Scott Nicol, MD of Ibis, is notable for his expertise in producing some of the finest titanium frames since the founding of the business in 1981. Strangely, he was extolling the virtues of using carbon fibre as a frame material as far back as 1995, so why then has it taken such a strong advocate of 'black magic' so long to bring the Silk Carbon to the Ibis range?
After Ibis was taken over by a large business in the late 1990s, Nicol regained control of the brand in 2002 and now produces a single Mtb design and a single road bike design using carbon, expertly worked into a frame by the Far Eastern company Inda, who also produce frames for the big name brands.
The Ibis has a top end price tag of £999 for the frame only, with a special deal of an additional £250 for the Easton EC90 all-carbon fork. How does such a package compete with other purely race-orientated bikes like the Isaac Sonic and the Storck C1.1?
We began by asking Nicol to outline some of the features Ibis have incorporated into the design, and he told us they use a blend of several grades of fibres, but mainly the popular Torayca T700 that Nicol believes is the best available in terms of overall performance.
"Our goal was to mate the responsiveness of a large tube aluminium bike with the suppleness of a Ti bike," he told us. It is used here, together with a higher modulus carbon in areas that require the most stiffness, such as the bottom bracket. Nicol added, "It can survive a 900lb frontal impact at the front axle before failure of the down-tube occurs - greater than many full suspension mountain bikes - and the dropouts are compression-moulded carbon for lightness."
There are five frame sizes, ranging from 50-61cm, based on the dimension from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube. The 56cm top-tube and 98.5cm wheelbase of the size 55cm bike correspond with a generic medium size perfectly; the next size up has a 57.4cm top-tube.
The relatively stretched and low riding position is clearly intended for the serious club racer. While the head-tube is not as short as on the perfect time trialling machine, the Trek Madone, the 55cm Silk Carbon is perfect for a rider of around 6ft with clip-on tribars attached to effect a low riding position for time trialling.
The finishing layer of coarse carbon fibres has been applied so neatly it is nothing short of a work of art, and the down-tube decal is an exercise in tasteful understatement.
The bike we tested was built up using parts that were cherry picked by its owner. The total cost came to £2,750 for the frame and forks, a Shimano Ultegra groupset, and finishing kit largely made up of Thomson and Easton components, Shimano Dura-Ace wheels and Vittoria Open CX tyres. Stif Cycles can supply a standard Ultegra build based on own-branded Ibis handlebars, stem and seatpost for £2,699, but are at pains to point out that they are unsure as to how that kit would influence the bike's overall riding character.
On our test bike, the Thomson stem was very effective in resisting the twisting forces exerted by the rider in a sprint, and the Easton EA70 handlebars have a gentle anatomic bend that is a favourite in the Cycling Plus office. The padding of the Selle Italia XC-R SLR saddle is minimal but provides good support to the sit bones when riding hard. Slightly built riders like me, though, will feel the effects of vibrations on longer rides, so for those occasions we recommend a good pair of shorts and that you fit a Fizik Arione saddle.
Stif Cycles specify the £300 Easton Vista wheels on their Ultegraspecced complete bike package, but the owner of our test bike opted for Dura-Ace wheels. The general consensus around the office is that these look good and complement the simple and understated graphics of the frame.
In performance terms, they register about halfway along the stiffness scale - if you want stiffer wheels, source the Fulcrum R1s, and if you want a lighter and more comfort-inducing ride, we advise going for the Easton Vista SLs.
The Vittoria Open CX clincher tyres are an old-time favourite. The larger-than-average air space makes the bike feel very reassuring over poorly surfaced roads, and on fine tarmac they hum gently just like a fine tubular on a team issue level bike.
The Silk Carbon might be a little too stiff for some tastes, although we know that a lot of professional riders look for this character in a bike; it certainly heightens your perception of speed while competing. We liken the ride character to the Isaac Sonic - the stiffest bike we've ridden - but, like the Sonic, the Silk is a curate's egg to most riders: good in parts. On the one hand it has exemplary stability when cranked hard into a corner, but on the other, it amplifies every nuance of the road surface and demands your full attention, especially when you've been riding for more than 50 miles on poor road surfaces and your hands have gone numb.
On fast descents, the Ibis's excellent lateral stiffness gives a very direct response to turning, and we would recommend the Silk without hesitation to the rider who enjoys pushing the limits of their handling skills on fast descents, with the Vittoria tyres having seemingly unlimited reserves of grip on smooth, dry surfaces.
You may argue that companies like Ibis, who once produced steel or titanium frames, can no longer be associated with the idea of a hand-crafted artisan thing of beauty. But somehow the legacy of the days of producing neatly welded titanium bikes lives on in the Silk's intrinsic attention to detail. The Silk shares traits with the stif riding character of the Storck C1 and the Isaac Sonic, whose frame, fork, headset and seatpin package costs twice as much, at £1,859.
With several long rides under our belts, it is clear that the stiff and unyielding character and low-slung riding position of the Silk Carbon is best suited to elite level roadies, rather than the long distance sportive rider for whom comfort is a priority.