Cofidis' Nico Sijmens takes his 695 through a corner during stage 21 of the 2011 Vuelta a Espana. (Photo: Yuzuru Sunada)
Ever since we first saw the Look 695 when it was rolled out of the Cofidis team truck at last year’s Tour de France, we knew it was something special. Not even the steady rain we were forced to stand in (the team mechanics wouldn’t let us take cover under the canopy covering the bikes) could dampen the air of enthusiasm over everything the bike represented. This was simply a bike unlike any other. And as eye-catching as the plain white team version was, months later when we saw the Limited-Edition Mondrian version at the Eurobike show, the radical 695 was quick to achieve a metaphoric trophy for its culmination of both modernist style and industrial design. Still, eye-catching appeal notwithstanding, the big question remained: how would it perform?
The Look 695 is a striking example of system design and new technology.
Look has actually been a carbon contender in cycling long before it became fashionable. In fact, way back in 1986, Greg LeMond used a carbon Look KG86 frame (with aluminum lugs) to win the Tour de France. Not only is the 695 a byproduct of years of Look’s carbon R&D, but more importantly, it’s a bike that also takes the notion of “system” design to a new level. Many aspects of the frame design have to be considered in terms of being compatible with Look’s proprietary components.
Using what’s called “Multi-Process Hot Molding,” the French-made 695 frame combines Look’s monocoque and lug-frame knowledge to create a frame reliant on a specific, continuous-fiber orientation that maximizes the dynamics of the resin- and cloth-construction process. Look makes two versions of the 695: a standard and a super-rigid (SR) version. The latter uses additional material and a different carbon lay-up orientation to attain a 15-percent bump in frame stiffness. Beyond the technical features, it’s worth noting that the craftsmanship and overall finish are absolutely first-rate.
Look's one-piece carbon crank is one of the most sophisticated bike parts we've seen in quite a long time.
As much as the frame has going for itself, what sets the Look apart from virtually every other bike on the market is its reliance on system-designed components. Yes, Cannondale, too, was an early adopter of a “systems” concept back in the ’90s, but with their Zed 2 cranks, Head Fit headset, HSC 7 fork, E-post, C-stem and carbon-sprung Keo pedals, the high-end French bike offers the largest palette of proprietary parts of any bike sold today.
By far the trickest part on the bike is the Zed 2 crankset. With a claimed weight of 320 grams (including the integrated carbon spider), the one-piece carbon crank is a true technological standout. As novel as the structure is itself, the crank actually provides three crank lengths (170mm, 172.5mm and 175mm) by virtue of a proprietary threelobe design. Best of all, unlike the original Zed cranks (dedicated to Look pedals), this latest version is compatible with any pedal. The crank’s oversized 65mm bearing not only helps maximize stiffness, but smoothness in pedaling as well. Very nice.
Speaking of smooth, we remain fans of Look’s (also) proprietary integrated E-Post seatpost which, besides offering 3cm of height adjustment, also lends to the smooth ride quality by virtue of the elastomer rings that are built into the post. As you might expect, Look maintained the theme of adjustability by offering the elastomer rings in three different durometer ratings.
Lastly there is the carbon C-Stem that offers a range of a minus-9-degree drop to a plus-13-degree rise without the use of any visually offending spacers (it’s done with an internal wedge behind the removable side plate). In addition to its adjustable inclination, you’re also able to get two different lengths out of the stem, again, by virtue of a crescent-shaped wedge— mounted fore or aft of the bar—that gives you 10mm of reach. The stemreach combos are 80/90mm, 90/100mm, 100/110mm and 110/120mm.
While we found no fundamental flaw in the 695’s component package, the wide range of single-part adjustability left a few test riders shaking their heads. “There are some nice details on the bike, like the internally routed cables that provide a clean appearance,” said one test rider, “but it comes with lots of quirky little French-made parts that take some time and patience to understand and maintain. On my 586, it was the seatpost and fork. Now on the 695 you can add the stem, crank and even pedal installation into this group as well.”
Cofidis' Leonardo Duque put his Look 695 through its paces during the 2011 Tour of Flanders.
Given that no one who rode the bike would qualify as a big ring masher, the true benefits of the “SR” frame were mostly lost on us, but they didn’t go unnoticed. How stiff was it? Picture a baguette sitting out of the oven for three days—from tip to tail, the bike was one of the stiffest we’d ridden yet still super smooth. How smooth? Picture a slab of fresh brie cheese spreading easily on a warm baguette. Every test rider attested to the smoothness of the bike’s ride quality. From pedaling through the crank to the elastomer-wrapped E-Post helping to dampen road vibration, the 695 is that rare, pure race bike that can be ridden all day without complaint.
Glitches? We found three. The first is becoming a universal problem on many bikes jumping on the internally routed cable bandwagon—no cable ferrules for making adjustments. The next was the stodgy front shifts onto the Look-made big ring. Not real bad, just not as consistent and thought-free as real Dura-Ace rings. The last is purely aesthetic, but since it was raised by more than one test rider, it only goes to prove the impact of appearance. From the side, the very unique carbon C-Stem looks trick enough; as viewed from up high when you’re pedaling along, it just looks like a red cinder block of carbon. And as one rider quipped, “It was distracting at first, but after a while in the saddle that went away, and the smoothness of each pedal stroke was the only sensation I thought about.”
Although not the best looking, the C-Stem provides an impressive amount of height adjustability without the use of spacers.
As complex and quirky as dealing with the system parts can be, it was good to know that aftermarket stems and cranks can be retrofitted in case emergency situations arise. Make no mistake, the Look 695 is a race bike that exhibits the truest reflection of a real, integrated Formula One-design philosophy of any bike on the market. As much as we enjoyed the ride, we’d say that sub-200-pound riders could easily get away with the standard frame. Either way, this is a bike that makes you want to sit up and say “magnifique!”
• As classy as they get
• System-designed parts are quirky
• SR version not needed for lighter riders
Price: $5499 (frame, fork, cranks, stem, seatpost)
Weight: 15.3 pounds
Sizes: 49, 51, 53, 55 (tested), 57, 59 centimeters