Up Close and Personal with the New BMC Impec: Now with More Robots!

Photo c. Roger Grutter

Photo c. Roger Grutter

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.  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!

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Team version Impec with gloss carbon tubes and red shells.

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.

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BMC's attempt at a Stealth Bomber. Noble version in matte black. Yes please.

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!

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Robots produce what looks to be a snake, made of carbon fiber. LSW tubes, ready for frame construction.

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.

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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.

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Incredible machines, and the bike isn't even in the picture!

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 are  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.

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Shell Node Concept parts in the making.

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.

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Muscular looking head tube junction with tidy internal cable routing.

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.

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BIG BB30 bottom bracket junction.

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.

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Tapered steerer shell fork.

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.

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Shell seat tube junction with integrated seat post.

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.

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Cadel with his Impec in Yellow after stage 8.

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.”

Impecs will begin to roll out of the purpose built factory for consumer purchase later this Fall. Check out the entire BMC lineup, and Tour news on their page.

Comments

alloycowboy - 07/16/10 - 6:54am

Intersting, this seems like a throw back to Trek’s Carbon Lug process with the additional of a of custom filament wound carbon tube set.That isn’t a bad thing, just different and interesting. So I guess the thing to do is a blind test. On a dark night test a indenticaly speced Trek Mondone vs A BMC and see if you can actually tell them apart. Oh be sure to use an ibike Dash computer with a power meter so you get scientific data to make sure it is a fair test.

Jonathan - 07/16/10 - 1:45pm

Although this bike looks amazing, I would like to point out the fact that BMC is trying a bit to hard to convince us that the technology they use is new and proprietary. If so, then what is this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4DLr8qHliI

Automated Sleeve Weaving is a technology know and used for several years (in fact more decades), mostly in the aircraft industry (to create carbon fiber propellers). Don’t get me wrong, this technology is great, but bikes company should stop saying all day long that they created new technology. BMC is probably the first one to use this specific technology, but there’s nothing really new here.

And other company could reply that this system can only create tubes, and that you need aluminum or carbon insert to connect these tubes. In an era where any major bike company is using bladder molded monocoque, this design seems a bit “old fashioned” (it doesn’t mean worse !!).

But boy oh boy, does this bike looks awesome.

Bysickler - 07/16/10 - 5:39pm

Well, it sure looks pretty, and I like that they are both designing and manufacturing the whole object. But at what price? I’d love to buy one — but how does this technology create a competitive advantage for them as measured in very hard-earned dollars and cents?

alan statham - 07/17/10 - 12:57pm

Too much Hubris! The advertising campaign is too bombastic, and there is nothing really new here. Checkout this carbon fiber weaving machine at for the Lexus LFA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4DLr8qHliI

Yannig - 07/17/10 - 6:59pm

I do agree with Jonathan in what he says !

When you guys say : “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”, that might be true to some extent. However, there is another company that weaves its own carbon tubes in Europe : the French from Time Sport. They are the only ones to manufacture their own tubes in France, for sure ; in Europe, I don’t know…

And about BMC’s “LSW” or “SNC” technologies, I think that’s all marketing. To come back to Time, they also claim they have the best carbon-technlogy in the world, which they call RTM (Resin Transfer Molding). Anyway, there’s a video on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66ffKebNPbs) that also shows such a circular weaving-machine than the one shown above. It might not be exactly the same -I’m not an engineer- but it looks a lot like it !

So, please BikeRumor, just show us the gorgeous bikes and report about how well Cadel is racing on them… but don’t tell us that BMC invented the world ! “This bike looks awesome”, as Jonathan says.

Vincent - 07/18/10 - 6:47am

Time is not only using filament winding machines like this for years, they also are using the RTM technique !

Moreover they do not only change the orientation of the fibers, they also use some different models of fibers in the mix, for example to damp vibrations.

The only thing that is different with BMC is the way they produce the lugs.

ZachOverholt - 07/20/10 - 1:23am

@ Jonathan and Alan, the video you posted notes that that is one of two such machines in the world. It is also for the production of a $350,000 automobile which was being constructed at the same time as BMC started making the Impec. That means a $10,000 bike has the same technology as a car 35 times more expensive! If it is the same machine (2 of 2), then BMC would have equipment that rivals one of the top automakers of the world, and BMC would still be the first bicycle company to use one.

@ Yannig, yes those machines are similar in the fact that they are round and weave carbon. Were they purpose built for bicycle manufacturing? Do they offer limitless control in the weaving of the tubes? I don’t know, I’m asking. But BMC claims that their process is the first designed solely and specifically for bicycle manufacturing. Unless any of you have intimate knowledge of the way BMC’s machines work, then you can not say whether or not that are the same thing as other companies. They’re not going to divulge all of their engineering secrets, so you kind of have to go off what they are willing to tell you.

bikeman - 11/26/10 - 1:25am

I was at the BMC plant last year, through the new plant which was a testing facility and that machine they say they have worked on since 2005 was not there. They are just good at advertisement. Time has used this for years. It is not new technologies just a new robot using the same . Have to wait to test out the bike and see if its as good or better than trek time and many others out there.

[...] pure matte black version of the 2011 BMC Impec was released at the same time as their Team Edition and is the same frame raced by Cadel Evans and George Hincapie throughout the [...]

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