By Tom Demerly.
Authenticity. It‘s something all brands aspire to, but none can simply manufacture.
BH Bicycle is an authentic brand. Born in the cauldron of cycling fervor, the Basque region of Spain, the brand has earned its credibility where champions accept no compromise and cycling fans are rabid with enthusiasm.
But BH Bicycle is more than tradition and lore. Unique technologies differentiate the BH G5 from other high end carbon road bikes. That’s a tall order since there are so many carbon bikes, and so many unique technologies.
Reviewing bikes isn’t easy. At first they all seem similar- think of your shopping experiences; “Oh, another Dura-Ace equipped carbon road bike.” There are a ton of carbon road bikes. How does a company make something better, something different, something tangibly unique? One answer is simple: Start a century ago.
Juan and Cosme Beistegui are the namesakes of BH Ultralight Bicycles. The Basque tandem built the bike that won the first ever Vuelta a Espana, Tour of Spain, in 1935. That competitive success spread to the Tour de France and now reaches to triathlon, cyclocross and every corner of competitive cycling. Only a few companies can claim such historical legacy and competitive success, all of them are European. BH Ultralight Bicycles (their US name) is a massive brand in Europe, and that basis has given them the ability to fund new technologies applied to proven design and geometry themes. Like the Conquistadors of the 15th century, now they set their sights on the new world.
I rode the BH G5 fearful of how to differentiate another carbon road bike. I shouldn’t have worried. The BH G5 uses a wonderful sangria of unique design features that don’t appear together on any other bike:
- Integrated, adjustable seatmast, from the company that introduced the seatmast.
- Proprietary 1.5” Enve fork for superior steering, climbing and descending.
- Unique geometry integrated over entire frame to optimize stiffness, comfort and handling.
- One piece rear end for better stiffness, control, durability and component performance.
- Unique Patent Pending cable routing for optimal component performance.
- Integrated battery mount for electro-mechanical drivetrains such as Di2.
- In-molded front derailleur hanger for durability and shifting performance.
- In-molded split cable guides for better brake cable routing, braking performance and easier cable replacement.
- Proprietary angular lay-up of Mitsubishi and Toray carbon fibers.
- Channel downtube design to increase stiffness and reduce torsional flex.
The combination of features means the bike rides differently from anything I’ve been on. It has the comfort of the top U.S. branded Trek OCLV bikes that are luxurious on bad roads but almost as much frame stiffness as a Cervelo R3. Almost. And that is where the BH G5 may find a home.
I favor as stiff a frame as possible moderated by tire and wheel choice for ride comfort. The BH G5 steps slightly back from that preference. There is comfort built into the front 1/3rd of the bike, but the bottom bracket is field-sprint gutsy. An uber-tight rear end with short chainstays and slack-ish seat angle compliments the bottom bracket for great power transfer. It’s no wonder the Spanish climbers favored BH. Descending is another great niche of the BH G5. Going downhill is aided by the rear end construction but mostly from the precise fork, head tube and unusual frame geometry. The head tube is slightly relaxed in most frame sizes adding stability. The union of fork crown and head tube, designed together, provides great steering accuracy. It’s easy to make the rear end of a bike stiff, but difficult to match that in the fork and head tube. BH has moderated the relationship of fork to rear triangle on the G5.
Cable routing on the G5 rear brake and shifter cables is done with molded carbon fiber stops that are part of the frame, not glued on. This improves braking and shifting performance and makes cable replacement easy since the cable stops are split to facilitate easy cable replacement. This is a key feature on pro tour bikes and makes maintenance faster. On the down tube the “No Touch” cable routing is patent-pending. The unique cable guide allows crossing derailleur cables without them rubbing each other. It also provides the option of routing them straight. Most mechanics have a preference and this design facilitates either while maintaining great shifting, especially on the front derailleur with the molded front derailleur hanger.
A tough thing to differentiate on carbon fiber road bikes is the carbon lay-up. What makes them different? BH uses unique angular fiber orientation to tune ride quality along with high end Toray and Mitsubishi fibers. The lay-up is done in a facility that also does lay-ups for Parlee brand bikes, another revered carbon fiber marque. Inspection of the inside of a BH carbon fiber frame reveals better management of carbon “flash”, the excess carbon fibers that remain along with the expansion bladder fragments after molding. This reduces weight.
The G5 is a seatmast bike- sort of. BH claims invention of the seatmast according to Brien Gonzales, Regional Sales Specialist for BH. The Liberty Seguros cycling team made the first popular debut of seatmast bikes with their BH’s during the 2003 racing season. Seatmast designs caught on- for a while- but have waned in popularity once people learned that cutting seatmasts is a hassle and can ruin resale on an expensive bike. The BH seatmast is different. Since the top tube on the BH G5 slopes quite significantly the seatmast only extends above the top tube to where a traditional seat clamp would be on a parallel top tube bike. The saddle height still has a wide range of adjustment using a traditional seatpost binder collar. It’s a strong design. The benefit is frame stiffness at the union between the top tube, seat tube and seat mast. This is the only seatmast design I really like.
The seatpost uses an analog micro-adjust head that clamps securely but does require an open end wrench. It works but it’s a hassle to adjust for angle since you need two different wrench types and reaching the bolt head under the saddle is difficult. I prefer a clamp design that uses hex/Allen wrench adjustment from the bottom. The seatpost clamp is modular and replaceable.
The down tube of the BH G5 looks relatively traditional until you view it from the bottom. There is a distinct channel molded under the down tube. According to BH Ultralight Bicycles the channel increases the surface area of the down tube improving torsional stiffness while retaining comfort. BH also claims improved aerodynamics citing similar design themes used under Formula 1 cars. While I’m cynical about the later, I believe the former. The shape of the downtube does exert a noticeable effect on ride quality and is one reason experienced riders do a double take after the first few pedal strokes on this bike.
BH Ultralight Bicycles entered the U.S. market in the teeth of the recession during 2007 but have posted sales growth every year since their continental debut. In the trend setting California market BH Ultralight Bicycles went from four dealers in 2008 to eighteen increasingly protective dealers now. According to sources even Cervelo execs conceded BH was “Doing something right” in the U.S. market. U.S. President Chris Cocalis located the BH Ultralight Bicycles headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona making the brand logistically convenient for TriSports.com.
What is the future for BH Ultralight Bicycles in the United States? Given the historical legacy of the brand in the hot bed of world cycling, the technical validity of their designs and a new, west coast based distribution facility the company has established a strong beachhead in the U.S. Set against a backdrop of formerly niche competing brands that have grown to mainstream in a market where consumers search for the next cool brand BH Ultralight Bicycles seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Most importantly, turning the pedals on the BH G5 is a fresh experience. They’ve managed to build a unique ride experience on the foundation of a great legacy. The bike is fun to ride, fun to talk about and delivers great performance. I see this brand rising to prominence in the U.S. market.