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While the ascension of carbon as the ultimate frame material has led to lighter, stiffer and all around better bicycles, it has signaled the end of the handmade bicycle as the pinnacle of performance. Yes, carbon bikes are handmade, but not by passionate artisans in a small workshop, expressing their love for cycling in every frame they produce. It is “handmade” on an industrial scale, workers paid pennies an hour laying sheets of prepreg carbon into a mold based on detailed lay-up schedules. They do not earn anything the people buying these bikes would recognize as a living wage and the environmental issues inherent in this type of production are largely ignored by the eco-friendly market they supply.
There are exceptions to this rule. A small fraction of beautiful carbon frames are still made within communities famous for their cycling passion and with a respect for the worker and the environment that is hard to find in the sprawling factories of the Far East.
As more and more technological know-how is transferred to the Far East, it requires real commitment to keep manufacturing in the west. Reasons for this usually come in two varieties, materials or process. Some high-end carbons and resins cannot be shipped out of NATO countries, so their use requires western production. For others the processes involved are so specific and advanced they are not practical to execute remotely in a third-party factory. An example of this is TIME.
Brands are continually touting the high modulus of their carbon as a way to differentiate themselves for the competition, when the reality is most of the carbon in bicycles comes from a few suppliers, Toray and Mitsubishi among the most popular. The only brand that can truly claim their carbon is different is TIME, and there is a simple reason for this. Starting with a single strand of carbon fiber, TIME weaves their own tubular braids of carbon that can be customized by size, material, and weave for each and every tube on the bicycle. Their factory in France is so much more than a paint house or assembly line.
It involves a process found nowhere else in the cycling industry and technology not easily exported to the Far East.
The flagship for this production technique, and TIME bicycles, is the new RXRS Ulteam.
Produced completely in France, beginning with individual threads of carbon, the bike is perhaps the most technologically advanced bicycle in the peloton.
Black Labels, Tubular Braids, and Reverse Engineering
The RXRS is an evolution of TIME’s RXR. The changes are fairly subtle, a BB30, improved stiffness and an available fully integrated Di2 set up. The tubes are the same aggressively aero, angular shapes with an integrated seat mast that make the frame look like a time-trial bike before you build it up.
For our test bike we choose the Black Label paint scheme and new SRAM Red Black. We like double tap, we like the ultra low weight and the option to run the new blacked out color scheme was just too good to pass up. Those giant black chain rings and black components appear almost specifically designed for the black label RXRS. The entire package is striking, and with SRAM AL 30 Gold wheels our large tipped the scales at only 15 pounds, 5 ounces.
That the RXRS pushes the technological envelope of what is possible with carbon production is, at first, not very obvious. On its surface in seems a bit old-fashioned.
Tube and lug construction, external mechanical cable routing, bolted alloy rear dropouts, and the frame alone pushes 1,100 grams. This is the most advanced carbon frame in the world?
What sets the RXRS apart occurs at the level of the weave. By weaving tubular braids TIME can fine-tune the weave itself. In the steer tube, bi-directional kevlar is added for strength; in the tube braids, a material called Vectran is woven in uni-directionally for dampening.
Up to eight customized tubular braids are then pulled over tube skeletons. This is raw carbon, not pre-impregnated with resin. TIME uses their resin transfer molding (RTM) process to actually inject the resin into the carbon when it is in the mold. This allows TIME to precisely control the quantity and type of resin used in each area. An opportunity they use to include nanoparticles in resin destined for lugs and other high-stress areas.
Another benefit of this style of production is smooth interior walls, resulting in stiffer, lighter and more resilient frames. If you’ve been paying attention to carbon production the last three years you will have noticed a big spike in smooth-wall chatter. TIME carbon has had smooth interior walls since their fork production in the late 1990s, a full decade before most of the industry.
One of the major issues with lugged construction, whether in steel or in carbon, is maintaining a consistent ride quality throughout the size range. The same tubes made a centimeter or two longer frequently go from stiff to wet noodle. To address this TIME uses larger section tubes for the big bikes, and has computer modeled each lug separately, creating unique lug construction for each size. To ensure that stiffness gets to the road, the RXRS has asymmetric chain stays, something TIME has been doing for the last six years.
Each and every tube has a very specific task under load, and exactly what those loads are can be reverse engineered from looking at the very specific shapes TIME has given the RXRS. The seat tube is aero and sculpted with a massive cut out to tuck the rear wheel under the rider. The down tube flares considerably to handle lateral loads from pedaling and the top tube has triangular bracing at the head tube for a rigid front end.
Fork Blades, Chain Stays and 95%…
What is clear from the first few miles on the TIME RXRS is it is quite certainly the finest example of tube and lug carbon on the road today. It has a sparklingly and dynamic ride quality well beyond what has typically been associated with this construction technique and far beyond what we’ve personally experienced with it. It responds with energy and crispness that convinces you that today the legs will be good.
A wheelbase of 99.5 centimeters and a head tube angle of 73 degrees put even the most critical, high-paced corners easily within your grasp. A front center which is a touch longer than other bikes with similar a wheelbase ensures that handling is never twitchy, just razor sharp.
A bit of a surprise that adds to this feeling is the extremely stiff front end. Give most of this credit to the extremely robust straight fork blades, they simply resist any flex, ensuring the bike’s tight angles get to do their job. However, the front of the bike is stiff vertically as well. Very little is done to dampen impacts as they hit your front axel, but as they move through the bike, they don’t sting quite as much as you would expect them to at the rear. That has to be the Vectran fibers included in the carbon braids. The feeling isn’t one of perfect balance, but it is one of close communication with the road surface.
As stated earlier, the bike is clearly the best lug and tube bike on the road, but how does it compare to the elite monocoque, or tube-to-tube bicycles? During power transfer, the bike seems to get 95% of the way there. Its acceleration is vigorous and lively, but as the effort ramps up, whether climbing or sprinting, it seems to ask for a little more power than some top pro-level racers.
Another concern for big riders may be the chain stay length. We’ve long been advocates of short chain stays, they give you a connected sense of kinetic drive. We’ve never met a chain stay too short. Until now, that is. At 401 millimeters, we have met our match. That is almost half a centimeter shorter than some of the raciest bikes in the peloton and can lead the rear wheel to feel a little unsettled during an aggressive jump out of the saddle, or during a quick flick to the opposite side of the train during a sprint.
To be sure, these are issues if you are trying to win races for a living. For the rest of us, the incredible workmanship of the RXRS, the dynamic ride quality, and next-level carbon technology deliver a daily rider that stands alone from the rest of the field. Crisp handling without the nervous edge, unmistakable aesthetics, and a soul that’s as close to cycling’s tradition of handmade craftsmanship as carbon gets.
It’s also worth noting that all of this comes with a serious commitment to the welfare of their workforce and the environment. TIME bikes are greener than the strictest requirements of the European Union and every waste material is tracked and taken care of by a third-party company. TIME is socially responsible carbon.
You don’t need to win bunch sprints to put food on the table, but you still need a competitive racer. You want razor-sharp handling but hate a twitchy feel. You like your bike to stand out from the monocoque crowd for its aesthetics and its design quality.
The Bottom Line
Price: $5,400 (frame, fork, headset, bars, stem, and CMT seat post)
Size tested: L (57cm)
Group: SRAM Red Black
Wheelset: SRAM AL30 Gold
From issue 5. SOLD OUT!