BMC SL01

BMC was set up by a Briton in 1986 to build bikes for other people.  It's been building it's own bikes since 1995 and is being taken to the next level by the Swiss, and Andy Rhiis, now the sole shareholder, in particular.  Through innovative design, aggressive, race-led marketing and a vision and passion for making the best, and probably most recognisable, bikes in the world, they seem ready to step up to the plate and change the way we think about bikes.

These bikes have already won a Tour de France and for 2007 are to be found under the Pro Tour Astana team.  The top end nano-technology carbon bikes are something to behold and their other offerings all share the same pedigree.  Here I've tested the mid-range Road Racer SL01.  To see if the real thing lives up to the marketing hype, read on.

The Frame
Where do you start!  The first thing you notice is the seat lug; or is it the top tube; no the down tube, and the chain stays and the colour.  There is so much going on it's hard to know what to think.  As you all know, I ride Colnago's.  Bikes that evolve, tweaked over the last 50 years of tradition to get better and better one step at a time.  Each new Colnago has one innovation that's been tested for an age before being let loose on the public.  BMC's?  Nothing is left un-innovated, everything is do-able.

So first off, the measuring tape.  I normally ride a 56/57 cm frame with a 55 cm top tube.  "My BMC" had a 54 cm seat tube and a 55.5 cm top tube.  So the frame seemed different right from the off.  Never mind, I'll set it up to my measurements and reserve making a judgement until out on the road.

The tubing is made by Easton and is formed in to the best shape to do the best job where it's best needed.  The top tube is a T-shape and blends in to and almost wraps around the head tube right at the very edge.  The rear of it feeds in to the monstrously rigid, square shaped, functional-looking, seat lug. Pretty it ain't!

The down tube is square at the head tube and oval down at the bottom bracket.  This maximises the area for welding when attaching the two parts of the bike.  Maximum welds, when done properly, give maximum strength and maximum rigidity.  Now I've done some welding in my time (repairing my crashed racing cars) and I thought I was a half-decent welder; I got a lot of practice!  Even though the Road Racer is a mid-range frame I have to say it has top of the range and some of the best welding I've seen on a bike. 

You really can see the craftsmanship and skill that's gone in to constructing these frames.  Care has bee taken in an area that's often overlooked.  Some company's, that have dodgy welders, file welds and fill them so you can't see what's gone on .  Here the workmanship is on show for all to see. 

The seat stays are once more an Easton item but this time no alloy.  The wishbone is an Easton EC90 Firefork CNT, or Carbon Nano Technology to us.  This is lifted straight from the Pro machine that Vinokourov and his crew will be battering all round Europe this season.  The top of the wishbone anchors in to the seat lug with its SCC (Skeleton Crosslock Concept) a fancy word for a beefy but light. rigid but airy, piece of joining-things-together engineering. 

The chain stays are also solid, beam-like and curved for heel clearance.  They fire right in to the edges of the bottom bracket, again to aid rigidity, and at the wheel end, finish up with a replaceable gear hanger.  They're not of the same material but are of the same design and geometry as the Pro machine.

Up front there's a hidden headset and an Easton EC70 front fork.  The gear cable guides sit right on the head tube and have no adjustment properties but it also means the frame doesn't get scuffed by the cables.  For sitting on, there's an Easton oversize seatpost which only reinforces the rigidity of the frame and it's held in place by a double length seat clamp which prevents your carbon post's getting damaged.  All in all a lot of features in a small area.

Finishing Kit
Once more I seemed to be riding what's becoming the de facto groupset standard on bikes these days, Shimano Ultegra 10.  And to be honest it was boringly (in a nice way) reliable, as are all groupsets these days.  Read one of my other tests for my thoughts on previously tested Ultegra equipped bikes.

This bike was slightly different to customer models as it belonged to one of the boys that owns the shop.  It had ITM K-sword carbon bars and a Ritchey WCS 4 Axis Stem.  To sit on, I had a Selle San Marco Aspide gel saddle.

And as a final finishing touch, we had a wireless PowerTap SL 2.4.  So for this ride I won't be evaluating the wheels as they were one offs.  However the customer bikes come with the Shimano W600 wheelset which I've tried before and are a perfect complement to a bike of this level of performance.

The Ride
Despite my concerns over the top-tube seat tube relationship I immediately felt comfortable on the bike.  Normally when you get on a bike that isn't yours you feel different.  It's not always better or worse, just different.  On the BMC, I felt comfortable straight away.  Some of that was down to the contact points and the saddle in particular. 

All my bike's have Fizik Arione's which are supremely comfortable.  This was my first ride on an Aspide and it immediately felt narrower towards the nose, between the sit bones and thighs.  The greatest compliment I could give it is once the ride got going I never noticed it.  It has a nice little cut out for our "soft-tissue" areas.  I'll probably buy one to fit on my sportive bike.  No freebies hear I'm afraid!

The ITM oversize, wing profile, bars were strong, stiff and offered a variety of hand positions, some of which aren't available or as comfortable on "normal" bars.  Although I'm a traditionalist, and prefer ITM Millennium Strada's handlebars with their standard size, round, non-anatomical shape, the K-Sword's felt comfy and refused to budge even when swinging all of my 70 kilo's off the end of them when sprinting.

The ride sensations of the BMC were initially quite a culture shock.  All winter I've been riding my alloy Colnago Dream and for the last month my carbon C40.  It was immediately obvious that the BMC was from different stock.  It felt like a combination of the two.

The bike felt very stiff but never felt nervous.  Italian frames are renowned for their comfort but can be hustled quickly and safely when the need arises.  The BMC felt like it could be ridden hard on a crit circuit and could mix it with the best of them.  You just won't get as comfy a ride as on a bike costing three times the price.  But then for races less than two hours who needs armchair comfort.

The BMC tracked well and changed direction quickly as long as you knew where you wanted it to go.  On my test circuit there's a downhill corner I try to take without braking beforehand.  The BMC turned in right on queue but despite my best attempts to hold a tight line it ran a smidgen wide on the exit of the corner.  To be honest, this is way beyond the cornering forces and limit that most people would take it; even on a fast crit circuit.

This understeer could probably be dialled out with tyre pressure changes but I believe most of it was down to the forks.  The forks aren't as rigid as the rest of the frame but that ain't necessarily a bad thing.  They do allow a degree of comfort and, along with the bars, help take out a lot of the road buzz that often gets transmitted to the rider.  At no stage on the ride did I get the dreaded pins and needles in the little finger.  Which goes to prove that rigid alloy frames don't have to be "buzzy".

Sprinting
Now I'm not the most powerful of riders, but on another of our tests, the 20 second sprint from a standing start, the power tap told me (when I got home) I hit 918 watts peak power.  I detected very little flex in the bottom bracket area during the sprint, unsurprisingly, and the bike almost behaved impeccably.

Under full power there was a tiny amount of rear-wheel jumping and skipping but that could have been down to my too far forward position and centre of gravity being not quite right.  A quick weight distribution change and a proper bike set up could easily get rid of this "observation."  From the very first pedal push the bike lurched forward and there was little perception of any energy being wasted as it smoothly accelerated down the road with every pedal stroke. 

On a second, longer test, where we accelerate over 40 seconds, the bike just kept an arrow straight line and felt solid right underneath me without any sense of twitch or twist.  Some alloy, and a few titanium, frames whip and flex beneath you giving an impression that not all of your hard-earned force is getting to the back wheels.  You never get this impression on the BMC SL01.  It's as solid as they come.

When we get to the end of our 20 second test, we turn sharp left while still travelling at speed.  The bike's unsettled, the head is spinning and the legs have gone to jelly.  You need your wits about you.

Today the road we wanted was closed, by a big sign.  At the last moment I had to sit up, change position, slam the bars over to the right and head in a completely different direction to the one I had planned.  The BMC took it all in it's stride.  No drama, no fuss and none of the understeer that it showed in the high speed corner earlier in the test.  It performed like you would expect a super-bike to perform.  Faultlessly.

The stem and seat post do what stem and seatpost's do.  They held the bars and the seat in a way we would expect.  Changing saddle position is easy, the four bolts up front holding the stem kept it as rigid as any other stem I've tried.  These items all work.  You just choose the one you like, can afford or your hero uses.  It's all down to personal taste.

High Speed Stability
To be honest some high-end bikes I've tested have not descended at the limit like I would expect.  The mid-range BMC most definitely falls in to the category of a safe and stable machine on descents.  It held a perfect line, could be moved from gutter to gutter quickly and without fuss and only understeered right at the very limit.  By understeer I mean that the front begins to drift wide.  A dab of the front brake brings it all back in to line, but to be honest, the limit is probably higher in risk than most people would want to go.  So this trait, which is much more preferable to the alternative, is fine and dandy.

The 54 cm bike I tested has a wheel base of 992 mm which is nice and short and gives it that zippy feel and directness.  This is also accentuated by the steep-ish head tube but is allayed by the curved profile of the forks.

It comes in two colour ways; white and orange and white and yellow.  Either way it looks a nice bike and you spend more time looking at all of the intricate shapes of the tubeset than worrying about what colour it is.

The bike I rode is for sale and can be specced with a finishing kit to your choice if you so wish.  If your thinking of buying your first real race bike then the 8.5 kilo BMC SL01 could be just the bike for you.  After your first year you upgrade the wheels and you've got a full on race bike that's perfect for the roads and events of Jersey.

Tech Spec
For some the following numbers mean nothing, for others they'll be studied for hours as all the variables of seat tube, top tube, stem requirements and head angles are all worked out to the nth degree.  It's here to help you see how you can get a BMC to fit you!

Conclusion
The BMC is a bike that punches well above it's weight.  It handles as well as any other bike I've ridden and only really shows its handling limitations right at the ultimate limit of high speed cornering.  Which is probably higher than the skill or bravery level of most of the people who'll be riding it.  So in that respect it's a very safe and forgiving race bike.

Race bike technology has moved so fast over the past five or six years that the mid-range SL01 probably out performs many of the top end race bikes of the beginning of the millennium.  A pair of high end wheels will transform the bike further and put you right up there with the big boys.

With six frame sizes to choose from it shouldn't be any problem to get one to fit you.  If you're still unsure, pay the boys at Pedal Power a visit and they can go through the options with you and even discuss the lighter, stiffer, full on race machines of the Team and Pro models.

The Deal
If you're still unsure if the SL01 is the bike for you, get down to Pedal Power and ride it for a weekend!  They have a race ready demonstrator available for you to try.  The 54cm bike I tested is available with a good discount, just ask Paul for a deal and I'm sure he'll oblige. 

Even without the discount these bikes are a real bargain.  A brand new, Ultegra equipped, SL01 is 1,565.  All you need to add are pedals.  The 105 equipped version comes in at a staggering 1,150. 

The Tester
What makes me think I'm qualified to write articles and critique bikes? Click here and I'll try to explain.