BMC Timemachine R01 first-ride review: A well-rounded speedster

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Aero road bikes have historically been about compromises, with extra speed often coming at the expense of ride quality, weight, and/or real-world usability. But BMC’s thoroughly revamped Timemachine Road joins the latest crop of aero road bikes to challenge that notion, promising impressive comfort, low weight, and reasonable versatility to go along with its wind-cheating shape.

But does it actually deliver? 170km of riding over two days hardly comprises a proper long-term review, but based on CyclingTips U.S. technical editor James Huang’s initial impressions, BMC has come up with a pretty convincing argument.

Time for a reset

BMC debuted the original Timemachine Road back in 2012, and while it was visually stunning, it was hardly a knockout. Its ride quality was choppy, the integrated rim brakes didn’t work that well, and even BMC now acknowledges that much of the bike’s aerodynamic advantage went away once a pair of bottles and cages were attached. Riders on the company’s own World Tour team haven’t even used it much, and the model disappeared from the company catalog entirely for the 2018 model year.

All of that has now been corrected with the new Timemachine Road, which is not only claimed to be faster on the road, but also easier to live with, better looking, and strangely comfortable. And as is becoming increasingly common, the Timemachine Road will only be offered with disc brakes.

BMC will only offer the Timemachine R01 with disc brakes; there is no rim-brake version at all.

Despite the improvements, the new bike is actually more conventional in several ways.

For one, the old external steerer tube has been replaced with a standard tapered setup, and the original Timemachine Road’s lobed tube profiles have gone away in favor of more typical Kamm tail shapes with those telltale flat trailing edges. Many BMC design hallmarks still carry over, however, such as the dropped seatstays, semi-angular styling cues, and pleasantly restrained graphics. The bike’s frontal profile remains remarkably minimal as well.

BMC has ensured that there will be no complaints about braking performance on this latest version, either. Thanks in no small part to the UCI finally officially making disc brakes legal across all road disciplines, the new Timemachine Road is all-in on the technology; there are no rim-brake options, and the team is expected to use them at the Tour de France. Going along with that shift are the usual flat-mount caliper interfaces and 12mm front and rear thru-axles, and the front caliper is further shielded from oncoming air with a tidy little fairing.

The disc brakes may add weight to the overall package relative to rim brakes, but at least some of that is offset by a lighter frameset. Claimed weight for the new Timemachine Road frame is a highly respectable 980g, plus 410g for the matching fork — about 200g lighter than before, and a modest 240g penalty relative to the latest disc-brake Teammachine SLR. BMC says the Timemachine is nearly as stiff as the Teammachine at the bottom bracket, too, while actually posting better full-frame torsional rigidity on the test bench.

Flat-backed Kamm tail tube shapes are used throughout the new BMC Timemachine R01 aero road bike.

Naturally, BMC also claims big aerodynamic advantages over the Teammachine, to the tune of 8W of power savings when traveling at 40km/h, or an extra 1.5km/h at the same power output. Those figures were measured on a velodrome, and BMC says the benefits on the road in more realistic wind conditions are greater yet, with as much as 18W of savings at a 15° yaw angle.

Geometry-wise, the new Timemachine is about what you’d expect for the genre. Rider positioning is very aggressive, with 3-6mm more reach and 10mm less stack than the Teammachine, depending on size. Wheelbases are 5-10mm longer and there’s a touch more bottom bracket drop — just a single millimeter, from 69mm to 70mm — but BMC has adjusted the trail dimension to be a consistent 62mm across the entire Timemachine Road size range for even quicker-feeling front ends than the Teammachine.

It’s the little things

Taking a closer look at the new Timemachine Road reveals a wealth of other aero-focused details.

BMC has been big on integrated cockpits and fully hidden cabling for its road bikes lately, so it’s no surprise to see both features on the new Timemachine Road. Just like on the Roadmachine and Teammachine, the Timemachine Road uses a proprietary stem with a bolt-on plastic cover on the underside that conceals the cables as they make their way from the handlebar, down the flattened sides of the steerer tube, and into the frame. Also as with the Roadmachine and Teammachine, the stem on the Timemachine Road uses a standard 1 1/8in steerer clamp diameter, a shaped upper headset cover, and profiled-to-match headset spacers that are split so as to facilitate changes in handlebar height.

There’s no denying that the front end of the new BMC Timemachine R01 is gloriously clean and tidy. And unlike many other integrated aero cockpits, this one isn’t a complete nightmare to work on, either.

Also carrying over is the array of integrated faceplate-mounted accessories. BMC only supports late-model Garmin computers for now, but anything that uses the standard GoPro finned interface will work. I personally use Wahoo Fitness computers, for example, and at the launch event, BMC was prepared with 3D-printed aftermarket mounts.

But whereas those other two cockpits use conventional 31.8mm-diameter handlebar clamps (which also makes them compatible with nearly every aftermarket handlebar), BMC has equipped the one on the Timemachine Road with a downsized 25mm diameter. According to BMC, this reduces the frontal area for better aerodynamic performance, but still allows for user-adjustable bar angle, unlike one-piece setups that provide far less positioning flexibility.

At least for now, there’s just a single carbon fiber handlebar to match, though, built with a curiously compact ergonomic bend and a slight kink at the outer end of the tops to provide a little extra wrist clearance while sprinting.

BMC is only offering the Timemachine R01 with a compact-reach, ergonomic-type bar for now, which doesn’t seem well-suited to the bike’s purpose. Rest assured that a more aggressive option will be added later, if only to accommodate the team’s sponsored pros.

That downsized handlebar clamp diameter isn’t the only way the Timemachine Road stem differs from the one on the Roadmachine or Teammachine, either. BMC has built the new Timemachine Road stem with an aggressively flattened profile measuring 50mm-wide but just 30mm-tall. In terms of cross-section, the new stem resembles a squashed “D” lying on its side, which supposedly offers the same sort of ride quality benefits as the D-shaped carbon seatposts now used throughout the company’s road range (and also widely used throughout the industry). In fact, BMC boldly claims that, when taking the stem into account, the front end of the Timemachine Road is actually more comfortable than the Teammachine.

Other features on the new Timemachine Road include a hidden internal seatpost binder, an optional direct-mount rear derailleur hanger for Shimano drivetrains, a proprietary carbon fiber aero seatpost with three built-in offset options (-30mm, -15mm, and 0mm), a PF86 press-fit bottom bracket shell, and a hidden compartment in the down tube underneath the bottle cage to hold a Shimano Di2 junction box. 25mm-wide tires are fitted stock to each complete Timemachine Road, but BMC says 28mm-wide ones will easily fit.

Nifty add-ons

BMC’s quest for drag reduction hasn’t ended with the frame, fork, or cockpit. This time around, frame designers fully accounted for bottles by collaborating with Elite on a set of profiled cages made just for the Timemachine Road. These integrate neatly into the seat tube and down tube, and there’s even an add-on storage vessel in between the two (nestled above the bottom bracket) that has room for a spare tube, CO2 cartridge and inflator head, tire lever, and multi-tool.

BMC partnered directly with Elite to produce the Timemachine R01’s proprietary bottle and storage system. BMC says that the bike is actually more aerodynamic with all of the accessories fitted than without, and the components can be added or removed as desired – which is good since the storage vessel isn’t UCI-legal for mass-start events. For amateur riders, though, there’s enough room inside for a spare tube, CO2 cartridge and inflator head, tire lever, and multi-tool, and a custom-fitted soft case keeps everything from rattling.

All three of those bits can be added or subtracted as desired, but according to BMC, the new Timemachine Road tests faster with everything mounted than without. But there’s a catch.

That storage vessel isn’t UCI-legal, nor is the front brake caliper fairing. This is obviously only a concern for riders that plan on entering UCI-sanctioned events, though; otherwise, amateurs are free to enjoy the free speed as they please.

Several build options, but no cables allowed

BMC will offer the new Timemachine Road in three complete models. The top-end Timemachine Road R01 One comes equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 for US$13,000 / €12,000 / CHF12,500; the second-tier Timemachine Road 01 Two is fitted with SRAM’s Red eTap HRD groupset for US$11,000 / €10,000 / CHF10,500; and the Timemachine Road 01 Three is built with Shimano Ultegra Di2 for US$8,500 / €8,000 / CHF8,500.

62mm-deep DT Swiss ARC DiCut db 62 carbon clinchers are included for all three models (the 1100 model for the One; the heavier 1400 model for the Two and Three), and there will also be a bare frameset available for DIYers for US$5,500 / €4,200 / CHF5,700.

It’s worth noting that none of the options will be compatible with mechanical drivetrains; BMC clearly believes wholeheartedly in disc brakes, but also in electronic drivetrains, too. Pricing for the Australian market is still to be confirmed.

Swiss timekeeper

I will freely confess that aero road bikes historically have not really been my cup of tea. While I can fully appreciate that they’re highly engineered tools for the job, and as much as I like going fast, racing bikes isn’t my job (and nor is it the case for most people buying aero road bikes.) As a result I’ve often been unwilling to put up with their rough rides, dead feel, and excess weight to gain speed that I didn’t really need.

But as is the case with many modern examples of the genre these days, this new BMC Timemachine Road is making a much stronger case as an everyday road bike than before.

The BMC Timemachine R01 isn’t the absolute stiffest bike on the market, but it’s easily among the front-runners for the aero road category.

As it should, the Timemachine Road certainly feels fast, with its stout chassis efficiently channeling power to the rear wheel, the admirably solid front end doing a very good job of resisting any unwanted movement when sprinting out of the saddle, and that sleek shape making it tangibly easier to maintain a fast pace as compared to a non-aero bike. I unfortunately wasn’t able to grab an actual weight, but I found the Timemachine Road to be a surprisingly good climber nonetheless, too.

Also as expected, it’s a fairly agile handler. Despite what the trail figures would suggest, I didn’t find the Timemachine Road to fall into corner apexes quite as naturally as I would have hoped, but it snaked its way through fast and sinuous alpine descents and carved up tight corners regardless, albeit with a bit more handlebar input required than I’d prefer.

Those sorts of things should be minimum requirements for any competition-minded aero road bike, however.

What was far less expected was the Timemachine Road’s oddly smooth ride quality. Granted, Switzerland isn’t exactly known for its poor road quality — anything but, in fact — but every road seam, pothole, and broken section of asphalt I could find was managed far better than I anticipated. Even better, that smooth ride quality is pleasantly balanced from front to rear, unlike some competitors that feel more disjointed from end to end.

Graphics are pleasantly subdued and elegant, with just a few logos and a restrained graphic design.

Just as BMC promises, much of the bike’s front-end comfort seems to come from that flat, D-shaped stem, which visibly flexes when you push down on it, yet remains quite rigid when you’re cranking on the drops in a sprint. Just as with seatpost flex, though, some extra length helps, and one curious design decision unfortunately forces the matter upon you.

For whatever reason, BMC has chosen to fit the Timemachine Road’s proprietary ergonomic-bend, compact bar with a strangely short reach and shallow drop, which is exactly the opposite of what you’d think would be most appropriate for a bike like this. My 51cm test bike featured about the same amount of reach as I normally prefer on the road, but the stubby bar forced me to use a 130mm-long stem instead of my usual 120mm one.

My position isn’t unusually aggressive by any means, though, and as you’d guess, BMC’s team riders have to resort to far more extreme measures to get their desired fits. One of the pro chaperones for the longer of our two rides was Stefan Küng, whose shiny new Timemachine Road was fitted with a custom 160mm-long — 160mm! — stem that looked as insane as it sounds. For sure, this is something BMC will have to address for its sponsored athletes, but I’d argue that even for everyday enthusiasts, the stock handlebar bend just doesn’t make sense. And unfortunately, given the unusual 25mm bar clamp diameter, there aren’t any other options for the time being.

The 62mm-deep DT Swiss wheels make much more sense for a bike like this, but even then, I found myself frequently wishing my test sample was rolling along on something else. I’ve got plenty of experience on wheels of this depth, and am used to being blown around to a certain degree. But for whatever reason, these DT Swiss wheels were unusually sensitive to crosswinds, to the point where it just flat-out made me nervous on fast descents. Even the wake of smaller passing vehicles would upset the bike’s stability, and the turbulence from bigger trucks was downright pucker-inducing.

Each BMC Timemachine R01 will come stock with 25mm-wide tires, but 28mm-wide ones will easily fit, too.

Not that sudden gusts were necessary, either. I typically don’t have any issues letting bikes run on non-technical downhills, but the front end of the DT Swiss-equipped Timemachine Road felt sufficiently nervous above 65km/h that I was forced to regularly put those confidence-inspiring disc brakes to use. Other editors I spoke to at the event expressed similar feedback, and ones that switched to shallower profiles for the second day’s ride reported much calmer handling manners overall. This issue isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for me, but if I were to pick up a Timemachine Road for myself, I’d certainly be starting with the frameset option and choosing wheels I know are more stable than these.

Aero or not, those custom bottle cages carry a few little quirks with them, too. BMC didn’t provide any official figures, but just given their bulk, my guess is they’re fairly heavy. More importantly, they don’t perform their core function very well. The bottles seem to be held securely enough, but it’s hard to grab them on the go. The cage’s more thoroughly wrapped shape doesn’t leave much bottle surface area for your hands, and given the option, I’d rather be hydrated and a touch slower than more aero and suffering from muscle cramps. It’ll be interesting to see what the BMC team goes with at the upcoming Tour de France.

Almost the complete package

There’s a lot I really like about BMC’s new aero road bike: the ride quality, the aesthetics, the thoroughness of its integration, how it generally feels on the ride. Overall, BMC has done an excellent job advancing the breed, and it’s a sufficiently entertaining and fast rig that I could certainly see myself enjoying a lot of time riding it on home roads.

However, that handlebar bend is a head-scratcher in my book, and as much as I like the idea of those profiled bottle cages, their ergonomics leave much to be desired. And those wheels? Sorry, DT Swiss, but they’re definitely not for me.

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Disclosure: BMC provided flights, accommodations, meals, and loaner bikes for this launch event. BMC has also been an advertiser on CyclingTips.

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