LOOK 2009 Launch: Part 3, the 596 time trial frameset

Check out the audacious Look 596 time trial/triathlon bicycle in this Huggacast video 45.

While in Los Gatos CA, I talked to Ming Tan of LOOK Cycle USA about the 596’s development. I was interested in how Look designed the bicycle as a whole. They windtunnel-tested the bike with rider and rotating wheels, measuring the value of mounting brake calipers in odd places and also of having very tight gaps between the tires and frame. They also considered the demanding work environment of professional team mechanics and how the bike would actually handle and function. What Look created after asking many questions was a bike that uses several bold proprietary features but is surprisingly practical in the details. As a successor to some of the boldest aero bikes used at the highest levels of competition, the 596 stands out among the trends in time trial design.

Surely the most controversial aspect of the design is the wide gap between the frame the rear wheel. Conventional wisdom at this point dictates that the rear wheel should be as close as possible to a faired and profiled seat tube, prompting other manufacturers to use rear entry horizontal dropouts to allow the wheel to be positioned just clear of the trailing edge of the seat tube.

But LOOK has models and numbers that suggest the surface of the spinning wheel drags a lot of air forward. This air must have an exit to escape between the frame and tire before it disturbs the air flow off the frame. Hence the large gaps. Also, the 596 has vertical dropouts, somewhat conventional cable routing, and uses standard brake calipers, as desired by professional teams. When measured in a windtunnel as a whole with a rider and rotating wheels, the practical and functional benefits of these small items far outweighed the paltry aerodynamic gains of more radical solutions.

I’d be inclined to doubt LOOK’s claims, except they were making bikes with tight frame/wheel gaps well before Felt had touched carbon fibre and before Cervelo was even a bicycle company. It would have been easier to go with what has become conventional design. Instead, LOOK Cycle strikes out in a new direction and emphasizes all aspects of performance.

I had mentioned a similar philosophy in another article.

Next video, I’ll talk about some of the functional details of the 596, in particular the Monobloc Zed crank.