Road Gear

From the Pages of Velo: VeloLab tests bikes of the WorldTour

In this archive from September 2011, we put four bikes of the ProTeams to the test in the lab and on the road

Editor’s Note: In April 2011, we unveiled VeloLab, our in-depth bike and component testing program that combines objective, lab-based metrics with on-the-road evaluation. Since then, we’ve tested more than 25 bikes in Velo Magazine, from sub-$1500 budget road racers to the bikes of the WorldTour. The following cover story first appeared in the September 2011 issue. While these bikes are not 2012 model year machines, many riders are shopping the discount and lightly used markets and we present this archived test as a service to those readers.

The world’s best professional cyclists spend the month of July streaming along the roads of France, a whirring peloton of color, parting the seas of raucous spectators for over 2,100 miles. From the windy plains of the Massif Central to the jagged tarmac of the Pyrenees and the great cols of the Alps, each rider relies on a single machine to channel their hard-earned power. Wheels, tires, even gearing may be swapped out but the platform almost always remains the same.

The same WorldTour bike must be able to constrain the raw power of a bunch sprint under one rider, yet provide a stable, supple, platform for the uphill dancing of another. More miles of road buzz are damped by these frames in a single year than most amateurs see in a decade.

VeloLab put four pro bikes to the test in the lab, on the roads and in races. Each was built with the same components used by their respective teams, right down to the tires. We changed only saddles and pedals for our own comfort, just as the pros often do.

Each bike was subjected to our benchmark torsional stiffness test, providing us with an overall stiffness figure for the frame as a whole, as well as bottom bracket, head tube and rear-end data. Weeks of riding, and some racing, enabled us to provide an accurate subjective assessment on top of the scientific data, delivering a more complete picture of each machine.

The contenders

For this WorldTour bike test, we selected machines from three Tour teams, and one that should have been. (We requested test bikes before the Tour teams were announced — what can we say?) From Leopard-Trek, home of dainty Andy and Frank Schleck and powerhouse Fabian Cancellara: a Trek Madone 6.9 SSL built with Shimano Dura-Ace and Bontrager wheels. From perennial French underdog and Tour wildcard Cofidis: a Look 695 IPACK with Campagnolo Super Record and Fulcrum wheels. From the Russian Katusha Team: a Focus Izalco with SRAM Red and Vision wheels. And finally, from the home of former Tour champion Carlos Sastre and enduring GC threat Denis Menchov: a team Geox-TMC Fuji Altamira with Shimano Dura-Ace and DT-Swiss wheels. The Focus and Trek are both readily available to consumers in team livery, while a stock Fuji or Look would require a bit of customization to bring in line with team specs.

The Testers

With Nick Legan tied up by the Tour de France, Velo reporter and habitual lunch ride butcher Brian Holcombe joined tech writer Caley Fretz for this round of testing.

Trickle down tech

The bikes in this review are expensive. Each falls dangerously close to the $10,000 mark. But since they represent today’s peak of racing technology, they can also be viewed as tomorrow’s more affordable second tier. The manufacturing techniques and advanced technical features found on the models here will inevitably wind their way down the food chain.

Our Torsional Stiffness Test

The torsional stiffness test we co-developed with Microbac Laboratories, Inc. measures how a bike moves at three different points while subjected to a simulated pedaling force. Here’s how it works.

The front fork is fixed. The rear dropouts are mounted to a dummy axle that pivots on an eyebolt, allowing the rear of the bicycle to twist and move laterally. A chain is connected from the large chainring to the dummy rear axle to transfer the pedaling force through the rear triangle.

Dial indicators contacted the bike at the center of the drive crankarm’s face, at the top of the head tube and at the top of the seat tube. Two 50-pound dumbbell weights were hung on a spindle screwed into the left crank positioned horizontally forward and the values were recorded on the three dial indicators. — LENNARD ZINN

Geox-TMC Fuji Altamira 1.0

By Caley Fretz

As a brand, Fuji has taken massive leaps forward in recent years, vastly improving their engineering and manufacturing processes. Their bikes are lighter, stiffer and more durable than they’ve ever been. That said, I expected them to lag well behind some of the venerable brands in this test. I was mistaken. Fuji’s time working with Footon-Servetto and now Geox-TMC has paid off, and the Altamira proved to be an exceptionally capable race frame. The look is a bit odd — somewhat unbalanced with its enormous down tube and pencil-thin seat stays, not to mention the garish color scheme. But in the end, it’s a bike that I would happily ride into the WorldTour, but for the small issue of talent.

Subjective Ride Quality

User Friendliness: 13/15 points
The Altamira is quite easy to work on, for the most part. As usual, the external cabling was much appreciated. I love that the bike came stock with a Rotor chain catcher, and though the choice of an aluminum cockpit may have hurt overall weight it was the right choice for a race rig.

The Oval components, a brand now owned by the same company that owns Fuji, were a bit of a letdown though. The seatpost isn’t infinitely adjustable, so if your preferred saddle angle falls between two of the head serrations, you’re out of luck. A mild peeve were the stem faceplate bolts, which face backwards. The look is clean, but they’re a bit infuriating to actually access.

Value: 15/20 points
The Altamira is thousands cheaper than others in this test, with nearly the same level of performance. A carbon clincher wheelset, Shimano Dura-Ace, and newly updated, more powerful TRP brakes are a pretty good package. The Altamira loses points for the annoying Oval components, though.

The oval Rotor chainrings included with the Geox-TMC model take some getting used to, but have proved here and in prior Velo testing to be high-quality and at least subjectively effective.

Comfort: 8/10 points
Rear end comfort from the Altamira was as good as any other race-bred frame, perhaps even a bit above average thanks to the ultra-thin seat stays. The bike’s massively oversized fork, enormous down tube, tapered head tube, and aluminum bar and stem conspire to make the front end a bit jarring, though. I ended up dropping front tire pressure 5psi below normal to take some of the buzz out of my hands.

Acceleration: 7/10 points
The Altamira’s ultra stiff front end felt great out of the saddle and when throwing the bike around. Despite the lowest bottom bracket deflection in the Microbac test, the rear end felt a bit soft, just a touch unresponsive to all-out efforts.

Handling: 7/10 points
Only 53mm of trail is decidedly on the low side, contributing to the Altamira’s skittish front end. But the frame’s longer wheelbase does a good job pulling handling back towards neutral, with the end result being a mildly twitchy ride over 30mph and a wonderfully responsive one at regular ride speeds. The massive front end and tapered head tube likely contributed to the bike’s stability in hard corners.

Scientific Testing

Torsional stiffness: 16/30 points
The Altamira was the least stiff overall, but came away with the best bottom bracket deflection figure.

Weight: 2/5 points
Largely thanks to its aluminum cockpit and seatpost, the Altamira was the heaviest in our test by one tenth of a pound.

Look 695 IPACK Cofidis

By Caley Fretz

Looks’s 695 IPACK is a phenomenal display of art and engineering. Designed around the twin ideals of integration and adjustability, it treats both frame and major components as a system, endeavoring to optimize every interaction both within the bike and with the rider. The Zed 2 crankset, BB65 bottom bracket, Fit 3 headset, 295-gram HSC 7 fork and adjustable stem are all proprietary, built without any heed to international standards. They’re all highly adjustable too: the crank has rotatable pedal inserts to adjust arm length and twin bolt holes for compact or regular chainrings, and the stem can easily rotate from -9˚ to +13˚ or be made 10mm longer or shorter with a simple handlebar shim. The ability to dial in fit with the 695 is truly impressive.

Subjective Ride Quality

User Friendliness: 14/15 points
The integrated seatpost is a bit funky and finicky, though the rest of the adjustable points are relatively easy to use. Nonetheless, all that adjustability can be a liability in the hands of an inexperienced mechanic, losing the 695 a few points. It gained some back with its excellent internal cable routing system. The built-in sleeves have flared ends to keep them from pulling through the frame, but can be temporarily removed for cleaning.

Value: 13/20 points
The 695, as we rode it, is atrociously expensive. With Campagnolo Super Record 11, carbon tubulars, and a $5,500 frame module that’s no surprise. But regardless of the excellent performance, we have trouble justifying that kind of cash.

Comfort: 8/10 points
Everything is oversized, from the bottom bracket to the head tube to the seatpost, which I assumed would make for a harsh ride. Wrong was I, as the 695 soaks up road vibration surprisingly well. The seatpost in particular provides a welcome measure of flex, and the Vittoria tubulars used by Cofidis provide excellent ride quality. Though the Look is more comfortable than the average race bike, it still falls a long way from a luxury ride, with the frame’s stiff attitude shining through over rough chipseal or other harsh surfaces.

Acceleration: 8/10 points
The 695’s proprietary Zed 2 crankset and enormous BB65 bottom bracket no doubt contributed to the planted, solid feel of the bike when under power, particularly when out of the saddle. The low weight — just a hair heavier than the Trek — was much appreciated as well.

Handling: 7/10 points
The Look’s tall head tube, more than 3cm taller than the Trek at 170.5mm, made it more difficult to achieve my preferred position. It has a higher-than-average bottom bracket too, raising the center of gravity a bit. Combined with a somewhat long 58mm of trail, the result was a bike more at home cruising in a straight line or diving into corners at high speed than twitching between wheels mid peloton. The front-end stiffness was phenomenal though, with the oversized stem and chunky head tube doing good work to hold the bike on line when leaned into a corner.

Scientific Testing

Torsional stiffness: 20/30 points
Though it was only third stiffest in our lab testing, the 695 came within spitting distance of the Fuji’s excellent bottom bracket stiffness, and was the second stiffest at the head tube as well.

Weight: 4/5 points
The 695 IPACK was the second lightest in our test.

Trek Madone 6.9 SSL Leopard-Trek

By Brian Holcombe

I’m man enough to admit that I’ve seen Pretty Woman enough times to know a few of the lines. And despite the strength of Julia Roberts’ performance, I never thought I’d channel Vivian, but ripping a descent midway through my first ride on the Madone 6.9, I found myself thinking, “Man, this baby corners like it’s on rails!” I had never thrown a leg over Trek’s top-shelf Madone before this test, but it has been ridden to a few big race wins, including four Tours de France. The Wisconsin-based manufacturer builds each of the 6 Series bikes by hand in the U.S. and supplies machines for both the Leopard-Trek and RadioShack squads.

Subjective Ride Quality

User Friendliness: 12/15 points
The seatmast is the big drawback as far as user friendliness is concerned. Despite a frame I wanted to handle with a terry cloth, Trek built the Madone with simple, proven Bontrager and Shimano components that are easy for the careful home mechanic to maintain. The Schwalbe Ultremo tires installed easily and rode well. The cork pads do require an attentive eye.

Value: 16/20 points
If you want a bike to match your Leopard team issue scarf, then the Madone 6.9 SSL is worth every red cent. The Dura Ace mechanical group and XXXLite wheels save almost three grand versus the Di2 model. Downgrading to the 6.7 will save you almost $2K and the weight penalty is minimal. In the end, you’re paying a premium for the custom team paint, but you wouldn’t have anything less to toss on top of your Mercedes R350 replica team car.

Comfort: 8/10 points
I like to fit my 6’1” frame onto 56cm bikes. Coupled with 175mm cranks, the Madone’s integrated seatmast was barely able to accommodate my 76.5cm inseam. The reach to the Dura Ace shifters from the Bontrager Race XXX Lite VR bar was a touch longer than I prefer, but overall the fit was prime. The 140mm head tube and a slammed stem had me in my preferred aggressive position over the cockpit.

Acceleration: 9/10 points
I put the Madone to the test immediately with a Velo lunch ride throw down on Flagstaff Mountain above Boulder. From the first ramp above town, I could feel how directly my work translated into forward motion. The Madone ranked second in our testing for lateral deflection and that bore out on the road. The BB90 bottom bracket quickly transferred my effort into the lightweight XXXLite clinchers, which spun up immediately, whether on a steep pitch in the mountains or a crit course.

Handling: 9/10 points
The H1 geometry, which features a short head tube and the resulting frame stack 3cm shorter than the more relaxed H2 shape, balances against a front axle trail that runs on the longer side for a performance frame. The result was a comfortable, smooth-handling ride that dices tight, high-speed corners without feeling twitchy. Perhaps not the first choice for a pure crit racer, the Madone fared well for me in the six-corner North Boulder Park crit and went anywhere I pointed it coming down the break-neck descent of Rist Canyon in Northern Colorado.

Scientific Testing

Torsional stiffness: 24/30 points
The Madone was the second stiffest in our test, with average bottom bracket deflection scores and excellent stiffness at the head tube.

Weight: 5/5 points
The lightest bike in the test.

Focus Izalco Katusha

By Caley Fretz

The Izalco is a pro racer’s dream — and his mechanic’s, too. Its fastidious German engineering is blatantly obvious with just a quick turn of the pedals, and is similarly evident when it comes time to spin wrenches after the stage. The Izalco is stiff in all the right places thanks to a tapered head tube and BB30 bottom bracket. Its solid frame and spot-on geometry results in a springy, perfectly twitchy race platform. The Izalco would be my pick for pothole-dodging, curb-hopping, gutter-filled racing.

Subjective Ride Quality

User Friendliness: 14/15 points
The Izalco uses integrated “cable tunnels” inside the frame to allow for internal routing without the regular headache. Running new cables is a breeze. The routing itself is smart too, sending the derailleur cable over the bottom bracket rather than under to help decrease friction. And since the tunnels are built right into the tubes they serve as ribs, stiffening the frame. The Katusha Team model even comes with a Rotor chain catcher out of the box. Perfect all around.

Value: 13/20 points
None of the bikes in this test are cheap, but are they worth the price? Focus offers other Izalco models that make the Katusha edition seem a bit too spendy. The Izalco Team 1.0 is $1,500 cheaper with more realistic wheels and equally nice Shimano Dura-Ace, but without the Katusha paint job. For $4,600 less, The Izalco Team 2.0 comes with SRAM Red and DT Swiss 1450 Mon Chasseral wheels – that’s the same drivetrain as the Katusha Team model without the Vision wheels and FSA carbon components.

Comfort: 7/10 points
Comfort is a secondary concern with the Izalco. Some concession is made in its thin seat stays, but the beefy chain stays, massive down tube and huge BB area tip the balance in the other direction. The front end in particular is almost jarringly stiff, likely thanks to the oversized, ultra-stiff fork legs. The rigidity feels fantastic when cornering hard in the middle of a crit, but is less welcome four hours into a peaceful ride in the mountains.

Acceleration: 9/10 points
Rear end stiffness feels phenomenal on the road, and the back end of the Izalco produced some of the lowest deflection numbers we’ve ever seen in that area. The result is a snappy, light sensation despite the heavier aero wheels. When we mounted up regular-depth wheels, as we always do to help isolate the frame’s role in ride quality, the Izalco flew out of corners and up short climbs.

Handling: 8/10 points
With a further nod to fast-paced racing, the Izalco’s geometry is designed around compact maneuverability. The bottom bracket is low, which drops the center of gravity, and the wheelbase and chain stays are both on the shorter end of the spectrum for 56cm frame. Combined with a relatively neutral 55mm of trail, handling is predictable, easing towards twitchy. Pedal strike is a distinct danger with the low bottom bracket.

Scientific Testing

Torsional Stiffness: 30/30 points
The Izalco proved the stiffest in our test, with its ultra-firm rear triangle playing the biggest part in its excellent score. Bottom bracket and head tube deflection were average.

Weight: 3/5 points
With regular-depth wheels, the Izalco would have gained a point or two here. As is, it fell behind both the Look and Trek on the scale.

The Final Tally

Surprise, surprise, WorldTour bikes are brilliant machines. In fact, the four in this test ended up with the highest average score of any test thus far: an impressive 77.25/100.

And the winner is…
Once again, we have two bikes grouped so tightly it came down to the lab to determine which could come out on top. In the end, the Focus’ excellent stiffness scores pushed it ahead of the Trek, which ended up with the best subjective scores of the lot. Each is a pure race steed with its own personality; minor geometry details are the primary differentiation. Trek’s easy handling and more comfortable ride point it towards road races, while the Focus’ impressive rigidity under power and twitchier handling make it an incredible criterium machine.

But don’t count Look and Fuji out. Look’s integration is both beautiful and functional, offering phenomenal adjustability. The Fuji had the lowest bottom bracket deflection numbers of any bike in this test, among the stiffest we’ve ever tested, but it still lost most of its points in the lab. The flex came at the seatpost, resulting in above average comfort countering the slightly vague feeling rear end. Flex in the right places is important, and the Altamira would be an excellent choice for a smaller rider or someone looking for a bit more give over hours of riding.

Not for everyone
All these bikes are fast and assertive. That’s wonderful if you’re racing through France in July, but it is also their downfall. With ultra stiff frames, tubular tires, and aggressive positions — not to mention extraordinary price tags — they aren’t for everyone. The Look’s geometry and ride quality are perhaps the best suited of the four to everyday use for the less aggressive rider, while the Trek’s taller H2 head tube option makes a more upright position available. If you’re a racer-type, any of the four will put your power to good use.