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Swift Hypervox review

9 Mar 2017
Verdict:

Swift gets aero, but is the result distinct enough to be worth it? I'm not sure it is

Price: 
£2,499 frameset, approx £5,600 as tested

I can’t be sure, but I think Swift’s founder, Mark Blewett, was Cyclist’s first ever visitor way back in 2012 when we launched this magazine.

I made tea as we’d yet to unpack the coffee machine, and he showed us his debut UK road frame, the Ultravox RS-1.

At that time new brands peddling carbon wares seemed ten-a-penny, but Swift sounded different.

It’s no secret that the majority of the world’s mass-produced carbon bikes come from a relative handful of Chinese factories.

But perhaps less understood is the variance in quality across those factories, and the changeability of workforce – often when a production run finishes, workers who have become skilled in making a particular type of frame are let go and reabsorbed into the pool, taking their skills and knowledge with them. 

In broad strokes, the big brands with the big order numbers get the best factories and retain the workers. Smaller brands can struggle.

So Blewett, an ex-pro and clearly a dedicated man, came up with a novel approach.

‘You have to earn your place on the factory floor,’ he told me. ‘Part of that’s big orders, so if you’re Trek or Specialized it’s not a problem, but the other part is what the Chinese call guanxi, the mutual trust in business.

‘To get the consistent quality I was looking for with the relatively low volumes I wanted, I had to form that relationship with the factories. So I moved there.’

‘There’ was Xiamen, China, and while it’s impossible to know how Swift’s bikes would have turned out otherwise, I can vouch for the Ultravox RS-1 and its tweaked Ti (Team issue) big brother as being exceptional bikes, so I was excited to see what the Hypervox was made of.

Reap the wild wind

According to Swift’s marketing manager, Neil Gardiner, the Hypervox is a reluctant response to the sprinters on last year’s Swift-sponsored team, Drapac.

‘They had the Ultravox and were initially happy, but they kept on asking for an aero bike,’ he says.

‘Blewett doesn’t like gimmicks – he just wants a bike to ride right – and when you hear claims of a bike saving two or three watts it’s hard to take them seriously.

‘But the pressure continued, so we thought, “The demand is there, so let’s make an aero bike that doesn’t compromise on ride quality and handling.”’

Gardiner points to ‘massive, truncated tube shapes and teardrop profile seatstays’ as the main culprits for poor ride quality and handling, the latter because a vertically stiff frame can struggle to track the road through corners.

He also says Swift’s designers only saw merit in aero-sculpting the front half of the bike, as the rear is ‘just a mess because of the rider’s body and legs’. 

As a result the Hypervox is a pretty subtle aero bike. The head tube and down tube are noticeably thinner than on the Ultravox, and there are slightly filled-in junctions at the bottom bracket and behind the head tube, but otherwise the Hypervox looks pretty ‘normal’.

It’s all been designed using CFD, and when I asked Gardiner for comparative data he could only supply a visualisation showing how the Hypervox dealt better with airflow around the down tube and head tube compared to the Ultravox.

Wind-tunnel testing has been eschewed, with Gardiner saying it’s all too easy for a brand to find the results it wants ‘by drawing on certain yaw angle data to prove aero credentials, for example’.

Compelling arguments, but it did leave me wondering why, if Swift dislikes gimmicks and sees aero gains as minimal, it wanted to make an aero bike at all.

But before I try to unpick that, let me tell you about the ride.

Haven’t we met before?

In all my time testing bikes few have ridden as well as Swift’s Ultravox. The caveat, though, is ‘for a race bike’.

The natural position is long and low, with a 553mm effective top tube mated to a 147mm head tube, which begs to be slammed, and the feel is of a bike with snappy yet stable steering and a low centre of gravity.

It’s obviously a formula Swift realises works. The Hypervox shares identical geometry, and performs in a similar fashion.

Pushing well past 70kmh on descents, the Hypervox remained incredibly stable, yet a slight shift in weight made it smoothly round long arcs.

A dab of the brakes and a dropped knee saw it dive into tight corners only to emerge at breakneck speed. 

It performed these duties with a feeling of predictability and, daft as it might sound, ‘oneness’.

Point the Hypervox where you want it to go, lean as much as you feel is right, at as fast a speed as you dare, and the bike just does its thing, no dramas.

It’s the difference between swimming in board shorts and swimming in Speedos. There’s nothing holding you back, and everything helping you go. 

Climbing is a similar story – you get out what you put in. With a claimed frame weight of 900g unpainted and a full build weight of 6.91kg, the Hypervox is light enough but not so light as to flatter one’s climbing abilities.

It’s similarly impressive over rough ground, where it does a decent job of muting vibrations without deadening feedback.

It’s not what I’d call a plush ride but, again, couching this in race bike terms there are unexpected levels of comfort here, and I happily took the Hypervox out on more leisurely rides along with some more intensive efforts.

Younger sibling syndrome 

If there’s one area that lets the Hypervox down it’s top-end sprinting stiffness, and that feeds back to my original conundrum. What is the Hypervox really doing that the Ultravox isn’t? 

Objectively, frame weight is the same and geometry is also much the same.

Subjectively, handling is the same. If anything there has been some compliance lost, likely due to the aero seatpost and taller, thinner tube shapes, and I’d argue that the Ultravox is ever so slightly stiffer in the head tube and bottom bracket than the Hypervox, making it a better bet for burly sprinters.

Then there’s the aero side. I couldn’t possibly tell you if this bike is any faster than the Ultravox, but I can definitely tell you it is not as fast as overtly aero bikes such as the Specialized Venge and Trek Madone.

The comeback from Swift is that there’s no point in going to those aero lengths at the cost of handling and ride quality.

I’d agree, but then that still begs the question, why bother? Why not just put everything into producing a stiff, light, well-rounded road bike instead of making some minor aero tweaks that seemingly aren’t enough to shout about, aren’t enough for a rider to feel and – ay, there’s the rub – cost an extra £500 for the frameset compared to the Ultravox Ti (and around £1,000 more than the Ultravox RS-1). 

If the Hypervox was the only bike Swift made then the company would have a true winner, but as it stands there’s not enough here to convince me that the aero tweaks are worth the (albeit marginal) concessions to the superb all-rounder that is the Ultravox.

Still, the Hypervox does nothing to tarnish the Swift reputation, and everything to cement it. Plus later this year Swift will be releasing a superlight Ultravox SSL. Can’t wait.

Verdict: Swift gets aero, but is the result distinct enough to be worth it? I'm not sure it is.

Spec

Swift Hypervox
Frame Filament-wound carbon with 3D printed titanium lugs
Groupset Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 
Brakes Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 
Chainset Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 
Cassette Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 
Bars Zipp Contour SL
Stem Zipp SL Sprint
Seatpost Swift Custom Aero
Wheels Black Inc Thirty clinchers
Saddle Fabric Scoop Carbon
Weight 6.91kg (size M)
Contact swiftcarbon.co.uk

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