The name "LeMond" has considerable kudos in cycling circles. In 1986 the LeMond in question, Greg, became the first American to win the Tour de France. He went on to win it twice more, making him one of just eight riders in the race's history to take cycling's most prestigious title three times or more. When a rider of such high calibre puts his name to a bike brand, my expectation of the resulting ride is high. With this in mind, I was keen to see if the LeMond Tête de Course could deliver on the reputation it was trading on.
When the Tete de Course arrived at my house, it came swathed in enough bubble wrap to keep an OCD sufferer occupied for hours. So much, in fact, that unpacking the bike took twice as long as building it - and that included getting the perfect set-up for my riding position.
The LeMond was worthy of my patience though - there was something special about it from the off. If we're talking car comparisons, it was more of a distinguished limousine than a flashy sportster. That's not to say it lacked in performance, however - there are some sedans around that kick sports car butt... The slick lines of the frame along with a metallic paintjob and thin tubes combined to reinforce a classic appearance that will appeal to all tastes.
Once I'd fixed on my pedals, it was time to stop ogling the beauty and get pedalling. The Bergisches Land or "Mountain Country" near my hometown of Cologne was my chosen testing ground for the day. Immediately, the set-up of the bike felt perfect for me. The tyres, which I'd pumped up to 8.5 bar, and the carbon wheels were producing a satisfying noise. A great start.
Fast steering: smooth ride
I thought the bike would be much more nervous in its handling on long corners than most other bikes I've tested. I put it to the test at the first opportunity by going flat out into a 90-degree left-hander at about 40kph. The result was pleasantly surprising. Even so, I couldn't have taken the turn with only one hand on the handlebar this time around. The bike needed to be controlled, go-kart-style, which made leaning into the corner a bit of a challenge.
I should point out that this first corner took place only two minutes into the test ride. I took the same corner a couple of hours later at the same speed with only one hand on the bars, so perhaps it was just a case of me getting used to the bike. If you're not familiar with nervous frames, you'll probably find the Tête de Course's steering twitchy and hard to control initially, but once you get used to it, you may never look back.
I thought the rigidity of the headtube could have been better. That said, a combination of nervous and super-stiff in the LeMond might ruin its smooth ride.
The mounted Bontrager fork branded with the LeMond logo fitted well with the sleek style of the bike and did a great job of soaking up my harsh braking on the corners. The nervous nature of the bike made leaning into corners great fun and the predictable way in which the front end handled would make any Dolomite downhill a blast.
The classically shaped wishbone rear end made the ride surprisingly comfortable, and the massive bottom bracket provided good power transfer on the road. I could feel there was a lot of flex from the headtube through the toptube and into the rear section of the bike just by giving the handlebars a stern twist while I was sitting in the saddle. This, to my mind, is not ideal. No sooner was I out of the saddle, however, than this disappeared.
The LeMond rode extremely well and its compact chainring really enhanced my pedalling. It felt like there was some secret force at work, helping me to turn my legs over. Really...
Getting a feel for the Force
The Tête de Course comes with a SRAM Force groupset. It's not a system I'm familiar with and I was initially confused when shifting gears. It took three rides to get used to and even then the chain did not always change up as smoothly as I'd have liked. I attempted some road-side fine-tuning but it didn't seem to help. This groupset is perfectly acceptable in terms of what I'd expect from gear change equipment today, but it's not market leader.
The brakes were always easy to reach thanks to the ergonomically shaped hoods. There were no cables coming out of the side of the hoods, which gave them a clean look, but the length of the brake and derailleur cables was a bit exaggerated.
I had a play with the brakes and locked up the back one while I was stationary. On releasing the lever, the brake had some trouble opening up again. There could be any number of reasons for this, but I'd have expected it to be sorted in the factory.
The brakes performed satisfactorily, but the cork-like brake pads had some trouble on the treated carbon side of the rims; braking was either soft or locked out, with little in between. The front brake in particular made a bit of a racket. I didn't get the chance to find out how this combination performed in wet conditions, and, as with all carbon wheels, it may be just as well.
It's easy to see that LeMond Bikes are part of the same Trek stable as Bontrager from the Tête de Course component list. Shared parent company or not, the Bontrager components are a worthy addition to a classy bike.
The Race XXX Lite carbon VR handlebars were a great shape, featuring a nice curve. The matching stem was a bit too bulky for the traditional-looking Tête de Course, though, as was the Bontrager-logo'd chrome front plate.
The white Race X Lite Pro saddle proved comfortable on my long rides. Despite some rough roads, not once did I feel the need to get out of the saddle to give my backside some relief. The XXX Lite carbon seatpost it was mounted on is different to most others. The screw on the seatpost clamp that tightens up the saddle is on the side. This made the fine adjustment of the saddle position easier.
Wheels: Aeolus 5.0 Carbon Clincher
Aside from the already-mentioned braking issues, the Aeolus 5.0 Carbon Clincher wheels were good performers. The spokes disappeared into holes and touched the rim inside rather than plugging into a nipple on the outside. The locking nipples on the Clincher are internal and are 50mm deep, which gives them good aerodynamic qualities.
When I gave the deep section of the rims a squeeze, they felt quite soft - more like a yoghurt pot than stiff race wheels. I'd have preferred more stiffness here. When I tapped one, the resulting sound gave me the impression the material used was very thin.
The lateral stiffness was good, and the faster I went the more fun it was to hear the spokes cut the wind. With 16 paired spokes on the front and back wheels, the engineers at Bontrager and HED have created a fast and reliable wheelset that fits the high-end image of the Tête de Course perfectly.
The Bontrager tyres proved to be very grippy, and their slick surface gave the impression that they are faster than "normal" tyres. I tested the new Trek Madone fitted with the same tyres in wet conditions just a bit before, so I'm confident that they work well in all weathers.
There's no doubt this is a real dazzler of a bike. The metallic paintwork looks great, but the carbon fibre structure is always peeking through. It's a unique and classy look topped off nicely by the LeMond logo. The three yellow stars remind us of his Tour hat-trick and the great pedigree from which the Tête de Course comes. Does it live up to my expectations? Darned toot'n!
The name Tête de Course - front of the race - is a good choice for this extravagant frame. It features beautifully painted, slick tubes, good stiffness in the bottom bracket and no-compromise Bontrager equipment. The SRAM groupset certainly looks the part but, to my mind, could have performed better. The bike handles like a thoroughbred race frame, but has the look of a distinguished and classy road bike. You're sure to get noticed if you're lucky enough to get to ride one in your local bunch. Everyone will want to give it the once-over, and when they do, they're sure to be impressed.