Review: BMC GF01 Gran Fondo Endurance Road Bike
BMC snuck the Gran Fondo GF01 endurance road bike into the Paris Roubaix earlier this year, where it came in a respectable 3rd place. The formal introduction followed in April, and our test bike arrived shortly thereafter.
Our launch coverage has most of the technical features and frame details, this post recaps with some detail shots but is focused on the long term ride review. In a nutshell, the GFO1 is designed for endurance races and rides, Gran Fondos and those who regularly ride less than ideal surfaces. The frame’s Jekyll and Hyde personality splits it top to bottom, with the headtube, downtube, BB and chainstays getting massively oversized sections and the top tube, seat tube and seatstays having thinner, more compliant sizing.
In addition to tube shaping and sizes, strategically placed bends in the fork and stays, as well as specific layups throughout the frame, give the bike a remarkable ability to dismantle vibration and bumps before they reach your rear end. The entire package adds up to a very comfortable ride that can hammer. Click on through to see why…
Another factor contributing to the GF01′s ride quality is the geometry. It has a slightly longer chainstay , slacker head angle (71º to 72.5º depending on frame size) and increased fork rake compared to their Team Machine race bike. This makes the handling a bit more neutral and, along with a really tall head tube, puts the rider in a more upright position.
Called TCC (Tuned Compliance Concept), the bends in the fork and stays act as pivot points, letting things flex to respond to surface conditions.
Thin, flat seatstays work with the kink in the chainstays to let the rear axle move up and down a little.
The seatstays intersect the seat tube below the top tube junction, letting them flex the seat tube forward a little. This, combined with the flex built into the TCC seatpost, further reduces any shock reaching the rider.
Heading south, the huge downtube, wide PFBB86 and oversized chainstays make power transfer very efficient. We didn’t notice any lateral flex from the frame, only the good vertical kind.
A tiny little integrated chain keeper is adjustable. Note the flared seat tube and huge octagonal downtube use almost the full width of the BB shell.
The only feature we didn’t like was the rear brake cable’s path alongside the top tube. It sits just outboard of the bottom of the tube, which is already pretty wide, and regularly rubbed the inside of my knee. It’d be nice if they could tuck it under the top tube just a hair, or run it internally.
Out of the box, the largest size (61) weighs in at 17lb 1oz (7.73kg). There’s no missing this bike in this size, it’s simply enormous, but it fit three of us (all 6’2″ to 6’4″ like a glove. It comes stock with a 15mm setback post, which we kept. Some of us put on a 100mm stem in leiu of the 130mm stock Easton one, but other than that fit was great.
The building against which the bike photos above were taken sits at the end of a two mile stretch of some of the bumpiest road around. Chip seal, cracks and lumps never have more than 18 inches between them for the entire span. It’s brutal.
But it had been a while since I’d ridden it, and memory had faded. On the BMC, sure, it was a little bumpy, but the guys riding behind me were bitchin’ and moaning like it was cobbles. I couldn’t understand why they were making so much noise about it. Until I rode that same stretch again on the a different bike. Then I understood. It was indeed miserable.
The Gran Fondo has so completely soaked up the cracks, bumps and chips that I had no idea how bad that road really was until aboard a stiffer “normal” road bike.
And it handled other terrible road surfaces with equal grace:
Heat rippled asphalt in Florida? No problem.
Trailer or winter damage? Pffft….
And my favorite, the completely destroyed asphalt over concrete surrounding a manhole cover.
I rode the Gran Fondo directly over all of these irregularities and more, seated, at full speed, and they felt like nothing more riding over a pencil on a regular bike. Yes, this bike makes that big of a difference.
The massive frame sections suggest the bike simply uses brute force to plow through rough patches, and I suspect it certainly helps hold things together in those situations. But it’s the smaller tubes, flex points and seat post that all seem to work together to both damp vibrations and soak up the hits. All in all, it’s a package that works supremely well at making long, rough rides enjoyable.
As for performance riding, pros much better than us have proven it’s fully race ready when conditions warrant. For those looking for the lightest, quickest bike, the GF01 isn’t the ticket. It’s easy to maintain a good pace (particularly on rough roads), but it’s not as quick off the line. Not because the frame can’t handle a good sprint, more thanks to the rotational heft of wider, more durable tires and big alloy rims. For fun, we wanted to see how lighter, racier wheels affected performance:
The American Classic Road Tubeless
Magnesium Alloy wheels with Hutchinson 23c tires did put some pep it its step, too, but there were too many downsides. Plus, they look positively anemic on this frame. Despite numerous (too many to count!!!) attempts to dial the brake pads’ positions, the rear wheel howled loud enough to scare both who ever was riding the bike and anyone around him. Think truck horn loud, only high pitched. It also caused the entire rear end of the frame to vibrate and shudder. We don’t know why, and neither AC or BMC had seen this before or had any suggestions to remedy the situation, but it was all but unrideable. Lastly, we weren’t about to blast through ruts and potholes with lighter weight tires and wheels, even tubeless ones, which takes away a lot of the appeal of a bike like this.
It’s worth mentioning that the stock Easton road wheels are tubeless ready, and adding some high volume RT tires would drop a bit of weight where it counts.
The only other small gripe I had was using a round alloy handlebar on a bike designed for rough roads. A carbon bar with a flatter, more comfortable perch would have soaked up more high frequency vibrations and given me less hand fatigue over time. That, and thicker tape. The stock stuff’s pretty thin.
Summary: It’s a fast (not quick) bike that’s incredibly comfortable over very long distances on just about any surface. I finished long rides feeling fresher than normal. The drivetrain spec is great, as is the saddle, stem and the proprietary seatpost, and a handlebar is easy enough to swap out. The BMC Gran Fondo is a bike I’d take out any day of the week.
BMC’s endurance oriented, cobblestone capable Gran Fondo is rife with subtle innovations geared around creating a stable, stiff, vibration free ride. Gigantic down tube, flat seatstays that meet the seat tube a little south of normal, last minute curves at the end of a carbon fork, the list goes on, but the real question is how it feels when the rubber hits the road.
The first thing I noticed was the steering. The fork blades make the initial steering feel not unlike classic curved blade steel forks. The front wheel feels like it’s a little farther in front of you — sort of the opposite of the feel you might get after initially throwing your leg over a twitchy, nimble little racer. But the learning curve is short. While it might not be at home on a tight crit course (it’s not made to be), the Gran Fondo certainly would be plenty capable for the rider who does occasional short races along with the Gran Fondo’s forte: longer efforts such as centuries and, well, Gran Fondos. Now let’s talk about some of the things the Gran Fondo is made to be:
Comfortable: The Gran Fondo is no miracle cure for rough, chattery country roads, but it does dampen the vibrations and inspire more confidence. I found myself taking longer turns in the saddle between standing efforts. LIkewise, the big tires (28c stock) and large tubing inspired a bit more confidence against those little sticks, stones, and mini potholes that can suddenly appear in front of you in the pre-dawn and twilight hours that many of us are forced to ride in.
Stiff: The gigantic downtube and those flat, oversized stays don’t just offer vertical compliance, they also offer lateral stiffness. On sprints, hills, and intervals the Gran Fondo responded well. Every quad-searing, lactic threshold building stomp on the pedal translated to forward motion without flex or creak.
Stable: The Gran Fondo felt great at speed and on descents without feeling too long otherwise. Most of the geometry is fairly average for a non-compact bike despite the innovations in design.