Deputy Editor of ProCycling Magazine, Jamie Wilkins not only loved the SwiftCarbon Hypervox, he won the Velothon Wales gran fondo on it. We’ve posted the review here. It’s a great read, enjoy!
As an aero all-rounder, Swift’s new flagship is made for big climbs and breakaways alike. Procycling’s Jamie Wilkins asked everything of it in the Velothon Wales gran fondo.
While bike testing is never less than a minefield, selecting an appropriate narrative is often straightforward. Time trial bike? Do a TT. Superlight climbing rig? Point it at the biggest hill you can find. Cobbles bike? Take a tour of Britain’s finely paved city streets. But what about an aero all-rounder, a bike designed with equal emphasis on climbing, descending, breakaways and sprints?
The Swift Hypervox is the wind-cheating evolution of the 2013 Ultravox TI that put the firm on the map. Swift regards handling and ride quality as sacred and refused to compromise to save a few grams of drag, sagely pointing out that “the same could be achieved by simply tucking your elbows in”. The frame employs subtle virtual airfoils to smooth the airflow without adding weight or reducing stiffness. So this is a bike that’s designed to do it all, and fast. While assessing its merits is a simple matter of riding it hard in all scenarios, we wanted one event to capture all that it’s about and test it in the heat of competition.
Velothon Wales fitted the brief perfectly. Now in its second year, it runs from Cardiff up into the Brecon Beacons and back on 140 kilometres of closed roads, with The Tumble and Caerphilly Mountain as the key difficulties. It’s a more Euro-style gran fondo, with chip timing, seeded start waves and a competitive atmosphere at the front. The organisers even call it a race, and it feels like one, though not quite like the UCI 1.2 pro event that takes place on the same course in the afternoon with second laps of each climb to add 40km and make the action more selective.
My Hypervox test bike came built with Dura-Ace Di2, Black Inc Thirty carbon clinchers, a wafer thin Selle San Marco Aspide Carbon FX saddle (which turned out to be exceptionally comfortable) and a Zipp cockpit. For the UK there is now a range of complete bikes, all with Zipp bar, stem and 303/404 wheels, from £4,750 with Shimano Ultegra to £5,999 for a Dura-Ace Di2 bike very similar to this. The Hypervox also comes in all-black but this cyan design is the one to go for – it looks a million dollars and was lavished with compliments more than anything I’ve ever ridden.
If you don’t believe that a relatively small brand such as Swift can mix it with the big boys in the R&D budget peeing contest that is aero design, just ask Orica-GreenEdge star Caleb Ewan. In the Sun Tour prologue, Ewan and his F1-aerodynamacist-designed and relentlessly wind tunnel tested Scott Foil were beaten into second by Drapac’s Will Clarke on a Hypervox. Does it make this the world’s fastest bike? No, but it does show that it’s fast enough to win against the best while sticking to Swift’s core values.
The Drapac team was the instigator of the project, obviously not wanting to be left behind in the peloton aero arms race. Select riders gave feedback on prototypes to Swift’s founder and CEO, Mark Blewett, a former pro himself who remains exceptionally fit (he recently broke the record for riding the length of Africa, search ‘CaroCapRace’). A handling fetishist and something of a human frame test jig, Blewett leads the R&D on all his firm’s bikes personally.
Keen to do justice to his hard work, I made a few changes to the bike before the Velothon, starting with longer 175mm cranks and a Stages power meter to help pace my effort. The supplied gearing of 52/36, 11-28 was arguably ideal for the route profile but not for what I had planned so it was replaced with 53/39 rings and a slightly cocky 11-25 cassette. Out came the 30mm clinchers, too, good as they are, in favour of vastly deep yet lighter Enve 8.9 tubs.We rolled out of Cardiff at 7am and settled to a fast cruising speed, covering the pan-flat opening 43km in little more than an hour. None of this asked much of the Hypervox, which felt good in spite of the crazily aggressive position. The geometry is long’n’low and this very early production bike had the stem slammed and the steerer cut to look good in studio photos. Once the saddle was at my 80.5cm height, it towered 16cm above the bar.
To a bike-fit geek, this was upsetting.The first climb took us around the back of the storied and imposing Celtic Manor, built in 1860 for Thomas Powell, the earliest coal mining millionaire and now a hotel. The 3km ascent, with sections of 10 per cent, was a rude awakening to the legs and served to distil the front wave down from some 400 riders to more like 80, those with intentions of staying highly placed to the finish and the legs to achieve it.
It railed the corners and felt nothing but stable at 75kph. If you like descending fast, you will love this bike.
Ten kilometres before we reached The Tumble, and with anticipation building, four riders in the fluoro yellow of the UK elite Alé-Cipollini race team attacked together off the front having already shown their strength at the head of the bunch. I saw a chance and jumped after them, and suddenly the day and the Hypervox came alive together. With a 1,000W effort, the Swift leapt forwards, accelerating voraciously, the frame and Zipp cockpit unflinching, and I got across to the Alé group, which included pro rider Matt Rowe, brother of Sky’s Luke. They were smashing along – “We’re going for the win!” said one – and we pulled out 30 seconds or so on what looked like a lined-out chase behind us. Then we hit The Tumble’s steep lower slopes and the rouleurs dropped anchor. There were 60km to go. The breakaway bike’s moment to shine had arrived.
I knew The Tumble from last year’s event and set the pace at 350W, slightly less than the 380W I rode in 2015 to win the day’s KOM comp, hoping it would leave me able to recover. The climb took 15:07 and my only company was a motorcycle marshal. The top section is less steep but no easier because the power had to be maintained, the advantage pressed home. At the peak a handful of cold-looking spectators, presumably waiting for family members, offered encouragement.
Swift claims it has added aero without sacrificing its trademark precision. The top section of the descent was fast, sweeping and perfectly resurfaced owing to the passage of the Tour of Britain two years ago. Even on skinny 23mm tubs, the Hypervox railed the corners, switching left to right crisply and felt nothing but stable at 75kph on the plunging straights. Riding it later on its stock Black Inc wheels with 25mm Continental GP4000 S II tyres, there was twice the grip and the handling dazzled. If you like descending fast, you will love this bike.Between the bottom of The Tumble and Caerphilly was 30km of dual carriageways. I felt exposed, like an antelope isolated on the Serengeti with a pack of lions in pursuit. But it was also a training ride fantasy made real. Head down, ride hard.
And it wasn’t all in my head. Later I learned a group of 10 was working to chase me down but the gap actually went out in this section. Swift doesn’t make any specific claim for this bike’s drag saving but on this part of the ride the Hypervox, boosted by the Enve 8.9s, was genuinely fast. I just had to get over Caerphilly Mountain. It hurt immediately and was a struggle in 39×25. The Swift is light for an aero bike and still stiff under these high-torque loads – it felt better than my legs but once over the top I got a big rush of adrenaline and felt better. I knew it was fast to the finish from here.Blasting through Cardiff on deserted closed roads with spectators cheering was a thrill. I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting to be caught, and only relaxed once I turned onto the final 300m, four minutes clear it turns out. It’s hard to recount a day as exciting and successful as this while sounding remotely modest – sorry about that – but while having probably my best ever day on a bike the Swift endured the perfect test and through everything it always felt exactly in its element. Really, the man who should have his arms in the air is Mark Blewett because the Hypervox is a triumph.
See our ride in Velothon Wales on Strava, powered by Etixx nutrition: http://tinyurl.com/hypervox-wales
THE PRO RACE. One of the special features of Velothon Wales is the chance to ride just ahead of the pros on the same course. The UCI 1.2 race is yet to gain the prestige and high-class field of the London-Surrey Classic but is has the potential to do so. One Pro Cycling were the only ProConti team racing and fancied their chances with Dion Smith and Karol Domagalski. Both were in the mix but in an exciting and aggressive race it was Tom Stewart of Madison-Genesis who just held off nine chasers to win. www.velothon-wales.co.ukdocument.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);