Nov 27, 2020

My Favourite Climbing Bike: Factor O2 VAM

Cyclist Magazine: December 2020

Cyclist Magazine’s Tech Editor, Sam Challis chose the Factor O2 VAM as his favourite climbing bike. See the full magazine article and read his words on the bike below.

Factor O2 VAM

A dusting on the scales must be supported by capability on the road, which is why the O2 VAM made its mark on me. With the frameset coming in under a kilo thanks to a frame weighing a claimed 667g (54cm), a top-end build hovers around 6.6kg. That’s a disc brake bike coming in 200g under the UCI weight limit, using components that are top-spec but ultimately conventional.

Despite the bike’s skinny silhouette, features such as the ‘wide stance’ seatstays and sculpted bottom bracket junction mean the O2 VAM is stiff enough at the rear for sprint efforts – and that’s coming from an 84kg rider. Combined with its low weight and disc brakes, that rigidity makes for a brilliantly reactive bike that accelerates and brakes with pleasing promptness. Few bikes have allowed me to dart around the technical Dorset lanes I ride on with the same level of confidence. Firing into turns and powering out of them is consistently rewarding.

The VAM is comfortable and handles well too. The lightest carbon fibres are by definition the stiffest, so to roll around and not have my fillings shaken out, or to find the bike doesn’t hop around like popcorn kernels in a microwave when cornering, was a welcome surprise. I’ve rarely felt so planted on such a lightweight bike.

I’m of the opinion it might even be pretty aero. While Factor shares no data to prove my point, I certainly didn’t feel the bike was holding me back at high speed. Plus the VAM presents a clean, slim profile to the wind, engineers having cleverly integrated cables without increasing the frontal area of the head tube. To do this a D-shaped steerer tube has been employed so the cables have space to run through the head tube without the need to upsize the upper headset bearing.

The Knowledge

In short, the O2 VAM is a complete bike. Its combination of attributes marks it out as something special. What I like is that Rob Gitelis, industry veteran and Factor’s owner, is candid about the fact the bike required pretty special engineering knowhow and fabrication methods to get to where it is. A superhero is only as good as its origin story and Factor doesn’t scrimp on the details. Gitelis says this is the most expensive frameset he has ever made. When you consider he has owned factories that manufactured for Cervélo and Scott, and that Factor also boasts the extremely complex One in its range (featuring a split down tube and external fork steerer) you can start to appreciate the sentiment.

The main tubes use Nippon Graphite Pitch fibre, an incredibly stiff, incredibly costly and very difficult material to work with. Boron filaments have been added to the seat tube for both compliance and their ability to cope with the compressive forces of the rider’s weight. Textreme, a premium spreadtow fibre often used as a top layer for visual effect, has been used as the base structure at tube junctions, chosen for its proficiency at being moulded into complex shapes. All these unusual materials are subjected to equally unusual manufacturing methods. Latex-covered Styrofoam mandrels are used in the moulds, so it’s possible to compress the composite at a higher pressure and thus expunge more resin. Every gram counts.

Gitelis says the bike was only financially viable because he owns his own factory so can absorb costs from individual projects into the expenses of the business as a whole. Knowing it took decades of experience, cutting-edge fabrication techniques and a flagrant disregard for production cost adds to the O2 VAM’s appeal for me.

Such forthright concessions are in contrast to the ambiguous marketing information we’re fed from many other brands. They rationalise the end product and its performance really nicely.

The core tenet of the bike is that it pushes things to extremes in some areas – the top tube is so fragile under compression that the bike ships with a ‘do not sit’ sticker along the middle – to create balance in others. By doing so Factor has been able to create something that stands out in a highly congested category, and the result on the road speaks for itself.

Words by Sam Challis, Tech Editor of Cyclist Magazine

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