First-look review: Third-generation BMC Teammachine SLR01
When you’re invited to a bike launch and the itinerary features the same roads as stage 17 of the 2017 Tour de France, you tend to get a little excited. And then you check the route to see what you’re in for.
At 183km long and including the Col d’Orion, the Croix de Fer and the Telegraphe and Galibier combination — three major mountains — you know the launch is either for a lightweight climbing bike, or an e-bike. Unsurprisingly it was the former.
In Grenoble, France, BMC was throwing back the black cloth to reveal a bike, but it wasn’t a new one — it was the current Teammachine, the one that Greg Van Avermaet has been piloting recently. A roomful of journalists may have gathered to see BMC’s newest bike but the company wanted us to know that the current bike is still winning races.
There are perhaps too many to list but they include recent victories at Paris-Nice, the Santos Tour Down Under, stages of the Giro d’Italia, and last September, the Rio Olympics road race. Cadel Evans’ victory at the 2011 Tour de France was taken while riding the first generation Teammachine.
Evans was standing next to Van Avermaet’s bike as he spoke about his Teammachine and the fact it was his go-to for most races, the Australian opting for the performance characteristics of it over the more aero options. It’s a bike that even has a World Championship to its name. In all, it’s a bike that’s certainly got pedigree. But with trends and technology rapidly changing, not to mention market pressure, BMC felt it was time to refresh the Teammachine for what is the bike’s third generation.
BMC had managed to keep the latest incarnation of the Teammachine a closely guarded secret. A few sneak shots of it emerged on social media sites after this year’s Amstel Gold Race where Van Avermaet used a stealth black version. We might have had a much grander view of the bike had Van Avermaet got his way — he had expressed a desire to use the bike at Paris-Roubaix, which he went on to win.
For generation three of the Teammachine SLR, the major factors the engineers and designers addressed were integration and the ever-growing demand for disc brakes, or as BMC puts it “the evolution of acceleration”.
For many of us, the first thing we go on when making a decision about a new bike is the look. If you don’t like the design, you’ll be unlikely to want to throw a leg over it, no matter how well it rides. So let us address this factor first.
BMC bikes have always had a certain look, their design language separating them from others. Even without logos, you’d know a BMC purely from its unique silhouette and tube shapes. For years, a small bridge between the top- and seat-tubes defined BMC — much like GT’s triple triangle or the couplings on a Ritchey breakaway — becoming synonymous with the brand’s identity.
But for the new Teammachine, that’s no longer the case. That bridge has been pared back and integrated cleanly into the top tube shape. To my eye, it makes for a cleaner look — less industrial, and somehow lighter. For pure BMC fans, it may disappoint because it leaves the bike looking a little less unique.
Talking with other journalists, all agreed that the Teammachine now resembled offerings from other brands, such as Canyon’s Ultimate range or even Swift Carbon’s boxy U-Vox model. Is this the result we can expect when design is driven by computer analysis? Or have we arrived at a point where the market no longer values creativity and flourishes in design?
Whatever the answer, BMC is renowned for investing in new technology, be it the Impec Lab, Stargate weaving machine, or their shared ACE (Accelerated Composites Evolution) technology. The company has always been keen to embrace new approaches to building its bikes, which is why they expanded their use of ACE to create the new Teammachine.
How ACE Technology helped develop the Teammachine SLR01
Tobias Habegger, head of the Teammachine project, sums up ACE technology in this way: “It’s a supercomputer algorithm that finds the best combination between the shape of a product and the carbon laminate that is applied to this product.”
While ACE is housed within BMC’s Impec lab, the software was created with the help of ANSYS, the world’s largest player in FEM calculation, and EVEN, a Swiss company devoted to algorithm optimisation.
A detailed explanation of the process is beyond the scope of a bike review, but in simple terms, it starts with a number of target values for a variety of parameters such as ride quality, geometry, and the forces applied to the bike. As Tobias Habegger explains, “there are more than 240 parameters or values that you have to set up to create a composite frame and each of those parameters has a certain range.”
These are broken down into smaller troubleshooting problems, passed to EVEN, the numbers are crunched, and out comes the ideal solution. Obviously, this saves BMC time and money on producing numerous frames as it explores a multitude of iterations on the design. According to Stefano Gennaioli, BMC’s product marketing manager, the last generation of the Teammachine went through 34,000 virtual frames; this time, an extra 18,000 versions were generated due to the addition of extra parameters.
But it’s not all digitally done — real-world testing is also critical to the design process. And according to Stefan Christ, BMC’s head of R&D, there’s no better tester that Cadel Evans.
“We can give Cadel two bikes, change the forks, do blind testing, swap parts about, and he’ll always manage to tell the 5% difference. He’s ridden somewhere in the region of 150,000km on every model of the Teammachine over the years.”
While BMC explored thousands of possibilities for the new Teammachine, it remains true to the platform’s identity. The new bikes inherit many of the second generation’s ride characteristics, plus, the geometry remains unchanged. The bottom bracket is reportedly 10% stiffer, though, thanks to an asymmetrical BB86 shell, while compliance and comfort at the saddle has been increased by lowering the seatpost clamp by 40mm. And while disc-brakes may be heralding a new era in road bike design, BMC have opted to create versions of the new Teammachine to suit both camps.
After seeing BMC’s new Roadmachine last year, it’s no surprise the rim- and disc-brake versions of the new Teammachine feature the same level of integration. Of the two, the disc-brake version is the cleanest-looking, thanks to a proprietary stem that allows all cables to be neatly hidden away. Standing side-by-side, the disc-brake version with an electronic groupset looks bare, as if it’s waiting for more parts to be hung on it.
The cables for rim brakes and mechanical groupsets can’t be tucked away under the stem so these bikes suffer from some clutter. Nevertheless, BMC provides an integrated GPS computer and GoPro camera mount for the stem so owners can keep the cockpit clean and fuss-free.
The spacers below BMC’s stem are split like a two-piece jigsaw, so they can be unclipped and removed or added without having to pull the stem off the steerer. It’s a system that resembles that found on Trek’s Madone, and it means owners do not have to go through the arduous process of re-routing cables every time they want to adjust the stem height. It’s a feature that you won’t notice until you need it, and then you’ll be thankful for it.
There is a niche at the top of the down tube that serves electronic and mechanical groupsets. Shimano’s new Di2 downtube junction box fits perfectly into this gap; alternatively, an alloy plate can be fitted to accommodate traditional gear cables.
For those bikes with rim brakes, BMC has designed a neat ball-and-joint cable stop for the top tube. This kind of swivelling joint allows for extra movement for the brake cable so it will be less prone to cracking and fraying. Anyone that has had to pack a bike for travelling will understand this kind of problem, so it’s good to see BMC doing something about it. It adds to the number of thoughtful touches that can be found on the new bike.
The seatpost is secured by an integrated wedge system that is hidden within the top tube of the frame. The adjusting bolt is hidden under a small floating cap on the upper surface, adding further to the clean finish of the frame, but I noticed it could fall off the bike.
Weights and braking
With a growing number of high-end disc-equipped road bikes now appearing on the market, it is becoming clear that there isn’t much of a weight penalty for framesets featuring the new braking system. In designing the new bike, BMC was actually able to save weight in some places, and the final weight of the new disc-brake Teammachine SLR01 frame is just 815g (size 54cm) compared to 790g for the previous generation Teammachine (which was rim-brake only).
By comparison, the rim-brake version of the Teammachine now weighs 810g (size 54cm). Yes, that’s an increase over the second generation frame, but part of the increase can be attributed to a switch to direct-mount brake callipers. The rest is the result of extra lamination which has apparently been used in an attempt to normalise the ride characteristics across all frame sizes (47, 51, 54, 56, 58, 61cm).
Some of the extra weight is offset by a new derailleur hanger, which is interchangeable depending on whether you’re using a standard derailleur or Shimano’s latest Dura-Ace direct-mount version. In both instances, they’re extremely minimalistic, but I never found them wanting, even when shifting under heavy load.
BMC has managed to save weight with each version of the new Teammachine fork. At 350g, the rim-brake version edges out the disc-brake fork by 5g (355g) compared to 373g for the previous generation fork.
The disc brake fork has an asymmetrical design, something that is blazingly obvious when looking at it. The left leg is clearly larger than the right in order to contend with the extra forces associated with braking, yet the calliper mount has been pared back. Now there is no need to install Shimano’s alloy base plate, so it saves a little weight. The same thinking also applies to the frame, where the chainstays are asymmetrical and a flat-mount calliper bolts directly onto the stay.
With the aim of saving a little more weight, BMC has created its own 12mm thru-axles for the disc-equipped Teammachine. Rather than a straight gauge axle, BMC’s design tapers about the middle to save weight. Sure, it makes for only a marginal gain, yet it demonstrates the impact of the company’s ACE technology.
Both versions of the new Teammachine will accommodate 28mm tyres, though from what I could see, it might be a tight fit, depending on the precise rim and tyre combination. This is something for buyers to keep in mind since tyre sizes seem to be trending upwards. For those hoping to use larger tyres, there is always BMC’s Roadmachine.
The new range of Teammachine bikes will come in a variety of models with some striking paint schemes from burnt orange to electric blues. As already mentioned, there are rim- and disc-brake versions of the bike plus two tiers: SLR01 versus SLR02. In the case of the SLR02 collection, the frames will be slightly heavier (disc-brake, 1,045g; rim-brake, 1,015g), as will be the forks (disc-brake, 405g; rim brake, 375g), but according to BMC, the SLR02 bikes retain 95% of the features found on the SLR01s.
There will be three models with disc brakes and four models with rim brakes, plus an option for a frameset kit for each that includes the cockpit and seatpost in a choice of two colours.
– Team: Mechanical Dura-Ace, Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL-C WTS clinchers
– One: SRAM eTAP, DT Swiss PRC 1400 SPLINE 35 carbon clinchers
– Two: SRAM Red, Mavic Ksyrium Black clinchers
– Three: Mechanical Ultegra, DT Swiss P1750 SPLINE 23 clinchers
– Team: Dura-Ace Di2, DT Swiss PRC DICUT 1100 DB 35 carbon clinchers
– One: Ultegra Di2, DT Swiss PRC 1400 SPLINE DB 35 carbon clinchers
– Two: Mechanical Ultegra, DT Swiss PR 1600 SPLINE DB 23 clinchers
No details yet, however BMC is planning two models for each version of the bike.
Most bike launches offer just enough riding time to get a whiff of a bike, a taste of what it can manage. BMC were generous enough to give us three days of quality cycling, switching between the rim and disc-brake versions of the new Teammachine.
After an initial setup day, where we spent the time sorting out the fit of the bikes and figuring out what needed changing, there was a long, gruelling day comprising three big climbs. On the final day we tackled the Col d’Izoard. Still not enough time, I admit, for a full and comprehensive review, but it certainly gave me enough of a bite of the apple to compare and contrast how the two versions of the bike performed on roads they were designed for.
The Teammachine responded exactly as expected for a race bike — it was snappy and direct — yet without any nervousness. Both versions were a natural fit and I fell immediately into knowing how they would respond. A minuscule effort was all that was needed to point the bike in the desired direction. Give it a sniff of a corner, and it’ll go around it with ease. I found that I could whip through corners at speed just by adjusting my body weight or twisting my hips into the saddle.
This is a bike that wants to go fast, even when climbing. I found that as my speed dropped on long climbs, the handling deteriorated, so I was rocking more and having trouble maintaining poise. That disappeared on the third day when I finally found my climbing legs on the the Col d’Izoard. As I went faster, the bike handled better, coming alive with my effort. It really is a bike that demands an aggressive and eager rider to push it.
At the same time, the Teammachine was tame and forgiving. Considering that I was thrust into a big six-hour ride with just one day to get accustomed to a brand new bike, I’m surprised I didn’t suffer any shoulder or back pain. Interestingly, I found the rim-brake version soaked up bigger potholes and rough surfaces a little better than the disc-equipped bike, and BMC agreed, stating that the fork offers slightly more fore-and-aft compliance.
Two things stood out for me while riding the disc-brake version of the Teammachine. First, there was the squeal of the Dura-Ace brakes, which did not abate despite 150km of hard riding and long descents. I found the noise irritating but there was nothing I could do to avoid it (unless I was prepared to sail off the side of the mountain!)
Second, there was the quality of the steering; the ease with which I could turn the handlebars. With the hoses tucked away into the head tube, there was nothing to interfere with the handlebars and the bike offered an oddly smooth steering sensation. It was noticeably better than the rim-brake version, which while far from clunky, could not live up to the same kind of buttery, friction-less action of the disc-brake version. Thus, it seems there might be more to BMC’s clean cable integration than just good looks.
All things considered, though, if it was my money that I was spending, I’d take the rim-brake version. Maybe I’m reluctant to move forward with change (though I do own a disc-brake gravel bike), but I simply preferred the character of the Teammachine with rim brakes.
When I was chasing the other journalists down the Col d’Izoard, they all riding discs, I had a lot of fun working the brakes and sprinting out of the corners to stay on their wheels. I was trying to push the limits of the bike. The disc-brake version was a lot more predictable, and somehow, calculated and safe. It had a definite advantage over the rim-brake bike, and maybe it will help a rider win races, but it wasn’t quite as thrilling to ride.
Both bikes are exquisite to ride, and both have heart, and for the coming year at least, buyers are free to choose one or the other.