Imagine for a moment that you were a product manager for a bike company and you were charged with making a sub-$4000 road bike aimed at consumers who would never road race, but might want to do some gravel riding. Not a gravel bike with an extra set of road wheels, but a road bike with clearance for bigger tires. Seems simple enough, right? But what shape would that bike really take?
I’ve just encountered one possible answer, one that is a fresh take on the issue. The bike is from Ocoee, a new brand launched by American Bicycle Group. ABG is the owner of Litespeed Titanium and Quintana Roo. You may have noticed that I wrote Litespeed Titanium. ABG realized that carbon fiber bikes weren’t true to Litespeed’s DNA and returned it to producing titanium bicycles. Ocoee is ABG’s answer to what to do with their expertise in producing carbon fiber bikes. Part of the brand’s mission is to produce affordably priced bikes so that folks who don’t have a seven-figure investment portfolio can have a terrific bike.
The 11-34 cassette paired with compact crank and clutch rear derailleur gave the Baseline plenty of low gear and no chain slap on rough roads.
Old question, new answer
The Baseline is a relatively straightforward road bike in some ways, but a bit surprising in a few as well. It features a carbon fiber frame and fork, an Ultegra Di2 group, hydraulic disc brakes, tubeless wheels and 32mm-wide Panaracer Gravel King tires. This is not a bike anyone will confuse with what most of us think of as a classic road racing bike. And that’s precisely what makes it so interesting. Rethinking the carbon fiber road bike from the ground up can result in a surprising outcome.
When I think about the most recurring criticisms of road bikes by people who have tried them but didn’t stick with the sport, the two that come to the fore are comfort and control. Comfort comes partly from fit, but also partly how much the rider is jarred by riding a bike over a road. Let’s me honest, the finest fit professional on the planet could adjust someone’s bike to make sitting on it and reaching the bar as comfortable as possible, but there aren’t many non-cyclists who are going to get on a bike with 23mm tires pumped up to 105 psi and think, “Ooh, cushy.”
Similarly, I’ve noticed that the less effort a rider has to make to shift or brake, the more confident they become of their ability to control the bike, not just in terms of changing gears or slowing down, but even in terms of handling. Confidence gained in one area can improve confidence overall. Even more significant is the way a 32mm tire pumped up to 60 psi feels, even on a rough road. If I worked in a bike shop and carried this bike, I’d put anyone who wasn’t already a dedicated road rider on this bike just to give them an awesome test ride.
The fork featured a thru-axle design for crisp handling on rough roads, and had a clearn look thanks to internal brake hose routing.
By the numbers
There aren’t any real surprises in the Baseline’s geometry and fit numbers. Trail comes in at 5.79cm, which is a fair bit less than most racing-oriented bikes today. So, from the outset, this is a bike that is a bit calmer on the road. I’d compare it favorably with what Bianchi still does. BB drop is 67mm, which will contribute to the bike feeling calm; it will definitely reward a rider who can pedal with less upper body movement.
I reviewed the Large size, which is built around a 56.5cm top tube, 38.5cm of reach and a stack of 59cm. That stack number is a bit higher than I often see on bikes of this size and that combined with 4cm of spacers between the headset and stem and you have a bike that comes out of the box ready for a newer rider who isn’t expecting to have to fold themselves in half in order to be able to pedal while in the drops. The 103.7cm wheelbase is long compared to the average race bike, and that contributes to the Baseline’s civility.
The Baseline comes in five sizes; the top tubes run in 15mm incredments: 52, 53.5, 55, 56.5 and 58cm; the reach number though shows that the progression isn’t quite so even because of how reach changes relative to seat tube angle: 37.1, 37.5, 37.6, 38.5 and 39.4cm. The 1mm gap between the small and medium sizes is a direct result of the one degree change in the seat tube angle, from 74 (in the small) to 73 in the medium. Because of the difference in the way the saddle would be positioned thanks to those two different seat tube angles, the difference in sizing between the small and medium is greater than it appears.
The BB86 design gives the manufacturer a great opportunity to make a bike stiff in standing efforts, and the frame had great tire clearance.
When I review a carbon fiber bike, one of my greatest concerns isn’t the whole vertically compliant and laterally stiff saw, but how much high frequency vibration manages to travel from the road to my body. As I’ve written previously, high frequency vibration is what lends definition to the ride, much the way high frequencies give clarity to music, even to instruments like bass. While I don’t want to be overwhelmed with buzz, I do want to have some vibration make its way through the frame and to my hands. A frameset that feels like a block of wood doesn’t make for a particularly enjoyable ride.
On my very first ride on the Baseline I executed a downshift and the movement of the chain off of one cog to the next saw the chain catch ever so slightly on one tooth so that there was a distinct ting! as the chain moved. That percussive caused the frame to resonate audibly, as if the frame was the guitar body to the chain’s guitar string. It was just the sort of signal that could tell me the frame was really well made. I can pick up on changes in road surface even with the cushy ride of the 32mm tires.
One of the other outcomes that a frame that resonates points to is that the layup has been performed very carefully. There can’t be an excess of material, nor can the factory use cheap material because they would have to use more of it to achieve sufficient stiffness.
The way the fibers of the seatstays pass the seat tube and become part of the top tube really helps give this bike a smoother ride.
The open road
I decided to ride the Baseline at Levi’s GranFondo a couple of weeks ago. I thought it would be a fun bike on the rougher roads of West County and with a 34×34 low gear, I knew that I’d be fine on steeper grades of Fort Ross and Coleman Valley.
The climb of Fort Ross Rd. from Cazadero is long, occasionally steep and snatches defeat from the jaws of victory thanks to a descent that comes a good 2/3 of the way through the climb. After gaining 1300 feet in a bit more than 5 mi., there is a 500 foot drop in 1.2 mi. Bombs away.
I was following my friend Jeremiah on the drop. He’s a native and knows that road in a way I never will. I was keeping a gap of 40-ish feet to him but didn’t swing wide for a right-hand sweeper at one point, reasoning that I could use my straighter line to claw back a tiny bit of distance.
Oh ye of little sense.
What he knew that I hadn’t recalled was that swinging left avoids a slight rise in the pavement before the grade turns vertiginous once again. The elevation gain may not be a full 2 ft., but it was enough that I knew I was going too fast to swing around it as well as to slow to a completely sensible pace. I braked a bit, got my weight back and managed to keep the front wheel on the ground. But just the front.
Somewhere in the more nervous reaches of my mind a voice whimpered, “This is not good Mav.”
When the rear tire came down, because I hadn’t completely released the brake, the tire made a sound like a kiss as the tread slid ever so slightly before hooking up. Rider error aside, the notable part of this little exercise was that the bike tracked straight on the pitch. One of the more unpleasant effects of riding around here can be the way a bike with really sharp handling will oscillate when I hit a bump on a steep grade.
Later in the fondo, the ride takes in Hwy 1 and the road winds around each little inlet and beach. The exercise, repeated nine times on the run south, is a left-hand bend that drops away, loops back 180 degrees and mid-turn begins heading uphill and then bending left before leveling out. It’s in the last third of the turn, after the road has turned uphill that tires are taxed most. This is when I get nervous about speed and lean angle. With the 32mm Gravel Kings the bike felt sure-footed, but if you asked me just what the difference that I sensed between narrower tires and this, I’m not entirely sure how to articulate it, but there’s a difference in how a bike leans into a turn on bigger tires that I’ve come to associate with more traction. My perception of greater traction, whether accurate or not, allows me to better trust the bike.
Internal cable and hose routing is becoming an expected feature. Ocoee made the entry point clean and simple.
Ocoee offers the Baseline in four versions. There’s the version equipped with Shimano Ultegra Di2 I rode, which goes for $3850, which is remarkable considering the Specialized Roubaix with Di2 goes for $4400. There’s a mechanical Ultegra model that goes for $3150, and then one equipped with 105 for only $2499. They also offer the frameset for $1695. Normally, when I look at the various editions of a bike I can zero in on a build that maximizes value. That’s not the case here. Every option is chock-full-o yass.
Ocoee produces its own bar, stem and seatpost for their bikes. The bar and stem are alloy while the seatpost is carbon. The wheels are Stan’s Grail MK3. I discovered a mind-blowing detail when I went to pump up the tires the first time. When I unscrewed the valves, a tiny spritz of sealant sprayed onto my fingers. There was sealant inside? They were already set up tubeless? No. Way. It’s a tiny touch, but one that immediately improves the bike’s ride quality. And the headache factor of setting up a wheelset the first time can’t be overstated. Problem solved.
My one and only issue with this bike was the WTB saddle they chose. I can’t ding the bike for that. There are as many saddles on the market as there are stars in the Milky Way; there’s as high a chance that the saddle on a bike will be right for me as there is that it will be wrong. It’s not a bad saddle, but my ginormous caboose would like a bit more real estate on which to perch.
Because Ocoee is consumer direct, which is how such low prices are possible, I was curious about how well-built the bike would be. How much assembly would be necessary upon opening the box? Very little is the answer. I had to mount the front wheel, insert the seatpost (the saddle was attached) and then mount the bar and stem. The folks at Ocoee understand that aging happens and I was thrilled to see that they included four centimeters of spacers below the stem. Canyon could learn something from them. I had the bike together in under a half hour and they include a little mini tool in case the buyer doesn’t already own any tools.
There are times when I walk out to my garage and the bike I pull from a hook isn’t the fastest or the most whatever. I pull down the bike that is comfortable and will give me an enjoyable ride where I want to pedal easy and let my mind drift. Or maybe I want to attack a descent and not worry about whether I’m playing on the ragged edge of some bad idea. This is a bike for those occasions and plenty more. The Baseline I rode would be a nice bike at $4200, but at $3850, the brand is now an instant go-to for me when recommending bikes for friends on a budget.
Final thought: I can’t wait to ride something else from Ocoee.