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Tech review - January 21, 2004
First impressions: LOOK KG486
By Chris Henry
French bicycle manufacturer Look has long been at the leading edge of development of carbon fibre frames, since it first introduced a carbon frame for Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault and the powerful La Vie Claire team of 1986. Since then the company has continued to improve on its designs, with the recent KG381i frame becoming a tried and true workhorse of the peloton, notably when ridden by Laurent Jalabert.
Jalabert won more than 100 races on Look frames, and now serves as a consultant for the company, playing an integral part in the design and testing of new material. One project with which Jalabert is intimately involved is the new KG486 frame, a carbon monobloc that has slowly made an entry into the professional peloton with the Crédit Agricole and Kelme teams. While Kelme rode the KX Light and CA rode the trusty KG381i, team leaders Oscar Sevilla and Christophe Moreau were putting the KG486 to the test. The frame was also ridden to a silver medal in the world championships road race in Hamilton, Canada last October by Spain's Alejandro Valverde.
Worth the wait...
With that sort of introduction, I was happy to get my hands on a sleek, black KG486 for an extended test. The bike arrived at my door in late October. The drizzly fall and winter of Paris is not the best time to start a test, but at the same time it's given me a slow but steady introduction to the bike. Suffice to say, I look forward to better weather and improvements in my own fitness to get the most out of the bike.
The KG486 arrived decked out in top of the line components. Campagnolo Record 10 speed groupset, Look's deep dish carbon tubular wheels, as well as the company's own carbon crankset give the bike a great... look. In better conditions, the feather light carbon wheels may get their time on the road, but in the interest of practicality, and those wheels' longevity, I opted to secure a pair of more durable- yet still high performance- wheels from Campagnolo. On test with the Look is a pair of Eurus clincher wheels, a lightweight but sturdy set of race-worthy wheels that do nothing to compromise the bike's ride. Quite the contrary. Hutchinson Fusion Comp tires complete the setup.
...And worth the weight
The KG486 is not, and nor has Look designed it to be, the lightest carbon bike on the market. Jalabert and Look believe strongly that performance comes from strength and a well-designed machine, not just a scale-beating lightweight. With Look's new HSC 4 SL carbon fork, but without headset, the frame weighs in at 1,895 grams (55cm), according to the manufacturer. The headset of choice is an integrated carbon FSA headset.
That's not to say the bike feels heavy. It won't blow you away, but nor will you feel as though you're fighting the bike on the hills. Other components on the test machine include ITM's Millennium Ultra-Light carbon handlebars and Look's Carbostem and carbon Ergopost 2 seat post. Look likes its carbon. No surprises that the company's 149 gram CX-6 pedals helped round out the package. The only other substitution I made, besides the initial use of the Campy wheelset, was the use of a Fi'zi:k Arione saddle.
My first impressions of the KG486 are quite positive. Out on the open roads, the Look rolls smoothly and feels fast and comfortable. The Campy Record provides perfect shifting and the Eurus wheels compliment the bike's design with a stiff but forgiving ride. Even on moderate sections of pavé, the bike absorbs shock quite well and feels sturdy. The single piece carbon frame inspires confidence in the construction; it's a beefy machine that emphasizes the use of material where necessary rather than the reduction of material for the sole purpose of saving weight.
On short, steep hills, the bike feels agile and responsive when pedaling and accelerating out of the saddle. Flex of the frame and fork feel minimal, and I don't feel like the bike is taking anything away from the effort. On descents it is equally stable, although I am still somewhat in the adjustment phase and not yet completely at one with the bike when the going gets faster. The front-end handling is not too nervous, but still quick and responsive.
All in all, high marks all around for the KG486 after some off-season training rides of two to three hours. I eagerly await every chance to put the bike through more routine use and on longer/faster rides as fitness improves.
Look for a full review of the KG486 on Cyclingnews in the near future.