I picked up some extra tubes and CO2 cartridges while I waited for my test bike at a shop in Brooklyn. When they rolled out the BMC Teammachine SLR01 ($8,999) and I picked it up, I let out a laugh that was equal parts surprise and delight: there’s joking about picking up a bike with one finger, and then there’s actually picking up a bike with one finger. As I rode it home in street clothes and a backpack — taking a six-mile detour because I was having so much fun — I thought about Netflix’s Daredevil, and the gritty, blind hero, Matt Murdock, who smashes heads and breaks the bones of criminals against the backdrop of a crime-ridden Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Maybe it was the 13 hours of recent binge watching, but I was feeling a little like his alter ego.
One reason we get into sports is to be superheroes in our own right, finding moments of strength or endurance that feel heroic. Pro cycling events are among the toughest sporting events on the planet, long and difficult slogs punctuated by brief moments of celebration. The winner wears a special uniform (costume?), and while no bike can make an average cyclist a competitive cyclist, it can elevate performance in a way that feels fundamentally different, giving you a taste of what it may be like to possess supernatural skill and strength. Especially going up hills, the SLR01 — the bike that the BMC UCI WorldTour team rides in the Tour de France and other races like the Tour of California (last week) and the Giro d’Italia (happening now), albeit specced out at an even higher pay grade — does that, and it’s a marvelous thing.
The Route to Ride
While I spent most of my time riding this bike across the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey, the best place to test it out would be its ancestral home of Switzerland. Stage Five of the Tour de Suisse takes you in the mountains from Unterterzen to Sölden. strava.com
It’s unfathomably light at 790 grams for the frame in a size 56, even lighter in the size 48 that I tested, a product of BMC’s proprietary Accelerated Composites Evolution (ACE) computer modeling program that apparently tested 34,000 possible frame configurations to optimize the bike’s geometrical structure, tube cross-sections and carbon layup. What that means for the rider without an engineering degree is that you’ve got a slightly unorthodox-looking frame, the most noticeable traits are the boxy, angular tubes, the enormous down tube and the relatively flat seat stays.
Unlike a Cervelo S5 or a Specialized Roubaix, which you might say wear their function on their frame — they look fast and compliant, respectively — the Teammachine just looks like an expensive bike. As it turns out, a costly bike can be an incredibly well rounded bike. It accelerates snappily; it’s fast on the flats; climbing is downright easy; handling is responsive and precise; and, surprisingly, it’s as comfortable as any bike I’ve ever ridden, soft over bumps and cracks in the road. It is, as one of the employees at the shop put it, all things to all people.
There are some downsides, of course, and the easiest one to point to is the price. But if you’re looking at other performance road bikes used by the pros like the Cervelo R5, Trek Emonda SLR and Cannondale SuperSix EVO Hi-Mod, you’re playing in the same range. So it really just ends up being a matter of whether you have that kind of money to spend on a bike, and if you do, then this one is money well spent. I had some handling issues, too, but they involved taking a corner too hard in a slick of oil, mud and debris that sent me to the pavement. Even with the best equipment, you sometimes end up picking glass out of your thigh with tweezers on a Sunday night — but that’s just what you get for trying to play at superhero.