The Pearson Carbon Audax Pro is a curious machine amongst the typical steel-, aluminuim- or titanium-riding audax crowd bent on munching up the miles, but will it set a precedent and usher in more like it?
You can use just about any bike for an audax ride these days, especially since Audax UK relaxed its rules on mudguards. So you could find tourers, mountain bikes and even race bikes with tribars when you turn up to take part in an audax. And an audax, if you're wondering, is a long distance ride using a system of timed checkpoints. It's not a race, although as British events range from 50km to a whopping 1400km they're certainly not rides to be taken lightly. The classic distances - according to Audax UK's website are 200, 300, 400 and 600km - so none are exactly a stroll in the park.
There are loads of dedicated audax bikes out there. Roberts makes a standard and compact version, Thorn an 853 model, with Dawes and Dave Yates among the other well known names in the market. But Pearson have lived up to the Latin meaning of the word audax - 'bold' - with their good-looking, heavily carbon-flavoured Carbon Audax Pro.
The striking and stylish bike has spent a year on the Pearson drawing board, and with its Ultegra kit and race-based components sits at the racier end of the audax spectrum. So, has the Surrey-based company's year been time well spent, and would you want to sit yourself on it, turn the pedals and carry on riding for the best part of a thousand miles?
Considering that race bikes have been making the transition from aluminium to carbon over the last few years, it's pretty surprising that the audax market's been slow on the uptake. After all, the same qualities are required in various combinations whether you're racing or tackling a randonnée: strength, light weight and comfort. Both frame and forks are high modulus 3K carbon fibre, perfectly aligned throughout as you'd hope for, and expect, on a machine at this price. However, if you're expecting this to come from an identikit Far Eastern factory, think again - it's actually handmade in Italy specifically for Pearson.
Barring a few small differences this is pretty much a racing frame, with just a few tweaks. The most notable is the fact you can fit more than just a cigarette paper between the wheels and the frame. True, you can go mudguard free, but by relaxing the frame angles by just a degree or two the Carbon Audax Pro offers enough space for real - by that we mean "safe" - mudguard clearance, and the result is a far more versatile machine.
Its raciness is confirmed by the absence of eyelets on the seatstays for carrying heavyweight panniers; only the dropouts have eyelets - which means you could fit a three-mount rack using the brake mounts, suitable for carrying lightish kit. Best leave the tent and camping stove for another bike though. Good to see use made of high visibility decals on the frame. Longer audaxes often extend into the night and winter commuters get an added safety aid. In short, a perfect addition for extended rides.
The wheels proudly boast the Roval name on them, which was a big brand back in the Seventies, when it was among the first to offer factory-built wheels. It's now part of the Specialized empire, and you can appreciate why it acquired them when you see these good looking wheels. But not only do the Roval Echappée wheels look the part - the finish is immaculate - they feel superb and ran as smoothly as any I can remember.
And they have an added bonus too: a limited lifetime warranty. This doesn't mean they'll last forever, but does at least express the manufacturer's confidence in their product. The fact that they are nominally designed for training and heavier riders means they should major on durability too. It'll be interesting to see whether Specialized puts its weight behind the brand to see if it can challenge Mavic's dominance.
Michelin's Krylion Karbon tyres are a good all-rounder choice. They felt tough, weren't at all sluggish, and easily coped with sketchy towpath surfaces. All in all, this represented a well thought-out wheel and tyre combination for either winter commuting or long audax rides.
You want carbon? We've got carbon. Well, carbon effect, anyway. And while that might seem like a slur, it isn't. We're referring to the carbon-look mudguards, SKS's always reliable chromoplastic, and Ambrosio's dual-pivot carbon-look brakes. The latter were a slight disappointment; while they never felt unsafe on the steep, poorly surfaced hills south of Bath, they required a heck of a lot of pulling on the levers to make the blocks really grip. One part that was aluminium on the test bike was the seatpost, but production models at this price will be specced with a carbon post.
When it comes to components like bars and stem, however, I'd much rather have aluminium over carbon, and the Pearson delivers, offering neatly finished kit from Pro PLT. George (our all-knowing workshop guru) is a big fan of the company, which is owned by Shimano, and you can see why with kit as good as this. It's strong, comes with no overly flashy designs and does the job well.
Shimano's compact Ultegra SL forms the heart of the drivetrain - derailleurs, bottom bracket, cassette and chain - and the performance from Shimano's second tier groupset was exemplary with crisp changes and a beautifully smooth transmission. The 50/34 chainset gives a suitably wide range of gears: top's a sprint-friendly 123in while the 37in bottom should cope with all but the very hilliest terrain, legs permitting. Being a compact, it's also a few grams lighter than the standard model.
With a set-up that owes much to a racing machine it was no surprise to find this begged to be ridden quickly. And when it was, the handling was impeccable. While it might not steer quite as quickly or aggressively as an all-out race bike, relaxing the angles slightly doesn't by any stretch make this a sluggish performer.
Whether I was out of the saddle up hills, haring down sharp descents or storming along on the straight - as storming as my legs allow, anyway - the Carbon Audax Pro never provided a second of doubt. It's stable, and feels stiff and efficient, so you're not going to be wasting your energy. You're going to need to get on better with the Specialized Body Geometry Alias than I did to get the most out of it, but I'd recommend a test ride on this without hesitation.
© BikeRadar 2007