Not the lightest bikes, or the most expensive bike of the decade, but ones that made me want to rush out and buy them. Bikes that on first sighting people talked about, but more importantly still do. Ten would have made it easy. So in no particular order, a Canadian, an American, a Swiss, a French and a Belgian (what! no Italians? and I own a Colnago….)
1. The Cervelo Soloist SLC / Team CSC
There was a lot of buzz around the mechanics’ area on the evening of May 25th at the 2006 Giro. Cervelo had already started to make a name for themselves as a technology-forward company, and had already brought some pretty impressive prototypes to Europe, and delivered some great results on board to back them up. So when the rumors started that a new superbike, the SR71 prototype, was coming, everyone wanted a look. The new frame was a combination of the already successful R2.5 and the Soloist. The frame was introduced into the line to balance the R2.5 climber’s frame with a frame that would be lighter than the Soloist, be suitable for Classics, and roll on the flats for riders like Jens, Fabian and Stuey. It was a frame that was fundamentally different from anything that was already out there, and had more in common with its sister time trial frame than any other road frame. Rider feedback said it all – “I just ride faster on it.” (Note: Those are the legs of Kurt Asle Arvesen on the Champs-Élysées at the end of a 3-week Tour, as he asked me if I wanted him to smile for the camera – “more interested in your legs Kurt.”)
2. The Cannondale CAAD7 Prototype / Team Saeco Cannondale
When Simoni was on top of his game he got to demand whatever he wanted. Back in the days when the UCI were still playing around with the idea of weight limits, Simoni demanded the lightest frame he could have to tackle the 2003 Giro. Aluminum was still the choix du jour and Cannondale’s Optimo tubing was the best you could get. They built him up a small frame using their new proprietary Alcoa aluminum tubing with oversized diameters for strength, and it was finished off with no paint or clear coat. The bike he rode in the 2003 Giro would eventually become the CAAD 7 Optimo road frame. Also notice the Fizik saddle (which they kept a cover over for most of the tour), the first time that saddle was seen, and the SI Hollowgram cranks (with a 38 X 28 ratio to get over the Zoncolan). There was a lot of goodness on this bike that is still around today.
3. The BMC Pro Machine SLC01 / Team Phonak and BMC
It has to be said, in pictures this frame never really did it for me, but man when you see this thing in the flesh you really start to appreciate the design and engineering that went into it. The tubing shapes, skeleton rear end and the angles make it feel architectural. It was the first bike I saw with a completely flat top tube and tubes that flipped shape and dimensions as they ran down the length of the bike. The only thing that isn’t carbon on the frame is the bottom bracket casing. Coupled with beautiful and minimal Swiss graphics and a paint design that perfectly picks out the lines of the frame, this is a bike to remember. The other nice touch was the mix between matte and gloss finishes, with the gloss only being added to the paint areas, making the white on the front end and bottom bracket area really shine. One thing that I would rather forget is the wonderful tagline found in the Swiss edition of their 2009 product catalogue: “It is 100% seduction, where the high pulse is yours for free“, indeed.
4. The Look 595 / Team Crédit Agricole
Not the first white bike we ever saw, but the one that triggered the current trend. Just when everything was getting to the point of, “no paint please, it is carbon and I must show it to the world”, Look covered the whole frame in white paint. Lovely. Not only that, they dispensed with the seat post as well, and decided to make it part of the frame, something they had been doing on their track frames for awhile. Look claims that it was the first frame to use Nano Tube technology, and this coupled with them being experts in lugged construction made this if not one of the lightest frames (just over 1000 grams uncut, but then you don’t need a seatpost), certainly one of the most solid. Also at a time when tubing was getting larger and more shaped, they kept the design refreshingly simple with a slightly elliptical top tube and boxed seat tube, producing a bike that looks pretty timeless and sophisticated. There is a rumor that Thor refused to give his up when he moved to Cervelo, and has a couple in his garage. That I can believe.
5. The Eddy Merckx Team SC / Team Lotto and Domo Frites
The only frame that Bicycling magazine ever gave a perfect score. A phenomenal all-around race frame with wins in the cobbled classics with Johan Museeuw and Van Petegam on board, to mountaintop finishes in the Alps with Richard Virenque. The design leaves a lot of clearance up front for the different tire and rim options for the classics, and a longer top tube (by 1cm) than the seat tube makes handling on the “rough” surfaces of Northern Europe a lot easier. I have seen a build of this frame with Campy record and Zipp 202 wheels that came in at 6KG/13.2lbs, which is light enough for anyone (although some of the carbon parts would probably not survive a racing season). This frame is now in the realm of being collectible.