In the wake of stiff competition from web-based sellers, the bar has been raised in terms of value for for money carbon. While until very recently it was quite reasonable to expect to get a carbon bike based on Shimano's 'entry-level race' 105 groupset for £1,500, it is now possible to bag one equipped with pro-level Dura-Ace components for the same money. Much of the reason for this is the competition established brands are getting from web-based brands like PBK.
PBK - Performance Bike Kit - are a mail order outfit previously better known for their clothing range, who have recently introduced a carbon bike that's available in three different groupset options: Shimano 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace. The Team is the top bike in PBK's range and the frame is made, we are told, from Torayca T700 carbon and appears to be constructed using lugs. There are gear adjusters on the down-tube, which means setting up and adjusting them on the fly is a doddle. At 1,477g for the large size tested, it is not particularly light but largely what we have come to expect for an entry-level carbon frame. There were no nasty surprises in the frame geometry tables on the website, though sadly there are only four sizes available, based on top-tube lengths of between 51-57cm.
The PBK's upright riding position and compliant, user-friendly ride place it firmly in the sportive category. It dampens road shocks before they get through to the rider's contact points, although in this respect it is harder to feel that telltale shove of energy apparent on a bike like Scott's CR1 when cranking the pedals hard. On the plus side, at the end of a long ride we all felt much less tired than after riding the Scott.
Compliant as it is, high lateral forces do not present a problem for the PBK when cornering hard, nor does braking hard on the entry to a tightening bend, where the Dura-Ace brake blocks provide a little more power and control than the brakes from the lesser groupsets.
The PBK has the highest specification groupset that we have seen on a bike at this price; it's remarkable that they've not skimped by using cheaper components like Tektro brakes. The top quality 39/53t Dura-Ace crankset has more hollowed out of the arms than those further down the Shimano range, making it lighter, but we would like to see this bike available with the option of a non-series R-600 compact or triple chainset to provide a better range of crawler gears. The Dura-Ace STI gear levers have a crisper, more defined click than those below it in the Shimano range, but the actual shift speed to and from the next cog is no faster than a Shimano 105 set-up. The Prorace carbon seatpost is a good fit in the frame and has a rather clever secondary collar fitted to it to prevent it slipping down.
The PBK Team comes with Mavic's well proven entry-level Aksium Race wheels. These, and the Shimano equivalent WH-R500 wheels, are specified on more production bikes than any other and are neither light nor interesting to look at, but curiously manage to ride faster than you would expect. This can be attributed to high spoke tensions and a design that aims to reduce the amount of dishing needed on the rear wheel, thus increasing stiffness.
The hubs use cartridge bearings and are relatively new to the Mavic range, and we have had no cause to question their quality.
The Continental UltraRaces are listed as high mileage tyres with a 180 TPI casing and Kevlar beneath the tread. Fitted to the Scott, they behaved well when driven hard into corners and hung on well to rain-soaked surfaces. The PBK's Vittoria Rubino Pro tyres also performed well on wet surfaces and they continue to be one of the best budget tyres available.
The PBK frame doesn't excite the senses in the same way an all out race biket does, but we all felt that the balance of a high-end groupset and the vertically-compliant ride character makes it completely unbeatable value for the rider who is looking for a Dura-Ace equipped bike - and is fit enough to cope with the tall gear ratios. It's a shame that it doesn't include a triple chainset option, though you do get a stylish PBK jersey and bib-shorts thrown in for good measure.