big targets is benchmark test data, for both his own frames and those of his competitors. In starting work on the new G5, he set out to improve on the predecessor model, the G4, and then used test data to set goals and confirm the achievement.
Design features on the new G5
Cocalis claims that internal testing confirms his goals were achieved on the G5: bottom bracket stiffness more than doubles over the G4, and the seat tower realized a 212 percent improvement in lateral deflection stiffness. “The biggest thing on the new bike is ride tuning and layup control,” said Cocalis. “We’ve got a bike that exceeds our competitors for head tube stiffness.”
In head tube torsion, stiffness improves by 170 percent over the G4. Remarkably, all this added stiffness has not added mass — a 54cm frame reportedly weighs 810 grams. Furthermore, ride quality is preserved with some vertical “give” engineered into the seat mast and chainstays.
The frame is built using monocoque construction. Cocalis said that the construction method permits far more engineering creativity and control of weight, ride quality, and carbon lay-up pattern. The frame is built by an Asian supplier who works with a small number of boutique carbon brands. Cocalis is personally involved with many aspects of quality control, testing, and material sourcing, to ensure his aggressive design goals can be met safely.
Significant design features abound on the G5:
- The head tube tapers from a 1.5-inch lower bearing to a 1 1/8-inch upper bearing.
- Headset bearings rest directly on the carbon of the head tube, which is built with extra glass fiber in the bearing seat area, then post-machined for a precise fit
- A new carbon fork with tapered steerer tube was developed in concert with Edge Composites to be light and stiff
- Chainstays with massive vertical dimension add to the already-oversized BB area
- A BB30 bottom bracket fitting that includes a one-piece shell rather than the oft-used process of pressing together two halves before machining. The process is said permit aerospace-level tolerances
- Carbon cable stops co-molded with the frame tubes
- A carbon front derailleur hanger, boxed where it joins the frame, and ribbed for stiffness
- Full carbon rear dropouts
- A unique bottom bracket cable guide that allows the shifter cables to route to opposite sides of the bike, without having to cross under the downtube
- The signature channel under the downtube carries forward from the G4 and wraps around the BB shell, adding stiffness and creating clean cable routing (or Shimano Di2 battery mounting)
- The extended seatmast has a revised, proprietary, short seatpost.
The amount of engineering required to pull off the slotted, co-molded carbon dropouts alone was substantial, according to Cocalis. Little details like these add up on the G5 to create an incredibly light, stiff bike.
We took a short spin on the new bike. In my opinion, it delivers on the promise of fantastic lateral stiffness without sacrificing any ride quality. It feels like an all-day road racer, but pops out of corners and up hills like a crit bike. With just a few miles on the bike, the stiffness was palpable. And the Shimano Di2 bike I rode felt positively feathery at about 15 pounds as built.
Production of the G5 has begun, and it should be available in August. Look for a frame, fork, headset and seatpost to retail for $3500. A complete Dura-Ace bike will be about $7000.
Look for more reporting on this new bike, under the AG2R- La Mondial team, from the Tour de France next week.