Bianchi. Giant. Pinarello. Sit down at the "Look Mum No Hands" cafe in London and you'll see these names etched on countless bike frames outside. Each company is known for building beautiful high-end racing machines, a tapestry of parts designed to maximise power and style. But look closer and you'll see that most are blemished by cycling computers bolted onto hand-lebars. To call them an eyesore would be exaggerating, but they do disrupt otherwise exquisite designs. It's a niggle SpeedX, a new cycling brand based in China, hopes to solve with a "smart" bike called theLeopard.
"We wanted to create a better experience that combines technology with pure cycling," SpeedX's Raggy Lau explains.
The frame is built using T-1000 carbon fibre, making it extremely light. It's an expensive part -- most cyclists will pay a grand or more for a comparable frame from an established manufac-turer. When you factor in the rest of the bike, a SpeedX Leopard or Leopard Pro represents excellent value. That's all dependent, of course, on the parts performing to a high standard. SpeedX is confident in their durability at least -- to reassure skeptics, it's offering a lifetime replacement guarantee with every frame.
Most, but not all of the Leopard's parts have been developed by SpeedX. The saddle is made by either Selle Royal or Fizik, while the tyres are sourced from Vittoria. Almost everything else has been built by SpeedX in China. The company has its own factory and this, Lau argues, is the main reason why it can sell the bike so cheaply. By undercutting established rivals, SpeedX hopes to make a name for itself much like Xiaomi and OnePlus have done in the Android space. It wants to be known for exceptional quality, but at a price far below the industry standard.
I'm no Chris Froome, but the bike felt like a feather as I took it for a spin around the park. While I pushed on the pedals and leant into some light turns, I found myself thinking about the two-wheeler's smarts, rather than its raw performance. SpeedX says it's the first company to build both a bike and cycling computer in tandem -- normally, you have to buy a separate device from the likes of Garmin. Looking down, I could see my current speed and how long I had been riding for on a small color display. The resolution isn't the sharpest, but it's better than most cycling computers.
I could move through a few different screens by pressing a button at the top of the bike's stem. Some showed the time and the difficulty of the current climb, while others revealed my top and average speeds. Lau says the final version will let you customise one of the screens -- you'll be able to set and move different stats, rather like choosing "complications" on an Apple Watch. The bike's onboard computer has built-in GPS too, which lets you access turn-by-turn directions on the road. SpeedX is still working on its mapping system, however, so I was forced to navi-gate Regent's Park the old-fashioned way. Luckily, I've wandered its nearly 400 acres before.
Alongside GPS, the Leopard measures performance using independent speed and cadence sensors. The former is fitted to the rear tyre and the back of the frame, while sensors on the crank measure the rate at which the rider is pedalling. These two metrics are related but also crucially different; riding downhill can be both fast and effortless, for instance.
The Smart Control lasts up to 800 kilometres, or 40 hours on a single charge. On its body you'll find five circular lights, which visualise the bike's remaining charge, and a small light sensor. When our nearest star begins to set, this will automatically turn on a tail light built into the sad-dle post. A small micro-USB slot can be found just below, which acts as a charging port for both the light and the cycling computer. You'll need a screwdriver to take the saddle post out and charge the internal battery -- it sounds cumbersome, but Lau says the process takes one or two minutes at most.
Developing the Leopard as a single product, with bike and computer combined, offers SpeedX a new and largely unproven business model. Unlike Trek, Specialized and other high-end manu-facturers, which make money on the components they sell, SpeedX doesn't expect to earn much, if anything from the Leopard and Leopard Pro. Instead, it's banking on sales that will tri-ckle through after riders have made their initial purchase.
The cycling computer and companion app, which will be available on both iOS and Android devices, will give SpeedX a regular window to its consumers. On either screen, the company could theoretically try to sell you new products and services. These could include accessories like a helmet or bottle cage, as well as additional software features -- the company is staying tight-lipped on the details, but it's not hard to imagine premium metrics and coaching features, similar to how most running and fitness apps upsell on smartphones.
If this can be used,the likes of Bianchi, Giant and Pinarello might see a new name hanging around outside "Look Mum No Hands."