BMC has put Swiss bike design back on the map. Its Team Machine SLT 01 marries aluminium and carbon fibre in a beefy-looking but sweet-riding bike that's far too much fun to reserve for race days.
I have to admit I was sceptical about BMC's road bikes. There's something about the overly-chunky looks of their aluminium lugs that seemed, well, garish. But after living with one for a while, I'm a convert.
Function arises from form in the BMC Road Machine SLT01 and when the function is this solid, calm and downright willing to play at 60+ km/h, the form makes perfect sense.
Ride & handling: rise of the machine
The Team Machine gets you into a virtuous circle: the more you ride it, the more you want to. This is an addictive bike.
BMC bills it as a bike designed for high speeds, and even goes so far as to write “this machine is made for racing” on the inside of the chain stays. I was eager to put this to the test, so it was just a question of finding enough real world opportunities.
My favourite ACME rent-a-race peloton was unfortunately booked up, so I went looking for other high velocity situations. I found them in the draft behind trucks, vans and buses while hammering on various A-roads and descents.
It’s important to be able to wind up the bike past the 40mph mark (64 km/h) or better. The 53-tooth big ring helps.
Now get right up near the bumper. Once there, life’s easy.
Having enjoyed a bit of speed, I drift back about three to five meters into the turbulent area of the draft. The BMC is rock steady thanks to a torsionally rigid frame that’s stiff in all planes, and low susceptibility to cross winds.
It’s nicely counterbalanced by an Easton EC 90 fork that resists twisting but has enough fore and aft give to control rough roads, and a reasonable blade profile impervious to buffeting gales.
The upshot is controlled, steady handling, that arises from the 73 degree head tube, 6cm of trail. The standard skinny spokes on the Easton wheels help too, particularly at the front.
Although it's rigid, the Team Machine is impressively comfortable. Most of the credit has to be given to the Fizik Arione saddle, and the amazingly supple Huchinson Top Speed tyres. Even with them when cranked to 115 psi, I kept thinking I had a low rear tyre.
Finally, with an overall weight of 7.78kg (17.1lb) for a size 57cm, climbing and sprinting were a cinch and always rewarding, with no sacrifices to robustness or durability.
Frame: look at me!
I've always been a bit perplexed by BMCs, and that's tended to make me dismissive of them. That changed rapidly with riding familiarity and I realised that the look of the frame was my problem.
I just couldn’t get my head around the seriously oversized and bloc-like alloy lugs, in particular the seat cluster area, which BMC calls the Skeleton Crosslock Concept.
I felt that the Hulk-like industrial strength proportions of the angular joints and unidirectionally woven carbon tubes were a step too far, and had strayed far beyond my ideal of perfect proportions in this type of construction.
But after an extended period with this eye-catching machine, I’ve come to enjoy its head-swivelling effect, and the higher levels of emotion it elicits in me every time I walk up to it and set off on a ride.
It’s nice being the centre of attention, even though it’s not me, but the bike!
Despite the frames integrity, rigidity and light weight, two issues became apparent with extended riding.
The internal cable routing for gears and rear brake is less than ideal. There are no barrel adjusters for on the fly adjustments, and cable replacement is a serious hassle.
It turned out to be essential to make extra sure that the front mech is very well adjusted. The super wide downtube is unusually close to the small ring, and the chain can get wedged between them if it falls inward while downshifting.
It’s in a structurally important zone, so make sure to put some thick protective film over the vulnerable area.
Fortunately, the rest of the details were correct: removable derailleur hanger; integrated bespoke twin bolt seat post clamp; striking paint and graphics; and a sealed cartridge FSA headset holding an elegant EC 90 all carbon fork.
Equipment: Q’d up by Campagnolo
Our Campagnolo Chorus group performed effectively most of the test period, with only slight deterioration over time mainly due to set up and neglect.
The silky drive train, a result of specially coated chainrings and cogs, always impresses and never ceases to please. It's without a doubt the smoothest on the market.
I’m very partial to the great carbon crankset, and I just can’t get enough of that low q-factor.
The skeleton differential brake calipers were brilliant at turning me into the last of the great late brakers. Sit way back in the saddle, pedal hard (yes!) while braking hard both front and rear, all at the same time, and watch your stopping distances shrink big time. Of course only attempt this after filling out the appropriate risk-assessment forms in triplicate.
I'd just spent a few weeks using the new Campagnolo QS style shifters, which are essentially “tap-fire” mechanisms, so it took me a while to get used to the older, more mechanical feeling Chorus Ergo indexing system.
Shifting effort is distinctly higher, but in some ways this is more positive, especially over rough conditions. I still love’em, even though QS is bound to replace them eventually.
The only small fly in the ointment was a bit of premature wear in the rear derailleur top pivot bolt/spring assembly.
Once upon a time, this would have been both impossible and unforgivable this early in a Campagnolo rear derailleur’s life, but as Mr Zimmerman once said: the times they are a changin’.
Rounding out the spec is a tasteful collection of Easton EC 70 alloy bar and stem for peace of mind, and a Fizik saddle perched on an EC 70 carbon seat post, all supremely functional and reliable.
Wheels: true value
Continuing with the Easton theme, a set of Circuit pre-built wheels handles rolling stock duties with aplomb. They display design features that highlight Easton’s tendency towards a hierarchy of function, form, reliability, aesthetics and a nod to tradition.
The choice of butted 2.0/1.8 mm stainless spokes might seem a little conventional nowadays, but they make truing and maintenance straightforward. Easton has intelligently used brass nipples for the highly-loaded drive-side spokes and aluminium for the the remainder.
They were satisfyingly fast, smooth and balanced, with none of the susceptibility to cross winds displayed by many bladed alloy and carbon-spoked wheels.
Despite over four weeks of serious hammering, they were still perfectly true, even though their complete weight (with tyres and cassette) of 1048g for the front and 1495g for the rear puts them at the lighter end of the scale.
An almost daily soaking due to poor weather had no effect on the sealed cartridge bearings.
The Hutchinson Top Speed tyres, in a 23 mm section, deserve special praise for their incredibly smooth ride, even when inflated to high pressures.
Their substantial tread layer and puncture resistance meant zero flats despite the all too familiar regime of broken beer bottles, shattered windshields, sharp grit and potholes.
Verdict: calm, capable but fun
The BMC SLT 01 Team machine provides a very capable tool, performing all the tasks for which it was designed - riding, racing, and going fast - with cool determination and measured flair.
But given its rewarding and grin-inducing qualities, why should only racers get so much fun and attention?