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by Matt Wikstrom
November 8, 2016
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
SwiftCarbon recently introduced a new bike to its road catalogue, taking some of the elements that defined the Ultravox and giving them an aero edge to produce the Hypervox. The new design is a bold and purposeful race bike and according to SwiftCarbon, demonstrates that there is no need for gimmicks to create a fast bike. In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a close look at the Swift Hypervox.
SwiftCarbon is perhaps best characterised as a rider-owned company. The founder and co-owner, Mark Blewett, was a multi-week-tour specialist that once captained for the South African national team. He also managed to secure a professional contract during the mid-90s before turning his attention to setting up his business in Asia, ultimately leading him into the bicycle industry.
Over the course of the next decade, Blewett developed an understanding of Chinese manufacturing, and in time he was motivated to create SwiftCarbon. From the outset, Blewett was transparent about his Chinese connections and chose to base himself in China to keep a close watch on production rather than attempting to oversee it all from South Africa.
The company has been growing steadily since it was founded in 2008, first in South Africa, and then internationally. The company remains small with 15 employees yet its products are now sold in over 30 countries. Canny sponsorship decisions have helped raise the profile of the brand, which currently caters for road cyclists, triathletes and MTB.
The Ultravox has served as SwiftCarbon’s core road offering for a few years, albeit in a variety of guises including the lightweight SCULP, the TI (Team Issue) version, and the recently announced SSL. However, there was room to expand the range, both to satisfy consumer demand as well as the needs of a sprint-oriented team in Drapac Professional Cycling.
The Hypervox is the result of that effort, a bike that is “aero without compromise” according to SwiftCarbon’s marketing. At face value, a claim like that suggests aerodynamics were a primary consideration, but the company was more concerned about creating a faster bike without compromising its handling, compliance or performance.
As a result, the Hypervox lacks many of the features that have come to define aero road bikes, such as brake callipers hidden behind the forks and/or under the chainstays. Instead, SwiftCarbon has chosen to simply minimise the frontal area along with the surface area for the down tube, arguing that the benefits of any other “gimmicks” are much smaller than what can be achieved by refining the rider’s position on the bike.
It’s a refreshing stance that seems to put the claims and data for aero road bikes into a realistic context. However, there’s also room to wonder whether SwiftCarbon have arrived at this rationale in an attempt to justify their lack of investment in cutting-edge research and development. After spending a few weeks aboard a Hypervox (courtesy of SwiftCarbon Australia), I’m convinced it’s the former.
What started with a simple enquiry about the nature of the carbon fibre used for the Hypervox lead me to Neil Gardiner, the Head of Marketing and Communications for SwiftCarbon, and a frank discussion about all of the factors that have an influence on the quality of a carbon bike. In short, he didn’t want the bike judged on the basis of the construction materials alone.
“We use carbon fibre from Toray and Mitsubishi Rayon,” said Gardiner, “which are high quality products that are freely available, so any vendor can build a bike with them, but it doesn’t guarantee ride quality. What’s more important is engineering the correct blend of materials, the resins used, the reputation and expertise of the factory, the competence and diligence of its workers, and the capabilities of the design team.
“These are some of what we call the ‘human factors’ and they have a much bigger impact on the product than the specific fibres employed.”
SwiftCarbon’s framesets have always been made in China. According to Gardiner, most of the high-end vendors are using similar methods, but the quality of the work can vary depending on the experience of the workers, and that is an ever-changing proposition.
“The work force is quite dynamic,” said Gardiner, “with a large proportion — as much as 30% — often moving from one factory for the next, depending on demand and wages.
“What that means is that there can be much less continuity in expertise, and that can quickly undermine the quality of the product. At the same time, there’s a lot of competition between companies looking for vendors to fill their orders, so a small brand is always at disadvantage because large orders are given priority.”
As a consequence, there can be a level of uncertainty when placing an order, and Gardiner spoke of “spreading the risk” by working with more than one vendor. Indeed, SwiftCarbon started working with a new vendor from the one that manufactures the Ultravox when it came time to put the Hypervox into production, but having Mark Blewett located in China meant the decision was much less daunting.
“It means we can have a closer and more effective working relationship with our vendors,” said Gardiner. “And if you don’t have someone that can visit the factory then weeks can go by before you hear anything about an order.
“We’re working with a highly pragmatic business culture and very sharp business acumen, which is refreshing. However, we’ve seen situations in which the vendors chased the better deal and looked after the big orders before paying attention to a small order.”
For Blewett, a visit to the factory is a short local trip, so it doesn’t take much time or effort to monitor the progress of an order. He is also able to conduct his own quality control inspections on the spot, both of which do a lot to provide assurances for the final product.
At the other end of the process, Gardiner points to the quality of the design engineer (Rene Baretta) who created the Hypervox. With extensive experience in the bike industry, Gardiner considers his pedigree more important to the Hypervox than merely the construction materials.
Finally, there was a lengthy phase of on-road testing that took place during the development of the Hypervox that Gardiner counts as critical to the success of the bike. At one point, he joked that Blewett probably spent too much time riding the new bike, but he refused to sign-off on the project until he had tested the bike thoroughly with a couple of months of riding in Italy.
The top tube sums up what the Hypervox is all about.
In many ways, the passion and diligence of SwiftCarbon resembles that of a bespoke framebuilder. Neither appears to have much tolerance for gimmicks or trends, preferring instead to adhere to the truth of their own experience.
That doesn’t mean the Hypervox is mired in tradition. The bike has a tapered head tube (1.125inch upper bearing, 1.5inch lower bearing), BB386 bottom bracket, and an integrated seatpost clamp. Then there was the work that was done to reduce the frontal area of the bike and the surface area of the down tube, and the employment of tubing profiles with Kamm tails throughout the frame.
By contrast, there are traditional fittings for centre-mount brake callipers along with a braze-on front derailleur mount and internal routing for full-length brake cable housing for the top tube of the frame. The frame has a replaceable rear derailleur hanger that befits a composite frame, but the owner is supplied with two versions, conventional alloy and titanium. The latter is much less prone to accidental misalignment and provides surer footing for more precise shifting.
Both derailleur cables enter the down tube on the left hand side of the bike.
The Hypervox has internal routing for the derailleur cables with fittings to suit both mechanical and electronic groupsets. Interestingly, the entry ports for both derailleurs cables are both located on the same side of the frame, a notable departure from tradition that is supposed to provide a reduction in aerodynamic drag.
SwiftCarbon used the Ultravox as its benchmark for judging the effectiveness of all of these refinements while aiming to preserve the compliance and handling of that bike. Significant improvements were achieved in some respects, such as a 30% reduction in the amount of drag for the down tube, but rather than resort to charts and figures, Gardiner prefers to describe the new bike as “an Ultravox with an edge.”
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that the Hypervox uses the same frame geometry as the Ultravox TI that is race-oriented, as detailed in the table below:
The geometry of the Hypervox provides a bottom bracket drop of 70mm for all frame sizes, 408-412mm chainstays (increasing with frame size), and a fork rake of 43mm or 50mm (50mm for sizes 2XS-S; 43mm for M-XL). The net result is that buyers looking for an aggressive position won’t have much trouble achieving it with the Hypervox.
The clean, bold lines of the Hypervox uphold SwiftCarbon’s “no gimmicks” approach to the design of the frame. The thick front triangle seems to add purpose to the bike, announcing its combative intentions like a fighter flexing his muscles. And if that’s not enough for potential buyers to identify with, there is a mantra on the top tube — “Train, eat, sleep, race” — that sums up what the Hypervox is all about.
I was immediately drawn to the bright blue paint and seemed to enjoy my time on the bike all the more because of it. For those buyers looking for a more understated finish, the Hypervox is also offered in a matte carbon finish that saves ~90g compared to the bright blue version.
Speaking of weight, the size M frameset sent for review weighed 1,467g (frame, 1,128g; uncut forks, 339g). The weight of the frame included the front derailleur mount and rear derailleur hanger but not the headset and bottom bracket fittings, nor the internal seatpost clamp. That’s high compared to the ~900g that SwiftCarbon claims for the frame, but I expect the frame size, paint, mount and hanger account for much of the extra weight.
In discussing the issue of weight, Neil Gardiner explained that the company had decided some time ago that ~900g was the ideal weight for a composite road frame.
“We found that in going lighter, the ride quality of the bike suffered, since there wasn’t enough material to damp vibrations,” he said. “It also means we don’t have to worry about the strength of the bike being a problem.”
The Hypervox frameset sent for review was assembled with Campagnolo’s Super Record RS groupset, Bora Ultra 35 tubulars, and Pro Vibe cockpit for a final weight of 6.77kg without cages or pedals. Swapping the Boras for Boyd 60mm carbon clinchers brought the final weight up to 7.17kg. Clearly, the Hypervox is not a bike for weight-weenies, but the bike could be brought down to the legal limit (6.8kg) with a judicious selection of parts.
The Hypervox frameset has a recommended retail price of AUD$4,499 (£2,499/US$TBA), which includes the frame, fork, headset, seatpost, fittings, two derailleur hangers, and a five-year warranty. For those that are interested in a complete bike, there are no pre-configured options in SwiftCarbon’s catalogue, but it is possible to work with the local retailer to create a suitable build.
BB386 combines the diameter of BB30 with the width of BB86. The result is a wide bottom bracket shell that can accommodate 30mm crank axles.
In this regard, it’s worth explaining that SwiftCarbon does not operate in the same manner as other brands with a traditional manufacturer-distributor-retailer-customer supply chain. The company sees much more value and flexibility in working with global partners that are able to import and retail SwiftCarbon framesets without the help of a middleman.
This arrangement provides the retailer the freedom to build up the bikes as they please, with some providing a fully personalised service. Not all of SwiftCarbon’s retailers are able to offer this level of service — at present, it is limited to South Africa, Australia, and parts of Asia and some UK outlets — but it is the model that is favoured by the company.
For those buyers that visit SwiftCarbon Australia’s headquarters in St Kilda, Melbourne, former pro Jonathan Cantwell will take them through the entire build process, which includes a bike fit for complete personalisation of the bike. This applies not only to the Hypervox, but all of SwiftCarbon’s offerings.
Once the frameset has been decided, buyers are free to choose all of the parts that they want on the bike, with the St Kilda store holding stock of groupsets from all of the major manufacturers. In this way, the final build satisfies the fit, needs and budget of the buyer.
The Hypervox is supplied with two derailleur hangers, one is alloy and the other, shown here, is made from titanium.
Most would expect that such service would attract a premium, but according the Cantwell, prices are very competitive. As an example, a Hypervox built with SRAM eTap, Zipp Service Course cockpit and Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon wheels would cost AUD$8,799, matching a similarly equipped bike from Giant (i.e. Propel Advanced SL 0 that retails for AUD$8,799).
For buyers in other parts of Australia, SwiftCarbon has a few other retailers (Perth, Brisbane and Sydney). Cantwell expects to add an online buying option shortly and is working to have more stockists with fitting studios throughout the country in due course.
One of the benefits that comes with SwiftCarbon’s distribution model is the company is able to offer buyers a worldwide online warranty service for the frameset. Should an owner discover a potential warranty issue while travelling with the bike, there’s no need to wait until they return to the country where they purchased it to have it addressed.
To make the process simple, the customer uses an online form to provide the necessary information along with photos and any other documents to submit their claim directly to SwiftCarbon’s global headquarters. This immediately elevates the customer’s issue to the level of the manufacturer rather than leaving it in the hands of a third-party, which promises to speed up the claims process.
One other aspect of SwiftCarbon’s after-sales service is a crash replacement program for framesets damaged during a race. This program gives owners the opportunity to buy a replacement at a significant discount (50%) but it is limited to the first two years of the bike’s life and subject to assessment by SwiftCarbon.
For more information on the Hypervox and the rest of SwiftCarbon’s road range, visit SwiftCarbon.
The Hypervox was an easy bike to get to know and it was very quick to impress. A scant two hours was all I needed to appreciate how aggressive the bike was, and just how much fun (and intoxicating) it was to go fast on the bike.
I expect most will immediately notice the stiffness of the bike. Yes, the bike was quick to respond to my efforts, taking off like a scorched cat, but it was also very sturdy without feeling overly rigid or harsh. This is a bike for big, powerful riders that enjoy making a maximum effort at all times.
The stiffness of the bike could also be felt through the steering. The Hypervox was always quick to fall into a turn, swooping in a way that reminded me of a dive-bombing aircraft. The quick and precise steering added to this sensation, allowing me to attack every corner’s apex with great accuracy and remarkable ease.
I found that the stiffness and aggressive handling of the Hypervox inspired the latent racer in me. It was almost impossible to resist the urge to drive the bike as hard as possible, especially on undulating terrain. I found immense satisfaction in giving the bike a burst of power over every pinch just to enjoy the extra speed on the other side. The bike was always keen for it and I always seemed to find a little extra, even when I thought my legs were done.
There have only been a few bikes that have managed this trick — Scott’s original Foil, Storck’s Aernario and Canyon’s Aeroad CF SLX — and the exhiliration that comes with it is highly addictive. There may be a difference between a fast bike that has been sculpted to save watts and a bike that makes you want to go fast, but when it comes time to make a big effort then I’d rather be riding the latter.
As I spent more time on the bike, I started to wonder what kind of effect a little less frame weight and/or wheel weight would have on the performance of the Hypervox. I spent most of my time riding Boyd’s 60mm carbon clinchers, which weighed 1,703g, so I’m certain that a lighter set of racing tubulars would have improved the acceleration and aggressiveness of the bike.
As for paring back the weight of the frame, I don’t think I’d be prepared to compromise the ride quality of the bike. The Hypervox handled rough roads really well, at least for a race bike. Compared to Scott’s original Foil, the Hypervox was quite pillowy, but it wasn’t so compliant as to remove all road buzz and vibration.
Slimmed down seat stays have become a common strategy for improving the compliance of the bike, and in the case of the Hypervox, they do an excellent job.
Indeed, one brief foray onto an unpaved road produced a lot of buzz and vibration, and it was enough to convince me that the Hypervox is far from versatile. Nevertheless, I didn’t have any trouble spending up to five hours on the bike on a variety of road surfaces. I doubt seasoned racers will have any trouble with the Hypervox, but for those riders that are curious, be prepared for a firm (but not harsh) ride.
I enjoyed riding hills on the Hypervox. The bike was quite capable at making long ascents, and while it never shone like a dedicated climbing rig, I was happy to bide my time until I could make the descent. That was when the Hypervox came alive, and the sheer enjoyment, the mad, cackling glee that came with it, was enough to motivate me towards the next climb.
Throughout the review period, I noticed that the rear brake cable rattled in the top tube of the Hypervox, and it turned out I hadn’t installed a foam sleeve that would have prevented the noise. This is an issue that will only apply to buyers that choose to build their own Hypervox but it will render the bike completely silent.
I didn’t have any problems with the seatpost slipping in the frame, nor was it difficult to adjust the saddle height. Travellers that remove the seatpost from the frame will have to be prepared to catch the clamp or risk losing it. As for the cable routing, having both gear cables travelling to one side of the head tube was unsettling to my eye since I prefer the symmetry of traditional routing. Given a choice, I think electronic groupsets are better choice for the Hypervox, but only on the basis of aesthetics.
SwiftCarbon has done a fine job in creating the Hypervox. Cynics may be quick to dismiss the bike given the company’s history with open-mould products, but my impression is that the company pays as much attention to detail as a bespoke framebuilder. That SwiftCarbon promotes the kind of distribution model that lends itself to personalised bike builds only strengthens this notion.
I’m also impressed with SwiftCarbon’s common sense approach to aero design that preserves the serviceability of the bike. A lot of emphasis has been placed on the importance of aerodynamics in recent years, such that it has become a strong commodity in the marketplace. But I don’t believe that a design that saves a few grams in drag justifies the inconvenience it can cause when it comes time to service the bike. For those that agree with this view, the Hypervox is one product that deserves a closer look.