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Time Alpe d’Huez 01 review

12 Nov 2019
Verdict:

Not the lightest, fastest or most comfortable (despite its vibration damping fork), but has a wonderful ride feel and a beautiful finish

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
€9,426 (approx £8,350)
For 
Remarkably robust road bike • Plenty of original design features • Absolute quality in the construction
Against 
Heavy for the bike it sets out to be • Fork damping efficacy questionable

Do you remember the Citroën CX, that 1970s car that would rest on its haunches when parked but would rise up on its hydropneumatic suspension when the engine started? The idea was this gave the car an ultra-smooth ride, the suspension system self-levelling regardless of load or terrain.

Oddly, the CX found huge favour in horse racing circles because massive TV cameras could be mounted to the roof and the car driven alongside the track without giving shaky images.

While I’d stop short at declaring the Time Alpe d’Huez 01 the Citroën CX of the modern bike world, there are elements that make me recall the car.

It appears possessed of a personality that is endearingly and unmistakably French, and yet like the CX perhaps isn’t quite what it seems.

Something a bit different

Time claims the Alpe d’Huez 01 (not to be confused with the lower-tier Alpe d’Huez 21) is the ‘lightest bike that Time has ever created’.

Its frame weight of around 840g is hardly remarkable, but it’s still competitive, especially considering the complete bike comes out at 7.68kg (large), complete with deep section wheels and a second-tier groupset. It’s also a bike with some quirky design elements.

The seatpost clamp is pretty agricultural, with no particular measures taken to either integrate it or make it part of an overall damping system – say by positioning it further down the stays to encourage flex.

The patented ‘Quickset’ headset is another interesting feature, with the bearing preload not courtesy of a top cap and steerer bung but from a ring that threads onto the steerer (yep, a threaded steerer, remember those?) and into a recess on the top of the head tube, serviceable via a specially supplied tool.

Yet there is one thing that stands out most in terms of je ne sais quoi: Time’s Aktiv fork. Inside the right fork leg is a ‘tuned mass damper’, a small metal block that can oscillate metronome-style on a leaf spring attached to the tip of the fork.

The idea is that road shocks cause the mass to move, thus dissipating vibrations before they reach the rider’s hands. A rubber elastomer inside aids this process further, as well as preventing any bangs or clunks.

It’s a fine idea – similar in concept  to the system used to stop earthquakes toppling tall buildings – but it comes at a cost. ‘The Aktiv fork can dissipate 30% more vibration than our classic fork,’ says Xavier Roussin-Bouchard, Time’s R&D director, ‘but it does add 200g. The problem is lightweight bikes do not have enough frame mass to deal with vibrations and be comfortable, so this is our solution.’

Roussin-Bouchard says the extra weight is worth it for the extra comfort, but I am less convinced.

(As an aside, he also says the Quickset headset is designed to make stem maintenance possible without meddling with bearing preload, of which I’m even less sure. I’ve never had such issues with a regular headset, although I do concede that the Quickset is very neat.)

On the one hand, the Aktiv element of the fork, which can be seen at the bulge on the lower right leg, does look good, balancing the protrusion of the disc calliper on the other side (which incidentally is the reason the fork only has a damper in one leg – the calliper mounting means there is no room for two).

However, there was nothing about the Alpe d’Huez’s ride quality that overtly shouted comfort. That said, it’s not an uncomfortable bike, and it is outstanding in a number of other departments.

Joy to bestride

The finishing on the Alpe d’Huez is fantastic. Time makes it at its factory in France using the ‘resin transfer moulding’ (RTM) process, whereby dry carbon fibres are woven together like a sock, pulled over a mandrel and put into a mould.

Epoxy resin is then injected into the mould to wet the fibres before heat-curing (in contrast to laying epoxy-soaked ‘pre-preg’ carbon fibre plies into a mould).

The happy byproduct is the weave you can see through the lacquer, especially since its reason for being there is primarily structural, unlike other manufacturers who often wrap ‘raw’ finished frames in an aesthetic layer of pre-preg. It’s quite beautiful in the form-following-function way.

Time believes RTM is a stronger and more precise way of manufacturing carbon frames since the individual fibres are much longer (pub-quizzers may enjoy knowing that around 3km of fibre go into each Alpe d’Huez frame).

But whatever Time has done it has created a bike that feels absolutely rock solid – so much so that I took it off-road on a number of occasions. Sorry Time.

The thing is, Epping Forest is on one of my test loops and has some technical but not super-gnarly trails, and with the Alpe d’Huez’s solid feel and 25mm tyres it just seemed to want to head into the trees.

Of course this is not a gravel bike, and I’d hasten to say this kind of behaviour is not endorsed by Time, but given it’s an already quite light bike and it has disc brakes, it didn’t half feel rapid and desperately capable over hard-packed trails and root-strewn sections. In short, it was bloody fun and I’d do it all over again if I had the chance.

It also serves to show where the Alpe d’Huez’s strengths lie. By that I mean there is far more to this bike than first appears because, honestly, to begin with I found the Alpe d’Huez somewhat uninspiring. Not fantastically light or nimble up inclines, not aero-bike fast, just middle of the road.

The more I pedalled it, however, and the more varied and pothole-strewn the road surfaces became, the more the bike’s character shone through.

That character is one of burly refinement: burly in the sense of cohesive strength – lots of stiffness with some degree of flex to aid road-holding – but refinement in terms of polished steering and steadfast descending. This really is the epitome of a ‘confident-handling’ race bike.

In a roundabout way, this brings me back to the Citroën CX. While you wouldn’t film horse racing from the Alpe d’Huez, it somehow does more than it set out to do, possibly even by accident.

But what isn’t an accident is the thoughtfulness and French flair that imbues every perfectly cross-woven fibre of its being. It’s a bike that’s trying to do something different and, in the main, it succeeds very well.

Spec

Frame Time Alpe d’Huez 01
Groupset Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc
Brakes Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc
Chainset Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc
Cassette Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc
Bars Time Ergodrive 
Stem Time Monolink
Seatpost Time carbon 
Saddle Selle San Marco Aspide Superleggera
Wheels Zipp 303 Firecrest Disc, Continental GP4000S II 25mm tyres
Weight 7.68kg (large)
Contact time-sport.com

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