East of Lyon, France, there is a group of highly skilled women in charge of laying up Time’s handmade carbon fiber tubes, and then individually sanding each by hand. Time is the only European bike company in the world to purchase only carbon threads which they then weave into seamless fabric tubes and shapes in order to maintain complete control of the tubing of their frames. This is the bike of Bradley Wiggens and the CoFidis Pro Tour team. The bike of Bouyges-Telecom and the bike of American hopeful Chris Barton of the Vendee-U development team. Time has invested in a unique (and time-consuming) way to build carbon fiber frames-and it’s working. Tom Boonen won the 2005 Paris-Roubaix on a Time frame, and diminutive but powerful Paolo Bettini won the 2006 World Championships. The name ‘Time’ conjures up images of victory, of French handmade works of art and the elegance of carbon, lugged frames. What makes the Time Ulteam VXRS so special and so popular in the pro peloton and to riders around the world? We would soon find out.
The Time VXRS Ulteam is a special bike, due in part to Time’s patented RTM (Resin Transfer Molding). Time is the only manufacturer in the bike industry to use this technique, a three-step process which combines the use of tubular woven layers of carbon with a pressure-injected-resin molding process. Why does this matter? According to Time, ‘the epoxy resin, tubular woven braids (weaves) and integrated inserts all bond together in a closed, pressure-injection mold to make the finished piece totally homogenous.’ This process gives the VXRS Ulteam a unified and uniform tube thickness, causing the bike to have a truly unique feel. When you first look at the VXRS you see the lugs, and then you will notice straight away that the frame is different from the now-conventional crop of molded monocoque types. The lugs, give the VXRS a classic profile that to some may look dated, but Time believes this is the best way to get the right tolerances to produce the safest, highest quality frame. Does the patented technology translate to a better ride? Yes.
The Time Ulteam VXRS normally comes equipped with the Translink integrated seatpost, but ours came with a standard 27.2 post so we could easily transfer the bike between riders. Time’s Translink is unique in that if you want to switch back to a conventional arrangement, you can simply cut it off and slip a standard post into the frame. Campagnolo Record and Fulcrum Wheels completed the otherwise Time-dominated build. The build worked in concert with the frame perfectly. The Campagnolo Record shifting stood out to many test riders (who have been riding SRAM and Shimano bikes more recently) as effortless, intuitive and clean, and with respect to the two ‘S’ companies, we collectively have a better understanding why Campagnolo is revered around the world.
The VXRS Ulteam is handmade in France and you can feel the attention to detail on the road.
If it’s not all in the frame, then could it be in Time’s unique geometry? After building bikes for Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond, Time’s Alain Descroix (former Pro Tour wrench and bike builder) brings his input into the Ulteam VXRS geometry. Pretty standard but powerful, the 73-degree head tube and 73.5-degree seat tube angles were comfortable but fast on our test bike with a 57 centimeter top tube (large size frame).
No matter where we took this bike, it performed flawlessly. You would expect it to be too stiff, or a bit firm, due to its racing pedigree. It was stiff, but only when it was needed. You could feel the road below you enough to make good decisions and to communicate with it, but not once did it jar us. In an out-of-the-saddle sprint, the frame held strong, asking for more, and on descents it was calm, stable and super fast. On flats, it eased us through gaps in the peloton and allowed a greater level of speed as the stiff, energetic frame translated each pedal stroke into forward motion. Are we sold on the RTM carbon technology? Yes. It is different and it works.
Many bikes come through the RBA office and many have stories, unique characteristics, and histories. The VXRS Ulteam lives up to its story, and across the board, test riders were blown away by its speed, performance and handling. It is rare when we get a bike and pass it around that everyone ends up with a similar response. ‘Fast’ was brought up more than once. ‘Smooth’ quite a bit, and ultimately it was an honor to even throw a leg over this frame and its pro-level build. The Campagnolo Record shifting complemented the frame perfectly. The Fulcrum wheels perfectly matched the Ulteam’s nimble and aggressive personality. The shift-down from big ring to small with the Campy Record was like strumming a guitar. At speed and in sprints, the bike moved and operated almost on its own, pushing to go faster, taking corners at increased speeds and always waiting to be put to the test on a sprint.
When a bike asks you to do more, to ride and spin more efficiently, to strive to live up to its inherent potential, it is a rare thing, and the VXRS Ulteam is as close to the perfect bicycle as any we have yet to come across. There must be something in those lugs? Maybe it’s the women who hand sand each tube. Maybe it’s that each weave of carbon is made at Time, or maybe it’s that when things take time, when they are handmade, the attention to detail creates something special.
Says Time’s Gilles Lalonde, ‘Americans always comment that they [frames] aren’t stiff enough…they don’t understand that you need a certain amount of movement in the bottom bracket to make you feel you are pedaling. That’s why Eddie Merckx rode Reynolds 531 instead of Columbus tubing; because he could feel a little bit more of the bike.’
Did we have any issues with it? We did have one major issue: on an editor’s salary, it’s only possible to buy one of these bikes every five years, and hold onto it like a prized possession. Price is the Ulteam’s only flaw. If you have the money, put your stamped-out, Chinese carbon, pre-preg, monocoque frame in the rafters, buy this bike and hold on to it. Then pick up a bottle of Chateau Margau (2000), uncork it and toast yourself.
Price: $4999 (frame only)
Weight: 14.6 pounds