PEZ-Test: LEMOND ‘Tete de Course’
When LeMond Racing Cycles unveiled their new Triomphe “Ultra” frame at Tour of California, it was Greg himself who led some select journos on two days of riding the lighter, stiffer version of the Triomphe all carbon frame. Kitted up with top OEM-spec SRAM Force and Bontrager Aeolus 5.0 aero wheels – the “Tete de Course” definitely got the right name.
From an editor’s perspective, I admire the marketing guys at LeMond cycles… A couple of great days riding some shiny new bikes with the brand’s namesake (and one of the greatest racers of our generation) is sure to leave me feeling warm and fuzzy. But hey – it’s a stark contrast to the brand managers who can’t even find time to return calls. Does it influence the bike review?
Sure does. Having direct access to the product managers as you test the bike means questions get answered fast, and you can call ‘em on anything that doesn’t look, feel, or smell right.
But after riding and really liking the LeMond Triomphe at Tour de Georgia last year, the big question was how much could they improve on this bike – I mean really improve it? The answer turned out to be simple…
Climbing the hills outside Santa Rosa – the LeMond was as comfortable to ride as the Team Kelly Strategies shorts were to wear – guess who’s bike they ride?
Make it lighter & stiffer.
This frame is called the Triomphe ‘Ultimate’. And although the Triomphe frame is no porker at 950g (there’s a good chance it’s lighter than what you’re riding now), when they announced the new Triomphe Ultimate frame weighs in at a mere 850 grams – I got excited. That 100grams is almost a quarter pound (it’s 3.52 oz to be exact). Granted I only weigh in at 140 lbs, so it means more to me than maybe some other guys, but finding 100 grams to save off any single part of the bike is no easy task these days.
I really liked the Triomphe (read the review) – handling was stable steady, does what you tell it, goes where you want it, with a comfort level that belies the level of stiffness. The new Triomphe Ultimate uses that same geometry, but weighs less through some selective use of High modulous carbon that allowed a reduction in the amount of material used in the frame.
That’s Smart Thinking
As use of carbon fiber in bike frames evolves, we’re seeing frame designs that maintain (or even increase) stiffness and strength, but reduce the weight. It means we have more choices for ride quality to suit different rider sizes, styles, and preferences, and there’s sure to be mix to please everyone.
LeMond’s choice mix or ride quality is their own combo of lateral stiffness and vertical compliance. That’s my boiled down version of their “Min-Max” marketing theme, which more accurately defined refers to: Minimum weight and maximum rider efficiency (ie: performance, stiffness, output etc.) We covered the details on this in our first Triomphe review, but for the Tete – they’ve maximized the MAX even more. It’s lighter and stiffer, and with those Bontrager Aeolus 5.0 wheels – is still a bike that delivers the kind of comfort I want for 7 hour epic.
The bikes have been designed with racing in mind, so they’re generally stiff with responsive geometry, but also with attention to maximizing long ride comfort. So when I heard this evolution of the frame used more hi-modulus carbon to stiffen up certain areas – and less material overall – I was somewhat skeptical as to how much of that ‘ride comfort’ would make it into the new frame.
Here’s a closer look at how they did it – reduced the weight while increasing the stiffness in key areas to deliver some pretty nice ride qualities.
Even without my fancy camera angle, the dramatic tube shapes are plain to see – hiding nothing about which parts of this frame are designed for stiffness, an which ones for compliance. Tubes both tall and wide at the headtube junction are designed to maximize stiffness and reduce front end twist.
Thanks to more dramatic tube shaping and size, it’s easier these days to understand how a bike might ride just by looking at it. And the LeMond is not shy about showing its stuff. Like the smart guys in the frame building biz are doing, the LeMond also features different tube specs (wall thickness and diameters) for different size frames, taking into account how much force an average rider’s weight will affect the ride for each size. The bigger frames need to be stronger to hold heavier riders, while the smaller frames don’t need all the material since their lighter riders induce smaller stresses. Makes sense, and is what you should expect in a top end frame these days.
The image below illustrates just how the frame has been changed to reduce weight. The darker red is the new Tete de Course frame, sitting nicely inside the original Triomphe frame shown by the shadowed overlay. It’s plain to see reduced headtube, top tube, monostay, and down tube sections.
The Top Tube is shaped very much like that on the Triomphe – tall and wide at the front than tapering to a shorter but still very wide oval-style shape where it intersects the seatube. This keeps the front end as stiff as possible, while anchoring the seattube to help the overall resistance of lateral loads while still allowing a reasonable degree of vertical compliance to aid in the ride comfort. The main diff between the two fame’s top tubes, as you can see above – is the smaller overall size and addition of high-mod carbon (see the dark blotches near the tead tube) on the Triomphe Ultimate.
The Down Low of the BB
Again, just like to the Triomphe, the new Triomohe Ultimate BB is big and wide, and anchored by big, wide junctions with the down tube, top tube, and seat stays.
You can see how wide the downtube is at the bottom bracket – it flairs out to full width that carries straight through to the chainstays. It creates a wider base from which to anchor that insanely huge torque you create when attacking for the win at your local Tuesday Night World Championships or dropping your buddies on your Mur de Blowchunks.
That bb remains comolded into the frame so alignment is said to be perfect. The image below clearly shows the reduction of Triomphe Ultimate frame material when compared to the Triomphe. And again, the green blotches show areas where the stiffer, high-mod carbon has been added.
The view of the rear end shows areas where materials have been reduced and replaced by more hi-mod carbon to increase the stiffness. Note the narrower top tube, rear yoke, downtube and bb sections. A fair amount of high-mod carbon has been worked into the rear stays to increase stiffness where your power meets the road.
• The Monostay and Top Tube retain their Min/Max cross section but the surface area has been reduced again to save weight. As you can see, the finish quality is excellent, and they’ve chosen a cool metallic to make sure their black isn’t just black.
• The vertical thickness of the seatstays and yoke are darn thin to aid in absorbing bumps. The width however (although narrower than the Triomphe), goes beyond even the seatpost – a shape that offers exceptional stability from the twisting forces that can absorb energy and rob power.
The other area of the frame that bears noting again is the shape of the chainstays. The pic above shows the non-drive side stay is wider than the drive side. In fact, as you can see below, the drive side stay is ovalized along the vertical plane, to provide more stability against the pedaling forces on the drive side of the bike. You may or may not be able to tell the difference while riding, but it’s a design that makes sense, and with peace of mind comes confidence – and as our ace ToolBox Crew constantly remind us – confident riders go faster. [Note: those paint imperfections on the bb are actually dried energy drink. The paint finish everywhere is top-notch.]
The dropouts on the Ultimate are also now carbon to reduce the weight a bit more. They’re covered with an aluminum interface to better secure the wheel and offer increased durability in this area of unique forces a la wheel skewer.
• The gruppo is full SRAM Force, and by now you’ve likely ridden it or at least seen it, and I’ve nothing but good reports all around. I’ve been riding it for well over 6 months now, and the levers and control ergonomics are my personal faves, the shifting is solid and precise, braking has proven as good as anything I’m riding. The front derailleur would be better served with a couple more trim positions and slightly softer spring or shorter throw (which I understand may be addressed in the new RED gruppo). And although the cranks, chain, and cogset are not the lightest around, they work well. Read my FORCE review here.
• Bontrager bars, stem, seatpost and RaceX Lite Pro saddle connect rider to bike. Wheelset is Bontrager’s aero-shaped 50mm section Aeolus 5.0 all carbon clinchers – THIS is a super wheelset for almost all conditions and I won’t spoil my full review now but these are worth a close look.
The Proof Is In The Ride
I’ve been lucky to ride both the LeMond Triomphe and now the Triomphe Ultimate at big US races with 3-time Tour de France Champ Greg LeMond. There’s no doubt these are rare and unique circumstances which call to attention any journo’s ability to remain objective. But choosing your next bike is never a 100% objective exercise anyway – cycling is about raw emotion (does anyone not remember the moment you learned how to balance on two wheels – without the training wheels?)
But after riding the new Tete de Course at the Tour of California, I’m convinced that the design and performance of these bikes far exceeds the brand’s current perception, and share of market. Greg LeMond has been out of the public eye for a lot longer than you’d expect from a guy who’s won the Tour de France 3 times, and maybe his bikes have had a lower profile in that time as well. But he was a techno-leader in his day – he loved any device that would help him go faster – aerobars, aero-helmets, aero-anything.
My immediate impression after riding just a few miles was surprise… We were on pretty crappy roads – lots of cracks, crumbled pavement and construction debris – and I was surprised by how smooth the bike felt. And not in a mushy, la-z-boy way of any kind – the frame felt tight and a stiff – but the ride was nice… smooth. It’s the kind of platform I could relax on while feeling confident all of my energy was going where it should.
It’s clear to me that these bikes are a great combination of tube shapes, strategic use of high- and medium-modulous carbon where it’s needed (not because it sounds good on the brochure), and reduction of material to shave weight while still delivering a ride that is as stiff as any race bike should be, and more comfortable than you’d expect.
Unlike so many ex-champion racers who think fame and fortune awaits simply by slapping their name on a bike, these bikes stand up as a worthy offer from a true champion (and company) whose love for technology and solid design actually count for something… The new Tete de Course is a perfect legacy for the technological advancements and drive to take chances that Greg began more than 20 years ago.
• Color: Metallic Black/Carbon
• Price: $7,699.99 USD msrp Full bike spec’d as tested.
Get more info at LeMondBikes.com.
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