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In this week’s bike review we take a look at the SwiftCarbon Ultravox TI which has been making a splash over the past two months in Australia.
My first experience with SwiftCarbon was when I heard about owner Mark Blewett and his story and wanted to share it with you here. In short, he is a South African ex-pro working in China who began SwiftCarbon in 2008 using open moulds.
Eventually Mark paired up with others who had the expertise to do their own designs. For many years they were basically a two-man show, but now with some investment into the company they’re reaching all corners of the globe.
SwiftCarbon isn’t apologetic about making its frames in China nor does the company try to hide it. In fact they’re quite proud of where they’re based and maintain that the factory and quality of their products are top notch.
SwiftCarbon never hit Australian shores until Jonathan Cantwell reached a deal with Drapac to leave the WorldTour and join the squad. Jono, looking for the next step in his career, brought SwiftCarbon on as the bike sponsor for Drapac and also overseas the importation of the bikes to Australia.
It’s an enormous job being a father, a pro cyclist, building a concept store (with his own two hands) in Melbourne, and distributing SwiftCarbon. But judging by Jono’s energy and enthusiasm, if anyone is up to the task, he is.
There’s no doubt in my mind that SwiftCarbon will be successful in Australia, partially because of the brand’s strategic partnership with Drapac Pro Cycling — an Australian team which has been around for more than 10 years and which has heaps of street cred. Drapac have now upped the stakes to the Pro-Continental ranks and have an up-and-coming story to tell.
All of this adds to a brand’s appeal which — let’s be honest — is a big selling factor for a bike that not many people have heard of. The other team that’s riding SwiftCarbon is the UK-based NFTO Pro Cycling Continental squad.
Before the ride
I’ve wanted to review an Ultravox TI for a while now but it wasn’t until Jono finished a hectic training and race schedule that we finally got make it happen. The Ultravox that I tested in this review was the black one shown in the photos below. I find the blue model — Jono’s training bike, as seen in the feature image — to be absolutely striking but it’s the nude black Ultravox that is built to a higher spec — SRAM Red, Zipp handlebars, stem and seatpost, and Easton EA90 SL wheels.
The Ultravox RS-1 used to be SwiftCarbon’s flagship model but the company has now introduced its second generation, the Ultravox TI. Don’t get confused by the “TI” in the name — it refers to “Team Issue” rather than titanium.
The Ultravox TI is a full carbon frame with a blend of Toray and Mitsubishi high modulus carbon fibre in a monocoque configuration. With the black model that I rode, the frame had no paint and featured a titanium hanger, which allows a weight of around 900 grams.
The Ultravox may not appeal to traditionalists with its box-shaped tubing, PF30 bottom bracket shell, overbuilt headtube, and confident “made in China” label. But if you want to ride something different to most other bikes on the road, this is a good option. It will certainly be conversation-starter.
SwiftCarbon designed the Ultravox with a fairly slack headtube angle (72.6° on the medium frame size tested here) compared to many other bikes in the same category. This makes the bike steer relatively slowly (with more input required to make the bike turn). Combined with an over-built headtube this translates to a feeling of stability on the corners and descents.
You can read more on the geometry of bike handling here.
After the ride
With all the bikes I’m able to test ride for only a short period, I take note of my very first impressions when riding those opening kilometers. I’ll ride around my favourite 100km loop which is arguably the “longest” 100km you’ll find in Melbourne. I’ll then take it out one more time to see if those first impressions are what I’m still feeling.
When I took my first few pedal strokes the first thought that came to mind was “whoa … this is smooth.” Every time I got off and on the bike during my first ride that feeling was the same. On day two my impressions hadn’t changed. That’s not to say that the bike isn’t “responsive” or fast, but the overwhelming impression for me was that of comfort.
If I were to compare the Ultravox to the way another bike rides, it would most definitely be the Trek Madone 7 Series. And that’s a compliment.
The SRAM Red works a treat, and the Easton EA90 SL wheels were a big part of what made this bike so comfortable to ride. I had to double-check to see if the tyres were 25mm or 23mm as it had such a plush ride. If you look at the asymmetric design of the seatstays, they give the bike a good amount of vibration dampening while keeping the bike’s stiffness with lateral flex.
As far as handling goes, and as mentioned above, the slack headtube angle gives the bike a feeling of stability (slow steering) compared to a lot of other bikes in this range.
Final thoughts and summary
The SwiftCarbon Ultravox is a bike with an up-and-coming brand story paired with a similar story being told by Drapac. As we saw in the Tour Down Under, the Ultravox has what it takes to compete at the highest level of pro cycling and now has local dealer support here in Australia.
My first impressions and overwhelming thoughts on the feel of the bike were “comfort” and “stability” after two test rides. This doesn’t mean that it rides like a touring bike — quite the opposite. For those who are looking for a bike that can be ridden or raced for hours on end, the Ultra-Vox TI is definitely worth your consideration.