Monday, May 31, 2010

2010 Litespeed Archon C1 Review

Okay...Litespeed claims "attention to detail" but I've got a serious problem with this claim. The box flat out sucks...this isn't the retailers or shippers fault. This POS box on a $3,000 frameset came from the manufacturer this way, crushed box that had a piece of cut box shoved inside to cover the hole. The cardboard itself was really lightweight like for a wheelset. I've had many, many frames and this is by far the cheapest, crappiest box I've ever received a frameset in. And it showed...

So...what's damage? The frameset itself was packaged and padded very well, although no extra padding around the headtube or rear dropouts. The padding was intact but the titanium rear derailleur hanger was bent right from the factory. Nothing more disappointing than to see this crummy box, open it and the rear wheel won't fit. Yes, I fixed it and can do that sort of thing but many people may not have the tools or skills.

The frame itself is a work of art. Beautiful design, executed well but I do have to point out a couple of things: wavy carbon out of the mold, flexible front derailleur hanger (kinda weak and may be an issue for Di2 Ft. Derailleur), grit or air bubbles in the clear coat (visible and touchable), worthless owners manual and no instructions for cutting the post or fork. Yes, many know how to do those things already but c'mon if you're going to sell these things via internet then you need to include those instructions. Also, a critical bit of information excluded is that if you are riding a small size frame and plan on slamming the stem low & aero DO NOT CUT THE FORK RIGHT ABOVE THE HEADSET! You have to add at least 1 of the carbon spacers to get the longish top cap compression plug to work. If you don't then the plug will bottom out in the steer tube on top of the inner lip of some reinforcing carbon around the top of the fork crown internally. Also, the rear exit hole for the internal cable routing on small frames is almost level with the cable housing adjuster on most rear brake calipers. What does that mean? Well, you will have too sharp a bend in the rear brake cable housing which does not let the rear brake "cable" actuate the arms, instead, the housing will actually start to slide back and forth in the frame to actuate the arm. If forces you to use too short of cable housing length which can and does affect braking. Is it a problem? Long term maybe, for now I just greased up the housing and used Yokozuna (which is super stiff) so that there is no degradation in the actuation of the brake caliper. Overall though....the hole needs to be relocated further up the top tube. The solution could be to use $600 EE brakes which redirect housing entry to almost centerpull location. I tried Egg brakes which helped but needed a custom made noodle to work (more about the Egg brakes themselves later :( (note: had to run cable adjuster upside down and make a custom housing ferrel and heat shrink it all together. Egg brakes have a fundamental problem with the actuation that make them bad for road use. Bottom line: Archon C1 hole is in the wrong place and you can't use them with any side pull brake w/o cable binding unless you can do this with it)

(As a side note of what I'm talking about. This is a published image on the web of the new Archon C1R which apparently passed quality control. Really? Isn't that a big gap in a non-concentrical bottom bracket? The BB30 insert will hold the bearing but what holds the BB30 insert in place? I hope there is plenty of Araldite in there. I still love Litespeed but c'mon. Unless you want to sell these frames for $1500 not $3K then you have got to clean this mess up. Again, this is the "newer" Archon C1R)

Overall, the ride is great and everything I expected. I didn't plan on buying a new bike especially since I just got through custom painting my last ride (which I'll have to sell now) but the temptation of this carbon beauty was too much. This has "almost" everything I want in a bike: lightweight & stiff & comfortable, sloping TT geometry, ISP, Internal brake & gear cable routing (although since it's aero they should have kept it internal all the way back to the rear dropout), BB30, 1/2 " headset and very, very aero look. I say "look" b/c their website needs some work. There is absolutely no objective evidence of any aero testing specs or real world comparisons. (Update: they have some specs now over conventional frames...would have liked to see compared against other aero frames). Also, I couldn't find 1 picture anywhere on the internet of a small size in this frameset and for us midgets I would like to know if I can pack two large water bottles on this frame. I can with side entry cages - a slight weight penalty but ehhh....

Overall, I love Litespeed. I've owned 3; 2 Ghisallo's and a Vortex Compact. I love the idea of a US company in Tennessee (not exactly a hotbed of cycling) building some of the best bikes in the world. I wish titanium could be hydroformed into something like this b/c I'm not the biggest fan of carbon (scares the hell out of me ... crack!) . In the past you could see the difference b/t Litespeed's manufacturing quality and others. I think you still can in titanium but with the market place the way it is to survive they had to go carbon. I know it's a marketing brand now, not so much a bike company so they have to use a lot of the same suppliers that other ABG brands use but I hope they seriously rethink the details. Buying a Litespeed should be an experience not just a purchase and some extra attention to detail will keep loyal customers. If not then why should I care? It's just another piece of asian carbon...

For example they should immediately unbox every Archon in the warehouse and send a dealer alert out to check all their frames for bent dropouts. Source new suppliers for their boxes...they are crap. Re-write the owners manual and immediately insert information on cutting the seat tube & fork. Immediately supply an insert warning about cutting the steer tube too short on small size frames. I fixed mine but again...most people probably don't have the background/tools to do so. Lastly, make sure the frames finish is better...flaws in the clear coat on a $3K frameset is not good and see what can be done about the wavy carbon. I saw the same on the Kuota KOM frames but I do not see this on BMC or Cervelo carbons...the finished frames were almost flawless. That's the competition and Litespeed has to step up. The Archon carbon series is a great first step.

Am I happy? Yes, nothing I mention is unacceptable b/c I'm riding the bike. I know that Litespeed's customer service is excellent and they would have fixed the issues I mentioned and replaced the frameset b/c of the poor paint. I'm not that picky (even though I sound like it) but I want Litespeed to succeed and ABG to stay around. You've got to fix these loose ends b/c it doesn't show "attention to detail", it shows the opposite.

BTW, I went to Litespeed's largest dealer in Texas and inquired if they were still a dealer b/c I saw ZERO frames/bikes on the floor (and they have a lot of bikes). I wanted to see the Archon C1 in real life before I received mine. I was told, "Yes, we are still a dealer but nobody wants Litespeed anymore everybody wants carbon". This is one of Litespeeds problems ... if your own dealers don't know you make a carbon frame how do you expect to sell them? This frameset is HOT! YOU NEED TO SEND YOUR REPS BACK OUT ON THE ROAD AND MAKE THE DEALERS HAVE STORE MEETINGS / RIDES ON YOUR NEW BIKES. If they don't want to do that then just dump the dealer... they aren't doing you any good anyway. Go direct and find some way of marketing repeat buyers, i.e. crash insurance program/trade-in or whatever. No you won't make full markup the second time around but you'll make something and keep a loyal customer. It's just too easy now to jump bike brands year to year in carbon. They just change shapes/appearance and maybe some other things. Just an idea.

Would I buy this again...unless it cracks on me...absolutely. There is nothing like it on the market.