PEZ-Test: ARGON 18 Gallium S3
The guys at Argon 18 have been building some pretty nice bikes since 1989, but unless you live in Eastern Canada or race triathlons, you may not be too familiar with the brand. The company, started by ex-road pro Gervais Rioux, is very committed to building well thought out race bikes, and we recently tested their newest offering…
The Gallium S3 is the newest in Argon’s line of race bikes – and their most advanced effort yet at creating what they believe is the “optimal” race machine. For Argon18, this means a lightweight, super-stiff, racing geometry bike that also happens to be a comfortable 5-6 hour race ride. Sounds like a tall order – so how do they intend to achieve all this?
The Gallium in all its glory.
**Click the thumbnail at top for the really BIG view.
Besides being slightly more “European” than most of us on this side of the Atlantic, the Quebec-based company combines some serious r&d with creative thinking to produce bikes that are conspicuous by their absence from the pro-peloton. (But they tell us that should change for 2006, as they’re close to a major sponsorship deal…)
Commit To The Fit
If you know PEZCycling, you know how bullish we are on bike fit. Turns out Argon18 feel the same way – so much so that they are the exclusive distributors of the so simple yet so sophisticated Fit System developed by Juteau-Cantin – a French-Canadian company who build specific tools for very accurate bike fit measurements. You might have seen one of these in your local shop – if not you may want to ask ‘em to get one…
Argon18’s “Fit System” is pretty cool and pretty precise – allowing your shop to size you from this…
There is the AFS Bike Tool – a completely adjustable bicycle that attaches to their Fitting Kit Platform, and allows for adjustment of virtually every tube of the bike – we’re talking top tube, down tube, seat tube, seat & chain stays, bars stem, head tube – the whole enchilada.
The other tools offered are:
The Bike Fit Platform – A Large solid platform that holds the bike and allows for using squares instead of plumb-lines to correctly set the rider’s position and two other specific tools for the precise and reliable measurement of inseam, bar/stem length.
… All the way up to this.
The Gallium itself is offered in five sizes from 52cm – 58.5cm top tube lengths – so not the largest range of sizes we’ve seen, but there’s likely one to fit most of us. I tested the “Small” with its 54cm top tube to fit my 172cm height (5’8”), which I dialed in with a 90mm stem, and 44cm bars.
The frame and fork are made of high-modulus 6009 Nanotech tubing. It was plenty stiff on the “small” frame I tested.
It’s All NANOTECH To Me
“Nanotechnology” has the classic makings of a buzz that could disappear faster than your investment in M.C. Hammer’s pants company – but it’s all the rage right now. I checked out www.WiseGeek.com and got a general definition:
“nanotechnology (“MNT”) is an anticipated manufacturing technology that would allow precise control and positional assembly of molecule-sized building blocks…” Hmmm…
Applied to the bike world, the term currently refers to adding tiny, powder-like carbon fibers in the construction of carbon fibre frames and parts. The benefit is that finer grained carbon fiber additive reinforces standard layup designs to influence ride characteristics. The smaller fibers also offer the ability to squish out more resin, leaving a stiff and strong part (ie: frame) that is slightly lighter.
Whatever you call it, it is a newer, more advanced way of manipulating carbon fibres to produce a wider variety of desired frame characteristics. Okay, that’s cool, but what can you do with it?
• The bottom bracket was plenty stiff for me, and I suspect it will be for you too.
Show Us Your Stuff: S3 Specific Sizing Specs
One of the most unique aspects of the Galium S3 is the design of the tubesets. They call it “S3” for Specific Sizing Specs. Essentially, each size frame in the Gallium line has slightly differently designed top and down-tubes (thickness and density) – which take into account the rider size for each frame size.
Finish on the Gallium is “tres bon” – the matte black paint on our tester is way cool – and way cooler than these digital images indicate. It’s also available in a snappy brilliant white paint scheme.
To ensure that each frame size “feels” the same, and has the same ride characteristics, Argon 18 developed their S3 tube designs, which actually vary “volume, shape and density of the top tube and down tube”, across all frame sizes. The end result is a bike that handles and responds to road conditions just as Gervais Rioux intends, regardless of frame size.
Head Out To The Highway
Of course the best part of these bike reviews is making like Judas Priest and hitting the road with volume cranked. The Argon18’s are being offered as frame/fork sets only in the USA, but as full bikes in Canada. Our test rig came built up with Shimano 10-Speed Ultegra gruppo, ITM bars, stem and seatpost, Selle Italia SLR saddle, and Mavic Ksyrium SL wheels.
Bars, stem, and seat post arrived as ITM – nice looking carbon wrapped over aluminum, which I found pretty stiff all around.
As mentioned I swapped out the stem and bars, to dial my fit, and changed the saddle to Selle Italia’s new Signo cut out version – which I’ve been riding for a few months now. Getting this stuff tuned always takes a few rides – so if your new bike or new gear doesn’t seem right the first time out – don’t freak – just tweak the settings and ride it again – you might just save yourself some time and money on trips back to the shop.
Riding the Gallium
Throw a leg over and the bike already feels racy. The standover height is lower than a lot of other similar sized (54cm) frames – the short head tube and lower top tube are well suited to lower positioned handlebars, inviting a more aggressive position. The lower top tube and shorter seat tube also create a slightly smaller overall front triangle, completed by a similarly sized rear end – resulting in a tight, more compact frame. The package is completed by the Argon’s monocoque carbon straight front fork – whose slightly fatter, rounder fork legs add rigidity in all directions.
Geometry is what I call “Classic Steep” – the 74 degree seattube and 73 degree head angle are slightly steeper than my benchmark ride’s 73.5 and 72. True to form, the smaller frame and steeper geometry makes a responsive handler – it turns fast and is easy to move around (think dicing through the pack), and move around on.
The ridges at the top-tube/ seat tube junction add some cool style points.
I felt very connected to the road – it’s one of the stiffest framesets I’ve ridden. I detected no noticeable flex from the frame under any circumstance – standing, hammering, jamming turns. This bike does what you tell it – goes where it’s pointed and goes straight over the obstacles.
Overall comfort on the bike is what I’d expect from a full-blown racer like this. The stiff Mavic wheels are about as far away from La-Z-Boy comfort as you can get, and I’m sure masked some of the “comfort” that the full carbon frame promises. But we’re not riding this bike to deliver newspapers, we’re riding to kick some serious butt in road racing! My lasting impressions are of a bike that is tight, stiff, and fast.
The Argon 18’s are now available in 16 countries, so finding one near you should not be tough – and worth a look if you’re into bikes from a company where the owner is actively involved in product design.
For a dealer near you and more info, see the www.Argon18Bike.com website.
Argon 18 Gallium S3 Frame & Fork Specs
FRAME: Full carbon Monocoque (6009 HM Nanotech)
FORK: Full carbon Monocoque (385g)
WEIGHT: 1100g (Medium, frame only)
– Ed. Note: My test bike weighed in at 17.4 pounds with Shimano pedals
PRICE: – Frame set is: $2700US msrp ($3250Cdn)
– Complete bike: $6500 Canada only
• Argon 18 Platinum HD
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