Any assignment covering the Tour de France calls for long days, frantic deadlines, and one helluv-an adventure (I think James is still recovering). And while the Pyrenees, Alps and roads to Paris offered up likely the best places and terrain to evaluate any bike, making it one more thing on a long daily ‘gotta get these done’ list just didn’t leave us the time we like to get to know a bike.
Credit Agricole pro Julian Dean’s LOOK 595 at Kuurne-Brussells-Kuurne.
Fast forward to January of this year, and my opportunistic little brain started ticking over – The Tour of California was fast approaching and – gee whiz – LOOK-USA is based in San Jose… and as ‘Fat Bastard’ might say: “wafting… wafting… analysis.” This smelled a lot like great time to test the bike at a big race to me too…
It All Starts – And Finishes In France
Long time cycling innovators LOOK belong to that increasingly shrinking group of companies who still make their own stuff. We’re talking “dans la maison”. They design their own bikes, mold their own carbon, and build and finish each and every one at their own facilities. What? – no outsourcing?
LOOK’S Proprietary Carbon
Unlike many manufacturers, LOOK creates their own proprietary moduli (HR, HM, and VHM) from raw carbon at their own facilities. They originally set up their carbon works at the HQ in Nevers, France but out grew it’s capacity, and they built a second plant in Tunisia – where they mold carbon frames and parts exclusively for their own brands. Design and initial production of all carbon is done in France, while larger quantities are produced at the factory in Tunisia, then everything is shipped back to France for final finishing and quality checks. You gotta admire a company that is so committed to its products that it does not out source production, nor do they produce carbon parts for anyone else. LOOK carbon is 100% LOOK carbon.
While the big production runs for LOOK carbon products are done in their won Tunisian factory, everything is finished back home in France.
The 595 frame is – like all carbon frames – a blend of various moduli of carbon and layup patterns to create a desired weight, strength, durability, and ride quality. A frame (or other parts) can not be made entirely from a single modulus of carbon without giving up certain properties that we generally want in a frame. For example – a frame made of 100% high modulus carbon could be quite light, but would be too stiff to ride for long periods and too brittle to withstand the bumps of the road – it would pretty much snap like a twig. Conversely, a frame made from 100% low- or medium-modulus carbon would be too mushy and too heavy for most of us – but it would likely be durable as hell.
The same principals work for carbon layup patterns – the carbon sheets need to be layed together at various angles (ie: NOT all running in the same direction) to give the structure desired strength & ride qualities.
Every manufacturer has their own recipe of various carbon mixes and layup patterns to achieve their favored balance of weight, strength, durability, and ride quality. LOOK is no different – but they wouldn’t give up any secrets to their masterful mix of where the various carbon moduli or layup patterns are used to create their bikes.
The frame is a lugged, high modulus carbon design, that uses specific tube shapes to define the ride quality, and features an original (brilliant) design integrated seatpost (called the E-Post). We’ll look closer at the E-Post in a minute, but let’s start with the frame. It’s designed as a true all-around race bike – light enough, stiff enough, and comfortable enough to satisfy the Thors, Pietros, and long stage racers in us all.
The headtube, bottom bracket and seatpost lugs all add stiffness at key joints, while the tubes provide the compliance to make it rideable. The frame weight is under 1100 grams for the 54cm size. Add in the E-Post and fork, and we’re running around 1585 grams (3.5lbs) – which is where my common sense tells me is the best balance of strength, durability, and lightness.
”Do you think this one will fit?” PEZ-Man James Hewitt (r) checks out LOOK’s production. These frames are on their way to the paint dept.
There’s not a ‘normal’ shaped tube to be found anywhere on the frame – which is no surprise coming from the originally innovative LOOK engineers (don’t forget who brought the clipless pedal to the masses). What may seem on the surface to be a collection of cool shaped tubes is in reality an engineering triumph that uses physics to reduce weight and increase stiffness where you need it, and allow some give where you want it.
Overall, the bike is designed to be laterally stiff to allow for full-on sprinting, while offering enough vertical compliance to provide an acceptably comfortable ride suitable for long days in the saddle. So how’d they do it?
“Let’s take it from the top” – as Dean Martin used to say (quickly followed by a martini-induced slur of “or we can take it from the bottom, whatever you (hic) like…”) The head tube is the first we’ve seen to taper out at the bottom – the top bearing is the normal 1-1/8”, while the forks mate into a 1-1/4” bottom bearing. This provides a wider platform where the stress transfer is greatest from the forks into the headtube and frame. The result is a headtube that just won’t flex – and that’s what you want for rock solid handling and stability under out-of-saddle pressures like sprinting and climbing.
The top tube is slightly arced from front to back, and the cross section is sort of oval-shaped – so it’s wider than it is tall. The shape increases lateral stability at both the head and seat-tube junctions, while maintaining enough give to absorb and flex with bumps in the road. Imagine turning this tube 90 degrees so it’s taller than it is wide – you’d get a bike that in the extreme would be a sloppy handler, but with such a stiff-ass ride you couldn’t stand it. See – physics at work again!
• The head tube is the only design we know of that creates stiffness using a wider 1-1/4” bearing at the bottom and a standard 1-1/8” bearing at the top. Internal cable routing makes for nice clean lines and uses fully enclosed guide-tubes so your cable will never go awol inside the frame.
The down-tube uses the same principals, but on a much larger scale, befitting the role as the ‘spine’ of the frame. It’s a big diameter tube at the top, that transitions to a wide, oval shape where it connects to the bb lug. Again the width at the bottom is designed to use physics (and not material) to hold the bottom end in place where pedaling stress is maximized.
The seat tube is formed as an extension of the seatcluster lug, and the shape transitions from very wide at the bb lug, to ovalized from front to back – through and above the top tube. The purpose here is to again maximize lateral stiffness at the bottom, but provide a slimmer profile at the top (no need to block more wind than you have to) while ensuring a solid platform to mount the E-Post.
The bottom bracket is a super hard carbon lug which is joined to the oval-ized downtube, top tube, and seat stays. Neither the downtube nor the top tube is the widest we’ve seen, but the whole configuration is so stiff that it doesn’t need to be.
LOOK tells us: “The BB lug is different because to get a lug in carbon lighter than aluminium with the same stiffness we had to develop a new technology: VHPC : Very high pressure of compression. The piece is molded like the other lugs and tubes but is also compressed during production which makes it lighter. To produce a seat post lug or a tube the internal pressure is around 15 bars, to produce a BB this pressure goes up to 250 bars.”
The seatcluster and seattube are actually one big lug – formed as a single unit. The width of the top tube and seatstay joints is designed to increase lateral stiffness, while its thinner vertical profile allows for enough vertical flex to keep the ride comfortable.
The Rear Stays are slightly oversized to increase stiffness at the back end. The drive-side chainstay is larger as well to counter-act drive-side torque. Rear dropouts (and front too) are molded as part of the stays – not bonded in – which allows for a few grams weight savings.
Aah the E-Post – this is a brilliant design. It fits down into the seat tube, and stays put by actually resting on the top edge of the seat tube. Height is adjustable up to 4cm using multi-sized ‘spacer sleeves’ that fit over the bottom end of the post (see the three above – black, red and black). The E-Post cinches into the seat tube via two red expansion wedges which also help damp road vibrations, and eliminate the usual pinch bolt that can damage your frame and some seatposts. Comfort is further increased by a softer bumper used in the height spacers, it acts to absorb road buzz before it gets to the saddle. Finally, the E-Post offers some generous fore-aft saddle positioning, which eliminates the need the swap your seat post if you want a different lay-back. The whole thing weighs 200grams – right in the middle of 5 seat posts I weighed here.
Direct from France – an E-Post coming out of the mold.
Here’s a seat post in the mold just after the molding process – which takes 12 minutes to “cook” at 150°c and 12 bars of pressure. But this is just one step of many to make the E-Post: First they:
1. Cut the pieces of carbon.
2. Assemble of all the pieces around a chuck.
3. Cook it!
4. Remove the plastic inner tube (called PLATILON in French) and the extra resine.
5. Cook it again for 2 hours at 150°c.
6. Polish the piece & fill any voids – polish & fill again as needed.
7. Attach the decals.
8. Varnish the piece.
9. Quality control it.
10. Pack it for shipping.
Quality control is handled in LOOK’s lab at HQ in France. Here’s a 595 frame on the stress jig – about to be flexed hundreds of thousand of cycles…
The Devil liked riding ‘our’ 595 at last year’s Tour.
Normally we like testing these bikes for a few weeks, but I wasn’t about to pass on a chance to ride the 595 at the Tour of California – which I did (and wrote about) on the second half of stage 4 from Stockton To San Jose. The 40 mile jaunt included a gradual climb, varied road surfaces, some super twists and turns, a big grunt up Sierra road, and some fast descending – the perfect micro-test circuit.
The road surface was rough, and we started out into a stiff headwind that lasted for the next hour and a half. I was immediately struck by the ride quality of the 595 – stiff like I expected, but comfortable like I didn’t expect. Pedalling up the gradual climb along Calavaros Road with tired legs from the two previous days’ rides, it was clear this is a race bike. My pedaling energy seemed to flow directly into forward motion generated at the rear wheel.
The Calavaros Road has nary a straight section over ten miles, with lots of shallow ups and downs so that you’re constantly one your toes, shifting positions and changing direction. The LOOK VO2 carbon bars and stem on my test bike were set up lower than I normally ride, but even in this slightly more aggressive position, the turning characteristics were “point & shoot”. The bike goes exactly where you tell it, responds fast, and needs minimal body English to coax it through turns. It inspired moto-gp style confidence through the fast twisters and the fast, steep, two-mile descent.
Onto the big climb that the race would take a few hours later – 3 miles up the twisting and unrelentingly steep Sierra Road. There are few places in cycling where us non-pros can really stress a frame – and a super steep climb like this is one of ‘em. The first pitch is outta the saddle straight up – and once again the laterally stiff frame was a pleasure to propel. We’re talkin’ hands on the hoods, bottom gear, pushing and pulling with everything you got steepness here – and as the bike rocked back and forth, I never felt for a second my energy was going anywhere but to push me higher. The Dura-Ace wheels never rubbed the pads – a testament to their stiff design AND the 595 frame and fork.
Our last few miles pedaling into the finish in San Jose were fast and easy – partly because my cohort and photog for the day (Allan from LOOK-USA) were stoked from the awesome ride, partly because we finally had a tailwind, and partly (mostly?) because I still felt great on the 595 – like I could go for another 3 hours.
This is a bike I want to ride more – sure it looks cool – big graphics and crisp white paint scheme – but now because of the way it feels – fast AND comfortable… that my friends is a nice combo.
• See the LOOK-USA website for more info.