What's Cool In Road Cycling

BMC GF01: The PEZ First Ride!

While their professional team was in the midst of a Tour de France winning performance last year, BMC and its small cadre of engineers were more than 6 months into the development of their next platform, the GF01 Gran Fondo bike. Part endurance bike, part cobbled classic killer, I had a chance to ride the new bike ahead of Sea Otter – here’s a first look.

– Words by Matt McNamara –

The BMC GF01 – Gran Fondo – click the thumbnail at top for the BIG view.

In The Beginning…
BMC first made a splash in 2004 with their SLT01 (read PEZ-Review here), a bike rich in visual cues. The exoskeleton design became the defacto reference point for the bike and although heavy at 1260g (2.74lbs) in the 55cm size, performance was reputed to be very good. Move forward a few years and the company introduces the fully re-designed SLC01 (read PEZ-Review here) , a 960g (2.11lb) race bred machine that carried a modified exo-skeleton look, but is still very clearly a BMC.

In 2010 BMC introduced the next iteration, the SLR01 (read PEZ-Review here )Team Machine, a complete redesign built to order for their ever improving squad. At just over 900g for the 55cm model, the SLR01 is light and stiff, yet surprisingly compliant thanks to the now familiar compact seat stay and varied tube shapes. Indeed, the SLR01 offered an early glimpse of the future via what BMC calls their Tuned Compliance Concept (TCC), whereby each tube is optimized for the task at hand be that vertical compliance or stiffness. The SLR01, with its short stays and relaxed head tube was intended to be comfortable on long rides, yet perform at Pro Tour level day in and day out, a tough balancing act. That ideal formed the backbone of the new GF01 Gran Fondo.

Spec It
The GF01 first begins to come alive on the spec sheet. Glance through the measurements on offer and nuances arise. Little tidbits peaked my interest: the 412mm chainstays, the 50mm of front fork rake, and the retro-seeming 27.2mm seat post, among others. Taken in context they begin to weave a tale of a bike not cut from the “race only” cloth that dominates the high end marketplace. Instead here is a bike that gives a moment’s pause, that raises more questions than it answers. I wanted to see it in person to gauge the overall impact.

Moving from front to back this bike offers some significant diversions from the standard. First off I noticed the fork rake. When was the last time you saw a fork with actual rake in it? If you look back to the 90’s you can still see the once-familiar bend near the drop out on many race bikes, but since the turn of the century, such “softness” has largely been the purview of cruisers and touring bikes. BMC brings it back in a significant way here with 50mm of front fork rake helping to buffer the ride just a bit, while the oversized carbon bulges near the top to help keep the front end competitively stiff and quick.

In addition to the tall-ish head tube (roughly a centimeter taller across sizes than an SLR01 for example), the GF01 also brings a slightly-shorter than average top tube measurement to the game, namely a 54.2cm on the 54cm I rode versus a 56cm top tube on the 55cm SLR01. A 42 bar and 100mm stem rounds out the front end – but more on that in a minute.

Heft bereft of fluff….the BB86 looks as stiff as it is.

Moving towards the rear we find a slightly lower than normal bottom bracket, 71mm below the drop outs, whereas the SLR01 has a 69mm drop, the same as most bikes in the BMC stable. This adds to the bikes overall stability, but may cost a little bit of lean angle in the corners out on the open road.

Attention to detail shows at the inner chain ring guide.

The bottom bracket, all BB86mm of it, contains a veritable forest of custom shaped carbon fiber. Most tubes are flat to rectangular in shape and BMC designed the bike so that the thickest portion of any given tube was found at the bottom bracket. This contributes to the bike being 30% stiffer than the SLR01 Team Machine both laterally and torsionally. That’s impressive, especially for a bike built as an endurance platform.

Finally we arrive at the rear triangle. Recall that one of the unique design elements of the SLR01 was the vertical compliance offered by mounting the seat stays a few centimeters lower than normal. Although minimal on the SLR01, this compliance is central to the Gran Fondo bike and is readily visible in two distinct areas. First the seat stays themselves are flat and thin to allow for a modicum of displacement. They are also mounted well below the top of the seat tube to enhance compliance at the narrower-than-expected 27.2mm seatpost. BMC claims up to 16mm of compliance at the seat post with this combination and overall compliance is 40% greater than on the SLR01. This amount of movement is only possible thanks to the unique kink in the seat stays where they form the wishbone leading to the seat tube.

The other unique design element is the off-set rear drop outs that have what BMC calls their Angular Compliance characteristics. Essentially they have bent the chain stay at roughly forty-five degrees and placed the drop outs a few centimeters behind where they would normally meet the seat stays. This gives the rear axle a virtual movement arm that allows up to 4mm of upward flex.

Build It Out
There are several details of the build out that bear mentioning. BMC specs the bike with 28mm Continental GP 4-season tires standard. Run at 80psi, the tires offer an additional level of absorption and smoothness that is a welcome alternative to the 120psi and 23mm race bred norms. To mount wider tires it is often necessary to use a custom brake with longer-than-stock arms, what’s called reach in brake parlance, but BMC was able to avoid the custom route by applying a little Swiss ingenuity: they simply angled the mounting post up slightly from front to rear creating room to spare for the 28’s. BMC also claims that the angled mounting puts the brake post 90 degrees tangential to the rim braking surface and parallel to the center point of the hub (think of a parallelogram), perfect placement by their reckoning.

The slightly angled brake-mount allows enough room for the stock 28mm Continental tires.

Creative Common Sense In Action
Other details of the build include simple and clean Di2 routing (all GF01’s come with Ultegra Di2 standard) and the option to route traditional cables thanks to remove-able tabs for the as yet unavailable frame only option. Speaking of components, BMC is only offering a single version of the bike for now and it comes complete with a full Ultegra package sporting a 50/34 compact crank and 11-28 rear cassette. The wheels are Easton EA90RT’s that are tubeless compatible, although test bikes had traditional tubes. The cockpit features Easton EA70 bar and stem, a solid utilitarian choice. To reach the widest range of riders the bike is available with three different seatpost offset options: the 18mm is standard, or you can choose from 3mm or 30mm offset versions to fine tune your fit. A Fizik Aliante saddle is also standard.

On The Road
I am the first to admit that my initial reaction to the bike was a modest interest tinged with indifference; I thought I knew the type already; an “almost” race bike that is invariably tuned down for the recreational class. Not race bred. Not true enough for my particular brand of roadie hubris. Tall head tube, must be slow. Longer wheel base – stable, but slow. Higher profile position, perfect for the uber-consumer with a gut. I could have skipped the presentation and written a summary on just that.

Alessandro Ballan rode the GF01 frameset to 3rd place at the 2012 Paris-Roubaix.

Then, in its debut, it landed on the podium at Paris Roubaix and BMC invited a selection of the cycling press to Monterey for the U.S. launch. I got the chance to learn about the bike, talk to the engineers about the development process, and spend a few hours riding it. In the end this bike is not at all what I was expecting.

First there is the visual impact, it just looks cool. While matte black may be a fad for the next year or so it is hard to argue that when combined with the unique visuals on offer and a touch of red it creates a stunning impression.

After an evening presentation we headed out towards the world renowned 17-mile drive in Monterey eager to put the bike through its paces. My first pass with the bike was wearing regular tennis shoes and pulling some high-G turns in the parking lot to see how it handled in tight quarters. I felt fairly comfortable on the bike straight away, able to pull off a succession of decreasing radius figure eights, reverse U’s, emergency stops and quick chicane transfers. This despite the 100mm stem and 42cm bars that come standard. (Swapping out is something buyers will have to take up with their local retailer.) Though I’m sure any dealer worth their salt would swap stems and bars, I would love to have the option of choosing my own bar and stem dimensions while keeping the originally spec’d Eastons for aesthetics and continuity.

Out on the road you can immediately feel the race pedigree, once you get past an initial feeling of softness at the rear wheel that comes from a combination of 80psi and those subtle twinges of movement in the rear end. Fortunately, the “do I have a flat” moment was short lived, quickly replaced with appreciation at the stability and compliance as I hit about every bump, edge and pothole I could find. While front end geometry (head angle, rake, and as important, trail) and the wheel base might have folks thinking something different, the handling is direct and responsive.
The front transitions into turns quickly, while the rear, thanks to those 412mm stays, seems stoic and predictable.

I did some high speed slalom runs between the ubiquitous California bots dots at speeds ranging from 18 – 30mph and found the bike responded amiably even when asked to change lines mid arc. Handling did not seem affected by the high and short endurance position either going up or coming down.

The GF01 accelerated with ease from any speed and in most any gear combination over both flats and hills alike. Sprinting offered a lot less flex than a bike with this much compliance would traditionally make. While not a pure sprinter, and with the cockpit set up a bit short for my liking, the bike did prove adept enough to suit most of us there. It was similarly well rounded on climbs. Not so stiff that you felt acceleration at every pedal stroke, but neither so soft that energy seemed wasted. The 11-28 cassette is a clear nod to century riders, yet finding another click while climbing was a pleasant reprieve on several occasions.

So far a competent and fun ride, but let’s face it, your interest is in the rough stuff. Me too. I made it a point to venture off the edge of the pavement at every opportunity searching for bumps and ruts that might approximate the Roubaix cobbles, yet at every excursion the bike simply soaked up the onslaught with nary a twitch. I would love to take this bike on some of my favorite mixed terrain rides to get a longer term impression, but my initial response is that this bike will appeal to a lot of riders.

The Verdict
BMC put a lot of thought into their Gran Fondo platform. Developed to serve the divergent needs of Spring Classic Pro Tour racers and the more hard core endurance riders looking for long duration comfort, the GF01 walks a narrow line quite well. At a hair over 16 pounds, the GF01 is available in only one configuration and comes with Ultegra Di2, aluminum clincher wheels, and Easton’s mid range EA70 bar and stem. The parts mix shows a classically Swiss approach; highly functional and pragmatic. In an era when specialization is starting to extend beyond the racers and into the bikes at every turn, they have created a flagship model for the endurance segment that is equally at home on the race course. With a price of US$6599.00, the Gran Fondo GF01 certainly makes the most of what it has to offer.

• See more info at the website: BMC-RACING.com

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