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Time Skylon review

13 Apr 2016
Verdict:

French brand Time doesn't do things the same way as other bike builders. That pays dividends with the Skylon

Price: 
Circa £5,500 as shown

Time is a relatively young brand, but with an interesting story to tell. Founded in 1987, it was clipless pedals that originally put it on the map before, six years later, turning its hands (literally) to building bikes. While its pedals continue to be its main business, Time has developed a unique method for creating carbon bike frames, which it still does entirely in house, in France – something that stands it apart from its competitors. 

Quality not quantity

Time makes fewer than 100 frames per week, each one labour intensive, requiring a very hands-on approach, and you won’t find sheets of carbon pre-preg in this factory. I’ve had the privilege of visiting its facility in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, close to Lyon. I’ve stood almost hypnotised, as anyone who sees it would be, watching Time’s vast loom, with its many tiny spools and bobbins spinning and dancing in and out of one another like some giant maypole routine, weaving a web of carbon strands and creating the ‘socks’ that will eventually form frame tubes. 

This method is a key point of difference for Time, giving it total control over every single aspect of the fibre construction used in its frames. This includes the possibility to add in other ingredients to the weave, for example Vectran (polyester) fibres, which Time intertwines strategically to facilitate fine-tuning of the way the finished tubes will handle vibration dampening.

Time adds the resin required to give the carbon its structural rigidity later on, in a proprietary process it calls Resin Transfer Moudling. This involves injecting it under high pressure into the frame mould that already contains the carbon socks wrapped over a wax mandrel, which will be melted away afterwards. It’s a far cry from the mass production lines of the Far East. 

The Skylon is Time’s latest creation, aiming to fill the role of top-end aero road bike in its 2016 catalogue, replacing the previous flagship ZXRS model. A glance at the key tube junctions immediately suggests a solid build. You’ve only got to look at the extent to which the seat tube has had to be sculpted out to make space for the front derailleur to appreciate the girth of the main tubes as they converge at the bottom bracket shell, which is a beefy 87mm wide. Time claims the BB is 45% stiffer than its predecessor, while the head tube has 30% more torsional rigidity. It sounds impressive, but we need to find out if the Skylon can live up to its own stats.

Old habits

My past experiences of aero road bikes predispose me to expect a somewhat solid ride feel. The likes of Cervélo’s S5, BMC’s Timemachine TMR01, Specialized’s Venge and Scott’s Foil, to name a few, have all left indelible marks on my mind (and my backside) with regards to sacrificing comfort for outright speed. Time’s Skylon can now join that list. But if it’s comfort you’re after, there are plenty of options out there, so you probably shouldn’t be shopping in this category anyway.

The Skylon’s emphasis on heavily profiled tube shapes delivers little in the way of forgiveness over anything other than the smoothest road surfaces. The upside (if you’re riding it as its creators intended) is that you won’t notice the discomfort because you’ll be too distracted by just how fast you’re going. Speed is ultimately where the Skylon excels. I rode the occasional commute on it and around town it felt awkward. The steering felt twitchy and each bump would send shockwaves through my hands and spine. But in the same way that a racehorse is ill at ease cantering around a yard, the Skylon comes into its own when you’re head down on the open road. 

The frame’s solidity leaves you in no doubt that the only thing holding you back is the wattage that you can push into its cranks. While we’re on the subject, the Rotor 3D30 cranks fitted to this bike were a great complement to the build. At speed, the handling traits I’d felt around town disappeared and the Skylon became much more balanced and stable, giving me the assurances I needed to lean hard through turns. Looking back I don’t feel like I reached the Skylon’s limits, and not through the lack of trying – I just think it’s got a lot to give.

Our test bike had a more conventional adjustable carbon seatpost, but the Skylon is also available in an integrated seatmast version. Time claims its Translink seatmast uses Vectran fibres to enhance the vibration absorption capabilities of the frame, so this may well be the answer to helping the Skylon be a more agreeable ride overm a rough road surface. 

While we’re on the topic of optional upgrades, another potential consideration might be Time’s own Aktiv fork, which has internal ‘tuned mass dampers’ that work like tiny tuning forks to even out the resonance of vibration (see timesport.fr for the video). We’d speculate with both these options fitted, the Skylon should be a much more comfortable prospect all round.

The Fizik finishing kit is superb and has an up-market feel and appearance. The Cyrano 00 carbon bar alone retails at £270, with the Arione 00 saddle tagging on another £280, so no expense has been spared in this part of build. 

Possibly the biggest surprise was the wheels. My first impressions were the R5 hoops from North American brand Novatec cheapened the look of the bike, and while I stand by my subjective view on their aesthetics I have to say the performance exceeded my expectations. They were in fact hard to fault. They delivered a solid feel beneath my every effort, and were surprisingly adept at holding speed. At a claimed 1,590g for the pair, they are a similar weight to other high-end 50mm profile wheelsets, plus they’re also on trend with the current wide internal and external dimensions. The Mavic tyres were really the only component I would look to change on the spec, after suffering at the hands of the puncture demons on almost every ride.

It’s a shame for Time that it doesn’t have a WorldTour team in the peloton this year, as I think the Skylon would be a great bike on which to do battle at the top level.

Model Time Skylon
Groupset Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2
Deviations Rotor 3D30 cranks
Wheels Novatec R5 clincher
Finishing kit Fizik Cyrano 00 bars

Fizik Arione 00 saddle

Weight 7.12kg

extrauk.co.uk

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