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Test Lab Avanti Chrono Evo II

I, however, have been a practising triathlete for the past twenty-plus years, a sport where time trial bikes are the stock in trade of those that participate. Triathletes are folk who may, in the course of their entire cycling life, never once feel the need to own or use an STI lever, nor be conversant with the rules and regulations imposed by the UCI. They will, however, often be fully versed in the technical aspects of wind-tunnel data, the effect of yaw angles and the pros and cons of seat angles and bike fit methodologies.

Research and Development

There was a time when time trial bikes were a manufacturer’s whimsy, akin to the motor show prototypes. Shapes and geometry were based on what riders said felt good, or what commonsense would dictate. In the ensuing years we have discovered that what feels fast is not necessarily so, and properties that commonsense would dictate to be aerodynamic may not be so. The availability of wind tunnels and computer modelling have allowed manufacturers to model and confirm the properties of a prototype design before going into full production, and more importantly for the trainspotters out there, it also gives scientific data to back any claims that are made.

All this is an expensive and time-consuming process, that to be perfectly honest probably wouldn’t proceed if it were only to service the time trial needs of road cyclists. But the explosion of triathlon as a mainstream sport has given rise to a ready market for these futuristic machines and the few cyclists who need time trial rigs can ride on the coat-tails of this demand.

The Avanti EVO Chrono TT is Avanti’s latest offering in the Time Trial/Triathlon market. It is a bells and whistles time trial machine that Avanti have put an enormous amount of time and effort into. The result is a fantastic looking bike that is a far cry from Avanti’s previous models. Avanti have taken advantage of the latest technology available to bring to the market a bike wanting for nothing. The carbon fibre frame is the result of an exhaustive design process. It takes the concept from sketch to reality via numerous steps that no matter how seemingly insignificant, can be crucial in the way the final functioning bike behaves both in response to the riders commands and to the environmental conditions.

The Chrono Evo II was developed in conjunction with a track-specific time trial frame, the Pista Evo II. This is a clever way of doing things, as most of the technology required to make a bike slippery to the wind is transferrable between the two frames and this then amortises the R&D costs over the two bikes. The one area where track bikes differ from a road TT bike is the need for supreme stiffness throughout the frame. Anyone who has watched the likes of Chris Hoy monster a track bike off the start line would no doubt concur. The road going version has, in turn, benefitted from this need as stiffness is a noticeable feature of the Chrono. The enormous bottom bracket area and the squared chainstays ensure that every watt possible is transferred to the drivetrain. Whether rolling out of the start house or pushing a big gear to drive over a hill to get a break on your competitor, the Chrono Evo responds immediately. In events like Ironman however, where the bike leg consists of a 180km time trial, stiffness alone is not enough and comfort is certainly not something to be overlooked. In the race environment, traithletes are often time trialling wearing an extremely minimalist chamois (to aid the run leg) and riding on the nose of the saddle, so any frame discomfort is greatly magnified. My race outing on the Avanti was going to be a baptism of fire.

My first real race for the season was to be held on some country back roads and the need to get off the bike feeling fresh enough to be able to run without feeling crippled was foremost in my mind after a winter of neglected running training. Time trial bikes don’t handle like road bikes, nor will they ever, but the Avanti was stable at speed and dependable through high-speed corners regardless of the surface texture. I was amazed at how well the Chrono handled the road buzz usually experienced on coarse country roads. Despite the aggressive setup and the large aero tubes, the ride was as good as any I have experienced on a TT bike, leaving my legs feeling fresh enough to do my impression of running when the bike leg was over. The handling was dependable, even when encountering the occasional pothole that can tend to make a TT bike skittish when the front end is weighted in the aero position. This in turn allows you to relax through the hands and shoulders and concentrate on the job at hand.

When it comes to aerodynamics there is no doubt that the biggest drag factor is the big lump of flesh sitting atop the bike pedalling. However, there is no reason why, when all other factors have been optimised, one shouldn’t try to ride the most aerodynamic frame available. Avanti have left no stone unturned in the pursuit of such a frame. In a process that was years in the making the Chrono has gone from sketch to final product via a complicated series of detours through detailed drawings, 3-D drawings, modelling, CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamic) modelling, Finite Element Analysis, wind tunnel testing and prototyping before a signed-off production model is ready to go. All this time and effort is necessary to not only produce a frame that claims to be aerodynamic, but that can prove that it is aerodynamic, as one should never doubt the length some triathletes will go to, to research claims of time and power savings. To further complicate issues these days there is now the need for bikes that will be used in UCI-sanctioned events to be UCI approved, which no doubt constrains somewhat the ability of the designers to be aero at all costs.

It is almost to the point where you start to wonder why bike companies bother with such a relatively small market sector. Well, as mentioned in the intro, I assume it is because none of this information is wasted. All the results will be stored and will no doubt be taken into consideration when the next batch of Avanti road bikes hit the design process. It’s a bit like Formula One motor racing. If the technology in those machines was only used for the racing car it would be a ridiculous waste. But as a result of F1 technology, we all now drive cars with ABS brakes, traction control and generally higher safety levels. And there is no doubt that even alongside the top of the line road bikes, TT machines still look like F1 cars.

Impeccable, Smooth and Uncluttered

The lines of the Avanti are impeccable, smooth and uncluttered. All cables are internally routed, aided by the choice of Shimano’s flagship Dura-Ace Di2 groupset. The brakes are hidden from view and more importantly from the wind. The front brake is concealed inside the fork, which seems like a work of engineering genius or sleight of hand, as there doesn’t appear to be anywhere near enough room for a brake in there. The downside of this compact arrangement of course, being the tricky nature of adjusting these brakes. The front brake is activated by a cable that is routed through the nose cone with no cable visible externally at all. The rear brake is concealed under the bottom bracket with all cables also internally routed. The bottom bracket mounted brakes have been a bit of a concern for me in recent times. In an era when we have been spoilt with the fantastic braking ability of standard groupset brakes, many TT bikes have taken a backward step in providing brakes that are great for aerodynamics but are functionally flawed or near impossible to adjust through convoluted cable routing. Thankfully the rear brake on the Avanti was both responsive and seemingly easy to adjust.

The beauty of the Di2 on a time trial bike is the ability to change gears whether in the aero position or up on the base bar. Whilst this may seem like a pleasant convenience it has a much greater functional purpose if you are a ‘one bike’ triathlete. A while ago I was speaking to Australia’s world champion Ironman, triathlete Craig Alexander, about his Di2-equipped bike and he said that for him the real beauty was the ability to not have to think about what bike to take out on his long ride. Even if it was a hilly ride, which would have been a pain on a mechanical shifting setup, with the Di2’s supplementary shifters a hilly ride with time trial efforts can all be done on the same bike with no compromise in shifting ability. The Di2, as you would expect, works flawlessly and for those who are in the position to race where a spare wheel may be an issue, the ability to tune the gears on the fly is an amazing innovation. In my recent race I noticed that on the Avanti I was changing gears more than I would have on my own mechanical setup. The ability to maintain optimum cadence through a series of quick shifts up or down was a luxury I would not have normally been afforded on my own bike, so the mental decision of whether to change gears or get out of the saddle or stay in gear and power over a slight rise was never broached as with a flick of the thumb I changed gear, stayed aero and kept on pedalling.

The Chrono Evo II I received was the Team Di2 version and it arrived wearing Zipp’s 808 Firecrest wheels. These are the latest and greatest in aero wheel technology. Wheels, like frames, have gone through some pretty big changes in thinking recently. They have gone from being skinny V-shaped carbon hoops, which were thought to be the most aerodynamic shape, to now being a much wider rim. A whopping 27mm wide in fact! It seems somewhat counterintuitive that wider is more aero. But Zipp have the runs on the board when it comes to aero wheels and claim the 808 Firecrest is 15 seconds faster over 40km, which is a figure that should not be sneezed at. The wheels also bear Zipp’s patented dimples, which form a turbulent boundary layer on the surface of the wheel with the net result being less overall drag. As you would expect from Zipp, the wheels hum along nicely and roll comfortably on Continental Competition tubular tyres. The folks at Zipp also say that the new Firecrest shape aids in the handling of the bike. The shape is purported to give better handling results than wheels much shallower than the 808, with the speed advantage of wheels deeper than the 808, and even discs on many occasions. As someone who generally races on a disc, I can attest to the fact that the 808s certainly didn’t feel any slower than my usual setup, and if anything were a more comfortable ride.

The front end of the EVO makes use of the Pro Evo Missile aero bar, which is Pro’s top-of-the-line bar. While not being infinitely adjustable like some bars it certainly has a multitude of positions and heights available and is designed for fully internal cable routing, which in conjunction with the Shimano Di2 controls, makes for a clutter-free front end. The extensions can be moved in width and length, the pads can also be moved on the extensions and the pads raised through a series of aero-shaped shims.

It’s All Good, Yeah?

One downside to the all-out aerodynamics of the Avanti is the limited turning circle. The large fork crown used to conceal the front brake does limit the steering somewhat, a fact that caught me unawares once or twice when rolling around waiting for my TT start time. However at any speed beyond walking pace this would hardly be an issue. No corners have been cut on the Chrono and some clever thought has also been put into the seatpost which is a lot easier to adjust than many other TT setups and gives enough fore/aft adjustment to please both triathletes and UCI commissaires. The saddle, while adequate, was not one I would choose for myself, however when you are a nose rider doing TTs, saddle selection becomes even more critical and personal. The seatpost is also adjustable in height by means of a funky integrated seat clamp, which is housed into the top tube and is delightfully easy to use.

All this aero goodness does come at a price though. At $10,999.95 it certainly is a pricey bit of kit. But for that you are getting the best of everything, and the very latest technology Avanti has to offer.

On a purely superficial note the Avanti has also proven to be a real head turner. The current crop of high-end TT bikes tend to range somewhere between quirky and hideous, a fact many are prepared to overlook in the pursuit of aerodynamic advantage. The Avanti however, is not a bike where you will need to let your head overrule your heart. The top tube flows seamlessly through to the integrated stem, which houses the control panel for the Di2. The large aero tubes virtually disappear when viewed from the front or rear. The fork and rear stays leave the body of the frame tucked tightly to the wheel only to flare out when nearing the hubs. The Di2 battery is mounted inconspicuously below the non-driveside chainstay and thoughtfully they have provided two sets of drink bottle bosses, a bugbear of many long-course triathletes. The Chrono Evo is a fantastic looking machine, with a well thought out colour scheme and componentry. So good is the design, in fact, that the Avanti Chrono Evo II has been awarded two prestigious design awards. New Zealand’s “Best Design Awards” bestowed on Avanti a Gold Pin for being judges best in Category and a coveted Purple Pin for work that raises the bar of New Zealand Design. The judges described Avanti’s award winning bike as “a world class product demonstrating the highest standards of build, technology and New Zealand design”. The Chrono Evo II has also been issued with another ‘award’ – a UCI accreditation sticker allowing the bike to be used in all UCI regulated events.

All this technology and jargon means nothing if the bike does not perform. Cameron Brown, New Zealand’s favourite Ironman athlete and 10-time winner of Ironman New Zealand, has been assisting Avanti with the development of the Chrono Evo and rode a prototype model to victory in this year’s Ironman New Zealand. An impressive result for a bike not even in full production at the time. Now, while I’m no Cameron Brown I have been on my fair share of TT bikes over the years and it has been a long time since I’ve been surprised at the stiffness and response of a time trial bike. As a package the bike works perfectly and would leave you with no excuses if you weren’t knocking out PBs on this rig.

It may have been a long time coming and some may say it’s overdue but the Chrono Evo II has, I think, solidified the case. In the spirit of Phar Lap, Split Enz and Russel Crowe I think it’s time we declared Avanti an Aussie brand, so we can all TT on a great ‘Aussie’ bike. Choice idea eh Bro!

Summing Up

Quality

The quality of the Chrono Evo II cannot be faulted, it is a topnotch frame fitted the best parts available. Despite it being a brand new model from the ground up, apart from the fork mounted brake being a little difficult to adjust and the steering being limited for tight turning at low speed the Avanti was a dream to ride.

Performance

This is a ‘no excuses’ bike. If you get off after riding this and haven’t fulfilled your potential, blame your legs not the bike.

Value for money

At almost $11k it’s not cheap. The frame alone is set to retail at $5.5k. So if you bought the frame you wouldn’t be able build it locally at the same spec for that price. But it is a top end bike with nothing spared. If you want top performance and brands you can trust it does come at a cost.

Overall

The most important thing for a TT bike is fit, much more so than a road bike. Once fit is achieved, comfort follows a close second, the rest is up to you. While this would be an expensive toy to have sitting around for the occasional TT, a triathlete who can utilise it as their only bike due to the versatility of the Di2 would find it easier to justify, and would not be disappointed with their purchase. In fact, they’d be elated.

 

Specs

Frame- R5 Carbon Evo II Aero Road

Fork R5- Carbon Evo II Aero Road

Headset- FSA Integrated

Stem- Chrono Evo II

Handlebars- Pro Missile Evo Carbon w/ Carbon extensions

Saddle- Zero Zone Team

Seatpost- Aero Carbon Chrono Evo

Shift Levers- Shimano Dura Ace Di2

Brakes- Aero integrated fork mount front, Tektro 922-1 rear

Front derailleur- Shimano Dura Ace Di2

Rear Derailleur- Shimano Dura Ace Di2

Cassette- Shimano Dura Ace 11-23

Chain- Shimano Dura Ace

Crank- Shimano Dura Ace 53/39

Bottom Bracket- Shimano Press Fit

Wheels- Zipp 808 Firecrest Tubular

Tyres- Continental Competition Tubular

Bidon Cage- n/a

Pedals- n/a

Weight-8.3 kg without pedals

Price- $10,999


(The Chrono Evo II is also available as frameset, track frame and lower spec. models)

 

Distributor Sheppard Cycles (www.avantibikes.com) (www.projectevo2.com) 

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