Find out how one lucky store colleagues got to join the buying team to the BMC model year 2019 bike launch in Italy and what we made of the experience..
Each year, the members of our buying team jet off somewhere nice and warm to see all the new bikes for next year. Invited by the brands, the idea is to sign off final orders and ride full production bikes.
This year though we thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to get a few store colleagues along?’, not only to thank them for their hard work but to get their input on next years bikes as well as providing direct customer feedback to the brands themselves. Mike from our Canary Wharf store and Chris from our Milton Keynes store, get your passports at the ready, were off to Italy!
Over to you Chris..
Touch down, Pisa. We’ve just landed after a short flight over the French Alps. It’s dark as we step out of the plane, but the heat and humidity still lingers. It’s going to be a hot two days, but we think the bikes we are about to see are going to be much hotter. Efficiently making our way through baggage collection and passport control, a driver waits to pick us up and take us over to Montecatini Terme, 50 kilometres inland where our beds wait.
After a well earned rest we awake at just gone six in the morning, the light already pouring through our hotel room windows, an early start, we have work to do. A guided talk through the new 2019 bikes and tech is first on the agenda. We walk across the Parco delle Terme, in what is already a noticeably warm temperature, to the Fontana Delle Foche, the location for BMC’s 2019 product preview.
Upon arriving we are blown away by the sheer beauty of the architecture that surrounds us, a fitting setting for such good looking bikes. Our guides for the two days quickly find us, some of us have met them before and after the warm greetings it’s straight into the showroom for a good two hours of absorbing new and exciting product knowledge with the occasional break to pick our jaws up off the floor and exchange our thoughts. Among the products on display, a new disc brake-equipped alloy Teammachine ALR, e-bikes from hybrids to full-sus MTBs aptly named AMP bikes and the much-anticipated, re-released Timemachine Road all stick out from the crowd, just begging to be taken for a ride. But these are the showroom bikes and we are all reminded that we can’t even photograph them, never mind ride them. The bikes we will be riding are all waiting for us in the demo fleet outside and first up is the stunning new flat-bar e-bike range, the Alpenchallenge AMP.
The range is sub-divided into CITY, CROSS and SPORT models.
The Alpenchallenge AMP is a bike that has had some serious time and hard thinking spent on its design. The battery is mounted on the seat-tube, meaning when the rider is in the saddle and riding, the battery is cleverly hidden. You can hardly see the power pack from the sides or the rear of the bike, so it’s not obvious that you have a little helping hand when flying past roadies up a mountain, which funnily enough is exactly what we are now gearing up to do. Pedals and helmets on and we are away on a lead ride up to the stunning and in parts incredibly steep, Montecatini Alto, a village atop a mountain, boasting stunning views, steep cobbled roads and good food, (more on that later).
Pulling away at the base of the mountain I soon have to grab the brakes. This thing is quick off the mark, probably thanks to its Swiss engineered carbon frame and high end Shimano motor. We ascend with ease. Chatting away as the miles fly by, these feel far from the usual uphill miles I’m used to on my road bike. Reaching the castle at the top requires riders to brave the sharp, cobbled incline, which the Alpenchallenge AMP handles gracefully. This bike isn’t just fast, it’s comfortable and stable, something that’s very important on the roads back home in the U.K, but as we’d later find out, on the roads here in Tuscany. Dismounting our bikes and very carefully propping them up, we stop for a group shot at the top where the aforementioned view fails to disappoint.
Eager to discover just how these amazing machines handle on the downhill sections, we head back down the steep cobbled hill to begin our descent back into Montecatini Terme. The disc brakes don’t disappoint, doing what they do best they keep our speed in check despite our hands being rattled slightly by the rough surface that rolls under our tyres. Into the hair pins we easily hit speeds of up to 60kmh, backed by the confidence of the Alpenchallenge AMP’s stability and stopping power. When deciding where to place the battery, BMC were determined not to compromise the bike’s stability and so, thoroughly tested every imaginable mounting point before settling on the seat-tube. And it shows as I descend very quickly, in a group, without a single thought about the bike’s extra weight. The only factor here was remembering that the brakes were set up the European way, something I played over and over in my head, making sure I didn’t grab a fist full of front brake. Back at HQ I’m convinced that this particular electric bike is the best I have ridden, fast, stable, comfortable and pretty,
After a light lunch it’s time to get our cleats strapped tightly to our feet as we are about to ride the new Timemachine Road, but this ride is more than simply riding a gorgeous new top end speed machine. This ride is lead by none other than ex pro Cadel Evans. I tighten my shoes that little bit more, realising that this is not going to be a ‘Sunday Social’ ride. The Sun breaks through the morning cloud and heavily beams down on us now, we are easily reaching 30 degrees as Cadel gathers us in the courtyard for a pre-ride briefing. He starts talking about the bike and the route we are going to be taking. Realising he hasn’t introduced himself he pauses mid sentence and says casually, “Oh, I’m Cadel by the way,”.
A few laughs are had as we all obviously know who he is, some of us, including me, not quite over his presence just yet. The sun seems to be hotter when not moving and so we start the ride, eager to see how the Timemachine Road performs. Luckily this particular bike claims to provide greater aerodynamic benefit when loaded with two bottles which I took no time in questioning as I filled up on isotonic 10 minutes prior. Armed with my two bottles and emergency toolkit all slotted neatly into the modular system which sits just above the bottom bracket, I instantly feel as though I’m flying along.
Cadel tells us that this bike performs better at higher speeds and so sets the perfect pace. Those of you who have ridden a BMC Teammachine lately will know that the first thing you notice about the bike is its stiffness and response to power. The TMR seems to have exactly the same characteristics and is lightning fast out of the junctions and roundabouts. I don’t feel like I’m carrying a litre of water and the equivalent weight of a saddle bag, must be something to do with aerodynamics and definitely not the adrenaline from riding with a former champion of the cycling world. As we head out into the countryside the roads get rougher. Usually for a bike this fast that would spell disaster for a riders hands and backside, however this bike has taken yet another of the Teammachine’s characteristics and is extremely comfortable. BMC seem to have done it again, they’ve produced that rare breed of both stiffness and comfort.
I’m feeling fresh as we approach the only hill of the ride, so myself and a few others put the boot in and push hard up the climb. The bike transforms every watt into forward momentum, propelling us toward the top, however the bike isn’t everything it would seem as Cadel sails past us all, barely breaking a sweat. He doesn’t let up after we reach the top either and after a quick regroup we end up single file, full gas, with Cadel on the front, the perfect lead-out into the finish back where we started but an hour later with a whole 20 miles more in the legs. Obligatory hand shakes and photos with the main man are taken, this isn’t a ride I’ll soon forget. We are left with fantastic impressions of the TMR and incredible memories of a ride with a cycling legend.
Several hours later and we finish the day with a ride on the funicular train up the mountain to the village we had visited that morning. Good food and great talk about the experiences we’ve had. Maybe a little too much wine and it’s time for bed. We have to ride again tomorrow after all.
Day two. A slightly more acceptable time of 8am sees us split up to ride the bikes we are most interested in. For me it’s the Speedfox AMP. I plan to find the MTB trails BMC have carefully set up for us on the mountain. This is sure to be very different to MTB back home. Heading up the mountain at a pace I could only ever dream of pushing on a non-electric-full-suspension bike, I still feel as though I’m managing to get at least a little bit of a workout as I climb the steep and technical, rocky ascent usually used as paths for trekking. The bike manages power output splendidly and grips perfectly despite the loose terrain rolling beneath the rubber.
Hitting the summit in very good time, I take a moment to collect myself and test the brakes and weight of the bike, almost forgetting after all the uphill riding that the bike is set up with the brakes the European way, (something that’s quite important when you’re about to shred down the side of a mountain). It’s not long before I enter the technical and fast part of the descent. A number of huge steps lead down the trail, winding through the incredibly sharp corners the crazy locals have dug out. I am certain that, had I been much braver, the Speedfox would have handled this section with ease, however I opt to dismount for some of the more challenging parts. Who wants to destroy a lovely bike such as this?
The gradient eases and I hop back on the bike into the more flow based sections. Huge wooden berms and drop offs line the trail, providing a good test for the bike’s grip andrear suspension. Despite being heavier than a standard full-sus, the BMC handles well allowing me to enjoy the rest of my descent. Reaching the bottom I find I have a huge grin spreading wide across my face. I wish I had more time to give the trails another go, but I have to get back for a chat with the team about the bikes we have seen/ridden.
It’s just turning to the afternoon as we sit down to discuss which bikes we think have the most potential, trouble is, there are so many to choose from and we don’t have an unlimited budget. We all agree on one thing though, BMC have managed to produce another year of spectacular, high end, good looking bikes that are sure to meet the needs of any serious cyclist right down to the beginners looking for a solid bike to start their cycling adventures. As our evening flight draws closer, we bid the BMC crew a fond farewell and make our way back down the Tuscan roads to the airport in Pisa, where our plane back to sunny England awaits. This is a trip I shan’t soon forget.