Tuesday 9 March 2010

GURU: The Unbeatable Lightness of Carbon

 Michel holding a prototype GURU Photon frame

Yesterday we had near-Spring, with sunny skies and temperatures all the way up to an amazing 9C. I took out the Ancient but Honourable Bianchi Limited and put in 55 kms in morning for my first real ride of the year. With the time change next week I hope to put in morning training sessions soon. There is still a lot of snow around but the roads are good.

After lunch, I went to a little event arranged by Richard Colburn, of Ace Custom Cycles, who fitted me on my time trial bike in January.  I mentioned then that Ace handles some very high-end bicycles as part of the custom process of matching a bike to a rider.  One of the brands that Richard works with is GURU Bikes of Montreal.  Michel Somogyi, a sales representative, was present to talk about the frames.

 Michel and the obviously All-Canadian Chrono frame

The company began in 1993 when Tony Giannascoli decided to build himself a bike and the last decade has been highly successful.  The company, housed in a impressive shiny factory, is impressive for several reasons.  First of all, it builds all of its bikes on a custom basis.  Secondly, it works in a variety of materials, offering frames in aluminum, steel, titanium and carbon fibre, and bikes offered are time trial/triathlon, road and cyclocross.  The artisan approach is balanced by what appears to me to be really cutting-edge technology, using computer-aided design, evidenced in the carbon fibre products in particular.  Amazingly, nothing is outsourced but all done in-house.

When I stopped in, there was a customer's built-up ti time trial bike on display with really gorgeous welds, along with a Chrono time trial frame finished in patriotic Canadian red-and white.  However, what I found particularly interesting was a prototype frame which has now gone into series production (if you can call it that) at GURU. This is the startlingly-light Photon, which weighs in at a claimed 743g, including integrated seat mast, and seems to be very stiff.  The frame uses tube-on-tube construction (rather than tube/lug or monocoque techniques employed by other manufacturers).  This allows construction of a very light frame and you could actually replace a tube in the event of a crash (although considering what these things must cost I would probably not want to survive a crash myself).

The Photon frame, showing where bottle holder bosses are molded in since drilling a frame like this is probably a Bad Thing

The engineering on the frame has resulted in a very stiff unit and apparently Bicycling is testing one that weighs in built-up at 12 pounds and the riders are very confident in its descending. GURU has one at the factory set up as a daily rider that comes in at 10 pounds...

It is hard to conceive of the lightness of these frames.  I recall when Scott came out with its Addict, and everyone was amazed that a frame could weigh only 1 kilogram, and here is a frame 25 percent lighter than that.  In fact, the frame weighs less than my own daily variation in weight.  Picking it up, it shows no sign of fragility but actually looks nicely proportioned (albeit in black black black).

Richard holding a GURU carbon fibre bottom bracket

Of course, this engineering and handiwork is not inexpensive.  The frame runs $5200, so you will not have much change left from 10 big ones once you festoon appropriate parts on it, but it is not out of line with comparable frames, such as the Storck Fascenario 0.7 from Germany.  The lightest version of the Storck, the 0.7IS, actually lists for $8500, and is only available in very limited numbers and with stock geometry rather than custom.  Michel said that there was great interest in the Photon in the market.  That said, looking at the other frames GURU offers, there are some very competitive products, such as a very nice aluminum cyclo-cross frame, custom-built, for $1275.

There is a piece on the bike in Bicycling in the new Buyer's Guide and Michel said that people are showing up at their dealers with the page pulled out of the magazine and demanding a frame. I would not be, ahem, adverse to testing a Photon myself, even if the two hour trip to Montreal would mean that considerable self-sacrifice would be necessary. As a Canadian in the business of promoting exports, I think the frame is an impressive achievement and it is nice to see something like this from a country less noted for bicycle production than traditional ones.

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