I confess, I am not a fair person. I regularly implore people to send me something other than the standard Campagnolo, Shimano and Mavic components, and when someone has the courage to stand out from the crowd, I slate them for producing gadgetry that doesn't actually improve function. So when I found myself standing in front of a brand new BMC Nano, I took just one glance and decided I didn't like what I saw.
Purely by coincidence, on our January trip to Majorca, we found ourselves in the same hotel as Phonak, one of the biggest pro teams in Europe. The second surprise came when I bumped into my former mechanic, Cyril, who now works for the Spanish outfit. We got talking and he told me about the new BMC bikes the team were using this year and, sure enough, I managed to wangle a test ride.
Regular readers of this column will know I am a practical kind of guy. I want a design to work first and look pretty second, if it doesn't help me go faster, I don't want to know, so when Cyril wheeled the BMC Nano out of the workshop, my first impression was 'You've got to be joking!' The top tube was a sort of T-section rather than round, the seat area sported BMC's trademark convoluted mini tube arrangement that looks like it came straight out of a box of Meccano, while the rear ends were an odd shape... But then I picked it up. Even with standard equipment, far from featherweight wheels and a 'proper' saddle - plus two bottle cages - it was the lightest bike I have ever tested.
I was instantly excited to have something different to evaluate, and I couldn't wait to get started. After making adjustments to the bike in the workshop, I set off in the late afternoon sun, past the stereotypical Majorcan windmills along the coast road. I knew there would be some very steep climbs out of the sheltered bays on this stretch of road which would give me the opportunity to stretch the lightweight machine on the terrain for which it had clearly been designed.
The first thing I noticed on pulling away from the kerb was the flex. It did not surprise me that there was movement in a frame barely touching 900 grams, but the fact that this did not interfere with either power transmission or handling certainly did. The designers clearly knew their carbon and had carefully selected where to be conservative and where to make savings. The added movement did add a little comfort to the ride, something I am aware the Phonak riders like, although my personal preference would have been to sacrifice this in return for total feedback.
On the first of the day's steep climbs I noticed some movement in what I first thought was the bars, which was disappointing as these were very much to my taste. However, on closer inspection, I realised that it wasn't the bars, but the shape of the EA70 stem. If utilised well, two bolts are all you really need to securely clamp a set of bars, but the way the front plate of this stem had been narrowed at the sides meant the point of clamp was effectively one centimetre wide in the all-important horizontal plane instead of the usual four centimetres, which I found rather odd, as it didn't really offer any discernible advantages.
I have never had a great experience with carbon wheels - or more precisely, carbon rims - so when descending the steep hills into the numerous bays where the brakes worked relatively smoothly, I must confess that I was pleasantly surprised. Coupled with the special edition Pro Limited tubular, which seemed solidly 'grippy' in the corners, I had a reasonable sense of confidence throughout the ride.
The brake and gear cables were all concealed within the frame, a purely aesthetic touch not often employed these days, but one that I really like; I think it adds to a bike's smooth lines, so it was perhaps ironic to find these details so well done on a machine that makes no pretext to being aerodynamic.
As the ride went on I was trying to work out why the Nano didn't quite add up. It incorporated features and aspects that I found illogical, yet, as a package, it was one of the most advanced and practical bikes I have ridden.
Considering its make-up, I should really have hated this bike: it flexed, it was angular and wholly irrational in places, yet I loved it, it was just... well, fun to ride. Its plus points seemed to neutralise the things I would normally take issue with. Its super light weight, the comfort, reliable handling and sheer practicality made it greater than the sum of its parts.
Now well on my way back towards Palma, I realised that this was a genuinely race-prepared bike with a practical, nocompromise kit coming in under the UCI legal weight limit. I was riding a very rare beast indeed, and very much enjoying the experience.
Back in my room, after a truly invigorating ride, I sat and read all the available literature on the BMC. 'Nano Technology' was very much the phrase of the moment, as were words such as 'revolutionary' and 'breakthrough'. In fact, the superlatives were being bandied about so freely I decided I better look further into this technology.
I spent a whole morning first looking through all the cycling talk about Carbon Nano Tubes (CNT) technology, where journalists seemed to be happy to just quote directly from the press release. I then researched some science publications on the subject before finally talking to a contact of mine at one of the world's leading carbon fabrication firms. Three hours later, I can confirm that, yes, CNT is as promising as claimed - approximately 100 times stronger than aluminium and a staggering 10 times stronger than the strongest carbon available. Yes, in theory, a rigid, 100-gram bike will be possible... but not yet.
Why am I going on about this? Well the BMC Nano, or more precisely the Easton tubing it is made of, whilst excellent, did not display any abnormally fantastic properties (the frame flexed like any very light frame would) and, frankly, because marketing sleight of hand is currently so good, now and again I believe people should be pushed to back up their claims with real numbers and facts.
Easton skilfully keep you focused on facts surrounding Nano Tube Technology itself and away from how the inclusion of tiny quantity of CNTs in the resin actually makes for a better bike. There are no facts given on this - only indistinct claims.
I find it very irritating when companies misuse words such as revolutionary and groundbreaking. For me, these expressions should be reserved for truly extraordinary occasions. Instead, they have become the preserve of marketing companies, often misused and, as a result, been largely robbed of the impactful authority they were employed for.
Result? We stop listening, defeating the original objective. Easton have a powerful history in innovating and manufacturing high-quality sporting goods, so although the marketing material, strictly speaking, doesn't lie, I feel they have risked losing some of their hard-fought credibility here; talk about it, yes, it's truly interesting, but don't imply that it is more than it is or you risk looking shallow.