BMC granfondo GF01 review
For a variety of reasons gran fondos are gaining in popularity. These events are similar, yet different from your traditional mass start races. You can experience the thrill of competition as you try to beat your fellow riders, attempt to best a personal record, or just finish the ride while there’s still sunlight.
A bike that you race typically has razor sharp handling and a stiff bottom bracket, which can make the longer distances of a gran fondo more rigorous than necessary. Bike manufacturers have wisely taken this growing market and designed a bike to fit this niche – the endurance bike.
The endurance bike generally has a taller head tube, slacker seat and head tube angles and a longer wheelbase, creating a bike that is stable and comfortable to ride for several hours. By no means am I suggesting that an endurance bike is the only suitable rig for a gran fondo – it just makes the ride easier.
At the George Hincapie Gran Fondo I was able to test BMC’s endurance model – the BMC granfondo GF01 which is priced at US$6999.00. The Hincapie Gran Fondo had two challenging routes, an 80 and a 50 mile loop. I’ve been nursing a nagging lower back and hip injury recently, so my training of late wasn’t up to par for what I was told would be a brutal 80 miles. I checked my ego at the door and signed up for the 50 mile fondo, which included 4,200 feet of climbing.
The GF 01 is a full carbon fiber frame with each tube shaped and sized for its function. For example, the down tube and top tube that is butted into the headtube is oversized to stiffen the front end. To soak up any road irregularities the fork tips are bent forward at an angle to absorb impacts. BMC claims that these bends in the carbon fiber increase the compliance of the frame. This bent at an angle design is also incorporated into the rear drop outs with the same purpose as the fork – absorb shock by flexing.
BMC is known for its unique tube shapes and this is still the case with the GF 01. From the seat tube another tube juts out like a flying buttress and braces itself underneath the top tube. This is a common frame design featured on many BMC frames and helps stiffen that area.
The rear triangle is where road shock is absorbed. The seatstays are supermodel thin in comparison to the Rubenesque sizing of the front triangle. And like the fork tips and rear drop outs, the straight seatstay tubes bend upward just before seat tube and functions to absorb road chatter.
I was able to pick up my test GF 01 with enough time to dial in the fit and reacquaint myself with Shimano’s electronic shifting. The GF01 came kitted with the Ultegra Di2 group with compact chain rings. Some of my race-oriented friends scoff at the idea of compact gearing, but living in an area that includes constant rolling terrain as well as steep climbs, I have embraced the concept. Knowing the course and the ascents, I was glad to have the option of lower gearing.
As mentioned earlier, a lower back injury, combined with the march of time, and a job that at times requires several hours sitting in front of a computer typing, has not done any favors for my body. My personal bikes are race-oriented with sharp handling. A slight movement of the hips turns my bike. The BMC GF 01 is forgiving. After a short incline through the start line to activate the timing chip, the group of a thousand riders descended a curvy road. Fortunately we had a police escort and were able to take both sides of the road.
While the BMC granfondo GF 01 didn’t have the feel of just flicking the bike left or right to enter the turn, it wasn’t slow-handling either. I was able to carve through the turns and pass slower, more tentatively descending riders. This was due in part to the beefier front end and wide fork blades. This combination makes the frontend stable and confidence inspiring.
As the miles clicked by we approached the first major climb of the day, a four-mile ascent of various steepness – nothing too extreme – but enough to test my fitness.
With the 50 tooth big chain ring and 27 tooth cog in the back I was able to stay in the bigger gear longer and keep my cadence at an easy 75 to 80 rpms. When the gradient kicked up and my cadence started to dip, I flicked the button on my shift levers and dropped the chain into the 34 tooth front ring – ahh ... relief.
I’ve found that I climb best when using a 75 to 80 rpms cadence range. A compact gearing allows for that easily on almost any terrain. The trade-off is top-end speed as the 50×12 is the biggest gear available – not exactly a ratio that could beat Mark Cavendish or anyone with fast twitch muscles.
While the longer wheelbase, taller headtube and relaxed angles took the stress off my body, the fi’zi:k Arione saddle created some soreness around the two hour mark. This is ironic because on my personal bike I use a fi’zi:k K1 – the carbon shell with very minimal gel padding model – with no issues. It goes to show that some aspects of a bike are completely personal.
While the BMC granfondo GF 01 is classified as a “endurance” model bike it does have road racing credentials. This model has seen the roads of Paris-Roubaix where Alessandro Ballan finished third. If you’re a rider looking to participate in the many gran fondo events that are popping up on the calendar or like to toe the line at road races the BMC granfondo GF 01 is a suitable choice. The design of the bike frame absorbs the road’s irregularities, yet the beefy bottom bracket and front end still give the GF 01 a stiff race bike feel.