As I wheeled the shiny new BMC through the door with air of lordly pride, the grinning shop assistant said? “Get some rope and you can use it as a boat anchor.”
The shop was not a BMC dealer though had graciously held the bike for a few days on its journey to us. The tongue-in-cheek comment poignantly illustrated the brand-loyalty held by many riders. It also showed how brand-loyalty is leveraged by bike shops who can only stock a few different names for practicality reasons.
So whether it be elastomer inserts, ultra-thin or S-bend seat-stays, nano-technology and in BMC’s case – a little cross-member that joins seat-stay to top-tube, there’s no shortage of features for brand loyalists to capitalise on. All are designed to provide performance improvements or simply differentiate the product. But how much is performance and how much is just puff?
Well, get comfortable because today we’re going to cut through the propaganda and find out together what BMC and their Road Racer SL01 are all about.
BMC – Who are they?
BMC is a Swiss company, yet strangely their heritage seems to be under-emphasized. At their disposal is that wonderful catchphrase: “Swiss Precision” invoking images of finely crafted utility knives and shiny and expensive watches that know the difference between 10 and 11 microseconds past one. Yet it feels like they’ve undercapitalised on this birthright.
In fact, on their website it’s hidden away between cringe-worthy expressions like “Think outside the box, and you won’t get boxed in” and “BMC is for Lovers – For people who love it when things work”
Despite these face-puckering phrases, it’s a wonderful thing when a product speaks louder than its marketing hype, and the BMC actually does. At the risk of doing their job for them – forget the old clich?d lines, Swiss precision and quality are really what BMC bikes are all about.
What is the Road Racer SL01?
The SL01 is one of BMC’s mid-range bikes which has evolved this year into a full-carbon frame (from an eclectic aluminium and carbon mix last year). It comes with a Shimano Ultegra groupset (in Australia) and it rides on a beautiful set of R1700 DT Swiss rims.
It retails for about $5,000 so it sits among some pretty high-class bikes. You might ask then, what is a “mid-range” bike doing with this kind of a price tag? Well, basically it feels like a wolf in sheep’s clothing – offering top-level performance in a less flamboyant package.
Standard practice in the world of bike-selling is to up-spec the visible things (like shifters and rear derailleurs) and to down-spec the less obvious things (like cassettes and handlebars and front derailleurs). The SL01 is the polar opposite of this practice.
How so? It’s a bit like SRAM Force. Before RED came out, every magazine compared it to Dura-Ace (and favourably too!). Now, when it gets reviewed, people compare to Ultegra and what’s changed? Nothing. The SL01 is not really a mid-range bike; it’s a high end bike that just happens to have a few bigger brothers.
Throwing a Leg Over
For a good looking bike, we were very surprised at the number of people who didn’t like it. To us, the small rear triangle, the brace from the seat-tube to top-tube and the tube shapes make it look tight and fast – though perhaps not to traditionalists. And unlike most bikes, the carbon that’s visible is not just a cosmetic layer. It’s very industrial – raw but not rough. It all comes together really nicely.
BMC are rather cagey on certain aspects of the SL01. Some manufacturers tout the name of their carbon or how much stiffer it is in percentage terms, or lighter or whatever. Indeed, the distributor was unable to give us any solid information or numbers at all. Why?
Certainly not for intellectual property reasons – none of the information that impulsive consumers desire would be that interesting to competitors. Two possible reasons are that (1) BMC doesn’t see it as being that important or else (2) the numbers just aren’t that impressive. Let’s illustrate?
Look at the Cervelo R3 and RS – two beautiful bikes, one significantly cheaper than the other, both offering professional-grade performance. Which one costs more to build? Likely neither. Similarly, there’s no reason for BMC to deliberately under-engineer their SL01 just because they sell it for less. Maybe (and we’re only hypothesizing here) releasing test-bench data might take the shine off the more expensive models?
The “Complete Package”
Most of this bike’s advantages don’t appear on paper, or at least, they’re not obvious. As cyclists, we can get into a habit of going straight for questions like: What’s the Groupset? What’s the frame made of? How much does it weigh? But the advantages here are all about the package as a whole.
The unique “AngleLock” seatpost clamping mechanism is simple and elegant. For the end user, it’s a lock/unlock switch. Underneath, it’s a relatively intricate design to make the user experience simpler (we broke it by playing with something we weren’t supposed to). The BMC theory is that since the clamping point is lower, the saddle sits on an effectively longer post, which in turn should dissipate more road vibration.
The sloping top tube and small rear triangle should have a similar effect and mean less material required (weight savings) and a stiffer structure between cranks and wheels.
Laterally Stiff, Yet Vertically Clich?d
In this regard, you’d probably want to know whether these theories transfer to real world experiences. In our experience, yes it does. You might even be disappointed to hear that we believe it is extremely stiff under power and yet amazingly smooth over rough roads – after all, you could have asked the sales rep for such an analysis.
But there’s nothing more we can say than that it was truly impressive; even when callously flogged down crumbling old roads, across gouged-out concrete bridges and into countless potholes. It seems like the faster we went, the smoother it was. Although that sounds like a horribly trite expression, the SL01 really did maintain a constant, reliable nature over varying surfaces and speeds.
Likewise the power transfer was equal to some of the best bikes we’ve ridden. In fact, we were able to eke out a little extra speed while sprinting compared to the Giant TCR Advanced 0. This doesn’t so much prove it is faster, only that it’s close enough to be one of the smallest variables affecting performance. Once you get to this quality level (read: price) the differences between bikes becomes very small.
On that note, although the geometry tables for BMC’s racing bikes (from the SL01 up) are very different for each model, the key measurements (things like the wheelbase and the relative position of handlebars, cranks and saddle) are actually very similar. It’s therefore not surprising that it performs as you would expect from a top-of-the-line model.
The bottom line is the SL01 will likely be on par in terms of performance (stiffness, weight and comfort) no matter what you’re comparing it to, including BMC’s own higher-end bikes. An ambitious statement? Certainly, but we believe the SL01 will stand up admirably to anyone trying to prove otherwise.
SCOR is BMC’s in-house components brand and our BMC Representative said they’re made by one of the world’s biggest manufacturers. We can’t complain about them, they performed fine and evidently are light enough to bring the whole package in at 7.7kg. The saddle is similar in shape to the Fi’zi:k Arione and as such provides a comfortable, wide platform.
The wheels that come standard on this bike are really impressive. Being an area many manufacturers elect to save money on, the DT Swiss R1700 wheels are of unusually high quality. They are quite light and stayed true despite the pounding they received. We really can’t say enough about these wheels here, unlike most things marketing departments pounce on, strong, light wheels will make a difference to your performance and these are genuine racing wheels. And notably, they are not a cheap upgrade if you opted for a less expensive, lower specced bike.
The Ultegra groupset doesn’t warrant much analysis – you get Dura-Ace performance for less money and the weight difference of a few energy gels. We know what Ultegra is all about. It’s an ethos that fits with the overall theme of the SL01.
One item worth noting though is the compact crankset and 11-28 cassette. This provides a range of climbing gears that are actually useful and much more appropriate for the average rider. It never ceases to amaze us how many riders believe they ought to use the same gearing as the professionals who quite literally put out more power with one leg than many of us can with two!
To say the SL01 is a lovely bike would be an understatement. It’s finely engineered and beautiful to ride. But it’s expensive; you can get a lot of bike for $5,000. On the other hand, you could easily spend twice as much and have a bike has an Italian name on it but isn’t a better bicycle.
It’s definitely race-ready right out of the box which is a major advantage over cheaper bikes that have cut corners. It’s not a Rolex, nor a Casio. It’s somewhere in the middle, like the Swatch watch of bikes. Look to the SL01 if you appreciate the “little things”.
BMC bikes are available in Australia through Echelon Sports and you will find dealers throughout Australia.