Are the paint jobs on bikes as cyclical as many things in our economy? We've been through bland, flat colours, neons, silvers and, in recent years, black.
It was a nice surprise to see that the Time VXR provided a break from the usual carbon bike colour scheme of black, black and - if you're lucky - an equally gloomy grey. Instead, the VXR came in a high-gloss red, white and blue that instantly separated itself from the dreary masses.
Considering Time are a French company, the VXR's colour scheme is probably taken from that of the French flag - but it makes an equally patriotic statement for an American like me. In reality, though, issues of patriotism shouldn't be a concern, as most of the bike is white. If you're inclined to drive a white car and don't mind washing it that little more often, a white bike could be just the ticket.
The tubing comes in all sorts of shapes at different points on the bike. I don't think there was a traditional round tube to be seen. Something I'd never seen on a bike before was the raised VXR logo on the seat-tube - a bit like a fancy wedding invitation with embossed lettering.
Along with the VXR logo, it seems Time decided to splash excerpts from the technical manual all over the bike in the form of logos, techie code words or acronyms - like a NASCAR car with an unending list of sponsors.
The bike certainly turned some heads on my ride at the metro park, but maybe that was because I was flying uphill, past riders on their five-speed tourist bikes like they were barely moving.
The bumps were noticeable because of the all-carbon frame - including all-carbon lugs and carbon bottom bracket shell. With this frame, you don't just roll over the cracks on the road without noticing them; the VXR feels the road and sends this feedback to your body. It's very noticeable when you first get on, but after a while you get used to it. The five-speed cruisers I'd passed may have been more comfortable, but for a high-performance machine, the VXR did its job.
The Time carbon fork had a 43mm rake and was very sensitive to the road. This ensured the bike was responsive without being twitchy, and didn't change direction without meaning to. On normal roads, the bike was sturdy and stiff, but on more testing surfaces like the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, or if you went over some large holes, the jarring would be intense.
The VXR I tested had a Time carbon seatpost with a Selle Italia SLR Carbonio saddle including carbon rails, weighing in at just 125 grams. The saddle was surprisingly comfortable. It had just the right amount of gel to absorb some of the pounding, but not enough to create discomfort.
Providing rock-solid force on the front end were the Time Monolink Ulteam carbon stem and FSA K-Force carbon handlebars. The Time stem is phat - as in cool - and also literally fat. It looks like a largemouth bass, and works well with the FSA bars to enhance the stiffness factor. With this combination there is no give - at all!
A nice touch on the bars was the rough, sandpapery surface at the clamp-point of the stem. This reduced the temptation to overtighten the bolts to prevent bar slippage. On a less positive note, the short length of the drops left me with only one hand position when I was in racing position.
Another feature of the VXR I loved was the 50-gram Quickset headset, which enables you to change stems or tighten the headset without altering its position.
This bike is almost entirely Italian - except for the "module". This is what Time call their frame, stem, seatpost and fork package. The bike came with a 10-speed Campagnolo Record gruppo. It worked brilliantly, of course. The shifting was spot on, and the brake hoods were comfortable.
I also loved the Campagnolo Record cranks. They were like blades: very stiff, and as aerodynamic as you could wish for, considering they were twirling around between 90 and 100rpm all day.
The wheels were Fulcrum Racing Speed all-carbon wheels, weighing in at 1,325 grams. They're not the lightest, but they rolled superbly with their Vittoria Corsa Evo CX tubular tyres. Getting up to speed from a dead stop was not as quick as it might have been with lighter wheels, but once I was flying along, the wheels cut easily through the air. So much so, in fact, that it felt like I had a pair of time trial wheels on.
I was hesitant to really push through the corners after hearing a story about my predecessor, Chris Boardman, who was testing wheels that turned out to have no glue on them. I made a point of checking mine, but even so I wasn't going to take any chances.
Still, I liked the way the carbon wheels took the corners silently and without any lateral movement, and braking on the carbon rims, with carbon T3 pads, was great. It did sound like an aeroplane engine having its reverse thrusters thrown on, but despite the noise, it stopped quickly and safely.
I noticed that the wheels I was supplied with had a couple of silver spokes amid an array of black spokes. I figured someone must have broken a spoke and had it replaced. Intrigued, I thought I'd put the wheels to the test by climbing normally and then swaying the bike from side to side. I did the same when sprinting, trying to get a spoke to break by exerting some crazy sideways forces, but nothing happened. The bike was so stiff and responsive, it kept pushing me forward.
If the wheels got out of true or you broke a spoke, it wouldn't be easy to fix. I didn't peel off the tyres to look, but you'd either have to fix the broken spoke from the rim or from the hub. Either way, it would be a challenge.
One thing that annoyed me about the Time was its noisy freewheel. The Fulcrum 10-speed freewheel was very loud when coasting. So noisy, in fact, that I had to keep pedalling so as not to drive myself crazy. And besides, I don't want everyone to know when I'm coasting...
The 25-gram Time carbon bidon cages worked well. Some carbon cages seem to have difficulty holding bottles in place. Not so with these, though. However, I found the cages on the VXR too low for my liking. It felt like reaching down to the bottom bracket when I took a bottle from the cage. My nose was almost down to the stem!
Setting up my position on the bike was a breeze thanks to a bull's-eye painted on the toptube that indicated where the centre of the bottom bracket lay. Instead of trying to drop a plumb line from the saddle to the bottom bracket to measure the setback for my saddle position, I could just measure from the tip of the saddle to an imaginary vertical line from the bull's-eye on the toptube. It was easy to put the saddle in the correct position. Once I was in position, it felt like I'd been riding the bike for months.
Time bikes have been ridden by 10 Tour de France winners since the company was founded in 1986. They started out manufacturing pedals, but the evolution of their products continues to interest teams like Bouygues Telecom and Cofidis.
Time have paid attention to detail with the VXR and it's as beautiful to ride as it is to look at. When I rode this machine, I felt like I was crouched and ready to pounce on anything that went past me. And when I went after my prey, the bike handled the stress with ease.
It's particularly good at climbing. The VXR's design and lightweight frame (985g) made it a pleasure to tackle the uphills, and for some reason getting to the top seemed quicker than usual. This bike is truly built for speed, and at a price of £2,299, it could be a tough choice between purchasing this bike or that little white car.