Friday, August 17, 2012

BMC RM01 - RaceMachine

I glad to report that I am the proud owner of a BMC RM01 RaceMachine.  Like all new owners of such machines, and this being a Swiss designed bike from a Swiss bicycle manufacturing company, I was asked to attend a sixteen hour class so that I could understand the engineering of this bike, appropriate care for it and respect the tradition and precision that went into it.  When you get your own BMC, be sure to set aside the time for it.  The Swiss are revered for their precision and attention to detail, but you should know that they have a German-style sense of humor about all of it.

That said, I am glad I have taken the time to listen to and absorb reams of information about various moduli of carbon, lay-up schedules, resin counts, stress factors at bonding junctions, dynamic absorption and tuned compliance.  And, in fact, you should be glad that I have done this as well, because now we can ignore all of this science and all of the marketer-speak and focus on one important thing - what is like to ride this bike?  Because really, all of that other stuff either works or it doesn't, it translates into what you want in a bike or it doesn't, and that is the bottom line.

Conclusion - It works.  And it works really well.

The RM01 RaceMachine is one of their race series bikes (they didn't, by the way, explain in my class why all BMC bikes have dual names, but then again, you just don't question the Swiss - if they say they are neutral, then they are; if they say they don't have a billion dollars of Nazi ill-gotten gains, then they don't!) .  It is a step below the TM01 TeamMachine and above the performance series that start with the RoadRacer SL01.  The RaceMachine is identical to the TeamMachine except that it is slightly heavier.  One source I found indicated that the difference is 140 grams, or 1,000 grams for the TeamMachine and 1,140 grams for the RaceMachine.  Now personally, I consider 1 gram to be basically nothing.  I wouldn't say that if I was the type of person to ingest cocaine or arsenic (or even iocane powder), but really when we talk grams, it's almost like nothing.  And, if you add 140 of nothing, it's still nothing to me, but for you weight weanies, it is 4.9 ounces, or about 2.2 lbs vs.2.5 lbs.  The weight is added to the carbon fiber lay-up of the bike to increase the stiffness, which correspondingly decreases the flex and with it some amount of shock absorption and comfort.

At my size, which is not inconsequential, I highly prize stiffness in a bike frame and despite my otherwise dainty personality, I am not looking for comfort.  Hell, I like Belgian winter style riding, so comfort clearly isn't on the top of my list.  The other thing I like it durability and cost-effectiveness, so I had this idea that 1) the slightly heavier/stiffer bike could end up being more durable, i.e., resistant to cracking which I have experienced on other carbon fiber frames; and 2) that the $1,000 I would leave in my pocket settling for the extra 4.9 ounces would compensate me more than sufficiently.  Of course, when my own body is within 5 ounces of my ideal riding weight, I might reconsider that, but let's just say that I am confident that 5 oz. on my frame is not the difference between me and a Pantini-like ascent of anything uphill.

This frame can be selected with a couple of different gruppos, but I selected the Shimano Ultegra Di2, which means electronic.  I will delve into that in another post, but let me say two things - first, I originally thought that electronic shifting was the solution to a problem that didn't exist; and second, that may be true, but damnit, I completely love it.  I can't imagine racing a bike without it at this point.  But more on that later. 

Besides the Shimano stuff, the bike has a selection of Easton parts and Mavic Kysrium Elite wheels.  All in all, a very good build for a decent price, which is retail at $6,200.  And yes, I know that is a shocking amount of money, but I think this bike is completely comparable with bikes costing 50% more than that and stands with (or above) the top of the line offerings from everyone else - Trek, Specialized, Cervelo, Pinarello, etc., etc., etc.

But now, for the most important bit - how does it ride?  Well, I do think that is a bit subjective, so that my experience may not be exactly yours, but here is mine.  This bike is comfortable, corners quickly, is steady in descending and has a bit of personality.  And here is what I mean by that.

First of all, "laterally stiff and vertically compliant" has been done to death, but there is an element of that desirable in a bike.  The bottom bracket and drivetrain area on this bike doesn't noticeably flex under my considerable weight and not inconsiderable power.  I have had bikes that would shift gears under enough wattage, so this is important to me.  The bike as a whole, however, doesn't transmit every variation in our Kabul-like roads, which can be the result of excellent drivetrain stiffness.  As a result of the wonders of carbon fiber technology, you get these things together and it's great.

And when it comes to turning, the BMC is quick to turn into a corner; not crit bike quick, but quick.  The cornering is different and quicker than either of my prior race bikes, both Madones.  Damning the Madone with faint praise, I would say that the Madones are very good at everything, but neither deficient or excellent at anything.  This makes for a very steady bike, but also one that lacks a distinct personality.  I don't think anyone riding a Madone would ever hate it, because it is a very neutral bike that is a great all-arounder.  In contrast, the BMC will dive if you ask it to.  And this is something that you will either like or not like.  It means that it will dip into a corner in a crit more than adequately, but it can also be a bit twitchy at lower speeds when descending.  It wants to go where you want and too much steering input will result in too much steering.  Operator issue, but one that the Madone wouldn't let you do - it takes more input, so that it mutes the response a bit.

That said, on a long descent, it is very steady and fast.  I have, much to my surprise, a Strava descent KOM in my palmares.  My size and weight makes it natural, but honestly, I don't consider myself a quick descender and I ride with a group of excellent bike handlers who fly downhill, but I think downhill speed is, in part, a function of the confidence/comfort that is transmitted through the bike.  A bike that is steady and predictable (yes, wheels play a big part in this), will allow a rider to go downhill faster because the point of discomfort/terror is just at a higher speed. 

And lastly, the bike has some personality.  It looks different than most bikes with its seat stays hitting the down tube distinctly lower than almost any bike on the market and it feels different.  As a result, it looks like a BMC and it feels like a BMC.  I have ridden this bike for several months, in several races and many training miles and I couldn't be happier.  Just as Katy Perry experienced with girl-kissing, I liked it.

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