As Romain Bardet has become one of the few riders able to attack Chris Froome and the SKY armada at the Tour de France this year, the PELOTON Service Course thought a closer look at his bike, the Factor 02, was called for. This review first appeared in the May issue of PELOTON Magazine. To get a copy of the May issue of PELOTON go to our store.
For lack of a better word, the new Factor O2 is a “normal” bike. Of course, that’s only when compared to the bikes that have worn the Factor name before. This sub-800-gram all-rounder exists in the rarified air of the Super Bike, but when created by a name that produced the $30,000 Aston Martin ONE-77, the O2 is the most ‘normal’ bike Factor has yet made.
PELOTON / Images: James Startt
Initially created by BF1 Systems, a motorsports firm, Factor has recently undergone a change of ownership. BF1 Systems brought in Baden Cooke, the 2003 Tour de France green jersey winner, as a consultant and manufactured its bikes with Rob Gitelis in Asia. When the opportunity arose, Cooke and Gitelis purchased Factor from BF1 Systems and the O2 is the first bike the new Factor has created from the ground up, but these guys are no rookies.
Gitelis has been manufacturing carbon bikes since the material’s infancy and played a huge role in setting up the entire Asian carbon business. He’s been in Taiwan since 1996 and, since 2000, has owned his own factory making bikes and components for companies such as Cervelo, ENVE, Zipp, Trek, Focus, Canyon, BH, Santa Cruz, Argon 18 and others. All of Cooke’s 13-year experience in the pro peloton and Gitelis’s 21 years in carbon manufacturing have been poured into the O2.
Cooke and Gitelis are not making Factor bikes in the same factory as all those other brands; they have opened the Factor Engineering Centre, joining only a handful of brands that own their own manufacturing and testing. According to Gitelis, this allows Factor to put the resources into materials and manufacturing that other brands must earmark for the third-party factory mark-up. Factor bikes aren’t cheap: the O2 frame set is $4,700, but that does include frame, fork, integrated Factor bar/stem, seat post, Fizik saddle and Ceramic Speed BB. Since Factor owns its own production, more of that money should actually make it into the frame itself.
The O2 is clearly an all-rounder. Its lines echo bikes like the Cervelo R5 and Cannondale EVO. At first glance it has a very traditional profile, but deeper inspection reveals asymmetry at the chain stays and bottom bracket and the slimmest fork blades we’ve ever seen; aptly named the Svelte. The fact that these elements are so subtle, not screaming out for attention with logos or outlandish shapes, leads us to believe they are about engineering, not styling.
Gitelis eschews the usual marketing speak. He won’t ascribe the bike’s performance to catchall phrases like high-modulus carbon; because, in his experience, no one in the cycling industry is truly using high-modulus fiber. Instead he speaks in terms of Pan and Pitch fibers. Pan-based fibers have a granular structure and are standard- and medium-modulus fibers, while the Pitch fibers have a more sheet-like crystal structure, and are incredibly stiff and better suited to frame manufacturing than truly high-modulus carbon. Like we said, Gitelis knows his carbon.
It would be easy to categorize the Factor O2 as simply a climbing bike – its lines are slim, it is super-light (790 grams at 54cm) and French climber extraordinaire Romain Bardet will be aboard the O2 as he battles Chris Froome in the French mountains this July. But Baden Cooke was no climber and his fingerprints are all over this design. The bike is incredibly stiff at the pedals, explosive under bunch-sprint-level wattage; not just the numbers a lithe climber creates.
We’ve also found that other bikes this light can feel very nervous, chattering over harsh terrain and feeling a bit ragged and loose at the bars. The Factor O2 remains poised and planted, whether ripping a technical descent over rough pavement or shooting a tight gap at 1,300 watts in a bunch kick.
Factor makes much of the bike’s slender seat stays being responsible for the smooth ride over any terrain, but we’d give at least as much credit to the front end when it comes to the bike’s poise. The bars offer a precise perch, speaking directly to the contact patch, and the fork, despite the unbelievably slender blades, is very stiff laterally, holding up under big cornering loads yet balancing the rear’s smooth ride perfectly.
We don’t want to make too much of the bike’s in-the-saddle compliance. The Factor O2 is unquestionably a race bike, not an endurance platform. It’s comfortable for the level of bleeding-edge race performance it possesses. At first, the bike’s dimensions seem incredibly aggressive with very low head tubes, but the Svelte fork is a few millimeters taller than some others, getting the bike’s stack and reach in line with other all-rounders, while preserving an aggressive pro look.
Factor may be a new name to many, battling the big brands for the first time, but with Baden Cooke and Rob Gitelis at the helm Factor has a depth of experience in manufacturing and racing many other brands can only dream of. The competitive advantage they have in manufacturing has been spent wisely, resulting in performance on the road that can be equaled by fewer bikes than can be counted on one hand.
PRICE: $4,700 (frame, fork, bar/stem, seat post, Fizik saddle, CeramicSpeed bottom bracket and headset); $10,800 (Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 with Black Inc Thirty carbon clinchers)
WEIGHT:14.3 lbs (6.5kg) Size 58cm (w/o pedals or cages)
BUILD: SRAM Red eTap, Easton EC70 bar and stem, Black Inc seat post with Fizik Arione VS saddle, Black Inc 50 carbon clinchers and Michelin PRO 4 Tires.