A high-end carbon all-road bike; tested with Shimano Ultegra but now comes with SRAM Force eTap AXS; Black Inc wheels and cockpit (with a wide variety of lengths/widths available); 72.3-degree head tube; Clearance for 35mm tires
An all-around racing machine that's at home on the road, path, or trail. The Vista is built for the gravel-curious roadie who wants to kill his or her quiver and avoid sacrificing speed.
Ah, 2020, what a year it wasn’t.
Somewhere on the long list of personal goals that went unachieved in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic is one that continues to bum me out: Participate in a gravel race. Yes, I realize that this is hardly a real problem, but please indulge me. Over the past years, I have reported from gravel races and written dozens of stories about gravel’s meteoric rise, yet I haven’t actually raced gravel. In 2020 I set out to right that wrong. I started riding again, even training, and I selected a bike for a long-term test that I hoped to race across the dusty paths.
I saw Factor’s Vista all-road endurance bike up close at the 2019 Unbound Gravel (then called DK), and then again at TJ Eisenhart’s house in southern Utah. The bike’s road racing geometry and wide (but not too wide) tire clearance made it seem like the appropriate first step for a gravel-curious roadie like myself.
Make no mistake: The Vista is not a true gravel bike with ultra-wide tire clearance and a vast array of mounts for mudguards, racks, or bazooka launchers. Rather, it’s a sleek and stiff racing machine — and that’s why I wanted to ride it.
My test bike arrived in mid-February. A few weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic blew across Asia, Europe, and North America. Gravel racing was canceled and my competitive ambitions were snubbed, yet I still had this fancy all-road bike hanging from the rack.
Without racing, I was going to need to find another way to test the thing.
Not a gravel bike
Factor launched the Vista in 2018 as its ultimate do-anything road bike, a machine to overcome the industry’s obsession with categorizing bikes as either aero, climbing, endurance, etc. At first glance, the bike looks like its designers took a page from Bill Peet’s beloved children’s book, ‘The Whingdingdilly,” and simply mashed design elements from category-specific bikes into one frame. The Whingdingdilly had the neck of a giraffe plus rhinoceros horns, elk antlers, and elephant legs; the Vista boasts similarly disparate features.
There’s a sleek and slippery cockpit with hidden cables, an integrated and aerodynamic bar/stem, and a blade-like fork that is integrated with the bar/stem. The entire front end looks like it was plucked from the fastest WorldTour-level aero bike. The rear end, meanwhile, with its pencil-thin and radically dropped seat stays, looks like it came from grandpa’s gran fondo rig. And the clearance for 35mm rubber is, well, something that’s expected from today’s gravel-adjacent machines (my test bike had 36mm tires and had ample room to spare).
In reality, this is not a Frankenbike. Factor’s designers built the Vista from the ground up with comfort and versatility in mind. They also sought speed and thus borrowed the OTIS (One Total Integration System) bar/stem/fork system from the successful Factor One aero race bike. The external system replaces a traditional steerer tube and gives the Vista’s front end the sleek and aero look of a TT bike. When added to the bike’s racing geometry, the aero cockpit gave the bike impressive straight-line speed when I took it out for my first rides on the straight, flat paved roads near my house.
My test bike was the largest in the Vista line, a 58cm, which weighed in around 17.5 pounds. This test bike was equipped with Shimano Ultegra Di2, Black Inc. 30 carbon wheels, and IRC Boken 36mm tubeless tires. The first thing I noticed was the bike’s high stack height (610 millimeters) and short-reach (394mm), and during my first ride, I contemplated stopping to lower the bar/stem.
I have read that adjusting the bar position is easy, due to Factor’s two-piece stem spacers, which can be added or swapped out. I decided not to monkey with the system, and I’m glad I didn’t. My body adjusted quickly to the bike’s position, and I came to enjoy being more upright in subsequent rides on loose and rocky terrain.
As I was to discover in subsequent months, the bike’s positions and many features opened up a whole array of other riding possibilities.
Chasing Strava glory
What do you do when the races and group rides are off? For thousands of us out there, the answer was to chase personal vanity on Strava. I’m not going to lie: pursuing a spot on Strava leaderboards was the seemingly insane activity that brought me sanity during this most upsetting year. When the daily deluge of terrible headlines and negative tweets got to be too much, I went outside, threw my leg over the Vista, and pushed the pedals as hard as I could.
Then, after my ride, I flicked on Strava to see if my efforts attained any bragging rights.
I did this again and again, on the various terrain and surfaces around my home: Fast, straight paved tarmac; washboard dirt roads; long, sustained climbs; rocky singletrack; crushed gravel walking trails; you name it. The bike ate up the various terrain and surfaces with ease, and in every riding situation, the thing performed like a race bike should. It was a rocket ship on straight roads of any surface. I’m no pro rider — I’m a middling Cat 3 powered by dad watts. Yet I was able to grab top-10 placings again and again on this bike.
This summer, I hauled the Vista on family vacations into the mountains, to test the bike’s versatility on dirt. In June I spent two weeks on a working vacation in Crested Butte, where I rode the bike on singletrack, jeep trails, and tarmac. For my first ride, I took the bike up Cement Creek Trail, a gravel road that turns to jeep trail as it climbs into the Elk mountains. Overnight rains had transformed the upper stretches of the jeep track into slick mud, and I was worried that the 36mm file-tread IRC Boken tires would lack the toothy bite to survive the mud.
The bike sped through the sandy lower stretches of the trail with ease, dulling the thud of the washboard into a manageable chatter. As the road gave way to jeep trail, the bike proved itself to be an able and lightweight climber and surfed over rocks and deep holes filled with mud and dirt. To my surprise, I never once had to stop to clear mud from the tires and frame. The only limit I came up against was gearing — my bike was equipped with road gearing (52/36 front, 12-28 rear), and I simply ran out of gears on the trail’s steepest sections.
I did have a couple of pedal strikes on deeper trails, as the bike’s 75mm bottom bracket drop is pretty low.
I used the brakes a lot, as the bike was no match for a mountain bike on a rocky and treacherous jeep trail. But I made my time limit with ease and even got myself onto the Strava leaderboard on two sections of the climb, including a 45-minute section that ascended 1,100 feet (7th out of 77 — great success!).
A few days later, I gave the bike a Strava test of an altogether nature. I threw on some deep-section road wheels with 28mm tires and targeted a rolling and mostly downhill 6.5-mile paved segment from Crested Butte to Crested Butte South. It’s a mash-the-gears straight shot along Colorado State Highway 135 where the goal is to simply hold the highest top speed for as long as possible.
The bike zipped up to top speed very quickly, and once there I was able to contort myself into an aero racing position and just crunch away for 12 minutes or so. I think my final average speed was 32 mph, and I slotted into 4th place on the leaderboard (I have since been demoted to 8th — ack!).
A few months later, on a trip to Steamboat Springs, the bike was again an able companion for the paved and dirt roads around town, and I even climbed up Emerald Mountain and descended some of the easier singletrack trails on it. Then, I climbed up Spring Creek trail from town to Buffalo Pass, a six-mile section of singletrack that winds through aspen groves to a point high above the town.
This trail is hardly a punisher — it has a moderate ‘blue’ rating from the local trail stewards. But for a gravel-adjacent bike, this was a true test, and the Vista definitely passed. I’m no Nino Schurter on a mountain bike, yet I didn’t have to get off the bike once, and I was able to muscle it through tight uphill singletrack switchbacks and get over rocks and roots with no problem.
There was no Strava glory on that ride, but I did have the self-satisfaction of clearing a true mountain bike trail on a road bike.
As the fall gave way to winter, and snow and ice became regular sights on our roads and trails, the Vista became my day-in, day-out bike. I rode the trails in my local mountain bike park, sped along the crushed gravel paths in my neighborhood, and took it onto my favorite long paved road climbs. As I write this in late December, I have now realized that I haven’t ridden anything but the Vista in weeks.
A mark of versatility
Why do I bring up my vain attempts at Strava glory? By the end of the summer, after months of segment hunting, I truly felt that the Vista was the only bike I needed for the type of riding I typically do. For my riding style, which is mostly road-centric but is also open to the occasional adventure on singletrack, jeep trails, and even snowy dirt roads, the Vista was a perfect machine of versatility.
Of course, the jack-of-all-trades nature comes with trade-offs. Hardcore gravel racers would want greater clearance for muddy events. Serious road racers would crave a lower front end for a more aggressive position. And I wouldn’t take this bike into a cyclocross race for fear of constant pedal strikes.
The Vista isn’t for these riders. Like many other all-road bikes — think Trek’s Domane or Giant’s Defy — this bike is for the adventuresome roadie who truly wants to cut the clutter and have just one bike in his or her garage.
Having ridden the Vista all year, I’m convinced that this bike would accomplish all of my riding needs, so long as I had a spare set of wheels set up for road riding for a quick swap. I would absolutely ride the Vista in a traditional road race, gran fondo, or fast group ride. I’d even race a criterium on this bike. And, while my gravel racing ambitions were ultimately thwarted this year, I would likely ride the Vista in any gravel race that didn’t have miles-long sections of thick and chunky mud.
You pay the price
And now, the big sacrifice for the Vista’s versatility: the final price tag. Factor sells the Vista as a frame and fork for $4,799, with full- or partial-build bikes running from $6,599 to $7,685. That price tag places it alongside the Trek Domane SLR and Specialized Roubaix, and far ahead of more budget-friendly models like the Giant Defy.
Yep, killing your quiver comes at a price.
Are you searching for one bike to rule them all? As I inch closer to 40, I find myself contemplating that search on a regular basis. The space in my home that once housed a stable of bikes is now cluttered with baby toys. For every new bike that comes in, one must go out. As you can probably guess from this column, I’m no tech editor. I’m just a guy who rides his bike every day, for the purposes of health, sanity, and yeah, selfish personal glory.
And since there was no racing this year, I adjusted pretty easily to the concept of one bike for all of the rides.
The Factor Vista was an ideal bike for all of the rides.