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BMC Granfondo GF02 Carbon Ultegra – review

The Granfondo is BMC’s endurance bike. That is, a bike built for racing, but over less accommodating surfaces than tarmac. They pitch it as a ride that ‘reduces suffering for the pros in the hell of the north, but also enhances the riding experiences for us mere mortals’. Us mere mortals who, in reality, are less likely to be racing but instead riding the club run and sportives.

The GF01 is the top-of-the-range frame, and the one that the BMC Racing team ride, but this £2,400 GF02 isn’t far behind and still offers a full Shimano Ultegra groupset despite not having quite the same frameset. It shares the same geometry and design features as the GF01, but is heavier at 1,280g for a size 54cm, compared to  1,050g.

The frameset

You can tell from just looking at the GF02 that BMC have put plenty of thought into the frame. It’s a unique look and geared towards comfort, both in the geometry and tube shapes. A slacker headtube angle, bigger bottom bracket drop and a shorter effective toptube length, paired with an increased fork rake, mean that you’re in a more upright position on the bike, but it’s a geometry also designed to make the handling that bit more sedate than a full-on race bike like the BMC Teammachine.

In construction terms, the rear triangle has a few smart touches. The seatstays are thin and flat, as well as having a definite kink just after the brake mount. In theory this should add comfort as the seatstays are designed to offer a certain amount of flex and that should help to filter road vibration. In stark contrast, the chainstays are huge but narrow, and bend up at the end just before they reach the dropouts. BMC call this bend, as well as the one in the seatstays ‘angle compliance’, and it effectively lengthens both sets of stays, which should provide greater comfort.

Added to that, there’s the ‘tuned compliance concept’ (TCC) as well. The TCC is basically the carbon layup that BMC use in various parts of the bike, with the layup in the stays purported to increase vertical compliance. In other words, comfort.

The one other thing that can’t be overlooked – although it has no bearing on performance – is the paint-job. The grey on black is shockingly drab, especially considering the 105 and Tiagra-equipped versions have touches of red and white on the frame and the Ultegra disc brake version has lovely flashes of yellow. It’s a bit of a shame that this version only comes in the one colour scheme, as we suspect a lot of riders might like something a little more interesting. Still, each to their own.

The components

Drivetrain is full Shimano Ultegra 6800 which, as we’ve said countless times before, is just about as good as you can get. Shifting is quick and responsive, and the levers are easily light enough that you can shift either way from the drops using just one finger without struggling. The quality of the latest Ultegra set is so close to Dura-Ace in terms of functionality that sometimes it’s tempting to wonder whether Shimano have done themselves a disservice and lost a few Dura-Ace sales to people who are more than happy with Ultegra.

Front shifting with the remodelled long-arm derailleur is excellent, and you can make the shift under load or at any point in your pedal stroke and be confident of making it stick. At the rear, BMC have gone with the mid-cage version of the Ultegra derailleur because it allows them to use the 11-32 cassette. That, paired with a compact 50/34t crankset at the front, gives a seriously wide range of gearing, and a lowest gear ratio of almost 1:1 which should be enough to see you up even the steepest gradients. Plus, the mid-cage derailleur will work with everything down to an 11-23t cassette so you’re by no means committed to using the big cassette supplied on the GF02.

But the best part of the latest Ultegra has to be the brakes. Shimano’s dual pivot brakes are the best on the market from a major manufacturer and the power they give is genuinely exceptional. You could probably argue that Campagnolo’s brakes have more ‘feel’ to them (although not by much), but it’s the Japanese firm that are leading the market on power. And knowing you’ve got that kind of stopping power definitely breeds confidence when you’re riding.

It seems like almost every bike I ride around this price point has the same weakness: wheels. Now obviously you don’t buy a bike for two-and-a-half grand and expect a set of Dura-Ace C24s, but the standard Shimano RS11s are right at the other end of the scale. They have an RRP of £150 and certainly ride like it. They’re hefty and although possibly could be described with one of those horrible clichés like ‘workhorse’ or ‘bombproof’, if we’re being honest the most accurate description would be that they’re not fit for a bike like this and would, along with the saddle, be the first things I’d look to change if riding this bike long term.

Bars and stem are BMC own brand alloy and perfectly capable, although the 44cm bars that came as standard were a little wider than I’d have ideally liked on a 56cm bike – 42cm is the norm. The bars are compact, with a 125mm reach and 70mm drop, which is a good choice, because they’re more universally useable than something with extreme drop that BMC could have been tempted to spec to allow riders to get a bit lower in spite of the longer headtube.

Seatpost is also BMC own brand, but carbon and it is, surprise surprise, the ‘compliance post’. There’s nothing fancy like, for example, the elastomer seatpost insert on Merida’s Reacto bike, but once again the trick is apparently in the layup of the carbon which improves compliance.

The ride

As you can see from the design features we’ve outlined, BMC have aimed this bike towards comfort. And they’ve hit that goal, both in the ride quality and handling. In fact, it almost strays into the realms of being a little too comfortable and relaxed, though naturally that depends on where you want you machine to sit on the spectrum between race and endurance.

One of the touches that doesn’t help with that is the saddle. Selle Royal’s Seba has obviously been chosen because it’s significantly more padded than a conventional road saddle. Beginners might find it a nice way to ease into the traditional rock solid road perch, but I found it very difficult to get used to. Admittedly, I have the opposite issue to newcomers in that I’ve been using standard solid road saddles for longer than I can remember, but I think anyone coming from a similar background will want to change it as soon as possible. Elsewhere in the comfort stakes, our test bike came with a set of Continental Ultra Sport 25mm tyres rather than 28mm as claimed on the BMC site, but the GF02 will definitely fit 28s if you’re looking to add a little bit of extra comfort to the ride.

Handling is solid and, as said at the top, leans towards sure rather than racy. But while you might not flick the bike through corners like you can do on the TeamMachine, don’t get me wrong, you don’t exactly feel like you’re riding a tractor either. In fact, the handling gels really well with the comfort; the two complement each other very nicely. The comfort of the ride means you never feel like you’re really on the edge, and the comparatively calm handling matches it perfectly.

On the flat it never feels slow but never lightning quick either, and the best word to describe it is steady. There’s plenty of stiffness through the bottom bracket and front end, and you could ride the GF02 all day but it lacks that responsive kick to accelerations or out of the saddle climbing that adds real excitement to a bike. Again, it’s that race vs. endurance spectrum, and the GF02 falls in the latter camp, ideal if you’re after a smooth, sure-footed and calm ride, and willing to sacrifice a little punch.

At 8.4kg, it certainly won’t be winning any prizes for being lightweight and it’s a little heavier than rivals bikes at a similar price (the Trek Domane 5.2 is well under 8kg). It’s an acceptable weight on the whole, just there are lighter and racier endurance options so don’t go seeking out mountains on a regular basis, as that’s not necessarily the forte of a bike like the GF02.

Conclusion

The BMC GF02 does some things well and others not so well, without truly shining or failing at anything. As an all-around bike it’s a good choice and you could probably stick a set of 28s on it and take it over almost any terrain you fancied – even more so if you were to go for the disc-equipped version. But as a pure road bike it lacks that little extra something that makes the ride exciting, and you might get a bit more out of it if you switched the standard wheels out for something a bit fancier as they’re certainly the weakest part of the build. If you already have a race bike and are after something a bit different then the GF02 is definitely worth a look, similarly if you want something to just munch miles on. But if you want something that plugs the gap between race and endurance then you might be better off looking elsewhere.

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