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Tech-Redux: Look 695

From issue 05 (Aug/Sept 2011)

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The French are an inventive bunch, but it’s a unique brand of invention. Creativity, daring and a sense of drama seem to be as important as the actual use of the object itself.

To simply invent something new is not enough—that’s not French. A list of French inventions sounds like a setup to a Bond film, or at the very least, one hell of an exciting weekend: the sea plane, the scuba tank, the parachute, and of course, the bikini. All invented by Frenchmen.

Cycling culture in France has not been immune to this unique brand of innovation. It was a French metal worker that first attached pedals and cranks to the front wheel of a foot-driven velocipede in 1863 and created the first recognizable bicycle. Who he was specifically has been lost to time, but that he was French is beyond doubt.

With the rise of American and Asian brands, it would be easy to assume that spirit of invention has been diluted, or at least has migrated across the Atlantic. Invention and innovation are on the fast track around the cycling globe, but they lack a certain daring, a certain sense of drama, a certain “Je ne sais quoi”. While it’s all fast, stiff, and light, it is not French.

How would the French do it today? Well, they are still doing it, and doing it incredibly well. One glance at the all-new Look 695 and you can immediately see invention with a sense of French drama and daring.

Secret Processes and the Spirit of Integration
The 695 marks a significant change in the way Look makes their bicycles. The previous flagship, the 595, used lug technology, while the 695 employs a monocoque technique. The reason for the shift was very simple; LOOK engineers felt the 595 took lug technology as far as it could go, to the very limits of stiffness and weight. The answer? Monobloc and Continuous Fiber Design.

The front triangle, right through the integrated seat mast was designed with this Continuous Fiber Design principle in mind. Sheets of carbon were kept intact as much as possible and oriented to utilize the strength inherent in the fiber’s grain. LOOK’s Monobloc construction has another key element that maximizes this technique. Voids between carbon layers, or pockets of resin, are where cracks in carbon start. To ensure voids are eliminated, higher pressure is needed in molds than attainable by traditional techniques. LOOK wanted a better solution and found one.

The problem is they can’t really tell us much about it. It is a closely guarded secret. The basics are that in areas of very high stress—the head tube, the bottom bracket, and the seat cluster—LOOK places steel forms within the frame as it is being molded. This allows the pressure exerted on the frame during construction to be more than tripled in these critical areas. How exactly do you get the steel forms out after the frame has been baked? That is the closely guarded secret.

All of LOOK’s lug expertise was not ignored during the 695’s construction. Instead of using carbon overwrapping to attach the rear of the bike, LOOK engineers relied on their internal lug technique. The results are clean, but with distinct joints in the rear mono stay and directly behind the bottom bracket.

The bike’s visual signature is a kink in the top tube just behind the head tube, and this aesthetic has many roles to play. It offers a little aerodynamic help by cleaning up airflow behind the stem and more importantly, it allows some front-to-back compliance to take the edge off the 695’s new fork, the very stiff and light HSC-7.

A feature the 695 would seem to share with other bikes is the integration concept, but in practice and spirit the integration LOOK has created with the 695 sets a new standard. Where you interact with your bike, the cranks, the seat, and the cockpit, LOOK has designed wholly new components, laden with inventive features.

The new C-Stem is a massive carbon block, at once ugly and beautiful, but always profoundly strange in appearance. While it is not the lightest stem in the peloton, a respectable 140 grams for the 90mm, it does deliver adjustability no other stem in its weight class can match; 20 degrees of angle adjustment and a centimeter of length adjustment in all five stem sizes. It can also be swapped out for a standard stem if so desired.

At the seat mast, instead of a bolt-on topper, LOOK has created the E-Post, a carbon insert allowing up to 3 centimeters of adjustment. The E-Post also comes with three different elastomer inserts, from very stiff, to quite elastic, to fine tune the bike to each individual rider and each individual ride. The slick aesthetic the system adds to the bike is a nice feature and a step ahead of even the cleanest bolt-on mast topper.

The real revelation of the 695’s integration is the Zed 2 crank set, born from a single mold. Crank arms, spider, and spindle are one continuous molded piece of carbon fiber, which is then inserted through the massively oversized 65mm bottom bracket. The Zed 2 has reached a higher stiffness to weight ratio than any other production crank set on the market. Each crank set is also highly adjustable, able to accept standard or compact chain rings and lengths from 170, 172.5 and 175mm. As with the stem, the option to run another manufacturer’s crank set is available; it just requires a LOOK adapter.

Ferocious Attacks and Descending on the Ragged Edge
From the standpoint of features, adjustability, aesthetics, and construction, the LOOK 695 continues to represent the unique style of invention and innovation the French are famous for. But, like the parachute and the scuba tank, if it doesn’t work in the real world, it’s useless.

As an endless test rider you get used to having to sacrifice some of your fit specifics. You get it as close as you can and you go ride. The LOOK 695, thanks to its C-Stem and crank length adjustability, was easily dialed into my exact position, down to the millimeter. That was an incredible luxury.

The LOOK 695 has angles we’ve come to define as Grand Tour geometry: short chain stays, with a slightly longer front center. It’s a package that delivers snappy acceleration with nimble handling that doesn’t ever feel twitchy. It may not be the best geometry for flicking through tight gaps in a full-bore field sprint, but it is more than up to the task of alpine descending on the ragged edge.

That snappy acceleration is truly on display while climbing, and rapid changes in pace are this bike’s bread and butter. The short stays and those massive Zed 2 cranks will squeeze every last meter per second out of your engine. On the way down, the beefy front end, C-Stem and the HSC 7 fork all make themselves known. The bike is so utterly composed during full-throttle descending as to turn white-knuckle corners into opportunities to accelerate. Laying the 695 over is progressive and confidence inspiring. The bike is a virtuoso display of perfect balance, front to back.

The 695 we tested was the standard model, stiffer than the 595, but 15% less stiff than the available 695 SR, or Super Rigid model. While the bike is certainly quite comfortable for a race bike, it is still a race bike. You can ride all day, but the road is going to be there, as it should for a bike designed to ride the very limits of traction at very high speed.

Where the standard 695 begins to show its limitations is during those big bunch sprint efforts, or on a short, punchy climb when an attack goes. When you truly stomp on the gas, you can feel all your power go through the ZED 2 cranks, and then the chain stays seem to allow a little lateral flex to infect the rear axel for a revolution or two. It clears up quickly, but it’s there, and it makes your attack a little less ferocious. However, for big riders, looking for a big frame to handle big wattage, the 695SR is the way to go.

The Look 695 is many things: stunning to look at, an incredible all-day racer, a magical descender, and unquestionably the best example of what is possible with integration of frame and components. With the 695, Look has not just set the industry standard in this regard, it has redefined the concept. That is, without a doubt, the best homage to the French tradition of invention with flare, invention with character.

The Rider
You aren’t afraid to ride a bike that is unconcerned with traditional technology and appearance. You want an all-day racer capable of going up and down hill as fast as anything on the market. The ability to fine-tune your ride, from dampening to chain rings, is important to you. You aren’t looking for a bike to provide a bedrock foundation for your huge wattage numbers.

The Bottom Line.
Price: $5,999 (Frame, fork, head set, E-Post, C-Stem, and Keo Blade pedals);
Size tested: XXL (59cm)
Group: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
Wheelset: Mavic Cosmic Carbone Ultimate
Details: LOOK Zed 2 Cranks, E-Post, C-Stem, and Keo Blade pedals
Weight: 15.7 lbs. (with pedals and cages)

From issue 5. SOLD OUT!