Described as a “luxury brand with racing in its veins and engineering at its heart”, Factor Bikes is a boutique brand that just gained entry into the WorldTour. We review the flagship model Factor One to find out whether it’s going to set the world on fire in 2017.
The Factor One is a development of the radical Vis Vires which launched the brand back in 2013. It has matured but hasn’t lost its character. The external steerer fork and split downtube are retained and, we’re told, always will be on the top models as signature features of the brand.
The frame is actually from the same mould as the Vis Vires but the carbon fibre lay-up has been refined to improve both stiffness and comfort. The new ‘OTIS’ fork has a single aero section in front of the headtube and mounts a Dura-Ace brake in front; the Vis Vires had a ‘Twin Vane’ split external steerer and a TRP aero V-brake behind the fork legs.
The Factor range also includes the One-S, which swaps in Factor’s conventional ‘Shank’ fork, and the O2 which pairs that fork with a superlight, single-downtube frame. It’s the O2 that AG2R rider Romain Bardet has been testing and will be the main team issue bike in 2017.
Our test bike is the range-topper, with a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset, Black Inc 45mm carbon clinchers (called Fifty, confusingly) and a carbon-railed Fizik Arione saddle. It’s a smart build but it’s a lot of money and isn’t bundled with as many goodies as its predecessor.
The top Vis Vires came with a Garmin 810, Scicon AeroComfort travel bag and Beru F1’s highly regarded (but rarely seen) power meter for £9,500 (approx. US$12,100, AU$16,200)) in 2013. This top-spec One has the same groupset and wheels but switches an Enve bar for Factor’s own one-piece cockpit and does without the computer, bag and power meter for £8,500 (approx. US$10,800, AU$14,400). Value for money is almost a moot point at such prices but a BOGOF deal on downtubes doesn’t seem enough to keep this bike from looking expensive.
Conspicuous by its absence is a disc-brake version. Neither Factor’s co-owner Baden Cooke nor his test pilot David Millar are in a hurry to see a Factor race bike thus equipped, yet while they began their careers on aluminium frames, their reasoning has nothing to do with tradition; they embrace electronic shifting, after all. “No one ever said they lost a race because they couldn’t brake hard enough,” says Millar. “You have a tiny tyre contact patch so there’s only so much braking power you can use.”
While the essence of the One’s design pre-dates their involvement, Cooke and Millar’s influence is as tangible in the things they didn’t change as in those they did. The steering geometry is aggressive, the headtube short… and in bad weather the split downtube sprays your bottles with rain and whatever other muck is on the roads.
It’s a pain to clean, too. It feels like a bike made for the sunny rides out to a café that Millar describes in Factor’s promo video, and for riders bored of the usual brands. In fact, you could say that this is a bike made by ex-pros who live in Spain, for ex-pros who live in Spain.
Back in 2013 I was the first journalist to ride the Factor Vis Vires and more than three years later the One feels very familiar. This is a quick bike that likes to be ridden hard. The fork may have changed but it hasn’t lost much of the torsional stiffness that made the Vis Vires so direct. Combined with a head angle of 73.5º and a fork offset of 43mm, the One changes direction like a terrified squirrel. It’s the bike’s defining characteristic.
The one-piece cockpit is stiff but the drops are a little short, costing wrist clearance when sprinting, and of course the bar can’t be rotated back. A Garmin mount is included, though it’s too short to take an Edge 1000. And for this money, we expect to see Di2 sprint shifters included.
The Black Inc wheels are impressive. They may not be quite as sophisticated – or, more to the point for many buyers, illustrious – as the Zipps and Enves, or indeed Bontragers and Rovals, that you’d get on similarly priced rivals but they’re stable in gusty winds and respectably stiff. Braking is okay, no more, in both wet and dry.
The Twin Vane downtube was originally designed in 2008 to boost lateral stiffness without adding weight. It was only later that it was discovered to have an aerodynamic benefit, apparently handling the wash from the front wheel more effectively than a single large downtube. Factor claim it saves 100g of drag at 40kph, equal to around 1s/km.
We weren’t able to run a timed test but on our most oft-ridden roads the Factor always seemed quick relative to our power output. Lateral rigidity under big efforts is good, neither disappointing nor dazzling, though it isn’t up with the best and given the price it should be.
Aside from the increased chances of catching cholera, dysentery and other nasties from your dirty bottles, the Factor has no real flaws. It’s very light for a superbike, at 7.22kg, and the ride is firm despite the claimed changes to the carbon lay-up and the skinny, curved seatstays.
Swapping the 23mm tyres for 25s would be an easy win. The Schwalbe Ones are very good but even Black Inc’s own website says these wheels are designed for 25s and both comfort and grip would get a much needed boost.
It’s a really good bike and one that I’d happily take racing but it hasn’t come very far in three and a half years and there are plenty of bikes, many of them much cheaper, that I’d grab from ProCycling magazine’s secret underground bike bunker instead of this, whether for a long ride with friends or a race.
However, while time has dulled the shine of the Factor’s performance, it still has truckloads of character. If you’re looking for something that’s different, exclusive and still fast, this could be the One. Especially if you’re an ex-pro and you live in Spain.
This review first appeared in ProCycling magazine. Their Season Review issue, including their in-depth review of the Factor One, is on sale now