When I first heard that NeilPryde had launched a line of bikes – I scratched my head and wondered how a company best known for windsurfing gear would fare in the terra firma world of road bikes. Having spent more than 11 years now in the cycling biz, I’ve seen enough marques come and go to know the consumer doesn’t need another brand in the marketplace. But I’ve also seen how smart thinking & innovative design can create markets where they didn’t exist, sway consumer preference, and earn themselves a place in the landscape… or tarmac, if you will.
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After spending a bunch of hours on the new Alize carbon road racer from NeilPryde, and a couple more hours on Skype and a lot of emailed questions with the company’s key cycling guys in their Hong Kong headquarters, my current thoughts are that these guys are part of that second group I described above.
Another Bike Brand?
My inner skeptic wanted to know what makes NeilPryde different from the guys who buy an Asian bike design and some decals and poof – start a new bike brand, so I started by asking Mike Pryde (who heads up the bike division of the company that bears his dad’s name) some questions.
My skepticism turned to interest, and as I asked Mike my best “Larry King-style” questions, his responses led to more questions, each of which he answered thoughtfully and convincingly.
• Consider these facts:
The Pryde Group is already a success, just not yet in bikes.
You don’t employ 2500 people worldwide, and record an annual turnover of 100 million US$ without doing a few things right. Neil Pryde the company, was started by Neil Pryde the man, back in 1970, when as a competitive sailor, he began making sails for yachts. Born and raised in New Zealand, the international yachting scene was booming, and Neil ventured to Hong Kong for direct access to the textile mills and factories he needed to make better sails. His designs worked well, and earned him a reputation and a growing business, which soon expanded into a booming new sport called windsurfing. Then in 1982, Neil had established his own windsurfing brand.
What do they know about carbon?
In 1989, Neil Pryde introduced the first carbon fibre mast for windsurfing. That’s 21 years ago – and that’s also a very long time to be working in the world of carbon fibre.
An impressive amount of experience for sure, but I still asked Mike to connect sailing masts and bike frames… The logical answer (of course) is that both are subject to all kinds of directional forces, and require designs that best suite their applications, in this case using a carbon fibre framework to either
– transfer the wind into controlled forward motion on the water, or
– transfer a rider’s power into controlled forward motion on a roadway.
With their proven understanding of working with carbon weaves, layups, and tensile strengths, and how to make a structure to move quickly through the wind, they had the confidence to apply that knowledge to bicycles.
Okay, so they’ve got good experience in carbon & aerodynamics, I’m on board so far…
In spite of my best efforts to show the distinct shapes of the tubes – this video from their website does an even better job – take a look…
Who wants a bike called NeilPryde?
But even more impressive to this ex-marketing career guy is the simple fact that they conducted a professional market survey of their NeilPryde customers – which sets them apart (and a long way ahead) of just about every company I know in the cycling biz. The last time I heard a cycling company use the term ‘market research’ was when I worked for a (then) major mtb brand back in the late ‘90’s and my requests for a budget got shot down faster than Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel.
But I digress – what NeilPryde really learned about the loyalty of their existing customers was enough to make a solid business case to enter the cycling industry.
Score another point: their existing customers (many of whom cite cycling as a favorite secondary sport) said they’d buy a NeilPryde bike.
All that sounded good to me, but being the skeptic I am – I wondered how many guys with a decent bike design and a reasonable business plan have jumped off the cliff and into the cycling biz only to discover their parachute wouldn’t open?
“Is anyone there into cycling?” I asked.
That’s when Mike filled me in on his background. While studying architecture in England, fully intent on making his own way in the world and not riding his dad’s coat tails, he raced mountain bikes at the pro level. He started riding on the road for training, but eventually some crashes (which included a broken knee and shoulders, and resulted in 8 titanium screws becoming part of his physical permanence) signaled the end of his pro career aspirations. Mike tells me he now rides about 200km a week on the road, a respectable distance for anyone not racing, and at this point I accepted his personal passion for road biking signaled his legitimacy as a manufacturer.
So the founder’s son would rather be riding bikes than windsurf. Score point #3.
So it was about 3 years ago that the idea to get into cycling started to grow at NeilPryde, and the bikes just coming to market now, score them another point for taking some time to get it right. Their investment in market research, time, and development says a lot about their commitment to doing this right.
What About the Bike?
I’ll admit I was pretty chuffed when NeilPryde wanted us to be one of the first to test the Alize, but it only took a few seconds to unbox the bike and get over myself. Out of the box the bike clearly has its own look. Even in a time of increasingly unusually shaped tubes, the Alize looks different. Partly, I suspect, because the shape was created largely by BMW DesignworksUSA – who were hired because they know “design”, and their fresh thinking is consistent with the whole NeilPryde approach.
The overall plan was to create a road bike with an aerodynamic advantage, while keeping the weight & stiffness respectable, and comfortable enough to conquer some epic days.
I bolted on some Shimano pedals and one carbon bottle cage, and weighed the bike in at 15.98 pounds – plenty respectable for a medium sized frame – especially one that looks as muscular as this one.
The ridges that run along the length of the top-, down-, and seat-tubes essentially stealth-ify the frame against the wind by channeling and directing airflow around the bike and away from areas where it can create more drag.
Shaped With Purpose
But the shape of this bike is what really sets it apart. The tubes are big, masculine, and business-like, they’re distinct and shaped to influence both airflow and ride quality. Here’s a frame that is less a collection of tubes than a whole unit designed to operate as a bicycle frame.
The head tube is stout and stiff looking. It holds a 1.25 inch top bearing and 1.5 inch bottom bearing, the biggest combo available on a road bike and one that by necessity requires a fair amount of material just to hold them.
Both the top tube and down tube start at full width of the headtube but change shape as they run towards towards the seat tube and bottom bracket respectively. The tubes are big, really big – the down tube is one of the biggest backbones of any road frame I’ve seen – it’s 5 cm wide and 6.5 cm tall at the head tube, then grows to 7 cm tall and 5 cm wide at the BB.
While bigger tubes generally cause more drag than smaller tubes, the down tube shape is intended to direct airflow around and past the whole bike.
The long arrow above shows the leading edge that directs airflow around the down tube . It starts at the head tube, then gradually wraps around to the trail-edge where it joins the bottom bracket, effectively shaping the down tube as an airfoil.
This may seem like an obvious design intent to some of you, but if it’s not, the idea is that air going past the frame means less air bumping into the frame, which creates turbulence and drag.
Their website has some slick videos that show the company, its people, and some of the work that went into creating the bikes. And while you can’t ignore that these are part of a well planned marketing strategy, they do show us more about a bike company than most of their competitors offer.
This one of the Alize in the A2 wind tunnel shows how the air flows around the frame just like it’s supposed to. Okay – not many of us will ride without cranksets & pedals attached, and it’s unclear how the airflow is affected once you start pedaling and your feet and legs disrupt the airflow, but the video does show that in this particular example, the down tube does direct some airflow as they intended.
The shape of the seat tube changes along a leading edge from flat at the BB junction to increasingly more knife-edge towards the top – again to help direct airflow – but also to enhance stiffness and create a solid anchor point for the seat stays.
The seat tube is wider than the rear wheel, and is intended to direct airflow away from and past the rear wheel, which reduces drag caused by air contacting too many areas of the frame.
The clear structural intent to create a very solid anchor for the bottom bracket is easy to see as the seat tube morphs to full width as it joins the bb.
The seat tube is shaped to channel air past the rear of the bike, and also nicely conceals the leading edge of the rear wheel from the wind.
The bottom bracket is massive – easily one of the biggest I’ve seen. It’s shaped & built to provide maximum leverage against the twisting forces generated by pedaling. This is also a function of the carbon layup, amount of material and construction down here, (which are harder to see without either a hacksaw or an all access pass to the NeilPryde production floor), but note that the down tube and seat tubes expand to full width of the BB shell – they just can’t be any wider – which does a pretty good job of stabilizing the entire bottom end.
While the main triangle is designed to provide the stiffness to transmit pedaling forces into motion, the rear triangle is where they’ve tuned the comfort of the ride.
The tubes still look beefy – part of their decision to present a strong looking frame, but the carbon choices and layup have been tuned to absorb more of the road junk.
Finish quality is very nice as carbon tubes flow smoothly from one to the next.
Is It AERO?
The overall plan for the Alize was to make a more aero-shaped road frame, and part of that development was time spent at the A2 Windtunnel in North Carolina. The guys at A2 earned a reputation working with the Nascar teams, and we spent some time with them ourselves. They run a first-class operation, so I asked A2’s Mike Giraud what he thought of the Alize:
We did test the bike in several different ways: complete bike-road set up, complete bike-TT or Tri setup, and also frame & fork alone. …I’ve seen my fare share of test data over the years and it seemed to have fairly good numbers. The thing that I liked the most was how it seemed to be able to have the ability to be set up as a road or TT bike and show descent results through a wide range of wind angles. … I do remember seeing good airflow around the down tube/bottom bracket area when we did blow smoke around it. The concept they had for their design seemed to be doing exactly what they had intended. I’d have to say that for this to be their first step into the cycling industry, I was pretty impressed and think they have a good future ahead of them.
The seat post itself is considerably cooler than simply looking aero-shaped.
First thing I noticed was how narrow it is, causing me to wonder if I might feel some side-to-side sway while riding. Nope – it’s rock solid. I even asked a buddy to watch it on a ride and look for signs of visible sway and he could see none. This stiffness is partially due to an oval-shaped hollow core running down the center of the post that again uses shape to enhance stability.
The seat post is elliptically shaped to 15 mm wide x 44mm long at the extremes, measuring within the UCI’s 3:1 ratio for legally shaped aero tubes. Mike Rice, NeilPryde’s Sales & Marketing Manager confirmed for me that: “Yes… we were VERY stringent in our requirements for the bike to satisfy the UCI guidelines.”
The seat collar is pretty cool too. It’s an easy front access 4 mm allen key one-bolt adjuster for up-down placement, and detaches completely making bike stowage for travel that much easier. The pinch bolt itself is sealed by two rubber boots. The top one holds a pretty snug fit that allows for easy re-install to the correct seat height. Both continue the aero shaping inherent to the overall design.
Cable routing is internal and very neat.
The bike is offered in Shimano Dura Ace and Ultegra full builds, it’s also available as a frame set only and soon as frame set combined with a set of Lightweight Standard III tubular wheels. My tester came with FSA SLK stem & compact bars (the shorter reach and shallower drop are really nice). Wheels on the full builds are Mavic Ksyrium SL’s – not the most aerp wheel by a long shot, but given that wheels are such a personal choice, and can influence ride quality so much, they offer a good value and help keep the overall full build prices quite competitive. Saddle is the ever popular Selle Italia SLR, and tire are Hutchinsons.
In spite of the size of the tubes, which some would say look heavy, the bike feels anything but. My very first impression as I pedaled off on my first ride – not even 50 meters from my house – was: “This bike feels fast.” Anecdotal perhaps – quantifiable, unlikely – but regardless, it’s the kind of judgment we all make about the gear we ride. First impressions carry a lot of weight.
At 16 pounds, it’s not the lightest bike I’ve ridden, but it’s right in there with the bikes I’m currently riding, and it’s the kind of weight that allows you to both accelerate, sprint, and climb with confidence, while at the same time feel there’s enough bike under you to absorb whatever stuff the road throws up.
Ride comfort is big deal for us at PEZ, and I’d venture pretty much anyone not racing full time. And here’s where their combo of carbon layups, construction, and geometry, deliver the goods. The 73 degree head tube and 73.5 degree seat tube angle on my Medium-sized frame put it right in the middle of the “all-rounder” style of bike – the fact that they’ve presented what works tells me these ‘new guys’ do understand road cycling – paying off Mike Pryde’s passion as a guy who loves road riding like the rest of us. Even paired up with the Mavic Ksyrium SL wheels – which I’ve always found to be uncomfortably stiff, the Alize delivers a nice ride.
The front end is pretty impressive – the large head tube bearings really do present a feeling of connection between the frame and fork. Some bikes of different design, or running smaller sized bearings can feel noodly when pushed hard into corners or under heavy breaking. Not so here – I’d venture the only thing holding you back from setting your record descent off Ventoux, or Alpe d’Huez, or the Stelvio, will be how much jam you’ve got in your shorts.
Does it feel fast in the wind? I’m not about to claim I have the ability to quantify, or even notice how a bike frame feels in the wind. Certain sized wheels are easy to feel under varied conditions, but standard sized bikes much less so. But what makes a difference for me is NeilPryde’s approach to the design, and their seriousness about building a bike that’s already set to go up against the establishment. The design philosophy makes sense, and they’ve backed it up with some data from a well-known wind tunnel. Those things are enough to convince me that I’m riding a faster bike, and when the head leads – the body follows.
The warranty – it’s 10 years on manufacturer defects and workmanship (for original owners), 2 years on paint & decals – under normal and intended use, etc. They’re up front about how it works and there’s a full page right on the website: http://www.NeilPrydebikes.com/usd/warranty
Finally, I asked Mike Pryde his opinion of the bikes. I know, a loaded question – but I think it’s interesting to hear how various manufacturers describe their work and you can decide for yourself what it means:
“We score our bikes 10 out of 10, to be quite honest. We set out to design 2 very good bikes for ProTour level and believe we’ve achieved that. We made it very clear with both BMW and our suppliers that we wanted to develop bikes that could be used at the very highest level of the sport.”
My compliments to NeilPryde for delivering a bike with an innovative design that is built well, rides well and doesn’t look like everything else out there. It’ll appeal to both guys who aren’t afraid to be different, and appreciate forward thinking technology and are looking for dollar-backed value. It doesn’t have a pro Tour endorsement, old-world Euro cachet, or even a track record yet – but I suspect we’re gonna see a lot more from these guys in the future.
One more thing NeilPryde is doing differently, is selling the bikes direct to consumers who can order right off the company website and through a selected dealer network, which they are looking to expand. Also available from January 2011, interested buyers can “rent” a demo bike for about US$280.00 (includes shipping) for two weeks, and then credit the rental cost to the purchase of a new bike.
• Prices in effect until 31 January 2011 after which prices will be increasing around 5% due to increases in shipping costs and component prices.
– Alize Dura Ace – US$5,150.00
– Frameset (frame, forks, seatpost, headset) – US$2,250.00
Retail pricing also includes worldwide shipping via DHL couriers, with bikes delivered worldwide within 4-5 days – import taxes and duties paid by NeilPryde – pretty impressive.
• See the NeilPryde website at NeilPrydebikes.com
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