The BMC Race Machine, Part I

Every now and then the stars align and a brand will rise from relative obscurity to consummate “it” brand of the day. BMC bikes have been around for years, but when the company began sponsoring a team with a heavy American contingent, stateside sales took off like a Bugatti Veyron in the hands of a 16-year-old.

The Swiss brand didn’t overhaul its line to appeal to Americans. All they did was hire George Hincapie, Cadel Evans and a few other Anglo-revered riders. Those riders mount either the company’s top-of-the-line Impec or the Team Machine. The Race Machine comes from the same molds as the Team Machine. The two models are differentiated by weight and rear triangle stiffness, with the Team Machine getting the more compliant version of the stays. Like many of the company’s previous designs the Team and Race Machines feature tubes with a great many angular profiles, chamfers and bevels. The frame looks like something out of a 1990s sci-fi film.

But while I couldn’t make sense of the tube shapes early on, I was hearing from a number of friends who had purchased one of the various BMC models just how much they enjoyed the bikes. Depending on the build, the bikes I was seeing weighed in the 15- to 16-lb. range—not ultra light, but not beastly, either.

The roots of this review began with a brief test ride of a Team Machine at Interbike last fall. My sense then was that the handling was sharp but not to the point of twitchy and the road feel of the bike was muted, taking the sting out of the road surface without feeling dead.

This seat tube/top tube junction looks cool, but I can’t find an engineer who can justify the extra tubing for me.

My 57cm Race Machine weighed in at 15.5 lbs. It was spec’d with a SRAM Red group (complete except for Force brakes) and Easton EA70 wheels, plus Easton EC70 carbon bar and EA70 alloy stem. The frame demands a proprietary carbon fiber seatpost. I didn’t have a chance to weigh the frame alone, but given the bike’s overall weight and the fact that it would be easy to shave weight with a lighter set of wheels, lighter bar and stem, plus a few other minor touches, I think one could break 15 lbs. without any drastic acts.

According to my contact at the company, the Race Machine is meant for riders who aren’t spending six hours in the saddle day after day. Not a bad idea given that describes … most of us. Their reasoning is that shorter group rides and racing criteriums demands a bike that will deliver the utmost in performance (rhymes with stiffness) when accelerations can’t be compromised by comfort.

On the road, I expected a bike that was going to beat me up. I’ve been on some stiff bikes and if this was their stiffest bike, a frame so stiff that guys like George Hincapie were choosing a more compliant bike for their racing, I figured I might lose a filling or two.

I’m pleased to report that I have yet to schedule a meeting with my dentist. Yes, the bike is stiff, but on rides between 70 and 80 miles, it wasn’t so stiff that I regretted taking it out. It’s probably not the choice for anyone doing double centuries and the like, but how many bikes are?

The crown on this fork has the shoulders of a body builder and the stiffness of a British lip.

The Race Machine had some surprises for me, though. The geometry really wasn’t what I expected. As bike companies have come to embrace the idea that road bikes can come in more flavors than just racing and time trial, many have sharpened the handling of their most race-oriented bike in order to make room for a grand touring bike. BMC has not done this.

On paper, the Race Machine (and by extension, the Team Machine, as they share molds) may be one of my favorite all-around road bikes. My 57cm frame featured a 57.5cm top tube, a slackish 72.5-degree head-tube angle, a 40mm-rake fork, a steepish 73.5-degree seat-tube angle and an 18.8cm head tube. On paper, it’s one of the better-fitting frames on the market for me. A pinched nerve in my neck doesn’t permit me to achieve pursuiter-like positioning anymore and while I’ve had some concerns about keeping enough weight on the front wheel for descending, I’ve managed the transition to the higher bar position with few challenges. With a head tube this long, I end up with fewer spacers between the top cap and the stem (it’s possible that I could ride this with no spacers between the top cap and stem). The top tube length was nearly ideal for me, as was the steeper-than-usual seat tube; my femurs are half the length of my leg and I usually end up with a saddle fairly forward on the rails, especially if the seatpost features a lot of setback—a lot in my case being anything more than a single centimeter.

Next up: Part II.

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6 comments

  1. Chris

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the Race Machine. Your comments about seat setback rang true for me. After significant trial and error, and extensive debriefing of my knees, I swapped my 25mm setback seat post for a straight one and still the saddle pretty much all the way forward. My Lemond has a 72.5 degree seat tube and one of the criteria for my next bike is that the seat tube be slightly more upright.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Chris: Each time I reviewed a LeMond, I had a real issue with the bike’s geometry. The marketing copy always touted the long top tubes and slack seat tube, but the number of people born each year with a femur as long as his is roughly equal to the number of people born each year with his VO2 Max—almost none. Combine that with the fact that LeMond liked to position his knee behind the pedal spindle by a centimeter and you’ve got a recipe for a fit that works for very few. Trek, when they introduced the spine bikes, dumped that geometry and went with something more practical, a feature they continued when they went to the all-carbon Triomphe.

      Velomonkey: I’m with you. The Gulf Porsche paint scheme is amazing. I serve on the board of a team that is sponsored by BMC this year and we changed up our colors a bit to embrace the paint scheme on the bikes the boys are riding. I’m also kinda tired of the red/white/black paint scheme, but it’s much easier to match that to most kits. Here’s a plot spoiler for you: Unless you’re routinely riding 100 miles at a stretch, you won’t regret buying this bike.

      (Full disclosure: While I serve on the board, I’m not racing for the team, so I have received no compensation in the form of schwag or other sponsorship stuff … such as a frame.)

  2. velomonkey

    Looking forward to hearing more on this bike – the red,black, white paint is soooo played out, however, the porshe gulf inspired colors are really very, very cool and should look good for years to come. I had this bike on my short list, but not knowing anyone who had one and not being able to test ride it pretty much knocked it out of contention.

  3. Sidamo

    Any chance of RKP doing the lbs -> kg calculations as a nod to your international readers? :-)

    e.g 15.5lbs (7.05kg)

  4. randomactsofcycling

    I like the BMCs but they are yet to be widely available in Australia. I recently purchased an Cervelo R5 and have to say that having the slightly taller head tube has been a blessing for me too. I did a lot of research into the geometry of various frames and on paper, I have to say so many frames look the same. It’s tough to find enough dealers that are willing to let you take a bike for a proper ride, as opposed to a spin around the carpark.
    Oh and for some true bike porn, check out this (almost) authentic Gulf Porsche paint scheme:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/baumcycles/5156670162/in/photostream/

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