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LOOK 785 Huez with Shimano 105 – first ride review

We take LOOK's new climbing bike for a couple of laps of the climb it's named after

It’s not often that a first ride review covers such hallowed ground as the famous Alpe d’Huez. It’s even rarer that we should ride the mountain twice over in the space of 24 hours – first for a recce, and the second as part of the Prix de Rousses race. Cue a lot of suffering.

The bike in question is the LOOK 785 Huez, the French company’s new lightweight climbing machine. It’s a bike designed as a col-tamer and said to maximise stiffness in the frame through the use of five distinct carbon fibre materials. Take a look at our report from the launch for the full tech lowdown.

– LOOK unveil 785 Huez –

At the launch, the bikes cut a striking figure against the Alpine backdrop despite the relatively conservative tube profiles marking something of a departure from the space-age aero 795. With all the models set out against the mountain backdrop, journalists understandably flocked to the Fortuneo Vital Concept replica bike complete with top-level Corima carbon clincher hoops and SRAM Red eTap (which will be available to the public for £8,199, if you please), weighing in at a paltry 5.9kg in a small.

The 785 Huez is LOOK’s new lightweight climbing bike. We took this Shimano 105-equipped machine for a couple of laps of Alpe d’Huez

Of course, not everyone has a spare eight grand lying around, so although desirable it certainly is, there are other models to meet more realistic budgets. These range from the super-light ‘RS’ frame dressed in Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 for £5,699, to the standard version of the frame equipped with either Shimano Ultegra Di2 (£4,099) or Shimano Ultegra mechanical (£3,099).

Shimano 105 spec

For my test rides in the Alps, I took receipt of a Shimano 105-equipped 785 Huez, fitted with basic Shimano RS 10 alloy wheels and simple alloy finishing kit. Now, LOOK’s UK distributor, Zyro-Fisher, won’t be offering the 105 build on these shores – as a premium frame, they see Ultegra as a better fit for the base model – but even on the Ultegra build, the frame, wheels and finished kit are the same, so my test bike offers a fair insight into what prospective 785 Huez riders can expect.

Of course, while I’d happily have taken the flagship, 5.9kg for a jaunt or two up Alpe d’Huez, it also dawned on me that this was an interesting scenario. No, the bike isn’t the all-singing, all-dancing machine, but it is the bike that many of us will look to if after a LOOK machine at a more competitive price.

It’s worth pointing out at this stage that the flagship 785 Huez RS frame weighs a claimed 730g and comes with a 280g fork, while the ‘standard’ 758 Huez is a claimed 990g and is supplied with a 350g fork. So while the second-tier Huez gains 260g over the feather-light frame, it’s still impressively light in its own right.

Still, can this frameset shine through despite the fact that it’s not dressed in the tinsel of pro-level kit? Will product manager Frederic Carron’s prophecy that “no aggression or responsiveness is lost in the cheaper frameset” ring true? And, in the end, does it provide a suitable platform for future upgrades?

The answers

The short answer to all these questions is an emphatic “yes”. Given my two ascents of Alpe d’Huez within the 24 hours spent with the bike, it’s clear that the frame is a climbing gem. Stiffness and responsiveness, as Carron had suggested, are in abundance, while it does a great job of masking the overall weight of the bike, demonstrable as I round each switchback and accelerate away.

We didn’t have any scales to hand to weigh the bike, but through switchback after famous switchback on the ascent of Alpe d’Huez, the frame feeds every pedal stroke into the road, with out of the saddle spurts allowing the bike to come alive as I rock it side to side. The Shimano RS 10 wheels supplied with this model come with a hefty 1,848g claimed weight, leaving an obvious opportunity to upgrade and bring the overall weight down, but the bottom line is the frame has the quality to justify new rolling stock.

The top-end 785 Huez RS frame is available in this flagship SRAM Red eTap build, weighing in at just 5.9kg

In the saddle, and despite the extra weight of this entry-level build, the bike feels extremely stiff and stable. There’s no sense of flex at all through this standard 785 frame, allowing me to dig in while seated and get the most from the 105 drivetrain – pound-for-pound probably still the best value groupset Shimano make despite the recent updates to Ultegra R8000.

Naturally, what goes up must come down and it’s worth noting that, despite the weight of my test machine and its basic rolling stock, handling is sharp and direct, with an overall behaviour that inspires confidence. Tipping into switchbacks brings about a connected feeling to the frame, while the not-always billiard table smooth road is handled reasonably well.

LOOK 785 Huez
LOOK 785 Huez

At home on Alpe d’Huez

But it’s uphill where the bike is really at home. While I’d naturally prefer the slicker shifting of an Ultegra or Dura-Ace gruppo when under load on a climb like Alpe d’Huez, 105 doesn’t shame the bike at all. In fact, it’s really only the wheelset that I can give a thumbs down for. It’s ripe for an upgrade, given the weight, and even if you opt for mid-range alloy clinchers like Mavic’s Ksyrium hoops, you’re going to see a whole lot more performance released from the frame.

However, the bike’s aggressive character still shines through, like an overeager terrier puppy. Show it long drags or steeper sections, of which the famous Alp has both in plentiful supply, the 785 Huez frameset laps up the road, in a strangely refreshing way compared to other bikes I’ve ridden.

With bikes now usually positioned as being all things to all people – maximum stiffness and compliance in one package – the 785 is focussed on doing what it does well the best: climbing. That means stiffness, rigidity and the ability to power you up an ascent is very impressive indeed.

In truth, during our media briefing, Carron never mentioned the term ‘vertical compliance’ at all, which just goes to show that LOOK (currently, at least) isn’t interested in finding an optimum compromise – it’s interested in giving you a focussed bike frame, perfectly suited for purpose, regardless of your budget.

While a full test on UK will reveal more about the overall behaviour of the 785 Huez – there’s certainly a hint of rawness about the bike when the road gets particularly textured – the signs are promising that even with this, the most basic model, a lively and rewarding ride will be on the cards.

LOOK 785 Huez range and pricing

LOOK 785 Huez RS, SRAM Red eTap – £8,199
LOOK 785 Huez RS, Shimano Dura-Ace – £5,699

LOOK 785 Huez, Shimano Ultegra R8050 Di2 – £4,099
LOOK 785 Huez, Shimano Ultegra R8000 – £3,099

New LOOK Keo 2 Max pedals

While riding the 785 Huez, I also got a first look at the refreshed Keo 2 Max pedals – the carbon version, complete with an enlarged contact area for claims of improved power transfer across all float angles, and a redesigned axle construction with a conical spacer and dual-lip seal that LOOK says improves reliability.

Of course, it’s impossible to tell over the course of a total of four hours of riding whether the change to the seals has improved reliability – a test throughout the nitty and gritty of UK weather will help to define that, but what is noticeable is how ‘flat’ the pedals feel underfoot.

The platform width of LOOK’s Keo 2 Max pedals has been increased from 57mm to 60mm

Normally I use LOOK’s Keo system as my go-to setup, so no cleat changes were required and it was a simple case of clipping in and setting off. Honestly, it’s hard to immediately tell the difference between these new models of the Keo 2 Max pedals and the old versions, but there is a hint of the sensation of just how big the contact area really is. Whether that offers an immediate improvement in power transfer is debatable, but the pedal feels extremely secure and stable under foot, providing a very solid base when stepping on the gas.

Further testing over the next few months will reveal if those claimed improvements in reliability will prove accurate, while long rides on UK roads will determine if both the pedals and bike live up to LOOK’s claims.

Website: LOOK

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