The TeamElite TE03 29 Deore is the baby of BMC’s race hardtail range. Pairing an alloy frame with Shimano’s reliable mid-range Deore groupset and an air-sprung RockShox fork, it’s an affordable way to climb aboard a bike that looks – from a distance, at least – very similar to the one powered by multiple-time Olympic and world champ Julien Absalon. The question is, can a heavier, cheaper bike based on the same geometry still cut it?
Frame and equipment: not quite a carbon copy
The TeamElite TE02 29 has a full-carbon chassis similar to Absalon’s race machine. The TE03 doesn’t. Carbon’s beginning to trickle down to more affordable price levels, but the era of the budget carbon hardtail isn't quite here yet. What we’ve got instead is a hydroformed alloy frame that takes many of its design cues from the carbon frame with which it shares a name.
The radically dropped, compact seatstays give the rear end a distinctive look and tuck the rear wheel close in behind the kinked seat tube. The short brace joining the top and seat tubes is also borrowed from the carbon model. Its purpose isn’t clear, though it may make shouldering the bike a bit more comfortable, at the expense of adding a bit of weight. The geometry is the same too, with a short rear end and stretched out top tube.
There are some differences from the carbon bike though. For example, while the posh-plastic chassis runs its rear brake caliper inboard between the seat- and chainstays, the alu version makes do with a standard above-the-seatstay mount. And, while the carbon frame gets a slender 27.2mm seatpost, the TE03 gets a beefier 31.6mm unit. That difference is more significant than you might think, as we’ll discover later.
Pointing it all in the right direction is RockShox’s basic airsprung XC 30, complete with stiffness-enhancing tapered steerer but lacking a thru-axle to finish the job. It’s the kind of compromise we’d expect at this price, and in practice, the lack of a remote lockout lever is more irritating.
Shimano’s Deore groupset offers function not too far removed from the range-topping XTR
While it may lack the kudos – and some of the weight-shaving features – of its higher-end counterparts, Shimano’s Deore groupset is still the benchmark for affordable, reliable transmission performance. The 3x10 set-up makes perfect sense for a bike that’s likely to see more use as a weekend trail warrior than as a racer. Shimano’s budget hydraulic brakes are slightly less convincing, though they’re about as good as lower mid-range stoppers get. The lever shape is excellent, though the supplied rotors will only work with resin pads.
Mavic rims and Continental’s excellent Kevlar-bead Race King rubber help take the edge off the fact that Shimano’s mid-range hubs aren’t exactly the lightest out there. It’s not a svelte enough wheelset to give the TE03 the same get-up-and-go as more expensive race bikes, but neither will these hoops be a huge handicap. As for the finishing kit, it’s mostly BMC’s own-brand products – functional, if unexciting. It’s good to see lock-on grips, and the 720mm handlebar gives a great feeling of control.
The ride: big wheels but nimble footwork
BMC has got the TeamElite geometry spot on. Few 29ers approach the nimbleness of smaller wheeled bikes, but the TE03 is an exception to the rule. Slotting the rear wheel under the rider’s arse and stretching the cockpit without slapping an over-long stem on the front creates a big-wheeler that’s lively and responsive, chewing up climbs and spitting them out in a manner that you just wouldn’t expect of a bike nudging 13kg.
But there’s a problem, and it’s a fairly fundamental one. BMC claims the lowered seatstay design – borrowed, you’ll recall, from the carbon bike – adds “compliance” (tuned flex) and “comfort”. Hmm. The reason for the lowered stays on the top-end bike is that, combined with a specific carbon lay-up and that slender post, they “absorb small bumps and chattering surfaces”. It’s not a new idea, and it’s one that can work very well with carbon. But it doesn’t seem to translate to a cheaper metal build.
The TE03’s compact rear triangle isn’t what we’d call either compliant or comfy. In fact, it’s one of the harshest 29er hardtail rear ends we’ve come across – and the fat, unforgiving seatpost just adds insult to injury.
RockShox’s basic XC 30 fork is a decent budget option, but out of its depth on a frame that’s overly harsh at the rear
It doesn’t help that the fork’s basic internals struggle to make sense of rapidly unfolding sections of bumpy singletrack, leaving the rider caught between a front end that doesn’t want to go as fast as it should and a rear that feels as though it wants to run off to the side of the trail and hide. We lowered the pressures in both the fork and tyres to compensate, which helped a bit, but we still found the TE03 had a tendency to bite back in all kinds of scenarios.
The brilliant handling is some compensation, but we’re left feeling that the TE03 demands more from its rider than most of its potential buyers are likely to be able to give. Worse, the harsh ride and average fork combine to slow down forward progress when the pressure’s on – not great on a trail bike, but fatal on a wannabe racer.
The price, handling and spec are hard to fault. What this bike really needs is a frame designed from the ground up for the material it's made of, rather than trying to be a junior carbon copy. As it stands, we’d recommend saving a bit longer and buying the slightly better equipped, carbon-framed TE02. Your wallet will be lighter but your body – and your race results – will definitely thank you for it.