Review: Valdora Cycles PHX 2 Black Pearl Triathlon Bike

Valdora 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

PHX 2 Tall Head Tube and Top Tube

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.

TESTING

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.

PHX2 Seat Tube and wheel cut out Valdora Aero Fork, Head Tube and Carbon Race Wheels

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.

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

Valdora Cycles PHX2 Black Pearl Geometry

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.

Valdora-Carbon-Race-wheels

SPECS

  • 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)

 

Comments

K - 07/22/12 - 6:29pm

ZZZzZZZzz….Another China open mold frame.

Tropt - 07/22/12 - 7:14pm

With all that is mentioned about the layup of the frame, the unique geometry, and the wind tunnel/stiffness testing it sure doesn’t sound like it was just picked out of an asian carbon catalog. Many smaller manufacturers who have their frames produced overseas do their own design in-house and communicate frequently with the builder while developing the frame. Yeah, there are a lot of “china carbon” frames out there, but it’s unfair to assume that every small time company picks their bikes out of a catalog.

Don’t confuse cynicism with actually knowing anything.

Peter Olson - 07/23/12 - 10:26am

Tropt, you’re right. In fact we provided actual copies of the lab tests for this review. Of course these frames are not from open molds. The only other semi compact tri frame I am aware of is the Specialized Transition which came years later.

I designed Valdora geometry. Our tool shop opened the molds. We spec’d the composite layup specifically for triathletes. While the larger brands were taking back cracked carbon frames by the truck load, Valdora was not. We’ve known our customer (triathletes) from the beginning.

The clamp issue mentioned by the reviewer has been corrected. Have questions about Valdora? You can always reach us through http://www.valdoracycles.com . I am the owner. Feel free to call or e-mail me direct.

sambo - 07/23/12 - 1:56pm

ugly ugly ugly bike

KO - 07/23/12 - 2:10pm

To K’s comment: The Valdora PHX-2 is not “another China open mold frame.” Just so you know, the company owns all of their molds.

Term - 07/23/12 - 2:52pm

Not a open mold and consistently get great comments at races on how good the bike looks. Have had it over a year, no seat issues, do have the Valdora aero bars, which I love. Along with faster bike splits.

Scott Horns - 07/23/12 - 3:07pm

I am in my 20th year in the sport and 3 years ago I pulled the plug and bought a SRAM loaded PHX Pearl with Valdora’s aerobar and deep wheelset. This has been the best bike and most comfortable I have been in all those years and of course because of this I am now faster. Great company and super fast service.
I have ridden all the top companies in the past Specialized Transition, Griffen, Trek and nothing compared.

Scott Horns

Jackie Pearce - 07/23/12 - 3:10pm

I can vouch that this company works hard to design great quality bikes, yes they are manufactured in China but so is every other good carbon frame out there. Valdoras are designed in the USA, and the company is American! I couldn’t be happier with my Valdora PXH2 or with the company in general. The bike speaks for itself, take a ride on one and you won’t want anything else! The power transfer and stiffness is second to none and you will appreciate that the value for money is huge if you compare price to other “big brand” bikes. Aesthetically, I love the look, see it in person, photos don’t do it justice! This bike took me to Kona on my first Ironman attempt….can’t get better than that folks!!

Ben - 07/23/12 - 3:13pm

Having spent many years riding and testing TT bikes, I bought a PHX in 2010 because I knew a crazy fast pro that road for Valdora and spoke highly about their bikes. Over the course of the last 2 years I have enjoyed the attention the PHX gets in transition and the technical ability of the bike to handle anything the road throws at it. Responsive, agile, and fast, the PHX has put me in the top ten bike splits at every race i have entered since 2010. I would recommend the PHX to anyone looking for fast, aerodynamic, responsive time trial bike looking to race on a machine that will attack anything from sprint to ironman events!

Keep the rubber side down friends.

Carl - 07/23/12 - 4:15pm

ugly. Brings nothing to th table. How do they hope to make any sort of impact on the market with that fugly thing?

Steven V - 07/23/12 - 10:45pm

I bought a PHX a month ago and I LOVE IT!!!!!!. Pete is very informative in describing the bike and answering questions about the bike and its components. I have a small loop of 13-14 miles that i do near work and before I bought this bike my average speed was 16.1 mph or 51 minutes. On the new bike i was able to do the exact same loop and my average speed was 18.1 mph or 45 minutes. 2mph faster and 6 minutes is a lot on that small loop. I did my first race on the PHX and averaged 20 mph on a 12 mile course. I have never averaged that speed anywhere and only previously hit that speed on my old bike doing some 1 mile sprints. I am very pleased with the bike and you’ll see my riding with a smile on my face.

Bob M - 07/23/12 - 11:38pm

I rode a Specialized Transition Pro for over a year. It was sexy. A show stopper. And a flat out misery to ride. A terrible climber with horrible to outright dangerous handling. So many bad ideas on that bike. I almost quit the sport because my $6000 “pretty” bike sucked and I thought they were all that way. And yes, I got it professionally fitted. Pretty means nothing. I will put my Valdora on the line against ANY bike. I jumped on it the first time and was immediately faster and it climbs amazingly well.

Brad Twigg - 07/24/12 - 1:08am

Sambo and Carl- I think Quintana Roo makes a pretty pink flashy bike for the two of you, who need something that looks pretty standing still. This bike is by far the best investment I have made this year, I was able to load it with full Dura-Ace components, use the stock seat (comfortable), stock bars, aerobars, and stem- which are all great. The entire bike and components were all 2/3 the cost of one of the prettier bikes that are still hanging out in transition when my “ugly bike” and I leave them behind, and for the ones that are ahead on the bike course, the PHX isn’t bad at catching up either. ***Great bike..great owner…great service.***

Joe Company - 07/24/12 - 3:02pm

Back in 2006, I was introduced to Pete Olson and Valdora bikes. I picked up a PHX that year and was initially impressed with the unique carbon weave and compact geometry. It was definitely unique. I had no trouble finding an aerodynamic, powerful position. I competed in numerous events ranging from 40kTTs, to sprint triathlons to Iron-distance triathlons, and despite the differences in distance, the PHX was suitable for everything. The PHX climbed like a road bike, smoked the flats as good as any other tri bike, and allowed me to change from riding very steep to more slack (depending on the course).

In addition to being very pleased with the bike, I was equally impressed with the sincere interest Pete and Kendra Olson took in my racing and performances. After a competition, they would post my result and race report on their website and Facebook page – You won’t get that kind of attention from the big bike companies.

The PHX has rarely not taken me to the fastest bike splits in triathlons (from sprints to 70.3s), and was the fastest bike at the Best of the U.S. triathlon in 2008 and 2009. (obviously I had something to do with that, but I couldn’t have ridden faster than some of the best triathletes in the U.S. on a shoddy bike!). I have since changed from the PHX to the PHX2 (pictured above) and find that the quality and performance is still second-to-none!

No matter where I race or train, the PHX2 always draws attention. I have a choice and can ride whatever bike I choose, but year after year, I continue to ride Valdora. They make a great product and I can’t imagine working with better folks than Pete and Kendra.

Brad Seng - 07/27/12 - 4:42pm

Prior to riding a Valdora I was on a Quintana Roo, Trek & Felt. Hands down my Valdora PHX2 has been the most comfortable and responsive bike I have ridden over all sorts of varied terrain. It climbs the best of any TT bike I have been on and handles extremely well on tricky descents. It has proven to be extremely comfortable over the flats and gently rolling terrain.

Beyond performance, the customer service from Valdora is unmatched! Any technical questions or concerns I had were quickly addressed by the owners. They went to great lengths to make sure their frame would fit me before I committed which I greatly appreciated. Kendra and Pete are exceptional people who take pride in their business.

Patrick Groue - 08/17/12 - 4:04pm

To Sambo and Carl
I dont know what you guys are talking about when it comes to the black pearl being ugly, but any how, I have just purchased one and I think it is the best deal you can get on any Tri bike out there.Pete Olsen has a winner with this bike, and he is willing to help you out any way he can to make sure you are getting what you pay for plus more.This is by far the most Comfortable bike I have ever owned and lets not forget fastest also.Maybe if you guys were not so concerned about being pretty you would buy yourselfs a valdora and become faster!

Nick - 11/06/12 - 10:19pm

I bought the reviewed bike about 6months ago and have been very happy with the performance. It does exactly what everyone on this site, including the reviewer, says it does. I do however still have issues with the seat slip, even after the Australian distributor apparently sent me the new and improved clamp arrangement. And i do find the valdora aero bar system a little “different”! in the aero position it is fine but when on the bull horns and cornering i find the responsiveness of the frame mixed with the wide and slightly strange position of the bull horns makes the hole bike seem unstable and cornering becomes a little “sketchy”.

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