By Tom Demerly
Adaptation is the key to survival- and improvement. Litespeed has embraced adaptation in materials and design with their new Archon “C” series carbon fiber bikes. This new carbon family from Litespeed is more than a carbon copy. The Litespeed Archon C series have unique features and benefits that set it apart from- and above- the carbon clones.
You already know Litespeed was built on titanium bikes. Does the new carbon fiber Archon C family mean titanium is extinct? Litespeed’s Mac McEneaney had this to say in our interview:
“Anyone in the titanium bicycle manufacturing business that tells you business is booming isn’t being truthful. I don’t think anyone will argue that carbon fiber has changed the bike business. If the industry were to see a jump in the cost of carbon fiber material or manufacturing processes, titanium would probably gain new fans.
Titanium still has its place as a viable frame material. The award-winning Litespeed Titanium Archon [titanium] is the stiffest and most technologically advanced titanium bike ever produced, and remains a class-leading bike 3 years after its launch, having won a coveted Eurobike Design Award in 2007”
Regardless of the tenacity of titanium the peloton has voted: Every significant pro in triathlon and road racing uses carbon fiber. Carbon offers material and design properties not found in any other bike material. It is stronger, lighter, stiffer, more comfortable, more tunable and can be configured to more shapes.
The fact that titanium remained popular this long speaks to its former status as a flagship material while carbon fiber technology evolved from the early 1980’s to the late 1990’s. That process is never complete, but carbon fiber is now advanced enough to make it the de facto choice of pro triathletes and cyclists as well as age groupers and club cyclists. Even the crustiest retro-grouch has to concede: Carbon fiber makes the best bike, and the best bikes are carbon fiber.
Litespeed joined the carbon fiber space race late in the game and they reap the benefits of learning from others’ experience. The Archon C –series bikes feature a number of proprietary, versatile and well thought out frame features. In addition to a host of performance enhancing race features the Archon C family has nice frame geometry over a limited size range of four sizes that will accommodate the middle 85% of rider dimensions and builds.
I divide the unique features of the Archon C fuselage into three areas:
1. The rear triangle with unique seat stay/dropout configuration and asymmetrical chainstays to improve chainstay stiffness and ride quality (shock absorption).
2. The interchangeable seatpost/seatmast which enables use of a conventional, adjustable seatpost/seatpost clamp or the integrated seat mast.
3. The head tube and cable routing which improve aerodynamics, sprint stiffness and comfort and rider fitting.
A Sophisticated, Asymmetrical Rear Triangle Design.
The rear triangle on the Litespeed Archon C contributes significantly to the racy performance under acceleration and pave’-tamming ride quality. The unique asymmetrical chainstays on the Archon C’s improve sprint and acceleration by moving material to the areas that need it most during a sprint or attack. The right (drive side) chainstay is significantly deeper at 51mm deep where it leaves the bottom bracket. On the rider’s left (non-drive side) the chainstay is only 36mm deep, providing lighter weight and less material where it is not needed. It also provides compliant ride quality. It’s a difference you can feel and, combined with a unique fork design, makes for a platform that is particularly responsive to hard pedal input. This is an attacker’s bike with adequate comfort to stay with the breakaway.
“The right (drive side) chainstay is significantly deeper”
Molded carbon fiber can be configured in any shape required to manage energy. On a race bike like the Litespeed Archon C series that means building lateral stiffness in while keeping vertical compliance. At the brake bridge (where the rear brake attaches) on the farthest point from the rear dropouts, the seat stays on the Archon C narrow down to a gossamer 13mm in diameter- the same diameter as the tip of my little finger. At the union to the rear dropouts they flare out to a strapping 31mm or 3.1cm. This change in shape and size manages their behavior under stresses imposed by pedaling and road shock. Closest to the seatpost the seat stays have “give” built into them- like the mast of an advanced 11 Meter racing yacht mast or a carbon fiber suspension on a Formula 1 car. At the union of the seat stays to the dropouts, where a sprinter or attacking rider concentrates forces during acceleration, the frame becomes massive and unyielding. There is a similar change in shape internally, adding sprinting stiffness and cobblestone comfort. Even brake performance is moderated by the hourglass rear profile of the seat stays. You feel these advantages when you ride the Archon series.
The rear dropouts on the Archon C’s are a pleasant departure from other recent carbon introductions. They are cleanly melded into the rest of the rear triangle- no obvious seams or messy joints. The rear derailleur hanger is replaceable with a two bolt mount. The bolts are small and the derailleur hanger is rather delicate looking so it may not survive right side impacts as well as more robust derailleur hangers. That is the point of a replaceable derailleur hanger- it is supposed to fail (and be easily replaced) before the frame would be structurally damaged in a hard right side impact- like the “crush zone” on a car. I’d suggest having an extra rear derailleur hanger on hand when you travel to races.
The rear wheel removes easily for fast changes and even a relatively square-ish rear skewer will close easily around them. Again, this is a race bike that pro team mechanics could work with easily with a fast rear wheel change.
The rear triangle includes an aerodynamic rear wheel cutout faired into the aero seat tube. We don’t have wind tunnel data, but I can tell you there are no sharp corners or fast shape transitions on this frame suggesting a low drag coefficient compared to more angular designs. Since the dropouts are vertical you can’t adjust the wheel closer or farther from the frame to minimize the tire gap for optimized aerodynamics. The up side is you can fit a 25mm wide tire in the rear triangle like the pros run in many of the spring classics.
The multiple unique features of the rear triangle on the Archon C bikes set them apart from other carbon designs with a less sophisticated rear end design. Some of these features are visually subtle so a customer may not see them at first glance. They will feel them on the road as tangible benefits.
A Functional Seatmast Design.
We’ve dealt with seatmast designs in previous reviews on TriSports University so I’ll only do a brief recap: Seatmasts save weight by reducing frame/seatpost material while maintaining stiffness. The weight savings is small, but there is a savings.
Litespeed built the Archon C bikes to use the seatmast design and Mac McEneaney of Litespeed discusses the flexibility of their seatmast configuration:
“The current mast has enough adjustability that once it is cut, there isn’t a need to ever cut it again – even when the bike goes among several people. The FSA seat clamp head has about 3cm of adjustability, you really only need between 4-4.5 cm of adjustability in each size. Outside of that, you’d need a different size bike.”
Unique Front End Design.
You want three things in a race bike: Stiffness, responsiveness and comfort. Stiffness provides resistance to lateral flex under acceleration like sprints and attacks. Responsiveness provides accurate and predictable steering: Picture the last lap of a criterium going into a field sprint. Comfort moderates road shock so that vibration from the road surface doesn’t add to rider fatigue during a race or event (think: Paris-Roubaix).
The front end of the Litespeed Archon C1, C2 and C3 uses a larger 1.5” oversized bottom headset bearing and a smaller 1.125” upper bearing. This improves fork and front end performance by increasing side-to-side stiffness (better cornering) and providing more surface area to disperse road vibration. It’s a solid design that has been used before and is proven with the top pro teams.
The head tube on the Litespeed Archon C series looks higher than it is mainly because of the low top tube (good climbing and stand over) and the substantial amount of material in the head tube. There may be a need for a moderate rise stem and/or spacers for a more pedestrian position. This is a race bike so it has a performance oriented, relatively low front end.
Another subtle design cue on the Archon is the outward bowing fork. Litespeed asserts this “wishbone” fork improves aerodynamics between the wheel and fork blades by allowing air to pass through under lower pressure. Since we can’t test for that we have to go with the fact that it allows more tire and wheel clearance so you have a larger selection of tire sizes to chose from, as it is with the rear triangle design. I will suggest this outward bowing design does moderate road shock and add to lateral stiffness. While I have no way of quantifying this, a hard turn taken at high speed on bad pavement produced reassuring results- much more so than more conventional designs. It is simply more solid at the front end. On the last lap of a criterium on bad pavement that is an advantage.
Three models: What’s the Difference?
The three Archon C series bikes are differentiated partially by components and mostly by carbon fiber lay-up.
The Litespeed Archon C1 version is sold as a frameset only from Litespeed. TriSports.com can build it up to your specifications. The frame uses internal cable routing and is molded from advanced nanotube enhanced construction 60T carbon fiber. It is the lightest, stiffest and most comfortable of the three Archon C1 configurations. The frameset sells for $2999.99. With a SRAM Red or Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 build kit this is a state-of-the- art pro level race bike that would be at home in any field sprint or mountain stage in the Tour de France.
The Litespeed Archon C2 is a complete bike with a 40T carbon frame. In general 40T quality carbon is the high water mark for most carbon manufacturers. The Litespeed Archon C2 bike is a Shimano Dura-Ace bike that shares the same external cosmetic weave as the Litespeed Archon C3 and the same easy to service external cable routing. The 40T is a trifle heavier than the nanotube enhanced 60 T carbon C1. The complete Dura-Ace equipped bike is $4499.99 with an FSA SL-K carbon crank and FSA RD 420 wheels, and an all carbon fiber FSA cockpit and Ultegra chain and cogset. Given the innovative frame design and quality of the carbon fiber on this complete bike, it is a strong value at this price.
The Litespeed Archon C3 is a Shimano Ultegra bike with 30T grade carbon fiber layup dressed in Shimano Ultegra drivetrain and FSA Gossamer compact alloy crank with 105 chain and cogset and FSA RD-60 wheels rolling on Vittoria Rubino Pro Techs. The cockpit is FSA alloy bar and stem for $2999.99
These three bikes come from the same mold but they have utterly different ride characteristics. The flagship C1 is a dream bike- light, stiff and unerringly fast. Handling is laser-guided. The nanotube carbon 60T layup is full-on aerospace/Formula 1 grade carbon and it shows in the bike’s ride. I absolutely love the C1; it’s an angry bike ready to do battle on the last lap of a crit or in a shoulder to shoulder field sprint.
The Litespeed Archon C2 is a level different from the C1 in that it is, most noticeably, more flexible. It is simply a quieter bike. It’s more comfortable than C1 and the front end doesn’t talk to the rear end as well during hard accelerations. That said, The Litespeed Archon C2 is still the match of other company’s flagship carbon bikes, and better than the majority in terms of unique features that tangibly contribute to ride comfort and performance. It’s a road race warrior.
To understand the differences in grades of carbon fiber you only have to set up a Litespeed Archon C1 and C3 in the same position with the same dimensions, the same wheels and tire pressure and then go for a ride. Don’t do this if you can’t afford the C1. There is a noticeable difference. The Archon C3 has great shock absorption and the same fit as the other bikes but it is more flexible still than the C2. The C1 is another level altogether. The C3 is also heavier and I felt that. It does eat the bumps alive though. I like the ride of the C3 better than most other companies’ entry price point carbon machines and the component spec is strong too. It’s a strong value doing laps around $3K.
Consumers have routinely been confused by the difference in carbon fiber bikes and hopefully offerings like the Litespeed Archon C1, C2 and C3 will foster some understanding of carbon and the differences between carbon bikes. If you painted a C1, C2 and C3 all white with no decals and put an identical component kit on each of them then set up their positions identically running the same tire pressure I wager any rider would easily put them in order of good-better-best. It is a study in carbon engineering and the differences a good company can build out of the same mold.
The basic configuration of the Litespeed Archon C1, C2 and C3 is a viable and functional design with many advanced features. The major design cues; aerodynamic frame, asymmetrical seat stays and unique head tube configuration induce tangible benefits across all three carbon lay-ups.
I wish more bikes were built like the Archon C series. I like aerodynamic, ride quality and stiffness enhanced bikes and there are only a handful from Felt, Cervelo and now Litespeed in this category.
Litespeed did a great job of raising the carbon bar with the Archon series and building some tangible design features into the bikes that differentiate them from all the other carbon bikes on the road. The three models across three price points make the design cues accessible to every high end road bike buyer. It’s a strong design executed three ways, and any way you go you’ll benefit from a valid and exciting design with many unique features.