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When the original BH Ultralight arrived in 2011 it was among a very select crowd: a sub-800-gram frame. That weight has now become pedestrian. Numbers below 700 grams are common, and even sub-600-gram numbers have been bandied about by the Germans at AX Lightness, while SCOTT has delivered a sub-1,000-gram frame-and-fork combo. It takes quite a bit to stand out these days if you are determined to run a marketing campaign around the weight of your bike.
Four years of the original UltraLight were deemed plenty by BH, and the Spanish manufacturer has updated it for 2015, calling it the UltraLight EVO. It’s not a truly new bike, rather it’s an optimized version of the original UltraLight. The majority of the mold is unchanged so it strikes a very familiar profile, and it’s a profile we love. The BH UltraLight, and this new EVO version, feels engineered, not styled. The bike’s slightly sloping top tube, straight-blade forks and svelte seat stays are refreshingly traditional. Only the asymmetric chain stays fly in the face of tradition, but they do it subtly.
Optimization came mainly in the form of a refined lay-up and new materials. A few tweaks to the mold, in the bottom bracket and at the non-drive-side chain stay for crank-based power meters, were also made. A new molded-carbon front derailleur hanger was designed too—lighter and stiffer as well as delivering better performance with ovalized chainrings. As subtle as these changes were, BH still shaved 50 grams off the original, sneaking just under 700 grams for an MD frame, yet upped the metrics. The bottom bracket is now 10-percent stiffer and the head tube is an additional 5-percent stiffer, while it maintains the same compliance. None of this is revolutionary. The materials and processes needed to build a sub-700-gram road frame are well understood across the industry.
Price: $4,000 (frame set only)
Weight: 15.5 lbs (w/o pedals or cages)
Specification: Shimano Dura-Ace 9000,
BH S.Lite Cockpit, Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40C and Yksion tires, Prologo Kappa2 saddle
The original bike pioneered the BB386EVO standard with FSA. The main advantage to that design standard is the added real estate around the bottom bracket. This allowed BH to attach massive chain stays and a huge down tube to the under carriage. The new Ultralight EVO retains this and it’s easy to see just how influential the design was—just look at any other stiffness-to-weight-ratio bike on the market today. Some have claimed it is too similar to a certain Canadian brand but, remember, the mold is essentially five years old, so this bike predates many it is compared to and at the very least was developed concurrently. Who copied whom?
Our XL test bike was built with Dura-Ace 9000, a BH S.Lite cockpit and Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40C wheels. It’s a build that pushes five figures thanks to the $4,000 price tag of the frame and $2,750 price of the wheels, yet still pushes north of 15 pounds on the scale—15.5 pounds to be precise—not an impressive number for a bike called the UltraLight EVO. But, fear not; in the U.S. the Ultralight EVO is sold as a frame only, spec some lighter wheels, which can be had for less than these Mavics, and the bike will be unshackled in the mountains.
Marginal gains. That was the thought that kept creeping in during this test ride. The UltraLight EVO offers an advantage over the original UltraLight—an almost vanishingly small advantage.
It still feels crisp in the hills, accelerates on the steep grades like a pure climber should, thanks to the solid power transfer and short chain stays. It’s beautifully compliant over a long day in the saddle, assuming you run something wider than the sliver-thin Mavic 23mm boots we rode that measure less than 22mms on the rim. But the original UltraLight was all these things.
Big riders will notice a slight uptick in the Ultralight EVO’s response to big efforts out of a corner, over the top of a big-ring roller or in all-out bunch dashes. The 10-percent increase in bottom-bracket stiffness is really where the optimization shows on the road. While it’s 50 grams lighter, when an empty water bottle weights 70grams, you have to be a better climber than we could find to really appreciate this. We would request a bit more overall torsional stiffness, however. The head tube, a claimed 5-percent stiffer, feels less direct and precise than the rear of the bike, especially under heavy descending loads. It’s stiffer than plenty of other bikes, but the front end doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the rear.
The real battle for this bike is not how much better it is than the original UltraLight. Instead, it’s how does it measure up against an insanely stacked field of stiffness-to-weight-ratio racers. Climbers dedicated to BH and its Basque heritage will love it. Riders just looking for the best road racer will need to try the Trek Emonda, SCOTT Addict, Cervélo R-Series, Cannondale Super Six EVO, Specialized Tarmac and a few others before pulling the trigger.