Here I go again, grumpin’ about how the life of a cycling-journo is soooo hard. Get this – I awoke at 3:00AM, well before my 3:30AM alarm, to make the airport in time for my 6:00AM flight ‘cross country to Atlanta. A rushed transfer through Salt Lake and only a salty-sausage-mcbun for breakfast, then another no-frills flight stuffed into steerage and landing at 4:00PM in time for a 2 hour transfer up to Helen Georgia.
The new LeMond Triomphe series has the pedigree of the classic European brands, but with the forward thinking and technology that America offers. – Now clic the LeMond logo at the top for the BIG view.
It would have been a lot worse if I hadn’t been there to spend a couple days riding the all new all carbon LeMond Triomphe series bikes. And the kicker was that Greg LeMond himself was there to join the fun. Any other time, I’d have been happy riding an old fruit box nailed to a skateboard to cycle alongside a 3-time Tour winner, but his new bikes stood out on their own merits.
CARBON AT LAST!
These are the first all carbon frames in the LeMond line – designed and built 100% by LeMond – but far from ‘sitting in’ with the rest of the carbon designs out there, they’ve stepped up and produced some very forward thinking – and looking – bikes. I’d always associated the LeMond line with classic lines and classic designs – much like I think of Greg’s era of racing, so I was pretty surprised to see tube shapes unlike any I’d seen before. Then again, Greg was always ahead of his time – leading the technological advances in helmets, aero-bars, eyewear and more.
The LeMond brand name may not be as well known in racing circles as the big American brands who sponsor pro teams, but let’s not forget that Greg earned his cred the hard way: he left America years before there was an American team to soften the landing in the Euro-bunch and dove head first into European racing – moving to Belgium (home of the true ‘hard men’ of cycling and one week of summer), learning foreign languages and customs, and racing bikes the European way. He earned his stripes one jersey at a time – racing all season long and winning Classics, World Championships, and of course the first Tour ever won by an American.
• Noticeable at the front end is the taller than average headtube, which eliminates the need for a big stack of spacers. Less spacers = stiffer front end, not to mention allowing for a cooler look of the stem positioned closer to the head tube top. The inside of the headtube is molded to control weight and shape, eliminating need to machine the carbon to accept the headset bearings – anytime you machine carbon, you begin to affect the structural properties of the area, plus introduce the risk of a mis-aligned bearing surfaces, so less is more.
The LeMond design crew has done their homework on carbon, and of course enjoyed access to so much of the carbon development from Trek Bicycles, so for a first-time effort, these frames are pretty advanced – and their appearance leaves many of the ‘traditional’ Euro-brands off the back. But these are NOT rebadged or even redesigned Treks – these are ‘from the ground up’ LeMonds.
The overall goal was create a bike that was as light as possible and still deliver a “premium ride quality”. At LeMond that means building a frame that is stiff enough to deliver ‘maximum output’ from rider input, and still offer up a big degree of ride comfort. They used a mix of high- and medium-modulus carbon in the Triomphe frames, while the “Ultimate” 850 gram frames are all high-modulus.
• Check the tube shapes, chosen to apply maximum strength properties with a minimum of materials (ie: less weight): The Toptube is sort of diamond shaped, spreading to full width of the headtube for maximum resistance to twisting forces along the vertical plane of the front end. Same goes for the downtube/headtube junction. But both tubes change shape as they reach to the rear of the bike. The entire front triangle is designed to resist twisting forces caused by standing, sprinting, and hard pedaling, so the top tube becomes short and wide as it approaches the seattube – while the…
… downtube widens as it reaches the Bottom bracket – spreading to full width of the bb for maximum stiffness in the bottom end.
The Bottom bracket is slung low to enhance cornering stability, and is placed at a specific height for each frame size.
• Maximum width of downtube at the bottom bracket keeps the front triangle stiffer to resist lateral forces from pedaling, which helps transfer power straight to your pedals. The bb has been co-molded into the frame (versus machined insertion after the frame is molded) to ensure best alignment.
• Check out the different chainstay shapes. Since pedalling forces create different torques on the drive-side and the non-drive side which try to twist the rear wheel in the dropouts, the drive-side stay is taller vertically at the bb junction to counteract drive-side torque, and accommodate chainring clearance, while the non-drive side is shaped in an elliptically horizontal plane.
• The seatstay / top tube junction is designed to maximize sideways stiffness, again to resist frame ‘twist’ while pedaling, and still afford some vertical compliance. Note how wide that seatstay is above, and how thin it is below…
• Both chain- and seat-stays are curved slightly to increase lateral support to the back end.
• Bars and stem were Bontrager’s XXXLite OCLV Carbon – 172 grams – I liked the bar shape – semi-ergo curves, and not too-deep drops.
• Since the two day’s riding included our own assault on Brasstown Bald (5km at what feels like 15% average grade), I requested a compact crank, so I’d at least get a few more years out of my knees… Our hosts wisely fitted all the bikes with Bontrager’s compact 50/36*, and 12-27 cassettes in back.
* Note: apparently in Wisconson, 50/36 passes for a perfectly acceptable compact crank – my own experience suggests a 50/34 would be a wiser choice for any future attempts at Brasstown.
• The graphics are what I expected from a brand of this pedigree. Nothing flashy, but modern enough to reflect the times without losing the classic heritage of LeMond’s racing era. Our test bikes were the first frames off the production line, so colors and spec shown here are slightly different than what you’lll see in your local shop.
• Bontrager’s integrated Race X-Lite carbon fork with aluminum steerer completed the lateral stiffness quotient of the front end, while maintaining some vertical compliance to smooth the ride, while working perfectly with the frame to produce a ride quality as nice as anything I’ve ridden.
• Size specific geometry has been used to standardize handling characteristics across all frame sizes. Size specific tubing has also been used to ensure different rider weights experience the same ‘feel’ of the frameset. They’re offering 10 sizes, so almost everyone (both men and women) should find a size that fits.
Besides the cool tube shaping and frame appearance, the other big news was weight – the frame comes in around 950 grams (depending on size) – and they’ve even got an 850 gram version coming soon. That’s pretty much as light as anyone with rider safety in mind would want, and the weight was noticeable – both holding it and riding.
We only had two rides for a total of about 5 hours on the bikes, but long enough to make some strong first impressions. Our first day was about 65 km to the summit of Brasstown Bald – the furiously steep 3 mile climb made famous at Tour de Georgia., via Unicoi gap, and back again.
The roads were in good shape – not what I’d call rough by any stretch – but the three things I took away about the ride were: Comfortable, stable, and plenty stiff. Given LeMond bike’s close physical association with Trek (they’re stationed in the same facility), I was interested in how similar the bike would feel to a Madone. We were assured that the LeMond design team works completely independently of the Trek guys, and I was pleased that the bike felt noticeably different. Score one for LeMond.
Greg puts in his attack over the top of Unicoi Gap.
Climbing over Unicoi and Brasstown were two great tests – Unicoi is a 6 mile climb with pretty nice 5-6% grades – the kind where you can roll along and feel like you could actually go faster if you weren’t being sociable. The LeMond rolled nicely over this climb and felt like it had as much left to give as I did.
The Brasstown experience, apart from being one of absolute suffering, was not what I’d recommend as a great climbing test for any bike. The problem is that it’s so steep that every single pedal stroke is a super-human effort – and the physical suffering is so great that you really have no idea even what you’re riding, let alone trying to evaluate.
On the other hand, it’s a great test of frame stiffness – considering the forces driving the pedals are as extreme as the grades. I’d love to do this climb on a few different bikes to compare frame flex, but even on 20% grades, the LeMond felt as stiff as anything I know. It’s not what I’d consider a pure ‘climber’s’ bike, but I got the feeling I could pedal this over Galibier- and Tourmalet-sized climbs all day with … actual enjoyment.
The Full Descending Monty
The ‘classic’ European geometry (53cm bike = 73 head tube, 73 seat tube) suited me well, and I really noticed it when chasing Greg LeMond on the descent of Unicoi Gap on our way back. He attacked our group over the top of the climb and took off, so I jumped on for some fun following one of the best descenders of the modern era. The descent was about 6 miles long, loaded with twists, turns and wide switchbacks – toss in a couple of slow moving vehicles and you’ve got a few minutes of 99-44/100% pure exhilaration (Play Station can’t touch this!) Greg was hot on the tails of said ‘vehicles’, riding a few feet off their bumpers at around 50-60kph, and dodging in and out looking for openings to pass. I sat back about 20 yards and watched the fun, but was still dodging and diving through the turns to keep up.
This bike is light – 1 finger light! Actually, at 950 grams for the standard version, and 850 for the ‘Ultimate’ model, it’s plenty light by current standards.
Don’t Tell Mrs. Pez
Here’s where I really noticed the stability of the bike, largely influenced by the lower bb height and fame geometry. This was a fast descent with constant turns – you’re always setting up for a direction change – always changing positions, angles, weighting and braking – the Full Descending Monty. The Triomphe did exactly what I wanted, went exactly where I pointed, and inspired me to take risks I didn’t tell Mrs. Pez about. It tracked through turns with confidence, smoothly banked up and over to switch directions. I didn’t have to think about what the bike was doing, which allowed me to enjoy the idiotic grin on my face, crazy look in my eyes, and yelps of glee from my mouth as I chased Greg.
The last few miles of the ride ran along the bottom of a valley, gently descending back to Helen, and when we regrouped, the fun started again as everyone started attacking everyone else. Here’s where I noticed the stability of the bike carried through to hard efforts and sprinting. The bike accelerated fast every time – at least I never felt like the bike was holding me back – .
I really enjoyed riding this bike, and hope I can spend a lot more time with it. I’m pleased to see LeMond produce a bike both modern and classic – an American bike with a decidedly European feel. Expect to pay around $5000-$6000 for the top line, but several models are planned to deliver the geometry and frame specs to different price points, so most of us can afford a 950gram framed bike.
The bikes should arrive at dealers in early July, and the LeMondBikes.com will have current info any day now.
Colors and spec will be slightly different than seen here.
Pricing starts around US$1979.00 for the Triomphe Series Versailles model with a 1050g frame/fork and different spec, the 950 gram frame that I rode will be offered in 3 spec levels: Buenos Arires (US$2419), Zurich (US$2639), and Victoire (US$4289) and the 850 gram Tete de Course with full Dura-Ace will be a bit more.
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