We review the Argon 18 E-80 Ironman triathlon bike

Argon 18 E-80

One of the surprise bike test winners of last year, Canadian brand Argon 18 has updated their intro model quite significantly for 2012. The result is a strong complete bike for a surprisingly appealing price tag that comes with massive speed and upgrade potential for those who are willing to invest further.

One of our favourite cost effective speed machines of 2011 gets a max speed makeover for 2012

As Argon 18 bikes are sold conventionally through shops, we’re not surprised if they can’t match the carbon fibre frame appeal of the direct sell bikes here. In actual on-road aero terms though, the E-80 is the most advanced frame on test here.

The short head tube sets up a potentially very low tuck position and the carbon- legged aero forks plugged into it have also been re-profiled for better aerodynamics. The sidepull U-brake is tucked behind the fork crown to minimise drag. However, it can also be front mounted if you prefer. The rear V-brake is hidden behind the bottom bracket and the thin blade rear stays triangulate at chunky horizontal slotted dropouts. Built in axle adjusters let you slide the wheel right into the wheelhugger seat tube cut-out without worrying about torque creep and tyre rubbing. For this new frame, the gear and rear brake cables all run internally, which dramatically reduces the amount of drag the frame produces and they also make the frame look super neat and tidy.

While the new triple butted 3005 Thermo Tech aero tubing is definitely alloy, smooth welds and matt black finish mean you’d be forgiven for thinking it was carbon even when right up close. It’s lighter on the scales than some carbon aero frames we’ve tested as well.

The seatpost is carbon fibre though as well as being reversible to give 76° or 78° effective seat angles. The result is a properly state-of-the-art aero frame at a remarkably good price.

Argon aren’t short-changing riders on the complete kit for the money either. SRAM Rival provides a lightweight, slick running transmission via neat tip shifters. Once set up right the Tektro brakes work well through the broad brake levers to add confidence and the Continental Ultra Sport tyres are stalwart high-mileage all-rounders. The Fulcrum 7 wheels are excellent quality, high durability rolling stock. Swapping wheels during testing confirmed their weight definitely erodes the E-80’s immediacy though and it deserves an upgrade to something aero and/or lighter as soon as possible. The Token bars and clip-on extensions are simple and heavy pieces, but their shape is actually very good with reasonable adjustment. This all adds up to the highest complete bike weight on test, which is obvious when the road turns steeply upwards. We’ve certainly no complaints about the top spec titanium railed Pro Logo saddle at this price though and it’s an ideal place to enjoy the aero talent of the Argon from.

While being the bike with the heaviest wheels and overall weight on test doesn’t get the Argon off to the best of starts, the longer, further and faster you ride the more you’ll realise where its true strengths lie. Argon’s unique AFS geometry isn’t actually that different from what most other manufacturers are using. Every Argon we’ve ridden or shared round our test team has been universally praised for setting up a very easy to maintain, confident aero position with minimal fuss. That was certainly the case with the E-80, which fitted us like a glove straight from the box. While it’s no steady slacker, the handling is immediately intuitive responsive, but never nervous way – it’s more fluid than snappy. This was particularly obvious when we swapped the Argon onto the deep-section Planet X wheels for part of the test. It coped with their gusty wind-blown nature without any drama or reduction in its confident character and it also really unleashed the true speed potential of this extensively drag detailed frame. While it felt slightly sluggish at cruising speeds, lifting the pace to race speeds with the faster wheels created an absolute lightning rocket of a ride. We’re not just talking in terms of sub £2,000 bikes either, but an ease of speed in the big ring and small rear cog end of the spectrum that would put the frighteners up superbikes with prices several times more that the E-80s.

Remarkably – for an aluminium bike – the ride quality is almost as seamlessly smooth as the welds. It’ll definitely let you know when you’ve hit a pothole but even on acne ridden winter back roads it has a real float and subtlety about it, something that is normally reserved for a far more expensive composite chassis. It doesn’t come at the expense of power delivery or precision handling either and once we were settled into a tuck we genuinely didn’t want to stop blitzing the big ring along, even when our only company was driving sleet and gritting lorries.

+ Frame balances long-haul comfort and precise handling really well
+ State of the art aerodynamics with serious upgrade potential

– Wheels are good, but it’s begging for deep sections to reach full potential
– Direct sell bikes edge it on spec, but local shop support can be priceless