Look are one of the most experienced carbon-frame makers in the world. The 596 is the top model in their three-fuselage range and comes complete with a unique stem/fork combo and custom ZED carbon crankset. This stiff, slick ride is a breed apart in everything from handling to build, to that breathtaking pricetag.
Ride & handling: Surprisingly smooth but handling is idiosyncratic
The 596 isn't particularly light (4.28lb/1,940g for the frameset and cranks), despite the outrageous pricetag, which shows in a slight reluctance when accelerating. However, there’s no shortage of stiffness from chainset or rear end to start the bike moving, with no hint of ﬂex or creak.
The base geometry isn’t that radical, but the way the leading-edge fork works creates a bike that you seem to ﬂy rather than steer. If you’re working with the bars through slow, tight corners or out of the saddle then it feels really unbalanced and tends to tuck and weave alarmingly until you’re used to it. Get up to speed and just bank it through corners rather than steering, and it’s like dropping into a sci-ﬁ chase sequence.
The deep front-end and fork blades amplify stability the faster you push it too, so we never had issues with the deep wheels, even on gusty rides. Despite the drivetrain stiffness, it’s a surprisingly smooth and quiet ride too, slipping through the air stealthily as you rack up the miles at disrespectful speed. It’s also got the potential to create the most extreme aero positions of any bike we’ve ever ridden – if you’ve got the ﬂexibility to match.
Chassis: Unique crank and frame create a remarkably stiff power platform
The frame is certainly an eye-catching one, with the kinked top tube being the ﬁrst thing to catch your eye. The triangular-to-rounded square pipe has internal cable routing for the conventional rear brake, and adds front-end stiffness compared to a sloping top tube.
The leading-edge fork gets super-deep aero blades below the deep-blade front section. The upper piece also includes a stem ‘chuck’ that you can pull out and ﬂip top to bottom to give 4cm of height adjustment. Two carbon plates bolt on either side of this chuck to create a stem of two halves that you can angle very accurately to ﬁne-tune reach and rise to the bars.
The ﬂat front end smooths neatly into the deep, rounded rectangular down tube, which expands to form a shelved wrap around the base of the seat tube and bottom bracket. The ﬁn at the top of the wishbone seatstays also gets a shelved junction on to the seat tube.
Interestingly, neither the seat tube nor the down tube is proﬁled to hug the wheels. This is a result of Look testing on a rolling-road-equipped wind tunnel at Magny Cours race track, which showed that wheelhuggers increase rather than decrease drag once the wheels are spinning. Despite the fact it’s hidden between the stays, the rear brake mount (two ﬂat plates that overlap around the threaded barrel) is very out of place on such a slick looking chassis.
Practicality is improved over pure seatmast bikes by using a short adjustable mast section which can be reversed to give triathlon or time trial bike angles. The USE-seatclamp-topped shaft also gets shock-absorbing elastomer blocks on its kebab-style height-changing stack to reduce road buzz. Four-step sizing range is relatively limited though.
Equipment: Pick your own – we went for a SRAM Red-based spec
Helping to offset the massive price tag is the fact the frameset also includes Look’s unique ZED crankset. Cue monster carbon arms and an oversized bottom bracket for massive stiffness underfoot at a lower weight than any of the conventional options. The spider also gets twin mount holes to take 110mm or 130mm BCD chainrings and the specially modiﬁed Look pedals lock into a three-position eccentric thread section so you can tune crank length.
The twin-plate stem ﬁnishes at a conventional 31.8mm bar clamp though, with Easton’s super-light carbon Attack TT combo taking pride of place here on our test bike. The shallow S-extensions were tipped with the excellent SRAM Red R2C shifters, which ‘Return 2 Centre’ after every shift for the ultimate ergo and aero positioning.
The rest of the Red with its machined one-piece cogset was equally slick, with a tri/time trial speciﬁc solid aero chainring. Standard brakes working on alloy rims gave controlled braking, and clincher tyres were a repair-friendly choice, but they’re heavy, which took some zip out of the overall responsiveness of the bike.