Diamondback’s flagship Podium Equipe road racer has a lot going for it on paper, including a sub-1kg carbon frame with modern features and well thought-out geometry plus a fantastic race-ready build kit that includes deep-section carbon tubular wheels straight out of the box.
The bike's performance mostly plays out on the road, too. But you'll have to get past the stigma of the brand name attached to it.
Ride and handling: Smooth feel and great handling but lacking in torsional stiffness
The Podium Equipe’s bold red finish and aggressive lines scream ‘race bike’, but the ride quality rivals the smoothness of better endurance rigs. Finer surface textures such as chip seal and coarse asphalt are almost completely wiped out, while bigger cracks are mowed over with barely a dull thud to show for it.
The Podium Equipe's fairly wide, flat seat stays help keep the rear wheel in plane while lending excellent comfort on rougher stuff
Hours of tarmac disappear beneath you effortlessly and even relatively well maintained dirt roads are easily handled by the supple riding frame and relatively high-volume tires.
That’s not to say that Podium Equipe is a lazy steed just out for a Sunday spin, though. Stiffness is good through the bottom bracket, for example, and the rear efficiently transfers your efforts to the ground when attacking climbs or trying to close a gap on flat or rolling terrain. Likewise, the handling is spot-on for a road racer with a quick turn-in that requires nothing more than a subtle flick of the wrist and hip tilt to initiate tight turns at high speed.
The Podium Equipe’slow bottom bracket drop – a healthy 72.5mm on our 52cm tester – simultaneously keeps that ability from crossing over into twitchiness, while the low center of gravity provides excellent stability, too. We crested 80km/h (50mph) in a full tuck on numerous test rides with nary a hint of shimmy or nervousness.
Even so, Diamondback’s long hiatus from the high-end road bike world and relative inexperience with composites engineering reveal a few chinks in the armor. While the bottom bracket stiffness is good and the front triangle stout enough to squelch dangerous high-speed resonance, overall torsional stiffness is only so-so with the top tube in particular wagging about more than we would prefer when you're really muscling the bars around.
While the Equipe's rear triangle stiffness is good, the relatively small top tube means the front triangle's torsional stiffness is less reassuring
We found it best to stay seated when putting the power down on the Podium Equipe and though the chassis is reassuringly planted at high speed, we also wouldn't necessarily recommend doing much to rock the boat at those speeds, either.
For that same reason, the chassis can also be bounced off line if you encounter a bump mid-corner. This betrays the frame’s otherwise solid geometry, preventing us from attacking full-on corners that are anything other than consistently smooth from entry to exit.
We also had issues with the fit. While the Podium Equipe has a racy feel overall in terms of handling, the head-tube lengths seem a touch long for a given size, which is further exacerbated by the 15mm-tall headset cone on our tester. Potential performance-minded buyers would be wise to considering going down a size – although that would also probably have to be accompanied by a longer stem.
We chose our tester based on stack and reach measurements and had to go with a stem that was a whopping 30mm longer than spec.
Frame: Modern technologies bundled into a sub-1kg package
Diamondback is quick to tout the virtues of the Podium Equipe’s AMMP (Advanced Monocoque Molding Process) SL carbon frame – and justifiably so if you believe the marketing spiel. According to Diamondback, raw Mitsubishi and Toray fibers are made into pre-preg sheets in-house using custom resins (something to our awareness only Giant and Time have been doing), which are then molded into frame sections using a mix of internal and external molds for more precise tube shapes and wall thicknesses.
Naturally, the all-carbon frame includes a full suite of contemporary features, too, including a PressFit 30 bottom bracket shell with a carbon fiber sleeve, a tapered head tube with molded-in bearing seats, internal cable routing that’s convertible between mechanical and electronic drivetrains, and carbon rear dropouts with a replaceable aluminum hanger.
The matching fork is also full-carbon with an integrated crown race and carbon tips.
Diamondback doesn’t make a big deal of the tube shapes, but they’re noteworthy – if only for aesthetic reasons. The big and fat down tube sports a number of creases and folds while the D-shaped top tube is flat on top and very thin from end to end. The tapered head tube boasts a distinctly hourglass-like profile while the seat tube is nominally round throughout with just the slightest flare down by the bottom bracket.
The creases in the down tube carry right through to the tall and chunky chain stays, too, which mate to thin and flat seat stays out back.
All in all, it’s not the most distinctive frame, and is arguably fairly derivative – but it’s not bad to look at, as long as you like red, which is the only color option. Diamondback boldly goes with a nearly monochrome treatment here, and almost pulls it off, with big swatches of white that tastefully offset what might otherwise be an over-the-top scheme.
The big problem, however, is that the various reds don't perfectly match – the stem is a slightly different hue from the frame, which is slightly different from the saddle, which is slightly different from the headset spacers. We noted several defects in the clearcoat, too.
Annoyingly, the reds on the Podium Equipe's 'monochrome' finish don't quite match
Diamondback’s sub-900g claimed frame weight seems to only apply to the smallest 50cm size straight out of the mold, but real-world weights aren’t far off. Our painted 52cm sample weighed in at 935g with all of the requisite bits removed, and adding back in the alloy seatpost collar and rear derailleur hanger, the molded carbon fiber front derailleur mount, and cable routing hardware brought that number up to 990g. The accompanying fork came in at 296g with a 210mm steerer and no plug – impressive figures all around.
The convertible internal derailleur cable routing is well done, but we unfortunately can’t say the say for the internally run rear brake path. Though it’s guided from end to end for easier maintenance, the cable also enters and exits on the underside of the tube, creating a curved path that’s rife with friction even when lathered up with SRAM’s Jonnisnot cable lube.
Try as we might, we were never able to get the brake feel we hoped for. We suggested to Diamondback at the Podium’s unveiling back in June 2012 that the company at least move the exit to the top of the tube for a smoother and more direct path – advice that apparently has yet to be heeded.
Equipment: Solid SRAM Red group with fantastic HED wheels
Diamondback dresses up the Podium Equipe Red 22 with a tantalizing mix of high-end gear that adds up to a legitimately feathery 6.18kg (13.62lb) without pedals for our 52cm sample.
As we've mentioned on several occasions in the past, SRAM's latest Red 22 group is a fantastic package. While the transmission may not have the creamy feel of Campagnolo or the light touch of Shimano, its mechanical movement is spot-on with precise and fast shifts front and rear, tons of tactile and audible feedback, and outstanding lever ergonomics.
SRAM's latest Red 22 group offers excellent shift and brake performance
Moreover, the automatically angle-adjusting Yaw front derailleur cleverly yields a rub-free drivetrain, regardless of gearing combination, while the cam-enhanced single-pivot brakes generate heaps of powerful and great control – in particular with the made-by-SwissStop carbon-specific pads provided.
Lest SRAM doesn't float your boat, Diamondback also happens to offer the Podium Equipe with a Campagnolo Super Record EPS group or as a bare frameset. In either case, you'd better make sure to bring your legs to the party if you live in hilly terrain, because neither is available with a compact crankset.
There's certainly little to complain about with the speedy HED Stinger 4 SCT carbon tubular wheels – a proper set of race hoops that are rarely seen as a stock item. They're quite light at around 1,400g for the pair, but it's the aerodynamic benefit of the wide-profile, 46mm-deep rims that's most noticeable. It's markedly easier to maintain a higher pace on flat ground as compared to more traditional, non-aero wheels and they're very manageable in crosswinds as well.
We have more mixed opinions of the matching Schwalbe Ultremo HT tubulars, however. Diamondback has wisely chosen a wider 25mm size, which delivers a creamy ride even on rough pavement and dirt backroads. The slightly oval cross-section gives great straight-line speed, too, but also a somewhat tippy feel compared with a rounder profile.
Finishing kit is a mix of in-house and third party, with a forged aluminum stem and molded carbon fiber Diamondback seatpost, Easton's EC90 SLX3 carbon bar, and a Prologo Zero-II saddle with carbon rails. We find the variable-radius bend on the Easton bar to be among the most comfortable around – particularly when mated with the bar's slight flex pattern – and if flat saddles suit you, the Prologo Zero-II is a great choice with its lightweight construction and firm, supportive padding.
Aside from the color issues mentioned above, we've no complaints with the seatpost and stem, both of which get the job done.
In fact, the only real issue anyone is likely to have with those two bits is the same one some might have on the bike in general – 'Diamondback as a road bike company?' Despite the company's dirt-centric lineup in recent years, there is some good history there on the pavement side of things. The company clearly has some catching up to do but we'd say the Podium Equipe is a solid return to the arena.