The BMC Impec

July 29, 2010

As many of you already know the reason I was able to swing my TdF trip was because BMC invited me to their 2011 product launch in Switzerland. It was like winning the lottery. I couldn’t think of anything more perfect since it also allowed me to get back to my primal MTB roots and do the Pass’Portes du Soleil with my good mate Pat.

Both Pat and I attended BMC’s product launch in the small town of Grenchen, Switzerland (pronounced with a strong, back of the throat, German accent). It’s also the capital of many of the Swiss watch making factories.  If you want a good example of Swiss precision, this is probably the best place to visit.

When Pat and I arrived to our hotel in Grenchen we got our first taste of the graciousness of our hosts.  It was a short walk from the BMC HQ and factory and close to some excellent riding in the Jura mountains that we got to experience later with the bikes of our choice.  Unfortunately the Swiss sizing is quite a bit smaller than the Aussie fit so I could barely get into this particular kit shown below (I had also eaten a mountain of Swiss cheese and chocolate the week before, so that may better explain my fitting issues).  Fortunately this kit was won by a lucky reader in on of the TdF quiz competitions.

The launch was primarily to introduce BMC’s new flagship bike, the Impec, along with the new manufacturing facility built specifically for this bike.  One of the highlights of my trip was having dinner with BMC and Phonak owner Andy Rhis. He was an intriguing guy to listen to and it gave me and understanding of his philosophy on business and innovation. He’s a very inspiring and down to earth man to say the least.

It wasn’t good enough for BMC to rely on other manufacturers to built their carbon fiber.   Their thinking is that handmade frames can be excellent, however there are human factors that introduce variants in the frame quality and feel.  Being Swiss, BMC wanted to get rid of any variables that alter performance and quality.  They wanted to do away with any uncertainty. The only way they felt they could have absolute control was to create a $40M (AUD) manufacturing facility specifically for their purposes.  They call it “handmade by robots”, or was it “handmade by droids”?, or something like that.  Ah yes…”handmade by machines”, that’s it.

A brief background on how carbon frames are made:

Traditionally monocoque frames are build by a carbon fiber cloth being wrapped around a balloon or foam core that’s the shape of the frame. The carbon fiber is impregnated with thermoset resin and then placed in a metal mold. The frame is then heated until the resin has set.  It’s actually much more complex than that and there are multiple variations, but you get the idea.

Carbon fiber lugged frames are made by individually joining the carbon tubes together.  One big advantage to this method is that it’s highly customizable for a specific geometry and rider preferences.  Monocoque molds are extremely expensive to create so if you need a custom geometry a whole new mold needs to be made.

Both are good methods (assuming the design is good) with many advantages and disadvantages.  Here’s a good comparison of monocoque vs lugged methods.

The Impec Manufacturing Process

BMC takes a different approach in their new factory located down the street from their headquarters.  They weave carbon tubes  to a specification (depending on the load and what function they serve on the bike) which are then joined using injection molded composite parts they call “shells”.  Don’t say “lugs”…they’re “shells”.

Here is a photo of their carbon fiber weaving mechanism they like to call “The Stargate”.  Basically, that orange robot arm feeds this silicon sleeve into the Stargate.  All of the carbon strands are then weaved around the silicon sleeve in a pattern dependent on the tube being made.  It’s fascinating to watch.  The whole process from start to finish is a completely new way of frame building, however the first part of the process shown below is similar to that of another manufacturer (as seen in the first 30 seconds of this video) .

The “Stargate”.  To give some perspective, it’s approximately 2m in diameter

Here’s a video of the Stargate at work:

This is what a carbon weaved tube looks like with half of it resin treated and the other half without treatment. It’s just a flimsy sock until it’s hardened with resin.

The Finished Product

Once the carbon tubes goes through the process of being injected with resin, heat treated, cut, and all joined together by the “shells”, you get the finished product:

The Impec “Noble” version with Di2

This is where they hide the Di2 battery

The Impec Team Version.  You just saw Cadel and George riding this one at the TdF

The Impec uses the BB30, a bottom bracket standard that allows the bearings to be pressed directly into an oversized bottom bracket shell. It eliminates the need for external (or internal) bottom bracket cups. The performance benefits are that you get a substantially lighter and stiffer BB, lets you use cranks with a reduced Q factor, and you saves weight.  You can see that this model uses Campy which doesn’t have a BB30 crank option and is therefore using adapters.

I was squirming in my seat all weekend just itching to ride one of these things. No one said anything about a classroom!

It was a pleasure meeting Andy Riis who joined us for most of the weekend.  He had a helicopter to catch to Rotterdam to see the Prologue. What a rockstar!

The Ride

This is the part I was patiently waiting for the entire weekend. If you’re into buzzwords, here’s how some of the other sites described the ride of the Impec:

Bike Radar: “The Impec gave a great performance and the overall impression was of a bike working as a whole, with every component well balanced and unified. The handling is fantastic, with a rigid front end and excellent stability”

Bicycling:  “Out on the roads, the ride is silky smooth in a way few carbon frames are…There was no perceptible sway to the frame and a welcome absence of road noise. Comfort was paramount, but not at the cost of stiffness. When standing to accelerate or carving fast descents, this machine was all business.”

I’m not gonna use bunch of marketing hype to describe how this bike rides.  Quantifying the feel of a bike is a very subjective thing.  You are the only person who will be able to put it into context for your style and terrain that you ride. It’s a $10k-$15k bike (depending on specs).  Of course it feels absolutely beautiful. However, one perceivable point that Pat and I definitely agreed on is that the Impec rides very smoothly. “Compliant” might be the marketing term I’m looking for.  We rode hard over a short cobbled road and it was quite remarkable how it sucked it all up.  Other than that, yes…it’s a fantastic bike, as it should be.  It’s a nimble, comfortable, lean mean race machine. If you’re blaming a bike for hindering your race results then go back and take a good look at your training.  Well, maybe Andy Schleck has a different opinion…

I think you’ll either love it or hate it depending on your taste on the aesthetics. I’m personally a fan of the black Noble version one shown above.  I like the way they hide the DI2 battery and love the stealthiness of it.  The Race version is a bit flash for me but it depends what you’re into.

You can see more product specs on the Impec here as well as the 2011 lineup here.

Just as a side note, BMC had to bring the production of the Impec forward so the finishing shown in some of the photos is not as perfect as it’s going to be.

This is the lineup of bikes we took out on the 77km circuit that BMC uses for test rides

What a dream it would be working there at BMC HQ.  This is their lunchtime loop!  They do work extremely hard though.  Maybe being a product tester would be the job for me…

Markus Eggimann (in the stars and stripes), Brand Manager for BMC, said that this wasn’t going to be a race.  Oh please…what do you consider a race then?!

Here’s Pat and his “always on” helmet cam.  He never takes it off!  I’ll try to add some footage of our ride later…

There’s Markus at the front again. A true Jens Voigt hardman

It was about 38°C on our afternoon ride.  A welcome change from 7°C in Australia

  • Priestie

    It’s interesting how some brands are looking to harness their own production on top of the line bikes, Cervélo with project California is another that comes to mind. A sweet looking ride, BMC really do have an awesome line of bikes and I like their frame designs, the tubing around the seat post on the SLX & SLC in particular have always stood out to me. I find the ‘shell’ on the Impec interesting – between the seat stay and tube, running over the tyre (like a aero frame) below the brake bridge – did BMC talk about that at all? Is it to add stiffness to the seat stay between the bridge & post or is it something else?Andy Riis is some dude, everything I read about him is just so darn impressive, he’s an unknown modern day cycling legend. I like the sounds of Markus too, if he rides anything like Burghardt in the Tour de Suisse this year ~ look out!

  • Priestie

    It’s interesting how some brands are looking to harness their own production on top of the line bikes, Cervélo with project California is another that comes to mind. A sweet looking ride, BMC really do have an awesome line of bikes and I like their frame designs, the tubing around the seat post on the SLX & SLC in particular have always stood out to me. I find the ‘shell’ on the Impec interesting – between the seat stay and tube, running over the tyre (like a aero frame) below the brake bridge – did BMC talk about that at all? Is it to add stiffness to the seat stay between the bridge & post or is it something else?Andy Riis is some dude, everything I read about him is just so darn impressive, he’s an unknown modern day cycling legend. I like the sounds of Markus too, if he rides anything like Burghardt in the Tour de Suisse this year ~ look out!

  • Michael

    That Impec is a beautiful bike. It's on my wish list

  • bdewberry

    Very jealous. I've loved this bike ever since I first saw one. Pure beauty.

  • Tdm5814

    is it just me or is that valve stem ridiculously small (7th picture down)

  • Notso Swift

    You use extenders, most deep wheels come with them

  • David

    Why no streampost on this model? They put it on the Team Machine.

  • Notso Swift

    I forgot to say, (when we saw the photo before the tour) the Orange shoes and red kit and bike falls into the not Pro category, not sure if it is you Wade, I'm sorry if it is, should have taken the good old white shoes with you ( I swap between my Fluro Yellow Times and White Sidi depending on the rest of my kit – yes it is Sad)

    I must admit I am a bit wary of bike's when they are made in Asia (including most BMC's), due to he pursuit of 50 grams but at the cost of a bike that lasts 3 years not 10…
    This, however, is encouraging and I like reasoned engineering (against trends)
    Now Look are moving away from Lugs to Monocouque (correct spelling please, you are no longer in North America) with the 695 and some Asian made units with the 566 (Sacre Bleu!) I thought the world was going to end.

    I will be watching with interest as I see this as a positive development in Carbon Fibre (Spelling again) Technology, it will be interesting to see if there is an effect on other manufactures.
    I also want someone I know in the 90kg+ range to buy one and put 20k on it to see if it rides any different (And if Marcus is reading I bet he already has an order for what will be his 4th BMC!)

  • cyclingTips

    I had the same question and I'm struggling to remember the answer. I think it had something to do with the shape of the seatpost in this new model. I'll confirm the answer and let you know. I believe all the other models still have it. The first time I found out about their Streampost was during this presentation. Looks to be a clever concept.

  • cyclingTips

    No…not me! One of our Italian friends. They're born PRO. Not sure what's going on there. As for me, I'm last wheel in the 4th photo from the bottom. PRO as ever…

    Riis was also asked the question if we'll see this frame building technology trickle down into their other bikes. The answer was “yes”. We also asked the question if BMC was going to build other company's bikes out of this factory. Not a chance.

  • Chadwick

    Hot looking bike =D

  • Dee Dub

    And there I was thinking your trip would require some work!!! Even more jealous now!

  • Notso Swift

    With the tech I was thinking other companies basically coping the process (be it licenced or by doing just enough to avoid patients…

    Ah yes the glasses, I was presuming that you were holding the camera… there is a note of panic in your response
    While I agree the Italians have a genetic disposition to PRO'ness there are some anomalies… do I need to post a photo of Lampre Man?

  • JP

    Great photos, interesting read, and a welcome change to read a review of a high end bike without all the jargon and crap. (Looks like you'll never get a job in real estate. Oh well…)
    Thanks for a great coverage of the TdF, not to mention the rest of your blogging efforts.
    Jealous? Me?
    Me and your other readers I would think.

  • cyclingTips

    Thanks JP. I'll never make it in real estate OR writing product reviews on bikes. ;-)

  • SupermanSam

    Tip for notso – orange shoes are not under Godzilla sized calves, therefore no chance of being CT.

    Well done on giving all the free schwag away to your loyal readers too Wade. Very generous of you.

    BMC could do a lot worse than have Cycling Tips review their new bikes for the Australian market, this is worth at least 50 sales in Melbourne alone. Any chance you can schmooz the Wilier guys?

  • aussieR3SL

    Thanks for the unbias review Wade, Always a fan of the BMC's, I'd lean towards the Noble with the stealth look too- but would need to be built up with Campy. Any comment on the ride of the Easton carbon wheelset -appear to be the clincher version?

  • cyclingTips

    This was the first time I've ridden the Eastons. I'd be BS'ing you if I told you that I could distinguish any characteristics attributed to the wheels. When the whole bike is new it's nearly impossible to tell if what you're feeling is the wheels or the frame. If I was to do a proper bike review, I'd bring my own wheels along with me so I had a point of reference. In my opinion, the wheels have just as much to do with the feel of a ride as the frame does.

    I have no doubt they're a nice set of wheels though. The bike as a whole worked very well together.

  • MtbSkillsCoachPat

    Just stopped by prior to boarding Paris – Singapore.
    I totally agree with Wade's thoughts on the whole BMC event and as he has already pointed out the Impec is a great bike. We were both very impressed with how quiet it rode and that it transfered very little road noise even when we searched for big cobbles and road bumps at speed it gobbled them up. Super stable descender too.
    Brilliant to be able to ride and assess the road and MTB range over a few days and as you all saw we put the BMC's through their pace's in the Swiss Alps prior to heading up to Grenchen the home of Swiss time pieces.
    Or revoir

  • mat

    Thanks for the explanation of the Carbon Fibre manufacturing process. Am I a little simple, or is it the resin that gives the stiffness? I understand the carbon is strong and won't break but that photo makes it look about as stiff as an old sock.

  • Alex Roberts

    I love that they call the machine that makes it “The Stargate”. They need some witty quote from Col. Jack O'Neill spliced into the video.

  • Lats

    A race only needs two participants…..
    Looks like Markus had more than the extra one he needed………

  • Denilzon

    Now this picture of the Stargate explains BMC calendar on the desk of one of the peoples at the institute and the project at BMC she couldn't talk about….

    Still, what a lucky guy you are CT. This must been such a great ride and experience. I really envy you. Nice pictures as so often/always

  • alchemistbbc

    i'm kinda put off by the seams in the lugs… er shells. but it's good to see manufacturers using tube to tube instead of cookie cutter molds none the less. more variety.

  • Jii

    It just arrived by Courier today so thanks CT. Whough CT wasn't kidding about the size M another inspiration to work on the denominator of the old wattage per kilo calculation.

  • JP

    That's where I think you under-sell yourself, Mr. CT. Coming from a trusted source, you saying that it's a great ride means much more than some wanky magazine article that ticks all the right boxes – stiffness, suppleness, responsiveness, etc etc etc.
    The only bit that really lets you down is this:
    << If you’re blaming a bike for hindering your race results then go back and take a good look at your training.>>
    In that one sentence you threaten the very raison d'etre of the high-end performance bike market!

  • cyclingTips

    I can see where you're coming from with the SHELLS. When I made the same comment BMC assured me that the finishing we see here isn't as good quality as we'll see on the production models.

  • cyclingTips

    That's right. The heat treated resin makes the carbon hard as steel. In the photo above there's half the tube that's been treated, and half that hasn't. It's amazing to see what the underlying structure of the frame actually consists of.

  • cyclingTips

    Indeed. I'm the luckiest man alive!

  • Tim

    Great post, makes me want one.

  • Steve

    CT, very interested to get a comparison of the SLR01 and the Impec. Did you get to ride both?

  • cyclingTips

    I didn't ride both Steve. We went for two loops around the circuit and I liked the Impec so much that I didn't want to try the SLR01. I guess I should have done my duties properly. From what they tell me the SLR01 sucks up the bumps in the road even more than the Impec

  • Sean Doyle

    I see BMC has posted on Facebook about your review Wade. Nice work.

  • RaymondLeddy

    I have the SLR01 here, from when BMC launched the range here on Gran Canaria. I've heard [to a small modicum of pleasure] that the SLR is a better ride than the Impec. Certainly I can descend better in the drops, by better I mean I could stay with a pro, something I could not do on my Look. As for climbing you can get out of the saddle and by dint of better balance you can stay there longer before your arms give out, something again I could not do on the Look. If you're a strong rider, then it's for you, you'll appreciate it better, Google ” cycle gran canaria” and you'll see a video of it being ridden in anger!!!

  • Michael N'Guyen

    I'm buying one and Andy will be signing by bike. Can't wait for September.

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  • Chris

    Sorry if I’m wrong, but I just spent fifteen minutes trying to find where you got the ‘correct’ spelling monocouque from. Admittedly, I used gogle, but did search for pages in French as well. All are spelling it monocoque, single u.
    So perhaps a link to a source for your spelling?

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