Product Intro: BMC GF01

If you ever doubted that grand touring bikes were destined to become a sub-category of road bikes taken seriously by the industry, it’s time to stop. With the introduction of the Trek Domane and now the new BMC GF01, basically every one of the cool kids has one. Some of the early efforts weren’t particularly successful (no names mentioned) because the designs contained one or more flaws that either compromised the feel or the handling of the bike.

BMC has spent the last 18 months developing the new GF01. The GF stands for gran fondo. This is BMC’s first not to a bike meant to embrace the needs of the more recreational rider. Grand touring bikes such as the Specialized Roubaix (and the women’s Ruby) have had an easy time gaining traction with the disease-ride set, but they have lagged a bit with more serious riders. For the most part, I think the problem has been one of marketing. In defining the bike as one appropriate to the needs of the less avid cyclist, avid cyclists frequently come to the conclusion that the bike won’t meet their high-performance needs.

So how do you overcome that misperception? Easy. Put your sponsored pros on it at Paris-Roubaix. The tactic has worked well for Specialized. It was serving Trek well with Fabian Cancellara this spring with his win at l’Eroica, but his crash at Flanders will make the rest of his spring campaign a what-might-have-been and the Domane won’t get all the attention it could have. What you may not have noticed was that Team BMC rode the new GF01 at Paris-Roubaix. Had Thor Hushovd turned in the kind of performance he was shooting for, you would certainly have heard more about the bike by now.

Last night I attended a technical presentation on the bike, followed by a Q&A before riding the bike this morning. For those who’d like me to cut to the chase, I’ll tell you this: This is a seriously great bike. I’d put the GF01 up against the best bikes in this category.

So how come?

To make a good grand touring bike, a company must deliver three things. Miss any of these and the bike deserves to be an also-ran. The first thing the bike needs to do is accommodate a less aggressive fit. Whether the issue is one of spare tonnage or lack of flexibility, or even just being new to the sport, these bikes should accommodate a higher bar position relative to the saddle. For stack/reach types, that’s more stack and sometimes a bit less reach. The second thing one of these bikes needs to do is offer greater comfort than a similar road bike. Comfort that isn’t tied to fit is managed by reducing vibration and increasing compliance. Finally, these bikes must remain stable when riding on the bar top, but also offer crisp handling in turns and on descents.

The GF01 comes in six sizes, 48, 51, 54, 56, 58 and 61cm. Sizing geometry was based on reach and stack and the corresponding increase in top tube length and head tube length results in a very linear progression through the sizes. My 56cm review bike had a 55.6cm top tube paired with a 17.6cm head tube. I’d have liked a 12cm stem with this combination, but the fit wasn’t bad. Compare that to the 55cm frame in the Race Machine (that’s the most comparable size) and the GF01 features a 4mm shorter top tube and an 8mm longer head tube. Definitely a less aggressive fit. Like previous BMC models, this bike uses the same 73.5-degree seat tube angle found in the Team Machine and the Race Machine. What’s different with the GF01 is that this model is available with three different seatpost setbacks: 3mm, 18mm and 30mm. In the 56cm frame that range gives a fit tech effectively 2.5 degrees of adjustable seat tube angle (that’ll be less in the 61 and more in the 48), and that doesn’t even figure in the fore-aft adjustment of the saddle rails, so if nothing else, the GF01 will be easier to fit more different riders correctly than previous BMC bikes.

In addressing comfort, BMC likes to point to their Tuned Compliance Concept (TCC). The idea is that tube shapes and strategic layup will allow the seat tube and seat and chain stays plus the fork to flex vertically. We’re talking minute distances here, but every little bit can help. Those angles in the chainstays, seatstays and fork are designed to increase flex ever-so slightly. While I didn’t get exact numbers, BMC reports that the GF01 has 40 percent more vertical compliance than the SLR01 Team Machine. I need to be honest and say I was expecting something more like 100 or 150 percent more. How much movement is there, really? A 1000Nm load will move the axle 4mm vertically. What they ultimately settled on was no accident, though. After considerable modeling, four rideable prototypes were produced, and ridden by the BMC Team before settling on a final design. The comfort story doesn’t end there, though. There are, fortunately, two other components that come into play in the bike’s comfort. First is the seatpost. Each of the posts is designed to include some vertical compliance. BMC produced roughly a dozen different rideable prototypes; the first ones that went to the team were, reportedly, too soft. And because of the different offsets, the flex is adjusted accordingly so that they each offer the same flex pattern whether you’re using the 3mm offset or the 30mm offset. Last, but not by any means least, The GF01 has clearance for 28mm tires. After my recent post The Bell Curve, this is a pleasant piece of news.

To make a bike handle predictably, the designers must build in enough stiffness that the bike’s behavior in turns doesn’t change as speed increases. That was a far bigger problem with bikes in the 1990s than was stiffness at the bottom bracket. Those early aluminum and carbon fiber forks flexed sideways more than the average steel fork and often left you feeling like you were sliding around on a mover’s dolly. Whereas bottom bracket flex was a nuisance, fork flex had the ability to turn even the most confident bike handler into a timid kitten. To make sure the GF01 would provide performance up to the standards required for racing by the BMC team, the bike was built around a massive down tube, head tube and chainstays. The idea was build the compliance into the top tube, seat tube and seatstays, while making the spine of the bike—the head tube, down tube and chainstays—stiff enough for pro racing. It seems to work as advertised; on short climbs it responded well to input while I was out of the saddle.

In my size, the bike handled well on the twisting roads around Monterey. But here, I do have a bone to pick with BMC. In six sizes, the bike gets four different head tube angles and only one fork rake—50mm. As a result, the trail is all over the place. Here’s a rundown of each size with its head tube angle and resulting trail:

  • 48cm: 71˚, 6.42cm
  • 51cm: 71.5˚, 6.1cm
  • 54cm: 72˚, 5.79cm
  • 56cm: 72˚, 5.79cm
  • 58cm: 72.5˚, 5.48cm
  • 61cm: 72.5˚, 5.48cm

Four of these sizes are going to handle very well. The 54 through 61cm frames will all handle with great response, though the experience of someone on the 61 will vary some from someone on the 54. Moving on, the 51 is going to be a slightly sluggish handling bike. I have my doubts that its handling will be particularly confidence inspiring. Unfortunately, from what I see on paper, the 48 is a school bus. That thing will have all the inclination to turn that a flying cannon ball does. That’s really my only serious knock against this bike, though.

A note on weight: This is roughly a 1kg frame. The 54 is said to come in at 995g. Most of the bikes in this category come in a bit heavy due to efforts to make them more comfortable. What’s interesting to note from BMC’s numbers is that this frame is 11 percent heavier than the Team Machine, yet it possesses a third more torsional stiffness and almost 20 percent more stiffness at the BB, all while offering a 40 percent increase in vertical compliance.

The bikes we rode were well-spec’d. They used a full Ultegra Ui2 group with an Easton EA70 cockpit and Easton EA90 tubeless-ready wheels. The drivetrain included a 50/34 compact crank with an 11-28 cassette. While this may not be entirely necessary in Florida, newer riders who live near any sort of hills will find this gearing to alleviate the humiliation that comes with many race-spec’d bikes. I was surprised to learn that BMC’s engineers were able to position the brake mounts carefully enough to avoid long-reach calipers while spec’ing that 28mm tire. That’s a neat piece of work.

As built, the bike will retail for $6599. Not cheap, but not crazy expensive, either. I’m told stores will begin receiving demo units following Sea Otter and the bikes will be available in June.

After my experiences riding the Race Machine and (albeit more briefly) the Team Machine, I’m inclined to say that this is, so far, my favorite BMC bike. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to spend some more time on one in the near future.

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  1. Paul I.

    You seem to have a chunk of text missing in the “Handling” paragraph – marked below.

    “Whereas bottom bracket flex was a nuisance, fork flex (especially if it was accompanies with head ^^^(here)^^^ GF01 would provide performance up to the standards required for racing by the BMC team”

  2. Champs

    In the looks department, BMC has a long way to climb up from the Impec. The fork’s quite OK but with fastback seatstays I’m really not feeling the signature BMC seat cluster. The lines don’t match up. The frame may be just a tool, but there’s plenty to be said about form following function.

  3. Dennis

    “disease-ride” –> AIDS ride, breast cancer ride, etc. (People doing rides for charity rather than racing or doing club rides and the like.) It took me a while to figure that one out too, but it made me laugh once I got it!

  4. Dennis

    For further clarification, I think there is a common perception that those doing disease-rides are often less serious cyclists (or runners or swimmers and so on) and that they’re often doing it as a social thing and this may be one of the few times they’re actually on the bike.

  5. A Stray Velo

    Ahhh…the infamous ride along the coast on 17 mile drive. The typical pre-Sea Otter industry member ride…

    Interesting bike but it’s certainly not a looker. Not appealing in the looks department at all I’m afraid.

  6. Bill

    Way, way, way too much seat post showing for my old school sensibilities. When did less frame become better? I’ve never really gotten the whole sloping top tube thing. That coupled with the fast back seat stays just make me cringe. The GF01, Roubaix and Domaine are baby steps by the big producers into a “new” segment. They’ve got a long way to go though. I guess for now they will be happy selling to a demographic that doesn’t know that better exists. For significantly less one could get a Rivendell or IF Club Racer and many more. That is a lot of money. If I were going to plop down such cash I might take a look at the Parlee Tour or Calfee Adventure. Real comfort can be obtained through tires and less wasted on all of these frame tweaks. 28mm doesn’t really cut it. I dont think it was smart of them to adjust the frame to accept standard brakes and 28mm tires. I think its cheap. Give me 35mm Kojaks or Jack Browns on a normal double triangle frame and they will be onto something.

    1. Author

      Bill: Relax a little, will ya? This was a one-day ride at a media event and the largest frame size available was a 56. Had there been one available I would have been more inclined to go with the 58. They simply weren’t ready yet. And while I’d rather this post didn’t get sidetracked by a referendum on sloping top tubes, less frame became better more than 15 years ago when engineers discovered that a sloping top tube enabled a frame to be constructed with less material, thereby creating a bike that performed better and weighed less (thanks to shorter top and seat tubes), and fit more people. But then logic is often an aesthetic killer.

      Dennis: It’s my experience that the smarter folks in the bike industry try not to refer to riders doing events like the MS150 and AIDS Lifecycle as “less serious.” They are frequently new to cycling and less experienced, but the industry understands that these events are a crucible for the cycling industry. Those events are a chance to turn someone who previously wasn’t a rider into an avid cyclist. Respond with great service by a professional retailer and intelligent products geared to that person’s needs and enjoyment and we may end up with another friend, and another driver who watches out for cyclists on the road.

  7. Peter Lin

    Since I am short, I appreciate sloping top tube. Back in high school and college I played volleyball. In volleyball there is a saying “you can’t teach tall.”

    I don’t agree that a sloping top tube automatically means “ugly”. Aesthetics is a personal preference. It’s the job of the engineer to design something that is functional and pleasing to the eye. At the end of the day though, I care more about comfort and having fun on a bike and less about how I look. When everyone is chugging up a steep hill, no one looks pretty. Seeing more manufacturers make comfort oriented models is a great thing to me.

  8. Scott

    What is the world coming to when $6599 is not “crazy expensive”??
    Don’t get me wrong, I race road and like my toys but a bike, not specifically made for road racing, costing $6599 IS crazy expensive. Any bike at that price is IMO crazy expensive.
    It’s all marketing. Better can be had for less and I’m surprised to see a comment like that here.
    At the end of the day, do the guys doing gran fondos need bike costing 7K?

    1. Author

      While I respect that $6599 may offend the sensibilities of a great many RKP readers (and it’s more than I’m in a position to spend), my statement that $6599 is not “crazy expensive” isn’t relative to any one rider’s spending power; rather it is relative to the industry itself and what many riders have demonstrated they are willing to spend. No one needs to like that price, but given that plenty of bikes that cost $10,000 or even $12,000 are selling, it’s hard to be critical of one that costs $6599.

  9. JonBoy

    I think this frame looks OK – not great but I do like the concept. And as someone else posted on here Burghart’s setup does look cool, assuming it’s the same frame.

    Anyway, I wanted to post that I don’t think the trail numbers for the 48 and the 51 will lead to poor handling. I ride a size 51 frame with a trail of 6.0 and it’s pretty spot on. If anything I wish it had slightly more trail. If you check out Look frames (the 695 for example) trail for a size S is 6.5 and even higher for a XS. I know trail can vary but I think for small frames, a little more trail is better, especially for gran fondo bikes.

  10. Wsquared

    Bill –

    I can’t understand what you see in trendy, fragile, skinny tired bikes like the Rivendell (aren’t they manufactured by child slave elves in Middle Earth?), IF, Calfee etc. I guess I’m just a stick in the mud. I’ll stay with my trusty 3 speed ’61 Schwinn Corvette, the apogee of real steel Chicago made bikes. I know it’s got one of those sloping swoops curved top tubes, but I find more than 3 speeds is just cynical pandering to the ignorant boobwazie.

  11. Phil

    “…less frame became better more than 15 years ago when engineers discovered that a sloping top tube enabled a frame to be constructed with less material, thereby creating a bike that performed better and weighed less (thanks to shorter top and seat tubes), and fit more people. But then logic is often an aesthetic killer.”

    Padraig: It strikes me as quite strange that you made a connection between less material in a frame and better performing.

    The way I see it is: when a manufacturer that produces anything uses less material in their products, they’re looking to save money first, and then anything else that happens after they ditch “unnecessary weight” is a bonus. Moreover, another bonus is using production facilities where they don’t have to pay people anywhere near as much to produce something.

    It also allows manufacturers to push costs onto other manufacturers, because you need a far longer seatpost on a bike with a sloping top tube as opposed to one with a horizontal one. You also don’t need to take the time to thread and face a bottom bracket now – you just get another manufacturer to build something to your standard and then on charge the price of these new pieces to the customer.

    Then again, that and a whole lot more is for a different discussion on the bike industry.

    Having said all that, the PRO setup for Burghart looks a lot better than the standard setup. A very interesting review indeed.

    1. Author

      Phil: You’re attributing a cynicism and laziness to bike manufacturers that is entirely at odds with everything I know about the bike industry. Every engineer I know in the bike industry is bent on figuring out how to make stronger parts that weigh less. They work with a holy fire. To suggest otherwise is an insult to cycling itself.

  12. Bill

    Wsquared: word. You’re preaching to the choir brother! I’ve got a Schwin Hollywood. Skinny, thick lead (must be lead!) tubes, steel fenders. If it doesn’t weigh 40lbs it’s 50. Never took the trouble to heft it onto a scale. My Riv is my go fast!

    Padraig: I didn’t mean to come across as fanatical. The truth is this segment has me excited. I like these developments. I just can’t help looking down the road a few years and seeing the capacities of these bikes moving along to a true stand alone segment: high performance all day varied terrain bikes. A little longer wheelbase, a little lower bottom bracket and more tire clearance via longer reach brakes or probably disks and they will have me. Then it starts to look more worth it. I’m glad they are taking these steps and I appreciate your review. I’m glad you are writing up bikes that are reaching out of the mold.

  13. Adam

    Wsquared, you made my day with those comments. I don’t think it makes sense to expect a bike in a bike review to be all things to all people. If you need tires that are significantly larger than what’s used in Roubaix (basically mtb tires) then there aren’t many high end stock bikes to accomodate you, nor should it detract from the merits this bike has to offer for its intended audience.
    Regarding the price, it is for a Ui2 setup and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a decrease in price in a year or two in the same vein as they off there Team Machine and the Race Machine.

  14. Troutdreams

    I like the look and BMC frames don’t typically catch my eye.

    I also think BMC, Trek and others are wise to bring these ‘endurance’ frames to market. Of course, that’s because I see their appeal. I plunked down $3k for an R3 some time ago and it was for some of the very same features and functions. Not hard for me to imagine someone with more disposable income doubling that fun money budget I took to my LBS.

    Target market is larger than gran fondos and cobbles, which I’m as likely to see as a podium. For me as a 40ish yr old rider, I wanted a very nice performance bike that could handle rougher country roads and provide some advantages on climbs and descents…without the skittishness or long ride discomfort of a pure race machine I ride for physical fitness (and because I enjoy it immensely) and my pace is usually, if not always, pushing near to my limits. I never seem to do “recovery rides”. I just going running the next day instead.

    In an abstract way that leads me to another point which supports this market. For folks like myself near midlife that never raced as a youth or young adult, I’m not as inclined to start now. Contrast that with running which I had no more or less experience but didn’t hesitate to sign up for a 10k, then half and full marathons. Bike racing just doesnt appear quite as easy to jump into for a number of reasons. So, I want a nice bike because I’ll ride it hard a number of times each week, but not a race bike because I won’t be racing. Endurance bikes fit that need and maybe BMC had folks like me in mind.

  15. Hank

    I’m loving this trend. Without proper suspension you don’t get optimum performance and clearance for bigger tires and frames that have more vertical compliance are going to perform better for heavier riders on crappier roads -which describes not just novice riders but the reality of quite a few very experienced riders. That 150 lb 23 year old racer finds himself a 210 lb 50 year old working stiff later in life. That should result in some adjustment in equipment. Take a look at current pics of Merckx, Henault and LeMond compared to pics from their pro careers and you will see age and growing waistlines affect even the gods of pro cycling.

    On bottom brackets, regardless of wether or not there is a performance advantage, lots of novice riders and even some experienced riders with poor balance don’t feel comfortable if they can’t put a foot down from the saddle -especially in traffic. I see cyclists with saddles way to low or struggling to launch after a traffic stop and this is the most likely reason. What percent of cyclists need to pedal through corners at extreme lean angles?

  16. eatmorelard

    I always thought that my Teammachine offered a magic carpet ride. It’s just an awesome ride – comfy, responsive and oh so efficient! I’ve ridden it all day (10+ hours), ridden it on plenty of dirt and bad roads – my only criticism is that it would be nice to be able to fit 28mm tyres on it for one of those epic days – I just pull out the old steel girl with the muddies if I really need that.

    I never felt the need for a true “all day performance bike”.If I did, I would be off to get my self some Ti (and I will if I go through with PBP in 2015!).

  17. michael

    in the looks are entirely subjective category…

    i personally think that bike is shit-hot. i`ve got a cdale supersix himod that, while i have loved riding for the past two years, jars the fillings out of my teeth.

    this ride? i’d trade my current ride in for that in a heartbeat (minus the DI2 Ultegra, which just offends my sensibilities. Hope they come out with an Athena EPS version next year when Campy announces the impending trickle-down)

    shit. hot.

  18. Cat4Fodder

    As an aside – what is the typical saddle-bar drop for most pro-racers? I ask, because from what I have seen at most amateur races (including all categories, there are few, if any with a saddle/bar drop much more severe than your “comfort” set-up. I then saw the photo of the pro bike from the link above, and that just looks ridiculous.

  19. Author

    Cat4Fodder: I’m not sure exactly which image you’re referring to about saddle-bar drop. Regardless, saddle-bar drop is something that varies from rider to rider. It depends on three things:
    1. How tall the rider is. The taller the rider the more drop they can usually tolerate. Usually.
    2. How flexible the rider is. The more flexible the rider, the more drop they can tolerate.
    3. How much they listen to their fit tech. Pro riders who have never gotten a proper fit will take a frame a size down from what they ought to ride and then go with no spacers and a -17 degree stem. It’s rare that any rider—a pro included—can produce their maximum wattage while in the drops of a bar 17cm lower than their saddle.

  20. Dick Damon

    I’ll buy it when they offer the frame, fork and headset combo. I agree it the looks are a little asymetric but, I do like the purpose built design.

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