The Racevox Concept
Until recently, there has been a clash between aerodynamic designs and lightweight, quick handling road bikes. The focus has typically been on one, but now bike brands are learning to combine both with success. The Racevox aims to balance these opposing features with a do-it-all race bike that performs across the varied conditions found over the length of a ride or race. It's a persuasive argument as in one ride you experience different challenges. It's not hard to imagine a ride where headwinds, climbs, and descents all play a role.
SwiftCarbon take pride in the ride feel and responsive handling of their race bikes. The brief to the designers was that the RaceVox had to incorporate aerodynamic designs while maintaining a signature SwiftCarbon feel. They point to the handling of the UltraVox and Attack G2 with obvious touches from the HyperVox aero bike. The frame also includes recognisable shapes that are a nod to the SwiftCarbon look.
It is worth-noting that SwiftCarbon is not the only brand nor the leader in this approach. Several brands have evolved their bikes in this direction. Many aero bikes are now more like road bikes, and road bikes are starting to include aero characteristics. Where weight was once considered the most crucial measure of performance, aero is quickly showing to have a far more significant impact.
Ownership and Product Development
The SwiftCarbon RaceVox is a bike of many firsts for SwiftCarbon. The company refers to the bike as the first of their "next-generation" models.
It is their first all-rounder race bike but also the first model wholly developed under the new ownership. The Lagoa Group from Brazil acquired the SwiftCarbon brand from South African Mark Blewett in 2017. The Lagoa Group also owns the mountain bike brand Sense, which has seen massive success in their home market.
We South Africans are a proud bunch, happy to praise any connection in the international bike industry. SwiftCarbon may no longer be South African owned, but a strong local influence remains. The founder of cSixx, Mark Hopkins, is responsible for the RaceVox's technical design. SwiftCarbon stalwart Neil Gardiner (head of SwiftCarbon's brand and marketing) is also on hand to drive the product development direction.
Once the design is final, the RaceVox frame is manufactured in China under the keen instruction of their carbon engineer. The bare frame is sent to Portugal, where it is painted, assembled, and stored for shipping to the client or partner retailer.
The RaceVox Frame
The dropped seatstays is the first frame feature that attracted my attention. The design is becoming somewhat of a standard for any road bike with aero aspirations. SwiftCarbon explains that they have seen the following advances with the dropped stay design: improved stiffness, aerodynamic efficiency, as well as compliance. SwiftCarbon paid particular attention to the carbon layup in the seatstays to maximise dampening for extra comfort.
Exposed cables cause drag, so hiding them goes a long way to improving a bike's aero qualities. The RaceVox implements Vision's Metron 5D single-piece ACR handlebar and stem system to conceal the cables and wires. The cables are routed from the shifters directly into the handlebar through the stem and into the frame. Another pleasing upside of this system is a clean cockpit.
The downtube has been carefully shaped to assist airflow, including a recess that encloses part of the water bottle into the frame. I also saw a similar-looking hollowing of the downtube at the unveiling of a new Sense mountain bike. I guess that we will probably be seeing the recess on more new SwiftCarbon bikes too.
Continuing with the aero features, the tubing and interfaces on the RaceVox frame is smoothed in places. The join between the downtube and fork is an example where SwiftCarbon softened a potential gap with an added curve. Further attempts to reduce drag include D-shaped seatpost and seattube.
The RaceVox is available with both disc or rim brakes. The rear rim brake calliper is mounted on the underside of the bottom bracket at the join with the chainstays. The rear calliper mount remains on all RaceVox frames; with only the fork changing for each brake type. With a second fork, you can switch the bike between disc and rim brakes. Maybe a feature SwiftCarbon's professional teams will be more likely to take full advantage.
I was handed a top of the range specced RaceVox for my time in Rio. This early build closely resembles the final parts choice of the Dura-Ace Di2 Disc retail build offered on the SwiftCarbon website.
The bike features Shimano's excellent Dura-Ace Di2 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes, as the model name suggests. Shimano's top tier drivetrain might not be 12-speed or wireless (yet), but it is still a superb drivetrain that is hard to fault.
Wheels are a vital ingredient to the performance of any bike. SwiftCartbon selected the Reynolds AR 58 wheelset for the top of the range. The rim on the wheelset is 58 mm deep. My test bike featured the slightly deeper AR 62 variant on the back. Reynolds claims to have put a lot of research into the aerodynamic qualities of these wheels. In the brief time I spent riding them, the wheels felt agile, stiff, and handled a solid crosswind reasonably well.
The centre-piece of the cockpit is the Vision Metron 5D integrated stem and handlebar. The flat tops and meaty stem makes it tricky to mount devices (like a GPS computer), but Vision supplies a neat front mount for this purpose. The obvious downside of the one-piece system is the restriction in positioning, as adjusting the stem and handlebar independently is a no go. A quality Fizik Antares R1 Verus EVO R and Microtex SL bar tape finish off the contact points.
The RaceVox Dura-Ace Di2 Disc model that I tested retails for R135,000. There are a further three models in the range; the Ultegra Di2, Ultegra, and 105 levels priced at R99,995, R79,995, and R59,995 respectively.
SwiftCarbon sells directly via their website or through local partners in South Africa. It is relevant to note that the pricing includes all shipping and taxes.
On The Road
To set the scene, SwiftCarbon invited us to two days riding in Rio de Janeiro. Guided by a local tour company; we explored parts of the 2016 Olympic road race-course. To keep it brief, the road riding experience in Rio combines world-famous views and rewarding routes. You will not regret making an effort to go ride there yourself.
Rio turned out to be the ideal city to test the do-it-all ambitions of the RaceVox. Those who watched the 2016 Olympic road race would recognise most of the roads that we rode. The first day featured a perfectly flat 15 km stretch along the beachfront. As is to be expected, the group got a bit excited here, and the pace got fierce. For the second day, we headed into the mountains where we sampled the views above Rio until reaching the summit at Christ The Redeemer atop the Corcovado Mountain.
The RaceVox thrived on the flats. The bike felt commanding in a group, even when touching 50 km/h on the beachside plane leading to the lunch stop (we were hungry). In the bunch, handling is immediate but controlled, allowing me to place the bike precisely where I wanted it.
The climbing in Rio is severe, with gradients reaching twenty-percent on the steepest parts. The RaceVox felt responsive on the climbs with out of the saddle bursts skipping the bike forward. The bike is impressibly stiff, seemingly transferring every ounce of power to the rear wheel. Obviously, this is not the case, but the sensation is encouraging when grovelling up a climb. It's a slightly more stable climber than a narrow tubed climbing bike but without feeling heavy. My only climbing complaint is an easy fix, and back home it would be unnecessary, but for Rio riding, I'd have enjoyed a larger range cassette for those harsh gradients. I'm not currently in a 28 tooth state of fitness.
One of the most talked-about aspects from the Olympic road race was the crashes. It was pretty spooky riding past the spot where Annemiek van Vleuten had her terrifying collision with the gutter. When riding the same roads down from the Vista Chinesa, it is quickly apparent why the riders struggled. There are multiple apexes through the tight turns with the exits largely unsighted, as the dense forest blocks your view.
I'll admit to being a bit apprehensive bombing down these infamous roads on a yet to be released bike. As it turned out, my concerns were unfounded. Despite my getting to grips with the tricky Rio corners, the RaceVox was a pleasure to descend. The bike is balanced through the bends, holding a line with ease. SwiftCarbon spoke about a desire to carry over handling elements from their existing bikes, and going around the corners is where I noticed this the most.
The aero considerations make the RaceVox a stiff bike, with components like the integrated Vision stem adding extra rigidity. I was a little concerned that it might be a handful on rough roads. The first test was the cobbled section that you'll recall from the Olympics. It is where lots of water bottles came unstuck, along with Richie Porte's bike. The RaceVox is by no means designed to soak up every bump; it rattled, shook, and jumped over the cobbles, but held its course without a fight.
Riding over the famous cobbles is fun, but it was descending an ordinary main road where the combination of agility and robustness of the RaceVox impressed. This particular avenue is littered with unpatched and poorly repaired potholes, and slabs of haphazardly placed concrete that exposed tyre sized splits on the riding line. Personally, it was more about self-preservation than enjoyment, but it proved an excellent test of the RaceVox. The bike handled some heavy knocks, but other than some groans of displeasure from the chassis, it stuck to the road and kept me on course. It's one thing preparing a bike for the more glamours aspects of road riding but to also cope with the worst cases shows the RaceVox's truly versatile nature.
My time on the RaceVox was brief, and, admittedly, my focus often distracted by the sights of Rio. The routes, however, were jam-packed with variety, exposing the RaceVox to everything you might expect to encounter. At no point did I wish for a discipline-specific bike instead, a credit to RaceVox's all-rounder adaptability. The RaceVox is adept at any challenge it faces, steep climbs, sketchy descents, and group ride flexes. The RaceVox lays a solid foundation for the new generation of SwiftCarbon road bikes.
One thing that does not need time in the saddle to confirm are the looks. Catching a glimpse of the RaceVox standing in the hotel foyer each morning stirred the desire to get out and ride. If you ever lack motivation, having the RaceVox in the garage might have you riding more often.