The mammoth Eurobike show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, is a place to find almost anything in cycling, but by sheer virtue of size tends to be a venue where the mega brands dominate. The big beasts of the cycle industry square off at the enormous ‘messe’ on the edge of town (a series of halls, each large enough to store a zeppelin, to give an idea of scale) every August to show their copious wares.
To discover an outfit like Caterham Cycles in such surroundings then is a rare pleasure. The brand (an appalling appellation, but the appropriate phrase here) has a tangled history and is still best-known in Britain for the iconic Caterham 7 sports car, despite its recent brief and unsuccessful tenure in Formula One.
It is the dalliance with motorsport’s top tier, ended following the recent sale of the team by Malaysian businessman, Tony Fernandes, that has brought the bicycle project into being. Two years ago, the Caterham Group decided to build an “F1 bike,” says Marc Vischer, lead engineer on the project for Caterham Composites, a branch of the parent company comprised of 12 engineers based in Cologne.
Caterham Cycles showed two racing bikes (as well as a flat bar urban machine) at Eurobike: the carbon fibre Duo Cali Limited Edition and an exquisite steel bike, silver brazed from Reynolds 853 Pro Team tubing – the Hingham.
Duo Cali Limited Edition
The flagship Duo Cali Limited Edition bike has a striking silhouette – the result of a design philosophy that places equal emphasis on performance and aesthetics. Vischer explains that while weight savings of perhaps 40g might have accrued from an asymmetric chassis, a more conventional symmetrical design has been adopted to preserve its unique shape. “In this case, we said the design is more important. The market has enough lightweight frames in matt black,” he jokes.
The frame has been manufactured in collaboration with ax-lightness, the Bavarian composite specialist that occupies a position among a small, but highly respected clique of very sophisticated German bicycle engineering firms. Vischer points to the recesses and chamfers of many of the tube profiles – effects achieved by other brands with paint or decals – as evidence of an elaborate moulding and lay-up process. “The laminator is not in the best mood when he has to make one of our frames,” he laughs.
Such complex profiles demand a significant investment in tooling. The mould in which a conventional, round-tubed frame is layed-up has just two sides, Vischer explains; that used for the Cali Duo is made from 12 separate pieces. Machining the metal moulds into which the carbon is laid is costly and time consuming, and, naturally, a separate mould is required for each frame size. The bike shown at Eurobike is a 56cm frame, but Vischer has plans to add a further three sizes to the range: 48cm, 52cm, and 60cm.
The Duo Cali frame weighs a claimed 1200g. The green and white colour scheme offers a visual clue to the frame’s construction. The green sections are manufactured as a monocoque (in a shape that echoes the Caterham Cycles logo) while the white seat-tube is bonded into place.
The seat-tube continues its journey above its junction with the top-tube to create an integrated seat-post. The post is topped with a clamp from 3T and this component was instrumental in persuading Caterham to opt for the Italian brand’s Rigida fork, after initially considering THM. A final decision has yet to be taken on whether to spec the production bike with 3T’s LTD fork. The fork steerer tapers from 1-1/4” to 1-1/8” and rotates on ACROS bearings. A 1.5” bearing was considered unnecessary. Here, Vischer paraphrases Lotus co-founder Colin Chapman on the importance of including only that which is necessary.
Clearly, Caterham has not set out to make the lightest frame on the market. What, then, were the engineering targets? Stiffness values of 90nm at the head-tube and 60nm at the bottom bracket were easily met, Vischer says. He offers as more ‘real world’ evidence of the frame’s stiffness the claimed satisfaction of former ProTour sprinter, Marcel Wüst. “He rode it just a few kilometres and said, Ok, I want it for my team.” (Vischer also cites Wüst in discussion of the lower headset bearing: if a 1-1/4” unit delivers stiffness enough for a former ProTour sprinter, few will be demanding the additional 15nm or so provided by a 1.5” bearing, he argues. “Show me the rider who can feel it.”)
The stem is another masterpiece of elegant design in which form and function hold equal sway, and the work of young French engineer, Mathieu Belly. The bolts are concealed and the clamping mechanism designed to “massively” reduce stresses on a carbon handlebar (a Fizik Cyrano RI in this case). Surprisingly, it was developed almost as an afterthought. Having decided to display the bike with a Garmin Edge 1000, they faced a dilemma: the 3T Integra stem they had planned to use is incompatible with Garmin’s flagship device. In the best engineering tradition, Caterham made their own.
It would be accurate to describe the Limited Edition as the ‘best dressed’ bike at the show. Precisely no corners have been cut in equipping the bike, from the Campagnolo Super Record EPS groupset to the ACROS headset. The spec is the result of a design goal to source every component from Europe. Caterham worked closely with Tune, for example, to develop a rim profile that would channel airflow smoothly beneath the frame’s distinctive bottom bracket.
Three versions of the Duo Cali will be offered: the Limited Edition discussed above, priced at €15,000, a version equipped with Campagnolo’s second-tier Record EPS at €10,000, and with Chorus EPS for €7,000. All prices are approximate and have yet to be fixed.
“We think that people who drive a Super Seven at the weekends may be interested in a frame made from Reynolds tubing.” With this mouth-watering introduction, Vischer ushers us in the direction of an achingly beautiful steel frame, silver brazed from a Reynolds 853 Pro Team tubeset – a chassis Vischer has built himself, drawing on a career that has taken him from shop floor machinist to Formula One engineer.
The frame shown at Eurobike is one that rewards close inspection. There is nothing as ugly as a clamp bolt, for example, to interrupt the line of the seat-tube, which continues its journey above the junction with the top-tube; Vischer designed the frame with an expander-equipped seatpost in mind, based on memory of the Syncros posts of his youth. The Caterham is equipped with a carbon post from Tune, to match the handlebar. The brazed channels for internal cable routings are seriously elegant, and the titanium quill stem, secured with a traditional one-inch threaded headset from Campagnolo, is another study in simplicity.
The attention to detail extends to the components. While the carbon Limited Edition wears the electronic version of Campagnolo’s Super Record group, the traditional steel chassis is dressed in the mechanical version, though admittedly the latest RS iteration. Granted, the wheels are carbon hoops from Tune, but they are shallow affairs, with composite rims perhaps chosen as much for low weight as any aerodynamic property. The chainset might be Campagnolo’s new, four-armed carbon flagship, but it is secured with an external bottom bracket.
Three steel frames are planned, with the silver brazed, 853 Pro Team Fairspear described above occupying the centre of a range that will open with the Hingham, to be built around a chassis fillet brazed from Reynolds 631, and topping out with a TIG-welded and polished Reynolds 953 chassis, the Leafield. Pricing is likely to range from €1500 to €3000, including fork.