Friday, March 23, 2012

Tom Demerly Reviews the Ci2

March 21st, 2012

By Tom Demerly for

2012 Litespeed Ci2 with Shimano Ultegra Di2.

Litespeed's Ci2 continues to establish the Tennesee based brand's place among well spec-ed, high end carbon fiber bikes.

Litespeed continues their direction with carbon fiber road frames and well conceived component specifications with the new 2012 Litespeed Ci2. The bike showcases Shimano’s newest Ultegra Di2, a battery powered, electro-mechanical component group with updates in some areas compared to original Dura-Ace Di2.

The Litespeed Ci2 stays with Litespeed’s successful, but unsung Aerologic molded carbon fiber frameset. While this frame is unlikely to win any lightweight awards it provides good ride quality, stiffness and durability. The reliability of the frame is becoming apparent since we haven’t seen a single frame failure on this frame design since its introduction three years ago. The basic frame configuration remains largely unchanged except for a few details and on-going improvements in lay-up. Some of the new models use a process called “Reactive Pressure Molding” to control compression of materials from the inside of the mold, improving impregnation of resin into the carbon lay-up and improving strength even with narrow aerodynamic frame shapes.

Nice external rear brake cable routing works well on the Ci2 buts seems slightly out of place on an aero frameset. Excellent bottle integration is a legacy feature on the Ci2 we're seeing emulated by other brands.

Frame shapes on the Ci2 include a rear wheel cut-out in the seat tube and leaf-spring style seat stays. These themes merge ideas from previous designs on other brands into one bike model. It’s a nice feature set if you can’t decide between a “ride quality” bike like Cervelo’s R3 and an aerodynamic road bike like their “S” series bikes.

The big news on this new bike is Shimano Ultegra Di2. Ultegra Di2 includes a number of updates over previous Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 including cable connectors about half the size of previous Dura-Ace Di2 and a two cable wiring harness instead of the previous four cable system. Shimano claims the new two-wire harness on Ultegra Di2 is “waterproof” with no need for weather-proofing sleeves seen on Dura-Ace Di2.

In researching this article journalists from Velo-News, Triathlete and a reader’s poll on Cyclingnews all characterized new Shimano Ultegra Di2 shift performance as “better” than previous Shimano Dura-Ace Di2. Wait- Ultegra better than Dura-Ace? A student of Shimano’s product introductions may recognize a pattern here. Ultegra Di2 is a more recent introduction than current Dura-Ace Di2. Anyone familiar with Shimano’s product evolutions knows that silence is often Shimano’s most conspicuous indicator of impending change. Several media outlets have reported a “leaked” document from Shimano on that describes an “11-speed” version of Shimano Dura-Ace Di2.

The new Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifters are heavier than previous Dura-Ace Di2 but share identical shape and feel.

Starting with the shifters the new Ultegra Di2 controls are configured identically to Dura-Ace Di2. Hood shape and body size are very similar- nearly impossible to tell apart- with the new Ultegra Di2 appearing a trifle wider as viewed from the top when parked alongside Dura-Ace Di2. There is additional trim molding on the top of the Dura-Ace Di2 dual control lever that is missing on new Ultegra Di2. The lever or “button” travel to make the shift is identical and the pressure feels the same.

The new, more compact wiring harness on Ultegra Di2 is combined with very good internal routing of the wiring harness on the frameset.

Battery size defaults to the new 7.4-volt battery size and shape, same for both groups. Battery life is the same, extremely long. Battery mounting is still external though, with the battery mounting under the left chainstay well-protected by the chainrings and left crank arm.

You can see the difference in size between Dura-Ace Di2 (left) and new Ultegra Di2 (right).

The front and rear derailleurs on Ultegra Di2 are larger than Dura-Ace Di2 with the size difference coming from the polymer servo housings that move the derailleurs.

An interesting feature of the component spec on the Litespeed Ci2 is the FSA SLK hollow carbon fiber crank. I attributed a significant amount of front shift quality with Di2 to the excellent hollow-forged Shimano Ultegra and Dura-Ace cranks. This component spec proves me partially wrong since front shifting on the Ci2 is laser-guided accurate. Nearly everyone who has ridden Di2 says the front shifting is better than any previous front shift mechanism. That continues on this bike even without the Shimano cranks. This crankset is more durable than the hollow forged Shimano cranks that can dent when knocked over.

The FSA SLK hollow-carbon fiber crank uses new machined chainrings and turns on a BB30 bottom bracket.

At the back of the bike Litespeed continues their asymmetrical chainstay design with a much larger right, drive side, chain stay. This likely contributes to the solid feel of the bottom bracket.

This asymmetric chainstay design likely contributes to the Ci2's great rear end feel and stiffness. You can also see the Di2 battery mounting in this photo.

Seatpost and seat clamp are secure and fully adjustable. The dual redundant seatpost binder bolts clamp a nice aero-styled seatpost with sizing increments on the back for bike fitting and quick reassembly out of your flight case. The bike is speced with my favorite Fizik Arione K:ium rail saddle, a 30 cm long saddle with a lot of fit latitude.

Furniture on the Litespeed Ci2 features a wide range of adjustment and a proven saddle.

Litespeed made good choices for wheel and tire spec on the Ci2 with Fulcrum Racing 5 wheels that feature their Two-to-One construction. There are 8 spokes on the non-drive side of the rear wheel and 16 spokes on the drive side. Spokes are bladed, aerodynamic stainless steel. Wheels use Fulcrum’s Dynamic Balance feature, similar to balancing a car wheel once a tire is mounted. These wheels turn around a nicely made oversized hub with sealed steel bearings. This is a good basic wheelset ready for thousands of miles of tough use. The Fulcrum Racing 5’s ride on a pair of Vittoria Rubino Slicks in the 23 mm width.

A reliable, everyday wheelset is part of the component spec on the Litespeed Ci2.

The Litespeed Ci2 is $5000, a round number in line with other high end frames using Ultegra Di2 and nice quality wheels. If you’ve been around bikes a long time $5K for an Ultegra road bike my sound a trifle bracing. The thing to keep in mind is the current generation of Ultegra Di2 equipped, advanced carbon fiber frames has almost nothing in common with the original generation of bonded carbon road bikes with first generation mechanical Ultegra. It’s an entirely different bike.

The Litespeed Ci2 is further confirmation of Litespeed’s continued place in high end road bikes. It is an unsung high end performance bike with strong frame features and a great new component outfit. Litespeed did a nice job here with no mistakes in component spec and a frame design in its third year of a proven track record.

The new Ultegra Di2 features upgrades from the original Dura-ACe Di2. Mounted on Litespeed's proven aero-carbon frame this is a nice combination.

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