Review: Valdora Cycles PHX 2 Black Pearl Triathlon Bike
Valdora Cycles is a small company in Tempe, AZ owned and operated by engineer Peter Olson, whose primary intention is to make the best triathlon bikes in the industry. Their mission statement is simple: “Valdora: discipline, determination, getting it done.”
Many triathletes or road cyclists in search of a TT bike may have never heard of Valdora Cycles not because they lack quality or speed but, simply, they don’t have a multi-million dollar marketing campaign and well staffed PR department like larger brands.
Because of the compact geometry, Olson says it’ll fit riders ranging from 120lbs to 230+lbs. After riding one, I agree. I had a chance to put their PHX 2 Black Pearl through the paces and can say their TT/Tri geometry will work well for most riders regardless specific stack and reach values they may need. Stiffness and handling abound while comfort is maintained. While many riders want the super low front end of the pros, their optimal power output (and, surprisingly, a more aero position) is generally found with the elbows sitting a bit higher. With all this in mind, could the PHX 2 Black Pearl your next Triathlon Bike?
Valdora Cycles was the first in the Triathlon industry to offer a semi-compact triathlon-specific geometry and this was back in 2001 with Valdora’s predecessor, the Black Pearl Stealth brand. Since then, Valdora has continued with their compact geometry Triathlon specific design and has created a frame that is not only extremely stiff, relatively light weight, aerodynamic and ridiculously strong but most importantly, comfortable to ride.
THE TECH STUFF
A higher/taller head tube and steeper head tube angle (74° in the XL that I rode) allows for a steeper set up and more responsive control especially when climbing and cornering. Other TT frames 70-73° head angles may be better suited for flatter courses where little maneuvering is needed.
Olson claims that many companies have gone to a thinner profile and skimpier top tubes as evidenced in many of the latest TT bikes in the industry… What he has tried to maintain is a uniform thickness and width of the tubing to maintain stiffness and decrease flex of the frame which, from my observations, sends the various forces we apply to the pedals directly into the drive train.
The PHX2 Black Pearl has an adjustable seat post allowing an effective angle from 73 to 79 degrees for the PHX2, which may help any athlete fine tune to fit for comfort and aerodynamics.
A feature that always brings a smile to my face is easily adjustable horizontal drop outs. The PHX 2 has a spring loaded drop out which allows for quick adjustment of the rear wheel approximation to the seat tube cut out, fine tuning the position for different tire makers and for aerodynamic advantage.
Many newer Triathlon/TT frames have gone with using proprietary brake calipers in order to hide them in unique spots. This is not the case with Valdora – they have designed the frame to fit any road bike brake caliper, which allows for further customization and versatility.
Cable routing “systems” are all the rage in the Triathlon/TT bike genre and Valdora has you covered. The cables run unobstructed and bare through the frame. While this does create difficulty re-routing them if you don’t know how or if you mistakenly pull the cables all of the way out, a video is available to explain how to get the job done.
In Germany at the EFBe lab there are three levels of performance – Standard, High, and Top. Olson wrote to me: “Valdora was only the third manufacturer to earn a Top Performance certification for a carbon TT/tri frame. The other 2 were Isaac and Scott that same year.” This is an independent laboratory that seems underutilized in this day in age as many companies have their own testing facilities along with a gaggle of engineers and techs to do the work.
Wind tunnel data is posted in the mythical “white papers” and is considered the industry standard of an aerobike’s potential. However, there exists no true independent testing organization for all of the frames. This means no testing standards, which makes it easy to bias the results to favor the company footing the bill for the wind tunnel time. Even with Valdora’s comparatively modest R&D budget, in 2008 the first gen PHX tested in at “725 to 750 grams of drag depending on the yaw angle” according to Olson. Only a few bikes did better. And that strength and aero performance was achieved on a frame that weighed in at just 1,246g/2.75lbs – very light for a full TT frame and fork!
That was then. Now, the second gen PHX 2 Black Pearl tests in at 675-725grams of drag.
The frame tests rather “aero” by industry standards and it is Olson’s viewpoint that with increased comfort as a result of potentially better fit characteristics an athlete may be able to remain aero for longer. Staying in the aero position is an absolute necessity for any TT and when you are uncomfortable in aero, we all know that the chances of staying in that position are slim to none, negating the benefits of riding with aero bars in the first place.
From my experience on the Valdora I can attest to a comfortable ride and one where I was able to remain aero without having to shift my position or sit up all that often. Another selling point of the Valdora PHX 2 Black Pearl is that with the sloping top tube (more slope with smaller frame sizes and less slope with larger frame sizes) is that the weight will be less, the frame will have increased stiffness and it is easier to swing your leg over the top tube before or after transitions during a triathlon.
PROBLEMS I HAD:
So far, this review has been filled with unicorns, pixy dust and butterflies regarding the PHX 2.
No review would be complete without a few “bumps” in the road. One problem that became apparent during the initial fit of the bike was with the seat post clamp. I could not seem to get the cups to “seat” well and as a result whenever pressure/weight was placed on the rear of the saddle the nose would elevate and vice versa when weight was placed on the nose. This made for some frustrating first few rides. I am a pretty strong dude and no matter how much tension I placed on the bolt, the cups would slip. I emailed Valdora, to test their customer service, and received a prompt (within 4 hours) response on possible fixes. Apparently, newer cups have been designed and this is something they had worked on extensively but I did not receive those newer cups with the bike. I placed a bit of carbon “sandy grease” (what I call it) friction paste on the cups and that seemed to alleviate the slipping problem. I was assured that the newer models are installed on all of the bikes being shipped out currently and the slipping is no longer a problem.
Valdora Cycles makes their own aero bar, and I wish I was able to test it. Instead, the bike came with Profile Design T2 bars which I have a long history of not enjoying at all. Bolts are too small (in my opinion), seem too flimsy and the adjustability is, well, a pain in the butt with the need to take the elbow pads off in order to adjust the pad and bar tilt or fore and aft positions. Just too much going on there for my taste. After having the bike for a few months now I still do not have the “feel” that I like from other bars that I like better. Not a mark against Valdora, just the spec on the test bike.
The saddle on the Valdora (Valdora Tri-Gel) was not my favorite either. Personally, I like a cut out… not necessarily because I find it attractive but ‘future generations need to be saved here people! For me, a cut out, in my opinion, allows for more comfort for longer. A saddle without a cut-out, in my experience, is a great way to stay fashionable but no way to develop a comfortable riding TT position. The gel on this saddle, as with most gel saddles I’ve ridden, is eventually redistributed to one or both sides and results in decreased cushioning capacity. An easy fix though, buy a different saddle.
I am thoroughly impressed with Valdora Cycles and the PHX 2 Black Pearl. For a smaller company fighting the ‘good fight’ with behemoths of the industry, they have produced a product that can compete with the big boys. Athletes in search of a great handling, responsive, stiff and seemingly universally fitting TT or triathlon bike, at a competitive price, should without a doubt take a look at the PHX2 Black Pearl.
- Front and Rear Derailleur: Ultegra 6700
- Crank Set: Vision TriMax pro 53/38
- Brakes: FSA Dual Pivot
- Brake Levers: RX 4.0 TT Aero
- Shifters: Dura Ace B579
- Cassette: Shimano 5700
- Chain: KMC X 10.93
- Handle Bar: Profile Design T2
- Aero Bar: Profile Design T2
- Stem: Profile Aris
- Tires: Michelin Pro4 Race
- Saddle: Valdora Tri Gel
- Wheels: 58/85 Carbon Clinchers $1,575 (1690 g, machined hub bodies, bladed spokes, sealed bearings, alloy braking surface)
- Weight (sans pedals Size Large): 19.09 Lbs (8.66kg)
- Claimed weight of frame and fork: 2.5lbs
- MSRP: $3000.00 without carbon racing wheels, add $1575 with carbon racing wheels (as pictured)