Time ZXRS Review
If you’re in the market for Time's current flagship frame the ZXRS, no doubt you'll be frustrated by the lack of information about it on the net. Hopefully this review will help you make the right decision! (this review has been published on roadbikereview)
• Time ZXRS Nature Small
• Dura-Ace 9000
• Hed Jet 6 FR with Powertap G3
• Praxis Works BB30 converter for Shimano Cranks
• Enve 40cm Traditional Road Bars
• Giant stem (just a tester for determining an appropriate length)
• Specialized Romin Evo Pro 143mm Saddle
• Continental GP4000s 23mm Clincher Tyres
• Tioga 80mm valve Butyl Inner Tubes
• Price Paid: ~$7500 (~rrp$11,000-$13,000)
• Age: 25
• Weight: 61kg
• Height:173.5cm (~5'8" and a bit)
• Racing: C grade (cat 3, but I'm middle cat2 with my 5 (5.55w/kg) and 20min (4.67w/kg) power. In other words, my power to weight ratio is ok, but I am not a powerful rider)
• Biases: Having recently come of a 1st gen Ridley Noah (which I loved) I'm biased towards very stiff, responsive racing bikes. I love the feeling of an extremely stiff pedaling platform that imparts the sensation of constantly driving forward. I have high expectations about how a bike rides and have ridden lots high-end bikes. As such, when you read what I have to say, you need to compare and contrast your own experiences and expectations as you may love what I don’t.Set-up quirks:
Everything you've heard about the ridiculously high quality of Time frames is true (but you know the Ravens Paradox right?). The frame was pristine out of the box, but perhaps the most impressive feature of the finish was how perfectly the mini-seatpost fit into the frame as well as the quickset head-set (which is an excellent d
sign). There are three little quirks to the set-up of the ZXRS worth considering. Firstly, despite the strength of the trend to wider tyres, Time have remained old school and designed the frame without sufficient clearance for 25c tyres. In other words, you are stuck with 23mm tyres. Secondly, the mini seatpost provided does not facilitate a zero-offset saddle position (I have been able to achieve about 3.8cm of offset with the saddle slammed as far forward as it will go). Finally, the frame comes in two versions – mechanical and electronic – so if you decide to go for one or the other, you’re stuck with it. Fit:
The geometry of the ZXRS is spot on. It allows you to get into a nice low position whilst maintaining a feeling of naturalness (which for me is pivoted at the hips, slight curve in the back and nice bent arms to allow your triceps to support your upper body). Part of this comfort may be associated with the reasonably tall head tube of 149mm compared to other thoroughbred racers. I've set myself up with exactly the same measurements on a Ridley Noah, a Cervelo SLC, a Look 585 Ultra, and a TCR Advanced SL and this has been the most comfortable for me. With the stem slammed and a 71.6cm saddle height (from the centre of the BB) the drop to the bars is roughly 7.6cm i.e. low, but not ‘pro’ low. Handling:
One of the standout features that immediately struck me was how stable I felt; riding along you feel very planted. This is great if you train on deep section wheels as I do. I rode in Melbourne in the middle of July when the winds were up around 45km/h and I felt safe/in control. With all this stability comes a slightly slower cornering speed which can lead to a little bit of understeer on occasion. However, cornering at speed you remain in control so if you’re taking a corner too wide you can nudge it back in line. Unlike previous Time's which were apparently flexy through the steerer tube, I'd say it’s sufficiently stiff. In any case, the ZXRS is definitely not your cliché twitchy crit bike.Feeling in the hands:
It’s a little harsh through the hands. The front fork is rather rigid so if you’re going over a rough surface or a bump over 40km/h it feels like what’s underneath you is translated directly into your hands. Note that this isn’t an unpleasant thing most of the time, it’s just you notice it more than on the other bikes I listed above. When going slower, or over normal (Canberra) road surfaces, you don’t notice it too much. Let me emphasize that this bike feels very different when travelling at different speeds. A good word to describe the sensation is "brittle" or sharp - you do get a whack in the hands if you hit a sizable bump (this might be exacerbated if you choose to ride with alloy bars).Feeling at the feet:
The BB isn’t hugely stiff compared to other bikes like the Noah or the TCR SL, but it’s not a noodle either. Acceleration follows more of an exponential curve. That is, you turn the pedals a few times, you’re a bit slow to start then really quickly your up to speed. The direct opposite of this is with the TCR SL - there you mash on the pedals and you’re up to speed instantly. However, unlike the TCR SL, once you’re up to speed the Time holds its speed really well (the TCR makes you feel like you need to keep working). The Time also has another interesting feature. As you pedal there is this strange sensation of having a slight tailwind. It just feels a little easier to pedal through the upstroke than on other bikes. I also perceived there to be a sweet spot cadence where I felt maximally efficient or in sync with the bike. In any case, these two features explain why the Time gives the impression of holding its speed so well. The final comment about sensations through the feet is that over smooth surfaces it feels a little like you lose your legs from under you. I imagine this is associated with the slight flexiness of the BB such that you’re not pressing down onto something super hard. The result is possibly a slight loss proprioceptive feedback from your feet leading to a sensation of spinning your quads in the air. Feeling at the saddle:
The initial impression is that it’s a very smooth ride. If you come straight off a bike that’s harsh, you'll really notice how much feedback from the road is dulled out. The best way to describe the experience on the saddle is that the frame feels like it concurrently embodies two mutually exclusive properties. There is an inner core of alloy that makes the frame feel a bit stiff and harsh at times. Then wrapped around the outside of this alloy core is a vibration dampening material. The net result of the combination of these two properties is that it feels as though everything beneath you is clearly communicated to you, but the sharp edge has been dulled off. Importantly, this sensation changes drastically depending upon your speed and the quality of the road surface. Above 40km/h, the alloy core of the bike comes to the fore and it starts to feel reasonably harsh. But, if you ride over pristine tarmac, the combination of the slightly flexy BB and the smooth sensation in the saddle make the bike feel as though it starts to disappear from underneath you.Overall:
As a complete package, all of the properties described above combine together to create a very distinctive ride quality. As soon as you turn the pedals, you know you’re on a top notch bike. A word the captures the ride quality is 'refined'. It is genuinely unlike anything else I've ridden (most of which were monocoque frames aside from the Look 585 ultra - which was a rather wooden frame). No doubt, you will have noticed the contrast between the directness of the feedback from the hands and the plushness of the feedback from the saddle. However, when you ride the bike, the contrast doesn’t make it feel as though you’re riding a bike that’s in two halves.
The combination of the plushness at the saddle and the slightly flexy BB create a unique, if somewhat muted driving sensation. You feel fast, but it’s not ‘in your face’ like it is on the Noah. Once you get into a rhythm, you forget about the bike beneath you; you lose your feet, feel a slight hum in the saddle and over very smooth tarmac your awareness of the bike phases in and out. It’s almost as if the feedback you get from the road is only a little above your detection threshold - you know it’s there, you feel it, but less so compared to other bikes. Don’t get me wrong the bike does literally disappear from under you, it just phases out slightly. The other stand out feature of the bike is how different it feels at high vs. low speeds. Obviously all bikes feel a bit different at varying speeds but it’s more noticeable on the Time. Essentially, at normal everyday speeds (i.e. <32km/h) it’s smooth and comfortable. Then when you’re going over 40km/h e.g. in a fast bunch or a race, that inner alloy core of the frame comes to the fore and you get a lot of sharp, harsh feedback from the road.
An important point is the effect the wheelset has on the ride quality. The Hed's, for lack of a better word, are very comfortable. Combined with 25c tyres, they turned the Ridley from a fairly harsh beast into a moderately comfortable ride. As such, this wheelset probably exacerbates the feelings of smoothness and comfort the Time offers. If you were to put on some Ksyriums, for example, the harsher voice of the bike would sing out a bit more than the dampening one. In fact, a carbon wheelset like some Enve's or even Lightweights may translate the ride into something a bit more aggressive, which would be pleasing to the racers among us. Final thoughts:
Considering my biases, I've decided I’m not completely enamored by the way the Time rides as a pure racing bike. I’d like something that isn’t so subtle, something that is a bit more aggressive and in your face with its responsiveness and stiffness. When you are hammering it, you get that muted driving sensation, but at the same time, the bike starts to feel harsh. Ideally, you'd want the bike to start to feel smoother, but as though the frame wont budge under the increased power.
As for recommendations, I'd say that if you were a bigger more powerful rider (remember I'm only 61kg and dont put out a lot of power) the overall BB stiffness may be insufficient for real sprinting (>1200w@5s) or climbing steep inclines. If you’re a racer with similar experiences and biases to me, I'd consider racing it before you buy it. It only struck me that it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for when I raced it for the first time. Nonetheless, I still really enjoy training on it. If you’re not racing, but you still like going fast, the ZXRS may well be that perfect middle ground between a fondo bike and an outright racing thoroughbred. This is not to say, however, that the Time isn’t suitable for racing, it gets the job done with gusto. Finally, you should consider the riding you do and whether the properties of the bike I've described sound appealing.
I've since sold the ZXRS and purchased a Bianchi Oltre XR2. Stay tuned for a review.