Factor is a brand with a short but intriguing history. In 2009 British company Bf1systems, which provides electronics systems and support to high-level motorsport outfits including F1 teams, created the Factor 001, a bike that was extraordinary by the standards of the day. Disc brakes, a computer built into the bars, a split down tube and fork, and an integrated power meter were all part of its vision of the future. With a pricetag of £20,000 it was niche to say the least, but in the following years the company moved towards slightly more conventional bikes, releasing the Factor Vis Vires in 2013.
Last year, however, the brand had a serious metamorphosis when it was bought by two big names of the industry: factory owner Rob Gitelis and former Tour de France green jersey winner Baden Cooke.
‘I’ve been living in Taiwan for 20 years,’ says Gitelis, ‘and when I first moved there I worked for one of two carbon factories at the time. Now there are probably 100 making bikes for everyone. The Factor factory is owned by us and is only making bikes for Factor.’
American-born Gitelis owns factories in Taiwan and China, and has worked on Cervélo, Focus and Santa Cruz bikes to name a few. Bf1systems retains a share of the company, and so the brand retains a link to its British roots, but things have changed substantially for Factor under its new ownership.
‘The only people who really own their own factories these days would be Giant, and Trek in America, although they don’t make many bikes there any more,’ Gitelis says. ‘I felt that after 20 years of being an OEM manufacturer it was time to do some things I thought other brands could have done better.’
So is Factor going to start building with space-age carbon fibre and never-before-seen techniques? Apparently not.
‘One of my goals in owning my own brand is not to expound all the bullshit that people in the industry talk about,’ Gitelis says. ‘I can tell you that in the entire bicycle industry there’s no such thing as high-modulus carbon fibre, there’s no T2000, there’s no aerospace carbon. There’s none of that. Almost everyone’s bicycles are made from the same carbon fibre, it’s all about how you manipulate the material that’s important.’
Having built for the big brands, Gitelis is keenly aware of how the bicycle manufacturing industry functions and believes that careful consideration at the initial production stage will offer substantial gains at the retail end. ‘$100 of manufacturing cost can become $1,000 at retail, because of the supply chain,’ he says.
There are three bikes in Factor’s new range, all being ridden by the British One Pro Cycling squad. The aero frame, the aptly named One, is the most complex in design terms, with a split down tube and an integrated one-piece fork and stem – a nod to the original 001 and Vis Vires. It has undergone CFD analysis and wind-tunnel testing to ensure decent performance against the wind.
‘The One-S is designed for the rider who wants to either have a very high position or a very low position,’ Gitelis says. Given the pro cycling fashion of slamming the stem, it’s little wonder that the One Pro Cycling team has taken to the One-S as a natural favourite.
The bike still holds aerodynamics at its core, using direct mount brakes concealed from the wind by blending into the shape of the forks at the front, and by hiding behind the bottom bracket at the rear. While it boasts the same wind-tunnel tested shapes as the One for the bike’s back end, a slightly less ambitious design at the front has saved a few grams over the One’s frame, coming in under 900g – pretty good for an aero bike.
Earlier Factor bikes were sometimes criticised for their ride quality, but the new range has been thoroughly put through its paces. As well as being ridden by One Pro Cycling, David Millar has become a brand ambassador for Factor, and along with Baden Cooke is the first to test new products. Factor clearly hasn’t rushed development either, with bikes that have been ridden and tested at the Continental Tour for months only now coming to the market in the UK.
For such a small, hitherto niche brand, Factor has jumped straight to the level of the big global brands, with a Pro Continental team, wind-tunnel testing, a standalone factory and R&D input from Tour de France jersey winners. Will it be able to punch above its weight on the road, though? We’ll find out with a full review in the future.