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by Matt de Neef
July 29, 2013
The Gallium Pro is Argon 18’s flagship road bike with a distinctive adjustable head tube length. The frameset blends rigidity and comfort in fine measure but it is its sure-footed handling that stands out and makes for a versatile bike that will suit both novice and experienced riders.
Gervais Rioux entered his first bike race in 1973 and it set him on a path to roughly 150 victories including three Canadian road racing championships, another three Quebec road championships, and rides in the 1982 Commonwealth Games and 1988 Olympic Games. It also led him to found Argon 18.
Rioux retired from racing in 1990 and opened a bike shop in Montreal (Cycles Gervais Rioux) specialising in both road cycling and bike fit. He created Argon 18 to serve as the house brand and it allowed him to develop and refine a frame design that satisfied his needs.
Driven by Rioux’s determination and passion, Argon 18 started attracting wider attention, first in Canada, and then throughout North America after the brand was launched at Interbike in 1999.
Now the Argon 18 brand is recognised internationally and is available worldwide with a catalogue dominated by carbon framesets. Rioux started working with carbon at the turn of the century and Argon 18 released its first full carbon frameset, the Helium, in 2001.
The Gallium Pro is now the flagship of Argon 18’s road bike range and was designed to deliver a balance of rigidity, comfort, and weight savings.
Before the ride
The full carbon Gallium Pro frameset is constructed from high modulus carbon (HM7000 Nano-Tech tubes) and weighs 920g for a medium size and another 340g for the fork.
The frameset comprises two zones, an upper “comfort zone” (top tube, seat tube and seat stays) and a lower “power zone” (chain stays, bottom bracket, down tube and head tubes) that vary in design and layup to provide a large measure of rigidity for efficient power transfer through the transmission while dampening unwanted road shock at the saddle. It’s a familiar strategy that Argon 18 labels as its Horizontal Design System (HDS).
The frame has a massive BB86 bottom bracket that resembles a small fuselage. The head tube is almost as stout and uses a 1.25-inch diameter bearing at the top and 1.5-inch diameter bearing at the bottom. The rest of the frame fittings are fairly standard though it is worth noting that cable routing accommodates both mechanical and electronic transmissions, with an external battery mount on the left-hand chainstay.
Rather than offer two framesets with different head tube lengths like other manufacturers, Argon 18 uses the 3D System to extend the head tube without sacrificing rigidity.
A large aluminium bolt/plug is used to attach an extra 10mm spacer to the top of the head tube. Owners can choose to leave the spacer in place for a more relaxed handlebar height, or remove the spacer and then the bolt/plug to progressively shorten the head tube to suit a more aggressive position.
Argon 18 claims the 3D system provides significant gains in rigidity when compared to conventional spacers.
The Gallium Pro is available in six sizes where the adjustable head tube length provides a versatile fit, though tall riders may find that the XL is not large enough. Argon 18’s ASP-6500 carbon seatpost provides 25mm or 30mm setback, depending on the orientation of the cradle for the saddle rails, further adding to the range of fitting options.
One distinctive feature that is absent from the geometry table is that the Gallium Pro has a lower bottom bracket than most road bikes (the drop from the centreline of the wheels to the centre of the bottom bracket is 75mm rather than 70mm), which lowers the rider’s centre of gravity and promises to improve the handling of the bike.
The Gallium Pro is available in one colour, matt black with red highlights, and comes equipped with a Shimano Dura Ace 9000 series mechanical groupset (i.e. the new 11-speed group), Fulcrum Racing 5 wheels, Continental GP4000s tyres, 3T bars and stem, and an XRD saddle for $5,999.
The bike sent for review by Urban Cyclist came with Fulcrum Racing 1 wheels and a Fizik Arione saddle, two worthwhile upgrades that add $1,000 to the retail price.
For more information, refer to the Argon 18 website or Urban Cyclist.
After the ride
On paper, 5mm does not seem like it would make a lot of difference, yet the lower bottom bracket was the first thing I noticed when I started riding the Gallium Pro. I felt like I was sitting too low on the bike (I checked my saddle height a couple of times, just to be sure) but after a couple of short rides, the sensation disappeared.
The lower bottom bracket had a profound effect on my centre of gravity. Yes, the bike immediately felt very stable when cornering at high speeds but it took some time for me to adapt to the change in my centre of gravity.
On early rides, I had trouble with understeer through tight corners, but that changed once I learnt to trust the bike and its magnificent stability. The steering was still slow but I found I could hang off the bike a lot more and lean into corners with more force to control my direction.
Compared to the Basso Diamante, a bike that impressed me with its near-perfect handling, the Gallium Pro is perhaps more stable, where the slower steering adds to the sure-footed feeling of the bike. Ultimately, this bike can be ridden gently or aggressively at any speed without undermining the rider’s confidence, which makes for a truly versatile chassis.
Argon 18’s Horizontal Design System is effective. The bottom bracket felt stiff and every effort out of the saddle was answered by the bike with immediate efficiency, yet none of that rigidity was obvious in the saddle. The front end transferred some road buzz to the handlebars but overall, the Gallium Pro is a very comfortable bike to ride.
In absolute terms, there are other bikes on the market that are stiffer and more efficient, but the Gallium Pro will serve as a very capable race bike. Non-racers will simply benefit from a bike that provides a well-balanced measure of comfort and performance.
I’m undecided about the appearance of the extended head tube: is it a piece of clever engineering or a lazy addendum to save on production costs? I’m sure the design is effective but the resulting aesthetic is perhaps a marginal improvement over a stack of extra spacers under the stem.
If I had the ear of Argon 18’s designers I’d suggest the new “oversized” 1.25-inch steerer for the fork to soften the contrast in diameters above the head tube and improve the appearance of the front end of the bike.
Shimano’s latest iteration for its mechanical Dura Ace groupset has received a lot of rave reviews and I will add to them here. Both braking and shifting is incredible — all that is required is a light touch to execute either function — yet neither is twitchy, demanding, or oversensitive. The front shifting is perhaps the most impressive of all: smooth, fast and requiring only marginally more effort than electronic shifting.
Trimming the front derailleur is a familiar affair — one half-click going up and one half-click coming down — but shifting to the small ring sends the front derailleur to the first trim position and a second click is required to return the derailleur to its starting position. The new sequence is a subtle change but it better anticipates the position of the chain on the rear cogs.
The Dura Ace brakes are very powerful, and as I’ve already mentioned, only require a light touch to deliver an effective bite on the rims. I’m not sure if there will be a tendency for the brakes to lock up the wheels under more urgent conditions (e.g. racing) but the ease of braking is very welcome on long descents.
All told, Dura Ace 9000 demonstrates that there was room to improve on the performance of a mechanical groupset, and it should serve as the new standard for the next generation of groupsets from Campagnolo and SRAM.
This groupset also rivals the performance of an electronic transmission so riders with an “old-school” preference, an eye on the final weight or price of the bike do not have worry they are making any compromises with this groupset.
One last comment about the groupset: Shimano’s Hollowtech II design trumps all when it comes to servicing the bottom bracket. Assembly and disassembly is a quick and simple affair and this applies to the new Dura Ace crankset. Better yet, the new crank accepts both standard and compact chainrings with a new four-bolt design, allowing owners to gear up or down by replacing the rings instead of the entire crankset.
Final thoughts and summary
The Gallium Pro is an impressive package that is enhanced by a sensational groupset. The base model is a little disappointing because the wheelset is well below the standard of the rest of the bike so potential buyers should budget for a wheel upgrade to make the most of the bike’s performance.
The Gallium Pro delivers all that you’d expect at this price point: a well-designed frameset with a decent collection of parts and a very respectable final weight but it is the bike’s sure-footed geometry that should be considered the strongest selling point.
Cautious riders in particular will gain confidence on this bike, especially when descending, while aggressive riders will enjoy a bike that is ready to attack when they are.