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.
In 2007, when Specialized began sponsoring the Quick Step team, company representatives showed up at a winter training camp for the team with bikes for each and every rider. In the case of some riders, they actually showed up with two bikes if the size of their previous Time bike didn’t translate exactly to the Specialized bike.
In Tom Boonen’s case, the company came equipped with both a 58 and a 61 Tarmac. The 61 had the top tube length Boonen needed, but the head tube, he determined was too long. He couldn’t achieve the more than 10cm drop from the saddle to the handlebar with the 61; the bar was just too high. So Specialized left him with the 58cm frame and made a custom stem for him at their Morgan Hill fabrication shop. While no one has said exactly how long the stem was, indications are it was 15cm in length.
The season started … and so did Boonen’s back troubles. The PR fallout for Specialized didn’t seem too bad, unless you searched the message boards, and on those they were being murdered. Ditto for the talk on group rides.
With Boonen’s results suffering Specialized undertook a radical solution; working from the fit measurements of his previous Time, they recreated his fit exactly by building him a custom Tarmac and later a custom Roubaix from aluminum.
And yet the criticism of Specialized continued. Riders wondered why they weren’t building custom carbon bikes for Boonen. In fact, they were, but they wanted to make sure he was happy with the fit before they spent in excess of $25k cutting a mold. Those who have watched “This Old House” are familiar with the maxim, “Measure twice, cut once.”
As fate would have it, Boonen’s bike is just enough of a tweener size that the company has considered adding it to their size range.
The bike pictured here is the prototype Roubaix built for the three-time winner. While I haven’t heard definitively, I suspect Columbus Airplane (not Starship) tubing was used, given the bike’s weight and stiffness.
It’s a big bike by any standard. The top tube is 59cm on horizontal. The stem is 14cm and the bar is 44cm (center-to-center); both are aluminum. Reach from the nose of the saddle to the center of the stem is a whopping 63cm thanks to the 10.5cm drop from the saddle to the bar. And it is unmistakably a Roubaix thanks to the 42.5cm chainstays and the 60cm front-center. Saddle height is 80cm and his crank length is 177.5mm, naturally. With 25mm tubulars, the bottom bracket height would have been 27cm.
There’s a ding in the top tube from a hit and scratches along the left side of the downtube, signs of battle damage from the Hell of the North. Since it’s creation the bike has been with either Quick Step or Specialized; this is its first trip away from the Specialized HQ since coming back to the states. One other curious detail, as per the request of some team riders, this bike uses a Time fork painted to match rather than the Roubaix fork.