It’s not often that you see a person’s name grace the down tube of a bike that hasn’t had some association with the upper echelons of cycling. Brands like Merckx, Fondriest, Boardman and Cipollini all have instant credibility amongst cyclists due to their association with great cyclists. Neil Pryde never wore the yellow jersey in the Tour, nor was he a stage winner. He’s not a world or even national champion. It’s probably safe to say he hasn’t won any major cycling event, ever. He’s not even a cyclist!
Who is Neil Pryde?
Neil Pryde, the man, made his name in the word of sailing. He represented New Zealand in the 1968 Olympics and then went on to form a company manufacturing sails in 1970. Since that time NeilPryde, the company, has expanded into one of the leaders in the sailing and windsurfing markets.
So what led a company with a history in sailing to the bike business and, more importantly, what can it offer to the market to set it apart? When looking into new business ideas the company realised that their average NeilPryde sailing customer lived an outdoor lifestyle that included a range of sports including, of course, cycling. Also, the company’s existing manufacturing operations already had experience in making carbon fibre sail components. In a sport like windsurfing, a carbon fibre rig must be strong, light and be able to cope with the power of the wind, not unlike the traits required by a bicycle. With an existing customer base and experience in mass production of carbon fibre masts and booms, the expansion of their business into the sport of cycling became a logical area for growth. One of the other main drivers of the company’s expansion into the cycling industry is the founder’s son, Michael Pryde, who is a keen cyclist himself and now heads up the NeilPryde bike division.
What’s on Offer?
There are two distinct models that have been developed, the Alize and the Diablo. The Alize, the model tested here, is focused on aerodynamics and comfort while the Diablo focuses on stiffness and weight. Each model can be purchased as a stand-alone frameset or a complete bike equipped with either Shimano Dura-Ace or Ultegra components. There is even an option to purchase the frameset combined with the bespoke Lightweight wheelset. Both models were created in collaboration with BMW DesignworksUSA, a design company associated with the BMW car company that has over 35 years experience in product design in a variety of fields.
The Alize frame is a culmination of the company’s experience in windsurfing and knowledge of the aerodynamics. It has a narrow frontal surface area, yet the design of the tube profiles recognises that air does not always hit the bike from front on. The frame utilises a ‘Kamm-tail’ profile around the bottom bracket that allows a shorter-profiled tube to act in a similar manner to a longer, narrower structure. The profile shape is similar to a bullet. It’s a similar design that has been seen incorporated in Trek’s Speed Concept time trial bikes and also on the Manx Missile’s weapon of choice, the Specialized Venge.
When I first eyeballed the squared-off seat and down tubes exiting the bottom bracket I was a little sceptical as to how a flat surface could be considered aero. But check out the images on the NeilPryde website of wind-tunnel testing and you can see that in practise the air totally passes by the void as if it was fully enclosed. The seat tube closely follows the curve of the rear wheel, protecting it from turbulent airflow and the rear seat stays tuck closely into the rear.
One of the areas that set the Alize apart from other frames is the design of the seat clamp. The seatpost itself is a beautifully slender design that offers easy adjustment. For those looking for a forward position, a 76 degree seat post is also available. On initial investigation there doesn’t appear to be a bolt to tighten the seat tube in the frame. It is there, at the front covered in two separate rubber covers that help streamline the whole junction. It’s unique and actually quite a clever design.
All cables are internal, enhancing the clean, flowing lines of the frame. The rear brake cable outer flows the whole way through the frame from the lever to the brake caliper giving the rear brake cable a well-sealed path and a very positive feel at the lever. The gear cables exit at a port at the bottom bracket making it a little bit easier for when cables are required to be changed.
The frame is available in three colours, while the basic design and graphic package stays the same. There is also now a customer paint option still retaining the three-colour pattern and there are six size options.
Tacking into the Wind
It was perhaps ironic that many of my available opportunities to ride the Alize were very windy. Great weather for windsurfing, but not so pleasurable to be riding a bike. The benefits of an aerodynamic bike are hard to quantify, both objectively and subjectively. Much of the advertising will focus on large percentage differences, which usually relate the performance of a particular shaped tube over a round tube in very isolated conditions. When it comes to the bike as a whole you may hope to gain a saving of a few watts of energy or a handful of seconds over a 40km course. Yes, an aerodynamic bike be will be more efficient, but the benefits are marginal and may not be enough to alter the performance. Out on the road I honestly couldn’t tell the difference battling that wind.
The one thing I could feel immediately was that this bike was a true race machine. The steering felt very responsive and the overall balance was perfect. The bike felt equally confident holding a straight line in buffeting crosswinds or staying relaxed at high speeds with a howling tailwind. The same geometry is shared with the Diablo model.
Whenever it is really windy and threatening to rain, I like to ride a certain hill close to my home. The hill is about five kilometres long and offers a steep initial ramp out of suburbia, then the gradient softens with a more relaxed winding tree-lined road to the summit. It stays reasonably sheltered from the wind and is perfect for testing how a bike performs on climbs and descents.
Although weight was not one of the primary priorities of the project, the Alize is far from heavy. The frame is around the 1kg mark and the bike without pedals weighs in at the magic 6.8kg point. Hitting the hill out of the seat, the bike felt nimble and light underneath and the Dura-Ace gears slipped effortlessly into the low range. I like to do a few short, sharp accelerations to test overall stiffness. Holding onto the brake hoods and reefing on the bars the torsional rigidity of the whole package was excellent with no perceivable flex between the fork and head tube. The combination of a 1 1/8 top bearing with the oversized 1 ½ lower bearing really helps stiffen up this area. Shifting up a gear and trying a seated stomp, the bottom bracket area was easily up to the task.
At the top of the climb, the clouds were darkening as I turned to begin the descent. I was already confident that the Hutchison Atom tyres were nice and grippy and the bike tracked predictably through flowing turns. As the descent continued my confidence grew, which was handy as a few rain drops had begun to fall. I quickened my pace in a race to get home before the sky opened up and made it just in time.
On later longer sojourns I could better appreciate some of the other features. One of the stated design targets was comfort. Comfort is always going be in direct competition to stiffness and performance, but in my mind as long as you get the handling dynamics right and don’t make the bike so stiff that it sends every ripple to the rider then you’ve won the battle. In that respect the Alize ticks the comfort box. It is not in the same league as what I consider the comfort leader, Specialized’s Roubaix, but it isn’t overly harsh.
One of the areas I feel is contradictory to the stated goals of the frameset is the choice of wheels. I really like the look, feel and performance of the Mavic Ksyrium SLs but various independent tests never rate them very highly for their aerodynamic performance. Still, they are light for a clincher wheelset and I’ve found them to be strong and durable in the past. Personally, I loved the choice of the Selle Italia SLR XP saddle and found the FSA SLK compact bar shape to be excellent.
For their first effort at building a bicycle, NeilPryde has done an excellent job. The design and finish of the bike is exemplary and the component choice includes all quality components.
The Alize is a true race machine with excellent handling and balance. Unless you change the wheels to something more aerodynamic you are unlikely to see much benefit from the aero sculpting of the frame.
Value for Money
By relying heavily on web-based sales and minimal dealership involvement, NeilPryde are able to pass the cost savings on to the consumer and deliver a well-priced package. Interestingly, they have chosen to sponsor key people around the world who live and breathe the sport of cycling, instead of a more expensive approach of supporting a team.
The Alize is a remarkable foray for NeilPryde into the bicycle business. It ticks all the boxes required for a true race machine. It will be interesting to see if their brand awareness can migrate from the sailing world into the cycling world. If the company’s sailing pedigree is anything to go by, I’d expect to see a lot more from NeilPryde in the future.
Frame: High-modius monocoque
Fork: High-modius monocoque
Headset: FSA Integrated 1 1/8″ – 1 1/2″
Stem: FSA SLK, 6° 31.8mm
Handlebars: FSA SLK Compact, 31.8mm
Shift Levers: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
F Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
R Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900 12-25
Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
Crank: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900 53/39 172.5mm
Bottom bracket: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
Brakes: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
Wheels: Mavic Ksyrium SL
Tyres: Hutchinson Atom Comp 700x23c
Saddle: Selle Italia SLR XP
Seatpost: Alize Aero SL
Weight: 6.8kg without pedals
Price: $ 6,099