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by Matt Wikstrom
November 17, 2014
Polygon is an Indonesian company that offers buyers a lot of value with its bikes. The company’s Helios A9X has a high-end build but just a mid-level price of $5,999. CTech editor Matt Wikstrom recently spent some time with the bike to judge how much performance the Helios A9X has to offer.
Polygon is an Indonesian brand that is manufactured by Insera Sena. The company was founded in 1989 and now boasts a huge manufacturing facility with over 1,000 employees. This facility is equipped to take care of every step of manufacturing for steel, alloy and carbon bikes with a capacity for up to 750,000 units per annum.
Polygon has an extensive catalogue with a range of bikes for every market. The brand has a 20-strong team of experts devoted to research and development, many of which also ride. In addition, the brand also sponsors several racing teams that contribute to its testing process, including national downhill champions Mick and Tracey Hannah and the Tasmanian National Road Series team, Team Polygon Australia.
Polygon divides its road range into two major categories – race and endurance – with a smaller selection of cyclocross and flat bar bikes. There are seven race models in the Helios A series and eight endurance bikes in the Helios C series. Both categories are dominated by carbon framesets, where the race-oriented bikes feature aerodynamic profiles, while the Helios C series employs conventional tube shapes.
Bicycles Online is the sole Australian retailer for Polygon, and while they don’t carry Polygon’s entire road range, they offer models to suit all levels of riders. The Helios A9X sits at the top of their road range with a retail price of $5,999.
In designing the frameset for the Helios A9X, Polygon wanted the benefits of aerodynamic profiles without any harshness. To this end, truncated airfoil shapes are employed in some places and sacrificed in others.
The frame is constructed with Toray’s high strength T-series carbon fibre and high modulus M-series carbon fibre. The front triangle of the frame is constructed in two parts, one comprising the top tube and head tube and the other, seat and down tubes. The two units are then joined using tube-to-tube methodology. Polygon claims this approach allows for a lighter and stronger frame.
The seat tube is fashioned after a Kammtail while the junction of the top tube with the head tube also resembles a truncated airfoil shape. While other aerodynamic frames utilise a slender airfoil shape for the down tube, the Helios A9X employs a thicker profile with sharp edges that flattens as it approaches the BB90 bottom bracket shell. The top tube also starts out thick and gets smaller and flattens as it approaches the seat tube.
The Kammtail is an aerodynamic design that calls for a body with smooth contours that continues to a tail that is abruptly cut off. This shape reduces the drag of a bike or vehicle.
The rear triangle comprises slender seatstays and much larger chainstays. Extra material is added around the chainstays and seattube where it is needed and carved away from where it can be spared, producing some asymmetry. The inside of the joints are also prepared with extra care to eliminate wrinkling of the carbon fibre sheets and therefore excess material. Together, these weight-saving strategies allow Polygon to produce the Helios A9X frame with a final weight under 900g.
Polygon produces the Helios A9X in six sizes, however Bicycles Online does not stock the smallest frame size (48). The geometry of each frame size is set out in the table below:
It’s unusual for two different frame sizes to have the same headtube length. As a consequence, it’s hard to generalise about the fit offered by the Helios A9X, but it is race-oriented ranging from conservative to aggressive, depending on the frame size.
Curiously, Polygon has specified aggressive crank lengths — sizes 48-50 get 170mm cranks, 52-54 get 172.5mm cranks, and 56-58 get 175mm cranks — while stem lengths are far more conservative (90mm for sizes 48-50; 100mm for sizes 52-54; 110mm for sizes 56-58). The complete geometry table can be found at the Polygon bikes website.
The frame uses a proprietary seatpost that suits the truncated Kammtail shape of the seat tube. The post is topped with a rail that offers a generous amount of adjustable setback with a single-bolt clamp to secure the saddle. It makes for a quirky design, but it is very pragmatic and highly functional.
The frameset is finished with a few simple geometric graphics painted in white and silver on the nude carbon. Overall, the presentation is very neat — each tube melts into the next with only the cradle of the seat breaking the spell — and the colour scheme ties in well with the rest of the build.
From top to bottom, the Helios A9X boasts a high-end selection of parts. There is a full Dura Ace 11-speed Di2 groupset with an internal battery, 53/39 chainrings and an 11-25T cassette; Dura Ace C50 wheelset; Ritchey Superlogic carbon bars and stem; Fizik Arione saddle; and Schwalbe One tyres. Total weight for the size 56 bike sent for review was 7.15kg sans pedals and bottle cages.
The Helios A9X retails for $5,999, which is extraordinary value considering the quality of the build. As such, buyers won’t have much to quibble over other than the length of the cranks and stem if the stock lengths don’t suit them. The bike comes with a five-year warranty for the frame and forks, while the parts are covered by standard manufacturer warranties (typically 12 months).
As mentioned above, Bicycles Online is the exclusive retailer of Polygon in Australia. Buyers located in Sydney can visit their store in North Manly to test ride the Helios A9X, while everybody else can take advantage of their 14-day test ride policy.
The company offers free delivery Australia-wide (except for a few remote locations) and ships each bike in a pre-assembled condition that requires only minor assembly. In this instance, the bike was ready to ride after the bars and seatpost were installed, the tyres inflated, and a couple of Di2 leads connected.
At face value, the Helios A9X looks to be all about value but this bike is much better than a great bargain. It offers a beautiful race-tuned ride that achieves a near perfect balance of stiffness and comfort. As such, I’d rank those properties as an equal with bikes from Storck, Canyon, and Scott.
I’d like to thank Competitive Cyclist for the term, “grip it and rip it”, because it sums up the kind of attitude that is best served by the Helios A9X. Aggressive riders, racing or not, will enjoy this bike. I found that it really thrived on undulating terrain where the stiffness of the bike could be exploited to defeat every sharp pinch and converted into extra velocity for the next attack or effort.
The Helios A9X was a pleasure to ride on smooth surfaces. Riders looking for a plush ride won’t find much satisfaction with this bike — it’s too stiff to smooth out uneven surfaces to the point where they go unnoticed — but Polygon has made clever use of Toray’s carbon fibre to keep the chatter to a minimum. There was just enough feedback for me to understand the road without it ever overwhelming my contact points.
Switching to a low-profile wheelset (Stan’s Alpha 340 rims laced to DT 240s hubs) transformed the Helios A9X into a nimble climbing machine, highlighting the bike’s versatility. The stiff chassis was agile and offered plenty of snap under load to surge up the slopes. The frameset may not be light enough to satisfy weight-weenies but the Helios A9X is well suited to aggressive riding in the hills despite its aerodynamic styling.
The Helios A9X has a bottom bracket that is a little lower (73mm drop) than many other race bikes. While some will worry about pedal-strike, especially for criterium racing, the benefits outweigh this risk, because the bike is more stable and better suited to riders that like to steer from the saddle.
Indeed, I found that the Helios A9X was so well-mannered and composed that I never spared a thought for the bike’s handling. There was a mild tendency towards understeer as I pushed through sharp corners but I could compensate for it by cornering more aggressively thanks to the stability of the bike.
From the outset, I was concerned about the 175mm cranks that come stock on a size 56 Helios A9X. After more than two decades riding 170 or 172.5mm cranks, I expected they would be too long, but I was able to turn the cranks well enough, albeit at a slower cadence. The extra length initially affected the quality of my pedal stroke so that it wasn’t as smooth, but after a couple weeks it wasn’t as noticeable. Crank length is a controversial aspect of bike-fitting but in this instance, where Polygon has specified longer cranks for some frame sizes, prospective buyers should pay close attention to crank length when deciding on a size.
The Dura Ace Di2 groupset performed flawlessly. Interestingly, I found very little to distinguish this group from Ultegra Di2 except that the downshift buttons are firmer. The two groups share the same clean and precise shifting while braking is equally light and powerful. That just leaves weight and aesthetics for buyers to contemplate.
The C50 wheelset was smooth, fast and sturdy, as noted previously. I found that the wheels performed well in light-moderate winds, however strong crosswinds tugged at the front wheel. The tall rims added some extra weight that was noticeable on long climbs; otherwise, the C50s were a great match for the Helios A9X and a “grip and rip” mentality.
Finally, Ritchey’s carbon cockpit was impressive. The Evocurve shape of the bars offers a conservative reach and drop, but there was still plenty of room for my hands. The stem delivered on the promise of its sturdy proportions; if there was any flex, then it was only minor, yet there was never an excess of unwanted vibration.
I clearly remember Giant’s rise in the marketplace during the late-90s. Back then the brand lacked cachet but none could deny its value. Where other brands resorted to generic parts, Giant insisted on established names, which provided a custom feel to each build. In short, Giant was offering bikes with the kind of parts buyers wanted. Half a generation later, Polygon is adopting the same strategy and is offering extraordinary value with its bikes.
Consumers may be well informed and very discerning, but none can resist the temptation of a bargain price, even when there is a worry over quality. There is no need to worry about the Helios A9X though — Polygon has created an excellent race-tuned chassis that suits the high-end build. For those buyers that are happy to forego the esteem offered by an established brand, they will get to own the kind of bike they never thought they could afford, or having budgeted for more, will be able to indulge in a set of race wheels, a power meter, or a summer training camp.
What do the individual ratings criteria mean? And how did we arrive at the overall score? Click here to find out.