Britain’s Chris Froome will race for Israel–Premier Tech next year on a Factor O2 VAM in a special-edition finish that includes the Union Flag alongside Kenyan-influenced patterns, including a motif of a rhinoceros, an animal that has featured on several of his bike frames over the years.
Froome, who has seven Grand Tour wins to his name, was born to British parents in Kenya, and was brought up in Africa. The bike’s colours are said to have been inspired by the Kenyan landscape.
Realistically, Froome’s Grand Tour-winning days are behind him – his last victory was the 2018 Giro d’Italia – but the 38-year-old rider says that after not being selected in 2023, he hopes to race next year’s Tour de France.
Whatever racing he does in 2024, Froome will be aboard a disc brake bike, of course, like every other rider in the pro peloton. He has had well-documented issues with disc brakes over the years, complaining of warped and rubbing rotors and, as recently as February this year, insinuating that his Tour du Rwanda woes were down to slow disc brake wheel changes.
However, Cycling Weekly recently reported that Froome said he’d “warmed to” disc brakes and was having far fewer problems than previously. He certainly seemed happy enough with his new bike on a recent trip to the Factor Bikes factory in Taiwan. There must be more pictures out there of Chris Froome adding his thumbs-up seal of approval to products than there are of him looking at stems these days.
Factor launched the latest version of the O2 VAM back in July, calling it “the world’s fastest climbing bike”. That’s a lofty claim; how does Factor justify it? The brand says that it has managed to combine an ultra-light weight with aerodynamic efficiency.
Factor claims that the O2 VAM’s frame weighs just 730g. It says that 6.2kg complete bikes are perfectly feasible and that it’s possible to hit the UCI’s 6.8kg minimum weight limit for racing with the pedals, transponder and race number attached.
Producing a lightweight bike is relatively simple – you just use less material – but that doesn’t mean it’ll perform well. Making a lightweight bike that’s also stiff and aerodynamically efficient is a whole lot more difficult, and Factor reckons it has achieved this.
It says that the O2 VAM is as stiff as its Ostro VAM and 35% stiffer than the previous version. In terms of aerodynamics, it says that the O2 VAM is the equivalent of 12W more efficient than the previous model in the wind tunnel at 48 km/h or 30 mph (at yaw angles from +15° to -15°). In other words, achieving the same speed requires less power.
Factor says that it has used entirely new airfoil shapes for the down tube, seat tube and head tube. These aero profiles are said to “deliver a very high stiffness-to-weight ratio with minimised drag achieved by manipulating the separation and reattachment of the airflow.”
Factor has kept the frontal area low, sticking with 1-1/4in bearings in the head tube, for instance, and making the seatstays just 10mm wide, which is as narrow as UCI rules allow.
As for comfort, Factor says this has been increased through the use of an external seatpost and a top tube that shrinks radically towards the junction with the seat tube. It’s just 10mm tall at that point, the idea being “to promote controlled deflection at the saddle over bumps”.
Chris Froome’s bike would doubtless get a special paint job anyway, but the rider’s investment in Factor and its parts and accessories brand Black Inc – and sitting on the board of directors – can’t hurt.
“A collaboration between illustrator Karl Kopinski and Factor’s Creative Director Jay Gundzik, the special edition O2 VAM’s unique colourway is a celebration of the partnership between Factor and the prolific Grand Tour winner,” said Factor. “Featuring a colour palette inspired by the landscape of Kenya and featuring Froome’s ‘spirit animal’, the rhinoceros, all graphics are integrated closely into the carbon frame to ensure the bike remains fast, light and aerodynamic.”
Factor has worked with Karl Kopinski previously. He was the artist behind the one-off butterfly-painted Factor for Bradley Wiggins and the gorilla motif on Andre Greipel’s personalised race bike. Both of these were Ostro VAMs.
Karl Kopinski said: “The project was really interesting from the outset; Jay and I spoke very early on about using the rhino as a key element and also referencing the drawings of Albrecht Durer which I’ve always loved. We also worked on including several Kenyan-influenced patterns and motifs.”
Chris Froome’s O2 VAM is built up with a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset, Black Inc wheels, Goodyear F1R tyres, and a Selle Italia SLR saddle.
Will Chris Froome’s acceptance of disc brakes become more of a love affair before he eventually ends his racing career? Maybe that’s going a bit far.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.