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.
Click the thumbnail at top for the BIG view of Julian Dean’s 595.
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”. That’s not to say that incredible bikes are not available in very well controlled two step manufacturing, but it’s a source of pride that Look design their own bikes, mold their own carbon, and build and finish each and every one at their own facilities in France and Tunisia. What? – no outsourcing?
LOOK’S Proprietary Carbon
Unlike many manufacturers, LOOK creates their own proprietary moduli (HR, HM, and VHM) from carbon at their own facilities. (They ‘cook’ it at different temps and times to create specific moduli.) 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 own Tunisian factory, everything is finished back home in France.
The 595 frame is – like most carbon frames – a blend of various moduli of carbon and layup patterns to create a desired weight, strength, durability, and ride quality. The primary grade in the 595 is LOOK ‘High Modulus’ – which provides much of the stiffness racers want, and is also lighter than comparable amounts of lower-grade modulus carbon. The rest of the ride quality is defined by the layup patterns and tube shapes.
Every manufacturer has their own recipe of various carbon mixes, tube dimensions 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 design that really uses specific tube shapes to define the ride quality, and features an original 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, (by basically adding material where you need it) while the tubes provide the compliance part of the ride equation. 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) – it’s not the lightest frameset out there, but a nice 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 some smart engineering that uses physics to reduce weight and increase stiffness where you need it, and allow some give where you want it. So how’d they do it?
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 head tube (including the lugs that receive the top and down tubes) functions as a unit along with the top and down tubes to resist twist. It allows for a proper size and shape of tube to keep the front end better aligned and to resist the forces from both road and rider than can cause the front end to move more out of alignment than is “enjoyable” for proper control.
• The head tube creates stiffness at the front using a wider 1-1/4” bearing at the bottom and a standard 1-1/8” bearing at the top. This essentially makes a larger platform to anchor the fork crown, which paired with LOOK’s own carbon fork, makes for a very laterally stiff front end. 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 (along with proper material density and fiber orientation) 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 to maximize the resistance of the twisting forces of pedaling 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.” That’s over 3600 psi!
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 twist resistance, 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 – there’s a lot to like about this 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 – not the lightest seatpost for sure – and this is an area I’d like to see some improvement.
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 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 Calaveras 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 Calaveras Road is a great ride – even better when you’re on a nice bike like the Look 595.
The Calaveras 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 (Allen 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.
MSRP: US$3699.00 for frame, fork, E-Post
– Full bike with Dura-Ace spec, Ksyrium wheels, LOOK Keo Carbon-Ti pedals: US$6999.00
• See the LOOK-USA website for more info.
Where To Get One