- by Michael Bachman
- Published: 22 January 2016
Factor Bikes started as the brainchild of bf1systems to showcase their Formula 1 automotive skills to a larger audience. They are a UK company who supplies the automotive, aerospace and sports industry with electrical, electronic and composite solutions. In 2009 they released the £25,000 Factor 001 which created a wave of interest, the road bike was several generations ahead of its time; a carbon fiber monocoque frame with split down-tube and split aero forks, disc brakes and technology such as an integrated power meter, accelerometers and strain gauges that made it a bike that is advanced by todays standards.
Then came the One-77 in 2012, another £25,000 bike which was the result of a collaboration with carmaker Aston Martin. Then in 2013, another Factor super bike appeared, the £10,000 Vis Vires that continued the trademark split down-tube design. Dream bike is probably an apt name for the type of bike that defines the brand Factor.
Accomplished Australian ex-professional cyclists Baden Cooke came on board in 2014 as a consultant and subsequently bought into Factor with Rob Gitelis, an American who owns Evolution Manufacturing in Taiwan. The task was to create a UCI legal bike. Baden and Rob become co-owners in Factor and developed the next generation; the Factor ONE, the ONE-S and the O2, which are all officially launched at the 2016 Tour Down Under in South Australia.
In a rare move, before even selling a single bike, Factor have also signed-up with the professional continental racing team, ONE Pro Cycling. As a result, the new Factor bikes have been spotted here and there but prior to the launch have also been somewhat elusive. I was privileged to be part of an intimate press launch at the Tour Down Under and was looking forward to seeing the new Factor bikes in the flesh… and riding one together with Baden Cooke.
The new range includes three models – the flagship is the Factor ONE with the split downtube and fully integrated cockpit and forks. The Factor ONE-S is a variation, it has the same frame though without the integrated aero cockpit and full-aero fork. The O2 is the all-rounder, a lighter and stiffer bike though with less aero focus. In fact, the O2 is about 1kg lighter. All of the bikes are equipped with Black Inc Wheels – Black Inc is another Baden Cooke co-owned brand and the wheels, bottom brackets and headset all feature CeramicSpeed bearings. This means that the bearings alone make up $2,000 in price tag of each bike.
Factor ONE S
Rob Gitelis was confident is reaffirming that these are not bikes are affordable for everyone, instead, “these bikes are meant to be aspirational bikes.” They are a bicycle which people will invest time and effort to make sure the bike does exactly what they need… and that it is unique and world-class.
Under the hood
Test Riding the Factor ONE S
I was lucky to be allocated a Factor ONE-S to ride. Leaving the Tour Down Under Village in the center of Adelaide City, I found myself riding along-side Baden Cooke and ask about his transition into becoming a co-owner in a bike brand. He says that it was “born out of a desire to make my own bike. With some key contacts and serendipitous timing, the key aspects fell into place”. Scottish ex-pro David Millar lent a lot of expertise for the bike developments particularly the TT and Triathlon bikes. Cooke set a one-year goal for the brand to become a supplier of a World Tour Team and discussions were quickly underway with team ONE Pro Cycling who would help with international brand recognition.
During the short ride it was impossible for the bike to showcase its full range of capabilities. One aspect of the ride that I immediately noticed was how well the bike rolls. It felt as though it was on rails, gliding along with a secret inbuilt motor. The Factor ONE S is kitted out with a Shimano DuraAce Di2 groupset, 50mm Black Inc carbon clinchers and Vittoria Corsa CX 23X tyres emblazoned with the Factor logo. It was topped off with a fi’zi:k Arione saddle. The ONE-S has an integrated stem and handlebars; there are three bar widths and 5 stem lengths available. The bars had a classic drop but also a noticeable flat section on the top for aerodynamics (a concept probably lost on me) but they made it comfortable to grip. There is an option got an out-front Garmin mount.
When it comes to claims by brands and their marketing teams, you could call me a bit of a sceptic. I prefer the term ‘realist’. As a mere mortal, I feel that I am rarely able to make use of all of the benefits. But put me on a the Factor ONE-S with top-of-the-line ceramic bearings, deep profile carbon fiber wheels and a full-aero frameset – I will definitively have to rethink my position because this feels really good.
Baden Cooke and Rob Gitelis
The short ride on the Factor bikes took us on a 30km loop to the beachside town of Grange. At the jetty in Grange on a coffee stop, Baden and Rob shared more on their background, their future plans and the capabilities of their new bikes. To really get to know the bikes, much more time is needed. From the short ride to the beach and back, the frame provided a nice balance between reassuring stiffness and compliance – sorry Chiropractors. Through the bike you could read the road the surface and knew that the small rear triangle was steady, no rattling, jarring or skipping. The rear worked well to dampen the road noise and keep you in control. It would lend itself to long Gran Fondos, Sportives and even World Tour races.
Adelaide is fairly flat, though taking an opportunity to ride up a short incline out of an underpass I could have a stomp on the pedals and see how the bike responds. The bottom bracket and 50mm Black Inc wheels responded to every watt that I pumped in. No doubt the ONE Pro Cycling team members Matt Goss and Steele von Hoff will beat my efforts to stress test. I ask Rob Gitelis which bike the team riders had selected and he noted that he was surprised that most selected the aerodynamic Factor ONE over the lighter O2. This reveals a lot about the importance of aerodynamic performance as well as the ride quality of the Factor ONE.
The 56cm Factor ONE, which I rode, weighs in at 7.4 kg, so as an aerodynamic bike it compares very favourably in the peloton against other aero bikes. As a curiosity, assembling the bike is reported by the mechanics to be quite fast for an aero bike with integrated bar and stem. The mechanics have reduced the build time from 90 minutes to about one hour.
One of the criticisms I have is the position of the Di2 junction box on the Factor ONE. Usually these are underneath the stem though on the Factor ONE with the integrated stem, it has been positioned underneath the bottom holder on the seat tube. While it is out of the way and very accessible in this location, it is more susceptible to road muck on wet days and contamination from drink bottle residue.
Test Riding the Factor O2
I must have won the lottery as I managed to convince Baden and Rob to let me get some time in the hills with the lighter O2 and see how it handled in the curves. The Factor O2 had a 56cm frame with DuraAce Di2, 30mm deep Black Inc carbon clinchers with Vittoria Corsa CX 23C tyres and an integrated bar/stem combo. On the O2 the focus is towards stiffness rather than aero and the junction box is mounted under the stem. The bike weighs in at 6.4 kg and it should only be a matter of time until the UCI adjust the bike weight limits in line with modern technology.
The O2 frame is closer to a traditional geometry and has some very nice touches and features that set it apart from the competition. For example, the seat post clamp is located underneath the seat tube and top tube junction; it uses a wedge system to secure the round seat post and is subtle, unobtrusive and very well integrated.
I turned the handlebars in the direction one of my favourite climbs and descents, Mt Osmond which is just off the freeway. As the roads changed from flat to inclined, it became apparent that the huge bottom bracket was not just for show. I experienced very little flex, the asymmetric carbon layup and geometry maximise stiffness so I can convert each pedal stroke into effective power. Mt Osmond is a 2.5km climb averaging 9.7% and the 39/25 gearing had me out of the saddle quickly. I am used to a 34/28 for the hills in Adelaide. None of my meagre watts were lost in flex; the bike kept moving forward with each stroke. Flying down the other side I hit 80 kmh and felt stable and confident in the descent. Back up the hill I was looking forward to riding down into Beaumont.
Descending Hayward Drive for the first time on this bike, I only went 80% as I didn’t fancy the thought of bringing back a $15,000+ wreck. But the bike knew where it wanted to go around the hairpins. It remained stable under brakes and only required minimal input to launch into the correct line round the corners. This is a bike that inspired confidence as it dealt with the undulations with ease. The solid frame of the O2 meant that the ride was harsher that the Factor ONE, more road feel was transferred though I was satisfied with the damping. My personal preference would be to ditch the fi’zi:k Arione saddle and opt for a different one to suit longer sportives. The ideal home for this bike is flying up and down those Alpine descents in Europe. That is where it deserves to be ridden.
Aspirational or worth every cent?
Both Baden and Rob make no bones about who will by a Factor bike. It is aimed towards cyclists who will spend considerably on their steed, and who, in return, will expect a bike that performs as well as it looks. The Factor ONE delivers all of this in an aero inspired package that flies along with minimal effort and provides a combination of stiffness and comfort that can be attributed to the team of skilled and experienced bike designers. The Factor O2 in contrast is a road bike that begs to be steered up the alpine climbs and down descents at high speeds while lending its rider full confidence and control.
For many cyclists, these are dream bikes…. super bikes and it is perfectly ok to dream and think “… one day”. That is aspiration and not a marketing spiel. When Rob was asked to provide a ‘name’ for the rear end of the Factor ONE he said ‘There isn’t. We don’t believe in that…. the design and layup is what makes it work.” Even in the paint and colour schemes, Factor opts for elegant and refined rather trying to distract from the essence. Branding is important and the bikes look fantastic, but it is not over rated. The obligatory UCI sticker confirms that Factor has now ‘joined the club’ and the UK decal is a reference to the design origin.
For my part, I loved every second on these thoroughbreds, even if my own onboard motor has seen better days. I have my sights on the 56cm Factor O2 with disc brakes and lime green and black colour scheme.
Baden suggest that Factor bikes will start to become available for customer around March 2016, there will be an online store and Factor will work with local bike shops who will help with bike fitting, assembly and pickup. The O2 disc brake version (I am a long time disc brake convert) is due to be released later this year as a Triathlon specific TT bike and a UCI conform Time Trial bike is also in development.
Visitor factorbikes.com for some more information and to sign-up to their newsletter.