Birds of a feather: The new BMC RoadMachine, Canyon Endurace CF SLX, and Focus Paralane

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It’s been an absolute smorgasbord of all-purpose road bike introductions recently, with BMC, Canyon, and Focus all introducing versatile, high-end, and thoroughly engineered options that are designed with real-world road riders in mind instead of racers. Although far from identical, they’re more similar than different, and certain to have broad appeal to a large segment of the road market. US technical editor James Huang takes an in-depth look at the trio to see what makes them tick — and why you might actually be reducing, not increasing, the number of road bikes in your stable.

In the off-road world, there exists this concept of the ‘quiver killer’: a single machine that is sufficiently adept across a wide range of disciplines such that it could capably serve as your only bike. It’s the anti-N+1, so to speak: light enough to enter the occasional cross-country race, burly enough to tackle an enduro event without folding in half, and versatile enough that you could take it on every ride without worrying if it’s suitable for the terrain.

Yet in the road world, what exactly does a ‘one bike’ solution entail? Traditional road racing bikes — and their so-called ‘endurance’ bike cousins — certainly get the job done for many, especially if you stick to paved roads that are reasonably well-maintained. Yet municipal definitions of “reasonable” seem to be forever leaning toward “barely acceptable”, and an increasing number of riders are looking to get further off the beaten path to lesser-traveled routes, insulated from the dangers of motorized traffic.

All three of these new bikes share a number of common features: impressively light framesets that emphasize rider comfort; 28-32mm-wide tires that expand the range of suitable road surfaces (with room for more in some cases); flat-mount disc brakes to provide all-weather predictability; 12mm thru-axles front and rear; and slightly toned-down handling reflexes. Two of the three have hidden fender mounts, too.

Add that all together and you’ve got quite the enticing recipe — and now a growing menu from which to choose.

The BMC RoadMachine

BMC product marketing manager Thomas McDaniel says the RoadMachine was born out of a simple question posed to the company’s design engineers: “What would you buy if you could only have one road bike?”.

What results is arguably the sleekest of the new crop of ‘all-road’ bikes here. Top-end models sport a modern and chiseled low-slung profile that wouldn’t look out of place at a WorldTour race (and in fact, the BMC team was apparently slated to use the RoadMachine at Tour de Suisse before the UCI suspended its disc brake trial in April). Up front is a hyper-integrated front end with fully hidden cables and hoses that are routed through the stem and down the sides of a special 1 1/4-to-1 1/2in-diameter steerer tube with flattened sides — “Complexity simplified’, as described by BMC ambassador Cadel Evans.

By design, the RoadMachine splits the difference between the TeamMachine SLR racer and GranFondo endurance bikes in terms of performance. Claimed weight on a top-end RoadMachine 01 carbon frame (54cm) is 920g — 130g heavier than an SLR but 130g lighter than a GF01. Overall torsional stiffness supposedly falls in between the two as well but side-to-side fork stiffness is said to be more on-par with the SLR. BMC says fork fore-aft stiffness is better than both, though.

Just as on BMC’s GranFondo range, the RoadMachine frame features the company’s Tuned Compliance Comfort design cues with a variety of kinks, steps, and angles in the chainstays, seatstays, and fork blades, plus a slim, D-profile carbon seatpost — all in the name of rider comfort. While perhaps effective, the biggest contribution will invariably be the larger-volume tires. Stock RoadMachines will ship with 28mm-wide tires on wide-profile rims but the carbon versions will fit 30mm ones while still satisfying government regulations for clearance; aluminum RoadMachine frames get an additional 2mm of wiggle room.

BMC may have emphasized a smooth ride for its newest bike but unlike so many other bikes of its ilk, the RoadMachine is no La-Z-Boy when it comes to fit and handling.

The RoadMachine can be fitted with one of two different upper headset covers. With the lower-height headset cone option in place, the reach (the horizontal bottom bracket-to-head tube measurement) is virtually identical to the long-and-low SLR while the stack (the vertical bottom bracket-to-head tube dimension) is less than 10mm taller.

Riders seeking a more relaxed position aren’t left out in the cold as the tall cone shortens the reach a few millimeters while raising the front end by another 16mm — putting the RoadMachine on equal footing with the more upright GranFondo but still leaving plenty of room to stretch out for long days in the saddle.

Handling is slightly tamed relative to the SLR but hardly neutered. As compared to the SLR, the RoadMachine’s 71mm bottom bracket drop sits 2mm closer to the ground for a lower center of gravity. In addition, the 410mm-long chainstays and slacker head tube angle extend the wheelbase by around 20mm, depending on size — all of which bodes well for high-speed stability.

That confidence at higher speed doesn’t come with overly sluggish handling at lower speed, however, as BMC fits the RoadMachine forks with generous amounts of rake. For all but the two smallest sizes, the resultant trail dimension is actually identical to the SLR for a comparatively nimble feel overall.
BMC will offer the RoadMachine in three framesets across eight different models with build kits ranging from Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 down to Shimano Tiagra (all of which are currently in stock). The RoadMachine 01 and RoadMachine 02 carbon variants share the same mold but use different carbon fiber types (frame weight on the RoadMachine 02 climbs to 1,100g) while the 1,270g RoadMachine 03 is built from hydroformed aluminum.

The Canyon Endurace CF SLX

Canyon’s new Endurace CF SLX is an evolution of the company’s current Endurace CF (which will remain in the lineup) and on paper, it’s perhaps the most high-performance option of the three bikes discussed here. It’s very light with a claimed frame weight of just 820g for a medium size plus 325g for the matching carbon fork. According to Canyon, its form was also specifically crafted so as to minimize the extra aerodynamic drag of disc brakes to nearly zero.

Nevertheless, comfort and versatility were still main design priorities.

Whereas BMC has sought to extract a smooth ride directly from the frame with its novel TCC shaping, Canyon more explicitly says that the bulk of the credit for the Endurace CF SLX’s smoother ride goes primarily to its clever seatpost. It measures a conventional 27.2mm in diameter but with its novel split, two-piece design acts as a carbon fiber leaf spring, pivoting rearward to help isolate the rider from bumps in the road. Further boosting rider comfort is the 13-25mm of seatpost setback — which makes it easier for the post to flex under load — and the hidden seatpost binder, which is tucked away more than 100mm further down inside the seat tube than usual to effectively increase the amount of seatpost extension.

Canyon has also capitalized on carbon fiber’s tunable flex characteristics up front but again, not specifically with the frame. Instead, the Endurace CF SLX’s H31 Ergocockpit one-piece handlebar and stem is designed to flex more under load than the similar looking H11 Aerocockpit used on the Aeroad CF SLX aero road racer. The flattened upper section provides more surface area to spread load on a rider’s palms, too, while the slightly sweptback tops and flared drops are supposedly more ergonomic as well. Impressively, drop and reach dimensions are adjusted for each size for a more proportional fit.

Visually, Canyon nicely blends the Ergocockpit shape into the top of the frame but the cables are exposed in conventional fashion before they disappear into the internally routed frame.

Like the BMC, the Endurace CF SLX’s rider positioning is only somewhat toned-down relative to the company’s more race-oriented options. Frame stack is just 10-14mm taller than the Ultimate CF SLX, while reach is a modest 8-11mm shorter, depending on size. The range of head tube angles is pretty standard at 69.2-73.25° but the generous trail produced by the 41.5mm of rake yields what is perhaps the most relaxed handling of this trio. Adding to the expected stability is a somewhat generous 415mm chainstay length.

Also like the BMC, Canyon will equip each Endurace CF SLX with 28mm-wide tires from the factory. Maximum tire size is decidedly more generous, however, at 33mm.

All six Endurace CF SLX models are built around the same frame and fork, with build kits ranging from mechanical Shimano Ultegra to Dura-Ace Di2.

The Focus Paralane

At least on paper, the new Focus Paralane is perhaps the most casual personality of the three options presented here. Although its 907g claimed frame weight (54cm) falls squarely in between the Canyon and BMC, its 75mm of bottom bracket drop, comparatively short reach, and rather tall stack dimensions definitely place its rider in a stable and upright position — notably more so than with the BMC (particularly with the lower headset cone) or Canyon and very similar to Trek’s latest Domane SLR.

Naturally, comfort is once again a main design priority with Focus’s engineers relying on both the frame and seatpost to isolate the rider from road imperfections. The flattened chainstays, seatstays, and seat tube are said to foster rear-end flex when hitting bumps, while the smaller 25.4mm-diameter carbon seatpost is similarly shaped for easier bending under load. It also sticks out more than usual thanks to an aggressively sloping top tube.

As with the BMC and Canyon, Focus has equipped the Paralane with hidden fender mounts to protect from road spray in wet weather. Focus has done one better here, however, as the custom-made fenders are actually included with every Paralane, not an aftermarket option.

Similarly, the Paralane features flat-mount disc brakes and thru-axles at both ends, but the latter uses Focus’s ultra-trick RAT (Rapid Axle Technology) quarter-turn design for faster wheel changes than typical threaded axle configurations. The Paralane trumps the BMC and Canyon in terms of tire clearance, too, with up to 35mm-wide rubber fitting through the stays and fork blades.

Focus will offer seven carbon Paralane models and five aluminum versions with build kits ranging from Shimano Tiagra up to SRAM Red eTap — including two women-specific ‘Donna’ models with Shimano Tiagra or Ultegra.

Riding the new RoadMachine

CyclingTips attended the launch for the RoadMachine in Torino, Italy, and the event culminated with a ride that was a modest 101km (63 miles) in length but included a whopping 2,400m (7,900ft) of climbing. Save for a short section of compacted gravel at the end, the surface was exclusively paved but of mixed quality typical of the region. I rode a second-tier RM01 Ultegra Di2 model, which weighed 7.88kg (17.37lb, 51cm) without pedals.

Just as you’d expect of any bike with 28mm tires inflated to just 60-65psi, the ride quality was luxuriously smooth with even coarse pavement feeling like freshly laid tarmac. Cornering grip was prodigious, too, and just as numerous studies have already proven, rolling resistance on the larger-volume Continental GP4000S II tires felt impressively low. It’d be easy to attribute the RM01’s cushy feel solely to the rubber but bigger bumps nevertheless brought out some flex in the structure itself — in particular, at the D-shaped seatpost.

I was only able to sample the BMC RoadMachine 01 Ultegra Di2 for a single ride but with 101km of distance and 2,400m of climbing, it was a more thorough initial sampling than usual. Photo: Jeremie Reuiller - BMC.
I was only able to sample the BMC RoadMachine 01 Ultegra Di2 for a single ride but with 101km of distance and 2,400m of climbing, it was a more thorough initial sampling than usual. Photo: Jeremie Reuiller – BMC.

One might think that such a higher-volume tire setup would be a detriment on such a climbing-intensive ride but it certainly didn’t seem like it was hindering me in any way. Likewise, there was more than enough frame stiffness on tap for efficient-feeling bursts out of the saddle.

Handling characteristics for the RoadMachine were surprisingly sporty for the genre overall but still fairly typical for the breed. As promised, it’s supremely stable at higher speeds with good low-speed agility but nevertheless, still a bit slow to initiate turns — weighting the front end and exaggerating handlebar inputs helps. Once settled into its arc, though, the RoadMachine’s more generous footprint helps hold that line even through mid-corner impacts with none of the nervousness that can sometimes accompany a less accommodating chassis.

Overall, it was quite the positive experience — and it’s worth noting that the route BMC chose hardly stacked the deck in the bike’s favor. Regardless, we’ll hopefully soon have a production sample on hand for a proper long-term test on familiar roads, along with ride evaluations of the Canyon and Focus to follow.

Looking ahead

Three years ago, I wrote a column lamenting the continued prevalence of racing-centric bikes in the road market — including the so-called ‘endurance’ bikes that promise more universal appeal but actually offer little additional usability in the real world. Don’t get me wrong; race bikes are fantastic, glorious machines but they’re built for a specific task and aren’t always the best tool to use outside of that comfort zone.

The move toward ‘all road’ bikes with 28-32mm-wide tires already happened in the bespoke handmade world years ago, and once again, that niche is serving as a bellwether for the mainstream. While it’s true that the bigger tires (and the geometry modifications required to accommodate them) may give up some ultimate performance on paper as compared to pure racing machines, there’s a strong argument nonetheless that these are the types of bikes the majority of us should be riding.

They’re only marginally heavier, nearly as efficient, and — perhaps most importantly for some — almost as fast as full-blown racers. And with so much versatility baked in, they could potentially help us reduce the number of bikes in our stables while still letting us do more.

Dismiss these new ‘all road’ bikes as yet another marketing scheme designed to part fools with their money if you must. But I’d argue that we’re entering a golden age for road bikes, and all indications point to many more of these to come.

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