Bicycle Quarterly Winter 2012

Bicycle Quarterly Winter 2012


The Winter 2012 edition of Bicycle Quarterly magazine has returned from the printer and will be in the mail shortly. In this issue, we focus on titanium racing bikes and modern shifting systems. A titanium bike shoot-out in Bicycle Quarterly? We look at the best modern bicycles to establish benchmarks of what performance we can expect from a bicycle – any bicycle. So we test two top-of-the-line titanium racing bikes, a Seven Axiom SL and a Lynskey Helix.

The two test bikes are equipped with the latest in electronic shifting: Shimano Di2 and Campagnolo EPS. How are these systems different, and how do they compare to mechanical systems? In addition, we give you an overview of the strong and weak points of the three most popular shifting systems: Shimano STI, SRAM DoubleTap and Campagnolo Ergopower. If you are looking for a modern shifting system, our evaluations will help you choose the system that will work best for you, based on your riding style and preferences!

We were really impressed with the performance of these titanium racers, and we wondered: How much speed are we giving up by insisting on fully equipped bikes? So we pitted the best of the Ti bikes against Mark’s 650B randonneur bike on a hillclimb. How much faster is the Ti bike on the uphill? And what about the twisty downhill?

Surprisingly, the lightest bike in this issue is not one of the modern titanium bikes, but a 1975 machine. To round off our “Titanium Shootout,” we feature a Speedwell with superlight components, and explore the history of the first commercially successful titanium bike. A Speedwell also appears to have been the first bike ridden to a Tour de France victory that was not made from steel.

For many readers, a favorite part of Bicycle Quarterly our inspirational ride stories. This time, I take you along to explore unpaved gravel passes in the Cascade Mountains late in the year. With unknown roads and snow falling, the scene was set for a truly epic adventure.

We take you on a trip to Philadelphia, where we visit two very different makers of custom bicycles: Bilenky Cycle Works and Engin Cycles. Enjoy the photographs of their shops and learn about the builders’ philosophies.
As always, there is much more, including a technical article that explains how chainring ramps work, book reviews, new products, tests and My Favorite Bicycle. Click here for more information about the current issue of Bicycle Quarterly, or here to subscribe.

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Comments (29)

  • Bubba

    With a very stormy week up ahead, I’m enthusiastically looking forward to this issue. A hot toddy, a quilt, and my favorite chair will round it out nicely.

    November 27, 2012 at 9:27 am
  • Steve Palincsar

    I’ll be happy to get mine by Christmas!

    November 27, 2012 at 9:51 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We do our best! One reason the Winter issue is early is to make sure that everybody has it for the holiday break… even those in Washington DC and environs!

      November 27, 2012 at 9:53 am
      • nellegreen

        Any Shops in DC carry Bicycle Quarterly?

        November 29, 2012 at 10:29 am
  • Shu-Sin

    It’s always surprising to me how quickly I recognize the Bilenky shop, without ever having been there. There something unique about the atmosphere in that shop I find very inviting. Perhaps they need an amateur constructeur(?).

    November 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm
  • E.L.M.

    They’re not my cup of tea to ride, but I’m really looking forward to reading a real review of the modern race-based high performance machines. I expect it to be like reading the issues of Motor Trend that my father hands down to me – lots of sweet machines whose new technology I probably won’t see for many years.
    @Shu-Sin: I think it might be the people that are recognizable, not so much the shop surroundings. They look cool, and their style is consistent between the individuals.

    November 27, 2012 at 8:04 pm
  • Ben Van Orsdol

    I can’t wait! I’m surrounded by great cyclo touring magazines in Japan, but I’ll be excited for one I can actually READ!

    November 28, 2012 at 5:52 am
  • Conrad

    I await your take on the titanium machines. A friend of mine in Tucson is gracious enough to loan me his titanium Seven when I visit. Its a great bike but I think in most ways my old Serotta Colorado II is a better and faster bike.

    November 28, 2012 at 2:38 pm
  • nishiki83

    Looking forward to reading the Ti shootout. I bought an early Ti Spectrum from Tom Kellog, around 1991 I think. Back then the thinking was go as small as possible with your frame. I remember Tom (who sounds a lot like Tom Carvel of ice cream fame) imploring me to get a 57cm, but I insisted on a 55. I got a lot of use out of that bike, albeit with a 13.5cm Salsa stem and a special seatpost with a ridiculous amount of setback. I’d probably still have it if I had listened to Mr. Kellog. State of the art at that time included press in bottom bracket bearings (hard to thread the ti) and aluminum fork. It would be interesting to try one again after all these years of steel (and occasionally aluminum). If memory serves, it was a smooth-riding machine.

    November 29, 2012 at 5:59 am
  • jeremy

    TI bikes are just like Steel and Carbon the thinner diameter mixed with just the right amount of rigidity gives planing and comfort. However the models of ti bike that Jan has chosen for this test are not of this type – the two modern ti bikes from Seven and Lynsky are built for rigidity- sure by nature ti has more flex but really just as the last ti bike- a “Tournesol” moots, Jan tested back in 06′ showed: if the bike is built to be rigid then it will not ride the way Jan and his colleagues prefer. A far more relevant test would be to compare ti bikes that are built with all day comfort in mind just as Calfee gave him with the Dragonfly. Too bad after 6 years Jan still only wants to test bikes that Jan wants to test- 95% of them steel, and ti bikes not representing what he likes. In its entire history BQ has only tested 2 carbon bikes and now 3 ti bikes out of over a hundred. And of these 5 bikes only 1 was built to plan(e)- the Calfee. Strange thinking in Seattle. jeremy

    November 29, 2012 at 8:48 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I am surprised that you concluded that the bikes in the Titanium Shootout don’t plane for us, before you’ve even read the test.
      Wait until you read the article. You’ll find that these ti bikes worked very, very well for us. They rate among the best bikes we have tested. The advertising may claim “stiffness,” but when you remove as much material as possible to make the frames superlight, you also remove stiffness. And since that stiffness is removed from the main triangle – racing bike makers know better than to make wimpy chainstays – the stiffness balance of the frame becomes much more like a good traditional bike. Modern high-end racing bikes continue to impress me – the builders know what they are doing!
      You suggest testing “all-day” bikes, but those usually are heavier and have more material in the main triangle, yet the chainstays are no stiffer than before. That is not a recipe for performance… Unfortunately, as soon as makers add fender eyelets, they tend to think performance is secondary. Instead, we tested the top-of-the-line, maximum-performance titanium bikes you can buy today. And we liked them.
      By the way, we’ve tested three carbon bikes, not two. The Trek clearly was best-suited for somebody stronger than us (or the average Cat. 3 amateur racer), but even so, it performed very well. And we really liked both the Crumption and the Calfee. We’ve also tested three titanium bikes, and seven aluminum bikes, not counting the children’s bikes. Yes, the majority of our test bikes are steel, but that is because the market for “real-world” bicycles still is dominated by steel.

      November 29, 2012 at 10:15 am
      • Steve Palincsar

        And yet, you didn’t test the extra-light version of the Axiom, the SLX, which Seven bills as suitable for randonneuring, available with fender mounts and room for tires up to 28mm. There’s a weight limit on the SLX, but you’re well under it.

        November 30, 2012 at 4:42 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The SLX has “infinitely butted” tubing, vs. the SL’s double-butted tubing. I don’t believe the wall thicknesses are different, and I don’t see the advantage of the more gradual butts.
          The Seven Axiom SL is custom-made with the rider in mind, and that includes the tubing. The Seven was designed with riders like us in mind. When you order it, they ask for your weight, your cadence, and other variables, and then choose the tubing accordingly. If Seven thought that a different bike was more appropriate for us, they could have sent us one. We always work with the makers when we test these bikes. They even get to read the report and comment before it is published. That ensures that we get their input. (Of course, we still draw our own conclusions.)
          The Lynskey is a more generic titanium bike, but since we are pretty generic in our build and cadence (for racers, at least), that needn’t be a disadvantage.

          November 30, 2012 at 4:52 am
    • Matthew J

      Also, as I understand it, Jan and BQ test what builders and owners agree to lend him and his crew. Not as though his outfit has the cash to buy random $5k bikes out there.
      If Jeremy wants more CF and Ti reviews in BQ, Jeremy ought to motivate more CF and Ti bike makers and owners to send them BQ way for testing.

      November 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm
      • jeremy

        Jeremy offered to purchase a custom (built to his style of riding) ti frame for Jan years ago. And he would not take the offer.

        November 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The ultimate decision of what we test is made by Bicycle Quarterly’s editorial board. A bike must be of interest to our readers to be tested. Most of our readers are interested in real-world bikes, so we test a lot of performance bikes with fenders, lights and racks. We test racing bikes, cargo bikes and other machines if they hold a lot of promise, or can advance our understanding of how bicycles work.
          A test bike also must be available. Many builders prefer not to have their bikes tested. It’s easier to post rave reviews from owners on your web site than to have your bike tested by demanding riders who can compare it to dozens of other, similar bikes.
          We test readers’ bikes only in rare cases where the general interest of providing a test of a popular bike outweighs the risk of alienating the owner, if we find things that could be improved. Offers to buy us test bikes are very generous – and we did take Jeremy up on one of them – but the simple truth is that you cannot buy a spot on our editorial board. Our editorial policies are clear: Neither advertisers nor “sponsors” are allowed decide what we cover. We feel this best represents the interests of our readers.

          November 29, 2012 at 4:19 pm
  • David Feldman

    Two things–I’m really looking forward to the Bilenky article; Steve was a keeper of the touring bike flame when few other bike builders wanted to know from them and want to hear your take on a shifting system where you have to worry about low batteries. I hope there are mechanical deraileurs still on the market when Shimano decides to run the electronic shifting scam on all of its customers. Just as Shimano and Suntour took over much of the market for sport riders’ equipment when Simplex, Huret, and other European companies bit the dust there will be a market for simpler, more maintainable equipment when Shimano and Campag decide to push the latest racer-emulation FRAUD down more throats.

    November 29, 2012 at 9:56 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We had no issues with battery life during our test, even though we didn’t recharge them. I really wanted to know how good these systems really are. There are all these claims that this will revolutionize shifting… yet the derailleurs are the same as before, only that a motor pulls and pushes them instead of a cable and a spring. Does it make a huge difference? Readers then can decide whether the improvements are worth the complication and risk of running out of batteries.

      November 29, 2012 at 10:19 am
      • Steve Palincsar

        There’s more to worry about with batteries than simply running out of charge. As batteries age, they hold less charge. Eventually, all batteries give up the ghost. What happens then? These are highly proprietary batteries; you certainly can’t go down to your local CVS or hit the web site to buy a replacement. How much of your drive train will you have to replace at that point?

        November 30, 2012 at 4:49 am
      • marmotte27

        Like Steve Palinscar I would point out the additional troubles with batteries, another one being the environmental impact of batteries, the costly materials used to fabricate them. That’s one of the reason why I’m so uncomfortable with the whole e-bike idea, even though I can see their appeal for getting people cycling.
        And without wanting to anticipate on your findings, I find stuff like this doesn’t square very well with the usual approach in BQ, i.e. to advocate systems that are as complicated as the need be but not more so. Mechanical shifting systems have been reliable and working well for decades, why bother with electrical ones. But, as I said, maybe that’s exactly the conclusion we’ll read in BQ.

        November 30, 2012 at 8:02 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Personally, I don’t like batteries on my bike. But whenever a new technology comes along that is touted to be “game-changing,” I want to check it out. If it really enhances my cycling experience so much that it’s worth the inconveniences, I will consider adopting it. For example, I use a digital camera now, even though it uses a proprietary battery. I loved my Nikons, but the advantages of the digital camera were hard to ignore. I still shoot film for personal use, but almost all work for Bicycle Quarterly is done digitally now.
          So what our test intends to answer is this: Are the new electronic shifting systems really superior to mechanical ones? Based on the results of this testing, we then can make informed decisions whether we want to use them or not.

          November 30, 2012 at 9:01 am
  • Lee RIngham

    I, for one, can hardly wait to read this issue. Although some folks find fault for the types of bikes reviewed in BQ, my interpretation is that the writers tend to keep an open mind on most matters and let the data speak for itself, as trained scientists do. They then add their own personal comments and many reviews have contained statements that essentially say “this is a nice bike, but I would not want to own it”, usually because it does not meet the writers’ needs or preferences. I don’t have a problem with this clearly stated approach.
    As an aside, there is a local builder on Vancouver Island who has built frames for several members of the BC Randonneurs. While I am not sure if they purchased frames only or built up machines, the riders I have spoken to have spoken very highly of their bikes.
    From a personal perspective, a titanium frame, built with “typical” randoneurring geometry and a fully integrated approach to fenders, generator powered lights, pump and handlebar bag on 650B wheels would be pretty tempting!

    November 29, 2012 at 1:16 pm
  • Bubba

    Is that a photo of Jan wearing a synthetic bike jersey!??! Has he gone totally modern on me? Where’s the wool?

    November 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We tried to emulate the modern racer experience, so we wore synthetic jerseys. This actually was the jersey of my first racing team. (The colors and patterns are nicer than the later jerseys.)

      November 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm
      • Bubba

        I had a feeling you were submersing yourself in the ethos of modernity. Very well done.

        November 29, 2012 at 3:55 pm
  • djconnel

    I haven’t seen the copy yet, but I state with high confidence this is the first ever published comparison of Di2, Campy electronic, and a rod-and-pivot front shifter. For the performance test, I don’t need to read the article; I can tell from the photo the randonneur bike is winning :)…. I really look forward to seeing the test: you produce a great magazine and I look forward to every one.

    November 30, 2012 at 2:29 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We did not include a rod-operated shifter, but only compared modern integrated shifting systems. Now that you mention it, the photo shows Mark ahead of me! How could that happen? 😉 I won’t give too much away, but I can tell you that was not the final result!

      November 30, 2012 at 2:40 pm
  • Brucey

    When I first started to ride, -which is a long time ago now- a guy in my club had a Speedwell Ti frame. I couldn’t believe how light it was; we rode in the hills and we all weighed nothing ourselves (not even being fully grown yet) so weight was truly king; Fiamme Ergal rims etc. were quite the thing. Another clubmate’s Raleigh Team bike (Super Record equipped) although light when compared with my humble steed, was itself a full pound and a half heavier than the Speedwell. At the time, that WAS rocket science, but to me, it may as well have come from another planet, or have been magic of some kind.
    I am told that Speedwell frames vary somewhat, with some later ones being stiffer than earlier ones in some sizes. I think my chum’s would have been an early one; I recall it being ‘quite frisky’ at speed.
    Now, decades on, when I’m too slow for it to do me much good, I have a Ti bike. It isn’t an especially lightweight one; certainly no Speedwell. It is a bit stiffer than (say) a really nice light steel frame, but of course is a World Apart from a typical Aluminium frame. I like it very much; even so, I’m not sure it would be my ‘only bike’, were I forced to choose.

    December 3, 2012 at 3:31 pm

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