Canyon Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2  £1939.00

9/10

Fast, lively aluminium road bike with electronic shifting and loads more besides; a helluva bike for the cash

Weight 7860g   Contact  www.canyon.com

by Mat Brett   April 3, 2012  

Canyon Ultimate Al - riding 3

This, folks, is the Canyon Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 and it's putting in an early bid to be road.cc's Bike of the Year. It's one of the cheapest bikes out there to come with electronic gear shifting and it has plenty more to offer too. You get quality components across the board and a fast, involving ride.

We'll take the best bits one by one, starting with the most obvious...

Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifting

The chances are that you have some thoughts on electronic shifting by now and you'll either like the idea or you won't. If you do want it, this is the cheapest way to get it (that we know of) on a complete bike from any of the big, mainstream manufacturers.

Canyon is a German brand and you buy direct from them rather than through dealers. This means that their UK prices vary slightly over time according to the exchange rate but we've never seen the Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 priced at more than £2,000.

The Di2 components you get here are of the second-tier Ultegra variety rather than top-end Dura-Ace. In practice, that means the system is slightly heavier (by 140g) but the electronics are second generation and a further development of the original Dura-Ace components. We'd be really surprised if the next generation of Dura-Ace components didn't feature the same electronics as 2012 Ultegra.

If you really want light weight you can stick with mechanical shifting but Di2 does have a lot to offer. For a start, shifting is so easy. True, pushing a mechanical lever is hardly the most onerous job in the world but electronic shifting is just a matter of tapping the right button, a little like clicking a mouse. It's never awkward whether you're on the hoods or the drops, riding in the saddle or standing up on the pedals.

The changes are all but instant and everyone likes the autotrim feature on the front mech – it automatically adjusts its position slightly according to the sprocket you're using in order to avoid chainrub. It's not the biggest deal in the world but it's useful to have.

We won't give a complete appraisal of Ultegra Di2 here – check out our previous coverage here and here if you want more detail –but suffice to say that it works as promised and the chances of you running out of juice while you're out on a ride are minimal. You get over 1,000km (625 miles) of use per charge – more likely about three times that depending on how much gear shifting you do, and it's simple to check how much power is left in the battery, so if you do find yourself on empty, well, you've only got yourself to blame, really. Even then, the front mech stops working before the rear giving you the chance to get home as painfree as possible.

Frameset stiffness

Many people think that a carbon frame is necessarily better than an aluminium frame. They're wrong.

While I've been riding this bike over the past few weeks, loads of people have come to take a look, attracted by the electronic components. At least half of them have asked something along the lines of, 'Why would you put electronic shifting on an aluminium-framed bike?'

Well, why wouldn't you? Yes, we all know that carbon fibre allows manufacturers to produce bikes that are amazingly stiff for their weight, but let's not get carried away. Aluminium is still a great frame material, particularly when you're trying to make a price point. This is an excellent frame.

One thing that this frameset has plenty of is stiffness. Up front, the head tube is oversized at both the top and the bottom with a 1 1/4in bearing up top and 1 1/2in downstairs (rather than standard 1 1/8in bearings). Canyon call this their One One Four SLX system. Matched up to the full-carbon fork, which weighs just 295g, this means there's little sideways movement when you sling the bike hard into tight downhill bends. The steering is very precise which means you have the ability to push the pace through tight turns without needing to make any allowance for the fact that the bike might demand a bit of extra leeway to get round.

The bottom bracket is oversized too with Shimano BB91 press-fit bearings while the down tube is pretty darn burly – 60mm in diameter at its widest point.

The Maximus seat tube is designed to add to the stiffness too. It bulges out on the non-driveside to increase the cross-sectional area, but not on the driveside so as not to interfere with the drivetrain. Canyon reckon this, 'increases the lateral stiffness of the frame in the bottom bracket area by 30% compared to a conventional, round seat tube.'

Of course, it's impossible to comment on the accuracy of that figure by riding the bike but we can tell you that there really isn't much bottom bracket sway when you're riding. It feels very tight and very punchy much like a top-end race model costing two or three times the price. Hit the pedals with everything you've got and the bike launches forward with a keenness that's bound to put a smile on your face.

The Canyon climbs well too. Weighing in at 7.86kg (17.29lb) for the complete bike in the large (58cm) size, it's pretty lightweight. There are lighter two grand bikes out there but bear in mind that you have to pay a slight weight penalty for that electronic shifting. Anyway, with all that stiffness transferring your effort into forward motion, the Canyon handles the climbs as well as some bikes that are considerably lighter.

Ride quality

When a manufacturer focuses on stiffness there's always the danger that the bike will end up feeling severe, maybe even harsh, but Canyon have been careful enough to add features that improve the comfort of the ride too.

Those seat stays are pencil-thin – a large pencil, admittedly – built using Canyon's VCLS Technology (in the bike world every frame feature has to have a name, preferably one featuring an abbreviation). VCLS stands for Vertical Comfort, Lateral Stiffness and the idea, of course, is that you get a bit of up and down movement in there to dampen road buzz and dissipate shocks.

The VCLS seatpost is designed with the same function in mind. It contains basalt fibres, dontcha know – although we suspect the fact that it's a narrow 27.2mm in diameter is equally important to its bump-taming characteristics. It really doesn't matter much. What's important is that the Canyon's ride is perfectly comfortable. I wouldn't say it's plush, or even particularly close to that end of the spectrum, but it feels good.

The Selle Italia Race SE saddle is a definite bonus in terms of comfort. Well, okay, it is for me. I love the Selle Italia shape and the degree of flex you get in the shell.

Resting your hands on the Shimano Ultegra Di2 lever hoods is really comfy too. Plus, the body of the lever has a small diameter so even if you have big hands, it feels like you have a tighter fist, a better grip and a touch more control when you're riding out of the saddle.

Strong spec

Now, you might have thought that by slinging Shimano Ultegra Di2 on a sub-£2,000 bike, Canyon would feel like they'd done the hard work of getting people to notice the Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 and put on some cheapo components to make up the remainder. Not a bit of it. Everything on this bike is branded, quality kit.

The brake callipers are Ultegra too, as is the chainset. You can go for either standard chainrings (53/39) like we have on our test bike, or a compact (50/34) set up for a lower set of gear ratios. The cassette is Ultegra too – 11-23T, 11-28T or 12-25T.

The rest of the spec is just as stong. Take the wheels, for example: they're Mavic Ksyrium Equipes. These are the entry level Ksyriums but they're still great wheels. They're reasonably lightweight and plenty stiff enough but in our experience their strongest point is that they're bombproof. We've used these loads and they've always gone the distance. You get good Conti Grand Prix 4000 S tyres on there too – another bonus.

The Ritchey WCS Evo Curve bars are triple-butted alu and they have a shallow drop (128mm) and a generous amount of rearward extension. The stem is from Ritchey too – another alloy component that provides plenty of stiffness when you get out of the saddle and haul on the bars.

The headset is the i-Lock system that Canyon developed with Acros. Rather than preloading the bearings by tightening a top cap down onto a star nut or expander wedge inside the head tube, with the i-Lock you tighten the stem onto the steerer tube then remove any play with a small Torq bolt.

This means that there's no danger of damaging the steerer tube. Plus, you can swap your stem without needing to adjust the preload on your headset... which, admittedly, isn't going to be a common occurrence.

Anyway, the headset works well, like all the other components on this bike. I had no mechanical issues whatsoever over the test period, not even a puncture, and I got in hundreds of miles including plenty over some horrible roads. The wheels are still completely true, the brakes are still biting well, everything is just as it should be with no annoying little traits having developed. It's hard to fault the Canyon's spec.

Geometry

Just a quick word on the geometry to finish off. The Canyon has a pretty aggressive setup, our large (58cm) test bike coming with a 19cm head tube, a stack height (vertical distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the centre of the top of the head tube) of 579mm and a reach (horizontal distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the centre of the top of the head tube) of 394mm. That's racy – not extreme but certainly performance-orientated, so this is a bike for people who want to get there fast.

If you want an upright, relaxed position for taking in the view, this isn't the one for you. If, on the other hand, you want to race or to belt around sportive routes as fast as possible, take a good look.

Summing up

So, the Canyon Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 is built around a strong and stiff aluminium frame and lightweight carbon fork, the electronic shifting works faultlessly every time and the rest of the spec is strong throughout. It's an efficient, responsive bike with a good level of comfort.

There will doubtless still be people who are put off by the fact that the frame is aluminium. If they're spending almost two grand, they'll want carbon. I'd say you need to look beyond that. This is a fast, dynamic bike without a significant weakness.

Verdict

Fast, lively aluminium road bike with electronic shifting and loads more besides; a helluva bike for the cash

road.cc test report

Make and model: Canyon Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2

Size tested: 58cm

About the bike

State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.

Frame Canyon New F8 Technology

Fork Canyon One One Four SLX

Headset Acros Ai-70 Fiber

Rear Derailleur Shimano Ultegra Di2

Front Derailleur Shimano Ultegra Di2

Shifters Shimano Ultegra Di2

Brake levers Shimano Ultegra Di2

Brakes Shimano Ultegra glossy grey

Hubs Mavic Ksyrium Equipe

Cassette Shimano Ultegra 6700 11-28

Rims Mavic Ksyrium Equipe

Tyres Continental Grand Prix 4000 S

Cranks Shimano Ultegra glossy grey

Chainrings 50/34

Bottom Bracket Shimano Press-Fit SM-BB91

Stem Ritchey WCS 4-Axis (31,8)

Handlebar Ritchey WCS Evo Curve

Saddle Selle Italia Race Special Edition

Seat post Canyon VCLS Post

Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?

It's a performance-orientated road bike.

Here's Canyon's write-up:

"Electronic shifting for only £ 1,939.00! The Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 combines numerous innovative concepts. We have adapted the brand new Ultimate AL frame to accommodate the new Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic shift system. We were able to completely do without the holes for the mechanical shift cables and have routed the cables on the left hand side into the top tube, then through the chain stay to the rear derailleur. Shifting is as easy as a simple mouse click, there is no delay and it does not require any force. What are the other advantages of the Di2? The front derailleur adjusts itself automatically depending on the gear you have selected and the noise of the chain scraping against the front derailleur cage is therefore a thing of the past.

"In addition, the rear derailleur can be adjusted while riding. Thanks to the precision engineered electric motor shifting is made both faster and safer than with conventional mechanical shift systems. However that's not all the Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 has to offer. The high end ensemble also includes Mavic Ksyrium Equipe wheels, which you can be sure will directly transmit your power onto the road via the Continental Grand Prix 4000s tyres. The premium Ritchey WCS-cockpit beautifully polishes off this superb race machine. You just won't have experienced a better alloy road bike than this one."

Frame and fork

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
8/10

Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?

All good - neatly done. Canyon's finishes could be a bit more imaginative but I guess the white/black colour scheme isn't going to offend anyone

Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?

It's an aluminium frame with a full-carbon fork.

Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?

It's a performance-orientated geometry with a 73.25° head angle and a 73.5° seat angle. It's not the most extreme setup ever but it's certainly more low and stretched than sit-up-and-beg.

How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?

The stack is 579mm, the reach is 394mm. The top tube length is 566mm which is a little short for a 58cm bike.

Riding the bike

Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.

Good. It's not the plushest of rides but it's certainly comfortable enough, even on big rides a few hours long.

How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?

It certainly did. This is one of the bike's strongest points.

Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?

There was a little, which is quite unusual on a 58cm bike. I had to be careful not to scuff my favourite shoes on the tyre.

How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Fairly lively.

Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?

An easily manoeuvrable bike. Pretty agile.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?

The Selle Italia saddle was a hit with me. Canyon's own seatpost helps keep things comfy too.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?

The stiff aluminium cockpit certainly helps when you're riding out of the saddle. The pressfit bottom bracket helps with efficiency too.

Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for acceleration:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for sprinting:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for climbing:
 
8/10

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
9/10

It's going to come down to whether you like the idea of electronic shifting or not

Rate the drivetrain for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for value:
 
9/10

Wheels and tyres

Rate the wheels and tyres for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for weight:
 
7/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for comfort:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for value:
 
8/10

Controls

Rate the controls for performance:
 
9/10

Excellent shape, super-easy shifting.

Rate the controls for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for weight:
 
9/10
Rate the controls for comfort:
 
9/10
Rate the controls for value:
 
7/10

Your summary

Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes

Would you consider buying the bike? I would, yes.

Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
9/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
9/10

Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?

This is a great bike. I get to test bikes all the time and am often eager to move on to the next one, but I'll be sad to see this one go. I'd happily ride it day in, day out. Do yourself a favour and don't be put off by the fact that it's an aluminium frame. There's more to life than carbon.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 41  Height: 190cm  Weight: 75kg

I usually ride:   My best bike is:

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,

 

21 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Am I having deja vu? Could swear I've already seen this a month or so ago? Or at least another alu canyon with Di2?

Regardless, I am curious to know what Di2 feels like in full-finger gloves? I tried leccy Ultegra on a turbo in my LBS, and I liked it, but that whole "changing gear is as easy as clicking a mouse" thing makes me wonder whether you'll have enough tactile feedback when it's not bare fingertips in contact with the levers.

Then again, who wants to use a bike like this in the winter...

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3096 posts]
3rd April 2012 - 13:50

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Just got mine yesterday, only had time for a short ride. But it was very good, but only a short ride in cold and very windy conditions, so it's hard to tell since it was the cold wind i noticed most.

For the Di2 with thick/thicker gloves it's hard to feel when you're touch the buttons.

As for the positioning you say racy, but coming of another german carbon, the Canyon have a more relaxed postion.

Just checked the 58 cm version have a 170 mm headtube, mine's the 60 cm version and that's got a 190 mm headtube.

I'm around 187 cm and the 60 cm fits me well, but then ofc i'm unusally built a little longer legs than usual and then monkey arms.

posted by Jakal79 [55 posts]
3rd April 2012 - 13:50

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I've looked at Canyon bikes a lot recently with a view of buying this model mentioned the Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2, my only concern is that you have to buy direct with Canyon but what if there are teething problems with the bike ?? does this mean it's got to be shipped back to Germany for repairs at my expense ????

posted by spikes [2 posts]
3rd April 2012 - 14:07

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notfastenough wrote:
Am I having deja vu? Could swear I've already seen this a month or so ago? Or at least another alu canyon with Di2?

we wrote a 'just in' when it arrived, now mat's ridden it and this is the review...

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7317 posts]
3rd April 2012 - 14:43

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cranks scuffed already? not so good

posted by russyparkin [579 posts]
3rd April 2012 - 21:39

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russyparkin wrote:
cranks scuffed already? not so good

i think that's glue residue from where we took a sticker off

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7317 posts]
3rd April 2012 - 23:01

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dave_atkinson wrote:
notfastenough wrote:
Am I having deja vu? Could swear I've already seen this a month or so ago? Or at least another alu canyon with Di2?

we wrote a 'just in' when it arrived, now mat's ridden it and this is the review...

Ah I see. Thought I was going mad. Thanks.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3096 posts]
4th April 2012 - 9:57

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what clearance is there for tyres? could you fit 25mm or even 28mm?

posted by thebongolian [37 posts]
4th April 2012 - 21:13

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Top of my IWOOT list!
Bear in mind though chaps I think Canyon have a little bit of long lead time on these!!
I also like the Speedmax AL TT bike, that is also a lot of bike for the money.

posted by pmr [167 posts]
5th April 2012 - 11:03

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Does your car have "Volkswagen.com" painted in ugly three-foot letters across the bonnet, boot and wings? Why does it pass without comment on a bike?

Sven Ellis's picture

posted by Sven Ellis [31 posts]
5th April 2012 - 11:36

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Sven Ellis wrote:
Does your car have "Volkswagen.com" painted in ugly three-foot letters across the bonnet, boot and wings? Why does it pass without comment on a bike?

if you want a canyon, you have to go to canyon.com. that's the only place you can get one.

if you could only buy a volkswagen from volkswagen.com, i expect they'd write it on the cars. as it is you go down your local dealer, so they don't

i can understand that some people don't much like it. but it's pretty obvious why they do it, isn't it?

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7317 posts]
5th April 2012 - 11:46

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With all due respect, that's irrelevant. The only people making Volkswagens are Volkswagen.com, and if they thought the market would bear having it plastered on the sides of cars, they would do so. The real question is why cyclists are happy to buy products that - however well they ride and are priced - appear to be designed with no thought for aesthetics.

Sven Ellis's picture

posted by Sven Ellis [31 posts]
5th April 2012 - 14:33

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Sven Ellis wrote:
With all due respect, that's irrelevant. The only people making Volkswagens are Volkswagen.com, and if they thought the market would bear having it plastered on the sides of cars, they would do so. The real question is why cyclists are happy to buy products that - however well they ride and are priced - appear to be designed with no thought for aesthetics.

the reason it says canyon.com on the bike is because it's an internet-only brand. the .com serves to reinforce that, as well as giving people a heads up on where to buy the bikes. makes perfect sense to me, and it's not comparable with a car manufacturer in any way.

you don't like how it looks, i get that. personally i *do* like the way it looks, so we'll have to agree to disagree on that one. you're not right, and neither am i. aesthetics are subjective. if you don't like it, you don't have to buy it. if enough people don't like it and don't buy it, they'll probably change it. as it is, i hear they sell quite well. i wouldn't mind owning one, for a start...

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7317 posts]
5th April 2012 - 14:43

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Sven Ellis wrote:
With all due respect, that's irrelevant

I love it when people say (or write) 'with all due respect' - usually means quite the opposite Big Grin

I'm actually with Sven in that I'd prefer it not having the .com on the end, but I can't say I mind that much - I'm still pretty keen to own one too...

posted by step-hent [672 posts]
5th April 2012 - 14:57

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You'll have to explain the difference between branding on cars and bikes, as it's not immediately clear to me.
Fortunately, there is a solution. The bike also comes in a handsome, url-free deep black and titanium.

Sven Ellis's picture

posted by Sven Ellis [31 posts]
5th April 2012 - 15:21

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The difference is that it's not just canyon's branding but their sole route to market. they're web-only, so their success rests on people visiting their website and buying the bikes there; their brand is, in very essence, canyon.com. that's not true of any car brand that i'm aware of.

any clearer?

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7317 posts]
5th April 2012 - 15:43

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anyway, like you said this is largely irrelevant since you can have it without the .com if you want Big Grin

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7317 posts]
5th April 2012 - 15:45

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Sven Ellis wrote:
You'll have to explain the difference between branding on cars and bikes, as it's not immediately clear to me.

Certainement.

All cars have badges, yes? The brand badge, then the model, then in some cases the engine and spec, in little chrome badges on the back. Cars also have a distinctive shape - I know a Citroen Picasso or a Ford Mondeo as a distinctive body shape, and you don't need to look at the badges to know who made it.

Bikes are different. To within a few inches, every convetional road bike in the world is basically the same shape. If I sanded all the text badges off my Giant Defy and put it next to a similarly-treated, similar-colour low-end Trek, you'd have to have a bloody good look to tell me which was which.

By comparison, rip the badges off a VW Passat, and anyone who's driven a car on European roads in the last 15 years could still tell you it's a VW Passat.

There's also the practicality of writing - if you made the branding on a bike proportional in size to that on a car, you'd need to have your face 4" from the downtube to be able to read it. The text has to be big enough to read at a distance or it may as well not be there at all.

Finally, I'd like to point out that every bike made for the last 100 years has had the brand name painted on the downtube and headtube, among other places. Why on earth are you getting so pissy about this one?

Stewie

posted by stewieatb [298 posts]
5th April 2012 - 15:49

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i like the graphics, anyway if you take one in the alternative colour doesnt it just say canyon? if its as fast as it looks no one could read the writing anyway :. thank god cannondale and canyon are still showing the merit of aluminium. we dont all want carbon (from the caad10 owner)

posted by russyparkin [579 posts]
7th April 2012 - 17:42

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when i went on a tour of the Canyon factory/showroom in Koblenz with Roman Arnold, the founder of Canyon, he said that Canyon had a top German designer come up with the logo and spent lots of money on it.

posted by jamjam [61 posts]
13th April 2012 - 22:11

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To me, most cars look pretty much the same. I can tell the difference between a Hummer, Mini Cooper and Ferrari, but nowadays cars tend to have very little variation in their industrial design. Bikes on the other hand seem to be getting more and more distinctive features. Take the BMC GF01 with the jagged look and the wavy Pinarellos for example. In the era of steel frames the differences were pretty much only in the lugs and head badges.

posted by kide [20 posts]
17th April 2012 - 9:00

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