One thing that gets the blood flowing even more quickly than a 'Two for One' label at the local supermarket is a bargain of the two-wheeled variety. And you don't always have to wait until the autumn, when most manufacturers sell off their stock in readiness for the next year's models.
So what does constitute a bargain bike these days? The Specialized Allez was, and still is, an entry level bargain at £499. And while it's not renowned for its stiffness, the Ribble Dedacciai SC61's aluminium tubing and Campagnolo Centaur means that it's a really great bike in the hands of a lightweight rider and costs a truly remarkable £899. The Pedal Force ZX3 carbon frame is also a worthy contender at just over £400 for the frame only. At the other end of the price spectrum, the Storck CD1.0, Pinarello Paris and Wilier Imperiale are great rides, but you pay a disproportionately large amount for the privilege of owning them.
So, has the passage of time and the reduction in cost of carbon fibre bike frames done anything to change the view that the real performance bargains are alu bikes at the £500 and £1300 price points? The L60 from Spanish brand BH tested here costs £1399, and combines a 1100g frame and carbon/equipment and an ITM and FSA finishing kit.
Thanks to the affordability of the Shimano 105 groupset and the healthy competition to produce complete carbon bikes costing less than £1400 - a price range normally associated with frames weighing around 1500g - we're looking at a 1100g frame from the Spanish company BH. The frame, with its plain and understated finish, has the compact look of a Giant TCR Advanced, or Fondriest Diabolo. There are four sizes ranging from 44-56cm. This frame is the second smallest of the range and has a correspondingly short head-tube.
The L60 was our first experience of a BH and we weren't sure what to expect. Would the steering feel vague at all speeds? We needn't have worried, however, as the frame's excellent fore-to-aft stiffness was at least equal to the recently tested Pinarello Paris carbon frame, and it kept the wheels perfectly in-line on the fastest descent we could find. With an all-up weight of 18.8lb, it falls short of electrifying the senses on the climbs, but the compact chainset makes up for this and is a real boon when tackling steep gradients. The 50-tooth outer chainring feels about right for downhill gradients in the UK but for continental roads we would change the 12-up cassette for an 11-up cassette to avoid 'spinningout ' the top gear on fast descents.
The Shimano 105 cassette worked flawlessly throughout the test while costs have been saved by fitting an FSA Gossamer chainset, and a fairly ordinary-looking, unbranded and square-tapered bottom bracket that we would be inclined to upgrade to shed some more weight. The crankset seems old fashioned compared to others but the chain shifts smoothly between the 34/50 tooth compact chainrings and the 12-23 ten-speed cassette provides a usefully broad range of gears. The ITM 330 handlebars are a bit on the heavy side but powerful riders will appreciate their superior stiffness in the sprint and the 11cm ITM Lite stem is a well judged length for this frame size.
At around £70 a pair, the Shimano WH-R500 wheels on the BH are a bargain by any standards, but we can't help thinking that they're out of place attached to a frame weighing just 1100g. While a little on the crude side, the Shimano ball bearing hubs should provide long service if regularly maintained, but light- to medium-weight riders should seriously think about upgrading them at the earliest opportunity. Speedium tyres - part of the new Michelin range - have reduced the gap between entry level and performance tyres, and their wet weather grip is exemplary.
The BH L60 is definitely a bargain and even with an upgrade to some lighter hand-built wheels, you'll still be paying considerably less than the £3000 plus price tag an Italian branded frame would cost you - for similar levels of frame performance. A very tempting proposition indeed.