Sunday, October 24, 2010
Neil Pryde Alize Review
Over the past few years, I've ridden a lot of different bicycles. Some people might say too many bikes, and it's gotten to the point now where I just receive a roll of the eyes from the significant other when a big cardboard box magically appears in the home. I generally go through a few frames a year because I'm a total bike geek, and love trying the different and new products that endlessly stream on to the market. I've ridden every material out there and even a few blends. From cheap steel to high end custom steel to ultra butted custom titanium to aluminum or aluminum bonded to carbon tubes to full carbon frame sets. These days it's all about carbon, and I'm finally able to comfortably state that carbon is where it's at. The material is lighter, stronger, stiffer where it needs to be, and smoother riding than any material on the market, and thanks to the diversity of carbon available, it can be manipulated in to nearly any shape and stiffness for that ultimate customized ride.
Recently I received a bike from a new company in the bike market called Neil Pryde Bikes. The company itself is not new, but they are fresh on the bike scene with two models introduced this year named the Alize and the Diablo. Neil Pryde is a respected wind surfing company, and they decided to use their knowledge of carbon fiber and mastery of wind to create a top notch frame set that's ready to compete against the big name manufacturers currently on the market. Both frames appear upon first glance to be very well designed and thought out, and are also comprised of very different carbon tubes. The Alize is the aerodynamic model, and the Diablo is their all around racing model. Both frames were designed in collaboration with BMW USA's design team. They were also tuned in the wind tunnel for optimal aerodynamic performance with data for backup to their claims.
The Alize retails for $2250 and the Diablo $2500 for the frame sets which includes a seat post and headset, and both are available direct through Neil Pryde Bike's website. Either frame can also be purchased as a complete bike with Ultegra or Dura-Ace builds, and come with a strong 10 year warranty. I received my bike via DHL Express, and shipping was incredibly fast. The bike was very well packed as were all the components.
Picking between the two frames was a touch choice. The weight weenie within whispered get the Diablo, while the experienced, practical side said get what you know will help you in those breaks you typically find yourself in - every second counts! So, the aero Alize it is. But, after such a difficult decision there's still more to deal with. Which color do I pick?? Neil Pryde offers three choices for each frame set. One with hints of blue and black and white, another with some red and black and white, and another stealth mostly black. I felt the red, white and black would match nicely with my saddle and a few other choice components so the decision was made. I opted for Dura-Ace. The weight weenie could accept nothing less.
The Alize frame weighs a little more than the Diablo, roughly 70 grams, coming in at 1040 grams for a 56cm which was the actual weight I got on my scale. I applaud them for this. So many times I've been extremely disappointed with the claimed vs actual weights. The fork on the Alize is slightly heavier than the Diablo fork at 350 grams, a 10 gram weight penalty.
Starting with the head tube (HT), the Alize has a tapered HT going from 1 1/8" up top to 1 1/2" at the bottom. This is to increase stiffness and offer more precise handling. Not only is there tapering, but Neil Pryde has carved out excess material creating an hourglass like shape for the HT when seen from the front. The fork is full carbon, and utilizes something Neil Pryde calls Rib Technology which adds stiffness to the overall design. The Alize fork is an excellent looking design that's not your run of the mill carbon fork. As you will see, this will become a theme throughout the tubes on this bike. A quick glance is not enough to appreciate the fine curves. The front is rounded, then quickly tapers to a ridge in the rear. The lower half of the fork is shaped nicely curving inward to continue the ridge so there is a smooth transition from the top of the fork legs to the dropouts. Another interesting thing to note is the seamless transition from the HT all the way through the fork to it's end. It looks like one piece when looking from above.
The down tube (DT) is a sight to behold. It's shaped to optimize aerodynamics not only from the front but also from the side. It's slightly twisted looking from the HT then terminates in to a very stout looking bottom bracket. Both derailleur cables are routed internally through the DT starting near the HT.
The bottom bracket area is huge. I thought my two previous carbon bikes had beefy looking bottom brackets, but this one makes them look tiny in comparison. It is also nicely shaped and not just a fat, round tube. Just glancing at it you know it's going to be stiff.
The top tube (TT) is flattened on the top and curves to a ridge on the underside. It also tapers from the HT to the seat tube (ST), becoming thinner as it nears the ST. The rear brake is internally routed through the TT.
The seat tube (ST) is another highly manipulated tube. It hugs the rear wheel so air flows right past the tube, and over the tire and rim to carry on with limited resistance. The tube is also tweaked above and is angled and tapered giving the appearance it will slice right through the wind. The seat collar is integrated and works as it should. I've experienced no slipping of the seat post. A very thoughtful addition above the seat collar is something Neil Pryde calls "QFIT." Whenever the seat post is removed or adjusted, the grey rubber piece stays on the seat post where the post is currently set so you always have a point of reference to work with for saddle height. No more inaccurate measuring!
The seat stays are shaped similar to the fork being rounded in the front and tapering to the rear. Again, heavy manipulation of the tubing is apparent. The transition from the seat stay to the chain stay is yet another area that clearly looks like thought was put in to the design. Often, I see ugly connections here, but the Neil Pryde Alize is rounded and smooth and very clean looking.
The chain stays are very large and rectangular shaped near the bottom bracket and gradually taper as the tube approaches the dropout, but retains the rectangular shape throughout. Roughly halfway back on the chain stay, the tube is carved out on the bottom half leading towards the edge.
The frame set comes with Neil Pryde's own aero seat post. It's slightly setback and offers very simple adjustment similar to other posts I've seen with a bolt up front that adjusts the saddle angle while the rear tightens it down. The post is carbon and is aero shaped. It's blade-like in appearance and quite thin. Compared to other seat posts I've used, I see less flex in this particular design. I generally see a good amount of flex in most posts under heavy pedaling probably due to the fact I have a large amount of post showing compensating for my long inseam. Also included with the frameset is an FSA carbon fiber headset and matching carbon spacers.
Like I mentioned before, I chose the Dura-Ace 7900 build but opted for a few of my own substitutions. I'm using my own saddle - selle san marco mantra carbon fx, wheels - Hed c2 bastogne, and I also used my own cranks - sram s900 w/ quarq - since I use a power meter. The cockpit is comprised of FSA SL-K parts. The stem has a chunky looking carbon face plate and the matching bar is compact. The bar I find particularly nice. I've never used a bar with a slightly flatted top portion and find it very natural feeling and more comfortable than a round bar. Excellent for long climbs. The drops are round throughout, and offer an easy reach to the brake lever. The overall build came to just shy of 16 pounds.
The paint job on this bike is incredible. Every tube has something interesting going on and the more you study it the more you see they actually took time to make this bike good looking. There are pin stripes and panels and other minute details that create an overall eye catching tastefully done design. Everywhere I go on this bike I find people staring at it, and if they get the chance they inevitably start asking questions about the brand, and it's origin and design. I've ridden tons of bikes and this has never happened before on such a regular basis!
None of the above matters if the bike doesn't do what it's supposed to do. I've had the pleasure of putting about 500 miles on this bike over the past week and a half. The pedigree of this bike quickly became evident over the first few miles. This bike is made to be ridden fast, taken over the biggest climbs then pointed straight down and tossed in to corners at incredibly high speeds, and, finally, exposed to huge wattage (not mine!) as you sprint for the finish. At all of the above does this bike perform exceedingly well, but to be fair, my sprint is a mere 1250w max so take that for what it's worth. The bike feels incredibly responsive and smooth and I've no regrets with my choice of the Alize.
The first thing I noticed on this bike is the handling in the front end area around the HT and fork. It feels noticeably stiffer and more precise handling than previous bikes I've ridden. This rigid precision inspires confidence during high speed descents and truly earns that coveted line "it corners like it's on rails!" I've had this bike running at speeds up to 60mph on curvy, high speed descents and it never felt like I was pushing it too hard. Extremely stable, always, and ready for even more.
Last Saturday I went for a 70 mile ride and was exposed to extremely gusty winds. The bike gives the impression it's slicing through the wind instead of being caught and picked up by it. And it wasn't something that just "felt" that way. I could even see a difference when my teammates would get blown around a bit more than I. We were all on shallow rim wheels with the same components and we are even roughly the same size at 6' tall and 150 to 160 pounds.
Yesterday on a beautiful fall day, I took the bike for a 100 mile ride with 6,000ft of climbing on the epic NYC ride to Bear Mountain. I finished in high spirits and in great comfort after pushing the Alize to it's limits on a big descent off Bear Mtn and over the rolling hills of New Jersey and New York.
Overall, it's been a joy to ride this carbon wonder bike, and I can't wait to terrorize the race circuit next year aboard the Alize. Every year technology advances, and some companies manage to embrace and utilize it properly. The Neil Pryde Bikes company is one of them. They deserve a strong consideration for your next bike.