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J.Guillem Formentor review

26 Aug 2016
Verdict:

You might not recognise the name, but this titanium debutant was created by an old hand.

Price: 
£2,130 (frame only)

For those unfamiliar, as indeed I was, a Formentor isn’t a hovering skeleton that preys upon magical bespectacled children, but rather it’s a road in Mallorca built by the same fellow who brought us the Sa Calobra. It’s also the name of the flagship bike from new brand J.Guillem, founded by the same fellow who brought us the renowned titanium specialist Van Nicholas. 

He goes by the delightfully Christmasy name of Jan-Willem Sintnicolaas, and unsurprisingly he now lives in Mallorca. ‘I started Van Nicholas back in 2006 and sold it to the Accell Group in 2012,’ says Sintnicolaas, referring to the company that also owns Lapierre and Raleigh among others. ‘That name was derived from my surname, whereas J.Guillem represents my first name in Mallorcan. The new brand, in short, is smaller and more personal to me.’

That means an exclusively titanium line-up of three road bikes and two mountain bikes, all designed by Sintnicolaas over the past three years. According to the Dutchman, the Formentor is the ‘hardcore racer’ of the road trio: ‘Titanium has always been known as the comfy metal, and definitely not for the crit racer, but with a frame like the Formentor I think those days are numbered. It’s designed to be super-stiff.’ A bold claim indeed.

You’re a wizard, Harry

The Formentor’s frame is made from 3Al/2.5V seamless titanium, which will come as a surprise if you’ve ever spent time manufacturing titanium. This 3% aluminium/2.5% vanadium titanium alloy usually comes only in round tubes (though at a push it can be ovalised at the end). Here, though, the tubes have an angular cross-section, a trait normally only associated with tubes made from rolled and welded titanium sheets. So how does the Formentor pull off such a trick and, more importantly, why?

‘The shape of the tubes is made possible by hydroforming,’ says Sintnicolaas. ‘In a nutshell, hydroforming involves pumping hydraulic fluid at very high pressure into a tube placed inside a mould, forcing the tube to push up into all the sides and corners of the mould. This allows us to create unique shapes.’

Sintnicolaas claims hydroformed tubes are stronger than those created using the traditional method, where tubes are stretched over a die and pressed into shape. That’s because hydroforming makes it easier to create consistent tube wall thicknesses – ‘removing the unseen weak spots’, as Sintnicolaas puts it.

It all sounds rather excellent, so why aren’t more manufacturers taking advantage? Hydroforming was popular for a time in alloy mountain bike frames, but Van Nicholas is the only other titanium brand I can think of that’s using it for road bikes. ‘I don’t really know either,’ admits Sintnicolaas. ‘All I can say is that it is more expensive to open [make] moulds, so not everybody wants to invest this kind of money when working with round or ovalised tubes is a cheaper alternative.’

If carbon is anything to go by, where the metal moulds for a single bike run into the tens of thousands of pounds, Sintnicolaas’s point is likely a valid one. The question is, does the overall quality of the Formentor’s titantium frame prove that hydroforming is worth the extra expense?

‘Stiffness’ and ‘racy’ are the J.Guillem buzzwords here, and the Formentor’s frame lives up to its billing – it’s incredibly stiff for a titanium bike. Yet it weighs a claimed 1.75kg for the frame (56cm), which is respectable for a metal bike and indicates that J.Guillem hasn’t just thrown extra material at the frame to make it stiffer.

It’s all about the shape

So what gives – or rather, doesn’t? If it’s not quantity of material or its properties – 3/2.5 is the same stuff you’ll find in titanium bikes described as ‘plush’, ‘springy’ or even ‘flexy’ – so by process of elimination the answer must lie in the tube shapes and construction. 

The seatstays and chainstays at the rear of the bike are designed to flare out more than normal to sit significantly wider than the wheel axle. Sintnicolaas claims this makes the rear end stiffer, ensuring more power from the pedals is transferred to the rear wheel. And he’s achieved this while keeping the chainstays at a racy 405mm length so that the Formentor has a short 986mm wheelbase, making it nimble and highly manoeuvrable through corners.

At the front end a stocky 1.125-1.25-inch head tube is mated to a down tube and top tube that both share a diamond-like cross section. In theory, stress forces acting directly onto the points of the diamond are most resisted, moreso than a circular profile tube where forces from any angle of attack are resisted equally, though to a comparatively lesser extent.

The Formentor’s tubes have these diamond corners positioned at 0°, 90°, 180° and 270° to resist the main forces acting on a bike frame: in the vertical plane, from the rider and road, and in the horizontal, from pedalling and cornering. 

It’s not a new ploy – Ernesto Colnago introduced a similar octagonal profile to his tubes for the same reason – and here I think it works. The Formentor is a lot stiffer than any round-tubed titanium bike I’ve ridden. Yet, somewhat sadly, I think it’s to the bike’s overall detriment.

Gone the magic

As much as I enjoyed the punchy feel, I just couldn’t escape a pervading harshness to the Formentor’s ride quality. A swap of the wheels to the shallow-section Industry Nines we tested recently – tubeless and run at lower pressure – helped. While the Edco Umbrial wheels that came specced with the bike are certainly fast, their own deep, triangulated profile makes for a relatively unforgiving ride. However, even with the Industry Nines the Formentor grumbled on poor road surfaces.

But I don’t want the lasting impression of the Formentor to be a negative one, as the fault lies as much in my own preconceptions of titanium as anything else. I see a ti bike and I instinctively want it to ride in the smooth, springy fashion that only ti bikes seem capable of, which need not preclude a racy edge but does ooze all-day comfort. Unfortunately, I just didn’t find this in the Formentor.

You might question this criticism – after all, a bike test should be as objective an exercise in judgement as possible. But I believe a lot of people looking to a titanium bike will be hoping to find such characteristics. However, if that isn’t you, and instead you want a super-stiff, slightly quirky-looking titanium bike for racing, the Formentor would be just the ticket.

Spec

J.Guillem Formentor
Frame J.Guillem Formentor
Groupset Shimano Ultegra 6800
Brakes Shimano Ultegra 6800
Chainset Shimano Ultegra 6800, 52/36
Cassette Shimano Ultegra 6800, 11-28
Bars J.Guillem compact road
Stem J.Guillem alloy
Seatpost J.Guillem titanium
Wheels Edco Umbrial carbon clinchers
Saddle J.Guillem Race
Weight 8.21kg (56cm)
Contact jguillem.com

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