Here’s the part of this bike’s geometry that is surprising: The combination of a 72.5-degree head tube angle and 4cm fork rake results in an astonishing amount of trail—6.53cm. That’s more than some of the most sluggish bikes I’ve ever ridden. It may be that what kept this bike handling with the crisp precision of a Swiss timepiece was that long head tube and relatively high bar position. The retailer from whom I picked up this demo thought that at my height (5-feet 11-inches) I ought to be on a 53cm frame. Aside from the fact that I’d never be able to sit up enough to get up a hill, there was that tiny problem of the pinched nerve and the unavoidable problem of having so much weight on the front wheel that the bike would only turn under duress. Yes, I tried it in the parking lot and the suggestion that a guy my height would ride a bike that small was, well, laughable.
Speaking of sizes, the Race and Team Machine are both available in six sizes. Top tube lengths are 52, 53.5, 55, 56, 57.5 and 59cm. Every one of the bikes features a 73.5-degree seat tube angle and 40.2cm-long chainstays. The bike with the 52cm top tube has a 70.5-degree head tube angle and the 53.5cm top tube has a 72-degree head tube angle. All other frames share an identical 72.5-degree head tube angle.
That the same head tube angle, seat tube angle and chainstay length runs through most, if not all, frames tells you a couple of things. First, it tells you that BMC saved money in tooling by not cutting as many molds. But because (to the best of my knowledge) every frame uses an identical 40mm-rake fork, four of the sizes enjoy identical steering geometry. The 53.5cm top-tube bike is close. Only the 52cm-frame falls significantly outside that geometry; it’s got so much trail that unless it’s spec’d with a 50mm-rake fork it’ll need a tugboat to turn.
While these similarities help unify the handling across most of the sizes, there is a liability to this approach. In the smallest frame a 73.5-degree seat tube angle may not be steep enough for some riders and in the biggest size that seat tube angle may be way too steep for some riders. The challenge here is that with a proprietary seatpost, you don’t have the flexibility to order an aftermarket seatpost with either no or 4cm of setback. I can envision some very disappointing fitting sessions if someone didn’t do their homework ahead of time. Details like this make the new Retül Frame Finder an indispensable fitting tool.
BMC touts several technologies in the Race and Team Machine models. First is the TCC or Tuned Compliance Concept. With the TCC the fork, seatstays and seatpost feature specific layup and material selection to allow for a certain amount of vertical compliance. I really need more miles on the Team Machine to see how much they vary between the two models, but having been on bikes that excessively stiff vertically, I can say that it is possible to make a bike that is less comfortable than the Race Machine—it really could be stiffer vertically, and I’m glad it’s not.
The ISC or Integrated Skeleton Concept is the design element that leads to the little strut that runs from the top tube to the seat tube just below the seat tube junction. It’s meant to spread impact forces, but honestly, I’m not sure what impact forces the marketing copy refers to and given that no other bike company has gone this route, I’m suspicious of the benefits it confers.
Two other design details contribute to the bike’s performance-oriented stiffness. First, the bottom bracket uses a BB30 design to all but eliminate twisting forces at the BB. Second, the fork features a tapered steerer to increase stiffness at the head tube and crown. The tapered fork is one of those innovations that came from a single company (Time) that nearly everyone has adopted. That’s how you know an idea is good. When I go back and ride my old Seven Cycles Axiom I immediately register the difference in torsional stiffness; that bike uses a 1-inch fork, and while it doesn’t feel like a noodle, the increase in stiffness when I move to another bike is unmistakable. I might not be able to quantify the difference, but that doesn’t make the perception subjective. Similarly, I can recognize features of my wife’s face in my son’s face, but I’ll never mix the two up.
With its particular constellation of features—consummate stiffness, relaxed handling and low, but not excessively low, weight—this bike is a great choice for a huge number of riders. Its handling is more aggressive than grand touring bikes like the Specialized Roubaix, but isn’t as sharp as more race-specific rides such as the Giant TCR Advanced. It’s going to serve well for someone doing group rides and gran fondos and if you want to jump in a crit from time to time, it’ll corner effectively. With two bikes so similar in design, I’m inclined to recommend the Team Machine to lighter riders while encouraging guys 165 lbs. and up to go with the Race Machine.
I’d love to get some more time on the Team Machine in order to help differentiate the two bikes further. I’ve never encountered a web site that did less to identify the differences between two similar bikes than BMC has done. I went as far as watching some videos produced of the bikes, one theoretically meant to tout the bikes’ stiffness and another that fancied itself a report on the bikes’ low weight. The two videos were identical between the two models and nearly identical to each other. Making matters worse was the fact that the only sound was a bit of sound effect; there was no voice-over.
There’s no doubt the Race Machine is a terrific bike. Honestly, my greatest criticism is their marketing copy. They’ve done so little to differentiate it from the Team Machine, the only way I can recommend one over the other is by rider weight, and I doubt that’s what they had in mind.
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.
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 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.