The Cycle Life: Bike Press Camp Best In Show, Episode 1
On the crisp and still snowy slopes of Deer Valley, Utah, last week, 30-some bike industry manufacturers rolled out their 2012 product lines for a select group of journalists. There was all manner of innovation, but wind-cheating aero bikes and electronic gadgets focused on affordability and convergence were the biggest trends. In this installment, I'll detail a few of the most compelling new bikes; we'll be taking possession of these bikes (and many more) in the coming months for comprehensive testing. Check back for component and soft goods highlights from Bike Press Camp in Part 2.
Niner Jet 9 RDO We absolutely loved last year's Jet 9, with two caveats: Though it performed like a thoroughbred race bike, the weight of the aluminum frame held it back; and the 80mm rear travel seemed too short for all-arounders. Enter the RDO, a carbon remake that bumps travel up to 100mm (with compatibility for 120mm forks for those who want them), lops almost a pound out of the frame, and still keeps the original's finest attributes (razor sharp steering, great efficiency climbing, surprisingly stable descending). The love-em-or-hate-em swoopy lines will fuel hours of debate, but I like the distinctive looks; the all-black scheme will be the ultimate land shark. I logged a couple of quick laps on the RDO on Deer Valley's lower flanks, and the bike devoured the trail accordingly: It tracked reliably through loose corners (feels stiffer than the standard Jet 9) and the reduced frame weight was noticeable on the high altitude climbs. Frame: $2,599.
Ridley Noah FB This small Belgian company turned to aero frames a few years back because they felt they'd tapped out the stiffness and weight gains of carbon. The Noah FB extends the Noah's unique aerodynamic developments: the RFlow fork and seat stays employ a split foil design, and the RSurface adhesive treatments applied in strips in key points on the bike further help route wind smoothly around the frame. And it ups the ante with a new integrated aero brake design. The Fast Brake system (hence FB) integrates the brakes into the frame, with the front brakes built into the fork and the rear brakes built into the seat stays. Ridley will produce 500 of the frames, which will be available next spring and cost a premium $5,395 for frame and fork alone.
Novara Gotham REI takes a leap ahead in style and innovation with this new steel commuter, which pairs a Gates Carbon Drive belt system to a Nuvinci N360 internally geared rear hub. The belt is perfect for a city application—smooth and low maintenance and totally clean so you don't soil your pant legs—while the N360 hub is both extremely durable and offers a wider gearing range, as well as more immediate shifting than past offerings. Combined with the understated Euro styling, polished alloy full-length fenders, a built-in Basta Nano headlight, and sleek FSA Metropolis bars, the full package will be a heck of a deal at just $1,299 for the complete bike.
Turner Sultan I've been saying for months that the upcoming season will be the year of the 29er trail bike, with developments in big-wheel frames and components finally making it feasible to build longer-travel 29ers that aren't total tanks. Case in point, the Sultan, a five-inch trail bike that gets some important updates for 2012, including a slight slackening of the front end angles for better stability and a combination of the new 34mm Fox fork and an oversize tapered head tube for improved steering and stiffness. Though the tester I took out wasn't built with any crazy light parts (SRAM XO drivetrain and DT hubs laced with Stan's Flow rims), it still felt relatively svelte—my guess is around 26 pounds, though I didn't have a scale to confirm. Efficient as ever, the DW-Link rear suspension helped the bike climb the sinuous singletrack surprisingly well. But it was downhill where this bike really shined, with the combo of big wheels and big travel eating up the trail like a high-speed easy chair. Frame: $2,550.
Blue AC1 As one of the first companies (after Cervélo and Felt) to get into the aero bike market almost four years ago, Blue is refining its offerings for 2012 as many of the bigger players just get into the aero space (think Specialized, Giant, and Scott). The AC1 gets stiffer and shapelier thanks to bigger tube junctions, larger diameter teardrop tubing, more carbon fill behind the head tube and seat tube, and a tapered head tube. Meanwhile, given a higher-grade carbon lay-up, the frame loses 110 grams, weighing in at a respectable 1080 grams for a size medium. The frame will come in multiple build options, with SRAM Force for $4,200 and the just-announced Shimano Ultegra Electronic (which Blue is calling Ui2) version for $4,800.