The Beistegui brothers (Hermanos) started as a small weapons manufacturer with just four people. But given the state of affairs leading to World War I, they grew very rapidly.
Of course, as all wars must end, the brothers and their much larger company needed something to put their hands and talents in metal work toward, so the jump from tubes that shot projectiles into making tubes that acted as projectiles made sense.
As was the case with weapons like the classic Mauser rifle, BH seemed to have a knack for building both product and business and it wasn’t long before their efforts led them into the benefits in both sales and product advancement that come with racing.
Of course this was a time when a company sponsorship meant that you worked in the factory and then they “let you” race one of their bikes.
Safe to say that the passion that the rider had for the manufacturer as well as the meaning of the word “company support” was a lot more genuine at the time. Racing paid off for BH virtually from the start as they sported what would be the very first (and many following) Leaders Jerseys of the Vuelta.
BH’s business savvy paid off a bit as well, as they did what was a very early version of the more mercenary style of racing we have today in that those first couple of Golden Jerseys were actually the result of the clever partnership with a bit of Belgian muscle… But I’ll leave that for you race history fans to dig through.
That racing savvy and product development hasn’t stopped though and the result is a frame set that still holds the basic bicycle shape, but has very little in common beyond the name on the frame… The new Ultralight.
Weighing roughly the same weight as the front wheel on their first models, the new Ultralight frame tips in at a stripped weight of 778 grams. That makes naming the bike fairly straight forward, but virtually every manufacturer can produce a frame in the mid 700′s.
But bit like boxing, after you’ve stripped and dehydrated yourself to make a weight, you still need to perform when it counts. BH have come a fair way forward in both weight and performance in just the last year.
The frame itself is fairly plain at a glance.
The fork is fairly plain as well…
BH did a nice job of hitting their 300 gram uncut target weight.
It’s a generally simple design, not a lot of crazy curves and the tubes seem to be relatively well matched to one another. Nothing overly large or small stands out when built up, but stripped down your eyes get drawn to the bottom end.
It’s simple to note the molded front mech hanger. It’s actually a surprise as they could have shed “frame” weight by leaving you to clamp something on, but help the total system weight by molding it in. (They also eliminated the chance of you crushing a seat tube that is extremely thin walled).
Maybe the most readily apparent detail to the eye is how much wider the seat tube material gets at the bottom bracket shell, but that’s not the most important detail at the bottom end. It’s the result of the more important change…
Lots of folks roll their eyes at another standard, but 386 is what should have happened instead of bringing BB30 to the broader market. Tip of the cap to Cannondale for creating a better standard, but with the length of time other companies had to envy BB30, it seems odd that the industry would adopt it rather than going to the next logical iteration.
It’s a larger BB area that gives you the obviously wide platform that’s easy to spot. And that extra width allows for wider down tubes and seat tubes and also for either fatter chain stays or chain stays placed further apart for better tire clearance.
386 goes a couple of steps further in that frames made to the standard can take virtually all other cranks with adapters and the BB386 crank can be used with threaded or standard BB30 frames…
But this is the “Ultralight”… so I also need to mention that it can be made without metal inserts in the frame… meaning lighter.
So the bottom is the bottom line for the BH Ultralight… BB386 makes a substantial contribution, but simply having 386 isn’t enough to knock out a sub 800 gram frame with performance.
The real substance is in BH executing very well in both material selection and in highly detailed molding.
BH wouldn’t tell me exactly how the frame is fabricated but I’m guessing it’s not a pure “mono”coque in the sense that most folks think of a monocoque as a bike frame molded in a single go. That’s not the case with the Ultralight. It’s a few pieces joined together.
Monocoque is more accurately described as an object that supports load via its external skin, rather than an internal skeleton and in that case you can call the Ultralight a monocoque. And while it’s plain to see that the molding detail is clean…
The hardest detail is molding the BB area…
The bb tube is a bonded in carbon sleeve.
And putting the sleeve in is simple… Creating that very large shell is not so simple.
The walls in this area are very thin. In fact none of the walls of the Ultralight can be described as “thick”… But making this one section light but strong was the key to the frame and BH did this with what I would guess is some form of much more rigid internal structure than an expanding bladder. It needs to be very near the shape of the structure but also be easy to remove.
I know how a couple of parts with similar shapes are made in motor sport and I can tell you this one detail isn’t cheap… It’s fairly simple to duplicate and use in fabrication once made, but the time and materials are very costly relative to cycling…
Whatever the method, the execution is very clean and very well done, but I can tell you this bike cries out for a chain catcher of some sort perhaps more than any other frame I’ve seen to date. This is one FAT section with walls that will NOT enjoy a chain suck at all.
The rest of the detailing is fairly basic… From the rear, the shape is fairly conservative as well…
Straight seat stays are pretty common and the only detail here is that they’re flat on the back side so that what little bit of flex happens here remains as vertical as possible to allow for compliance more than side movement.
The chain stays are pretty standard Box section that have a typical volume, but are placed a bit further apart thanks to the BB386.
They hold a fair line and heel clearance was good. I’ve had better clearance but frankly I have no issues with heels on virtually any bike.
On build up and in general operation the one detail I hope BH will change in the future is the rear drop out detail.
For guys like me that use some of the more funky Wheel QR’s, this is simply too tight a fit, especially on the drive side.
It’s not a big problem with the right QR, but it’s a spot that shouldn’t attract any mention but does…
The Fighter Makes Weight But Can She Fight?
You may be familiar with the term “punching above your weight”… That’s the case with the Ultralight.
It’s not so much the added stiffness that comes with a bottom end that allows for wider stays and a fatter than normal seat tube as well as creating the first ever concern for heel clearance of a down tube.
You can find stiff and light just about anywhere…
The one place the Ultralight seems to differentiate itself is that it rides better than any other “monocoque” production frame I’ve tried at similar stiffness and weight. The ride quality here is more along the lines of what I’ve come to expect from production lugged carbon at a pound or so higher weight and with a bit more flex as well.
I’m not saying this rivals the ride quality of the higher end custom Carbon, but it’s a bit of a surprise when a Monocoque production build rivals the bump damping that I’ve come to expect from the recent C series Colnago’s and at a sub 800 gram weight to boot.
Bikes at this comfort level are also generally a bit more relaxed in handling than the Ultralight. You won’t find this calming your nerves and giving you that bit of extra stability (aka handling lag-time). In the case you get a little freaky, it’s not that shy partner that pauses to think… The Ultralight is that other partner instantly saying “YES”.
Thankfully, with the chassis stiffness the Ultralight isn’t that partner that takes it two steps past kinky… The steering response is quick and with low effort but there’s not a lot of flex to get you in trouble when you’re really pushing things.
The Ultralight isn’t a comfort bike with a race pedigree. It’s more a race bike that has a bit more comfort that racers typically get with their stiff / light package.
Quick handling, stiff in the right places and basically stiff overall (on big bumps it’s not a lot different than any other super stiff/superlight bike), but a bit of smoothness similar to letting 5-10 PSI out of your deep dish race wheels and tires, without adding the slop and rolling resistance that comes with mushy tubes.
If I wanted for anything here it would be better drop outs and for most QR’s it will be a snug fit but a non issue.
Another bone to pick isn’t with BH but with the industry on the whole.
Giving stripped frame weights is, I think, bullshit.
I understand some modules and integration are confusing things these days, but frame weights a couple of years ago didn’t strip things like rear mech hangers. And I can’t think of a frame and fork that doesn’t require a head set… So what if your head set is “proprietary”, you as a manufacturer picked it and it’s required to operate the bike. So when you see a frame today at 7XX Grams, be impressed, but not overly so, as yesterday’s 900 gram frame was very likely pretty close to today’s 800.
That said, The Ultralight is very simply damn light without condition. And it builds up very light as well, relative to virtually all stock production frames. But more important than the 10 minutes of its total life that a bike will spend on a scale, the Ultralight very simply performs. It’s gets in the face of virtually every other stock race bike in terms of weight and stiffness and trumps most in its spec’d class by taking the edge off the ride that’s typical of the breed.
BH made a good bike with the G5 but it was simply in a BIG class with lots of other choices… This is by far BH’s best effort. At $4299 for frame-fork-headset and seat post, it’s not exactly cheap, but this bike is in a much smaller “class” and the price point isn’t out of line for what you’re getting (don’t forget another few bucks for a chain catcher!)…
For a look at the rest of the product line and more info on the company, have a look at BHBIKES-US.COM