Up Close and Personal with the New BMC Impec: Now with More Robots!
I have heard people say that the renaissance of carbon fiber is over, that the allure of an exotic material such as carbon has lost its touch. These days every company and it’s subsidiaries have a carbon offering, and hell, you can even find carbon bikes at some Wal-marts these days. No longer will companies be able to simply tweak the tube shape and color pattern just enough to be able to pass it off as a new model. In order to be competitive in today’s carbon bike market it takes one thing, innovation.
It was this that led BMC to think, or to know that they had to do something special with the new bike. For good or bad, BMC’s bikes have always had a distinct, unmistakable BMC look that is probably better known than the way they ride.Â In order to create the best bike possible and make a bike that rides as good as it looks, BMC started from scratch and even created an entire process based around robots, completely devoted to the new Impec.
LOTS of pictures, and full break down after the break!
Currently, most carbon bikes on the market are made using a similar procedure, at least from the raw carbon standpoint. Most companies, purchase their carbon from various manufacturers in huge rolls of what is referred to as pre-preg, or pre-woven carbon sheets pre-impregnated with epoxy resin. Some way or another, the sheets of pre-preg get cut to size and end up in a mold which is then entered into an autoclave, or a big pressurized oven in which the epoxy is forced through the layers of carbon and allowed to cure, and Voila! Obviously there is a lot more to it than that, but that is the overly simplified gist of it.
The Impec however, is not constructed using traditional methods, mostly due to BMC not being happy with the level of fine tuning available through previous methods. During the construction of most carbon frames, the individual plies of carbon are usually placed by humans into the molds following complex instructions with many pieces leaving room for error. On the contrary, BMC has completely removed the human element from the construction of the tubes at least, while employing the help of what else but robots!
Rather than construct the tubes from multiple sheets of carbon, BMC utilized years of engineering research and development to create the first purpose built robots specifically made to weave bicycle frame tubes out of single strands of carbon fiber. While many companies have used various methods which may seem similar in some regards, BMC claims to be the first company to utilize such an integrative approach to tube construction and owns various patents on the robots necessary to the process.
Crucial to the design and the end comfort and performance of the design, is the idea of Load Specific Weaving (or LSW, you know how BMC loves their acronyms). LSW allows for a precise level of control in specific areas of the frame which warrants strength without sacrificing comfort. This is no doubt similar to the concept of laying up individual plies of carbon to fine tune areas such as the bottom bracket for stiffness and the seat mast for comfort, but it is on an entirely different level with a seamless transition between section only possible by changing the weave.
Under the leadership of Andy Rihs, BMC has constructed an entirely new facility solely for the Impec in the Swiss city of Grenchen. Grenchen, if you’re keeping track, is the Swiss capitol of watch making in which the Swiss areÂ known for precision and quality. BMC is proud of their heritage, and there is no doubt they look to add to the Swiss legacy of quality and performance. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the name Impec is short for Impeccable, due to the fact that BMC feels that through their new manufacturing process they are able to produce the closest thing to a flawless bike on the market.
While robots weave the tubes, how do those tubes get made into a bike? Joining of the tubes is accomplished by another BMC acronym being Shell Node Concept or SNC. The shells are injection molded out of an extremely light matrix of carbon composite material and then joined in two pieces like a clam shell around the tubes. While similar in theory to a lug, it allows more freedom in tube to shell connection and allows for a stronger bond than simply press fitting a tube into a lug.
The Shell Nodes also serve to give the Impec an even more bulked up look than previous models, with shell body lines clearly visible under the paint. While perhaps a love or hate design philosophy, I feel that the new lines serve to lend the frame a very strong, almost robotic look – ironically. While not BMC’s most anorexic frame to date, the design goal was total stiffness and ride quality. The frameset, or frame fork headset and seat post, weighs in at just under 4 pounds or 1790 grams. BMC claims the goal was never to make a super light bike, but instead make the best riding bike which can easily make UCI minimum weight with the addition of super light wheels.
The bottom bracket junction sees a massive shell to house the flared seat tube and huge down tube. With the addition of the BB30 bottom bracket shell, the Impec is sure to be one stiff frame come sprint time. During the tour you may notice team BMC is running Campy which currently doesn’t have a BB30 crank option, meaning team BMC is currently using an adapter on their cranks.
The fork also receives the Shell treatment, with a large squarish crown just under the over sized taper of the steerer tube. Not pictured, are the small shells that form the dropouts at both ends of the bike. The dropouts are made out of the same extremely strong material of the rest of the shells on the frame.
Finally, add in a few more shells to give the Impec the traditional BMC seat tube junction look. Also notice the seatpost is a custom fit, triangular design rather than a cut to fit mast or mast and cap system.
So just how good is the Impec? If Cadel’s performance along with ‘ol George are any indication, it sure isn’t holding them back. You know that whole ride comfort thing? It was announced on Tuesday, after crashing the previous Sunday and fracturing his elbow, Cadel went on to finish the 204 KM stage, albeit losing his lead. Now I know he’s a professional and is paid to ride through the pain, but there are a lot of bikes out there that are so stiff they hurt to ride with a bruised palm, let alone a broken elbow. Either Cadel is truly one of the strong men of cycling, or the Impec has a pretty comfy ride – I’d like to think a little of both. Cadel has been quoted in regards to the Impec stating, “Never before in my career have I been able to develop a better feeling for a bike than with this masterpiece.”