With their latest 795 Blade RS, Look have finally managed to combine their rich history with a rich riding experience that doesn’t disappoint.
A Brief History
Look’s history is somewhat indirect, yet no less innovative, than other brands when it comes to how they ended up in the manufacture of bikes. After a ski accident Jean Beyl, founder of the company, sought to create a ski binding that was dual pivot, ending the days of the rigid ski binding that had dominated up until then and caused his crash.
This invention set the company on a path of innovation and market leading products. The pivoting ski binding led naturally onto an invention that most of us cyclists take for granted today – the clipless pedal. Revolutionary at the time, it very quickly become the sport’s go-to pedalling option with all competing brands coming up with their own version very quickly after.
By the late 80s Look’s pedals and high profile sponsorships with the likes of Greg LeMond had moved them finally into the realm of producing bicycle frames. With their eye-catching models and dedication to pushing the limits of carbon fibre and aerodynamics Look’s designs very quickly become iconic, often garnering a cult like following as their advancements in design were always hand in hand with a genuine and thoroughly researched advancement in aerodynamics and performance.
A Fraught History
There’s no getting around it, despite the inarguable quality of their products, Look have started to become known as tricky and awkward. Over-reliant on proprietary standards and inventions, Looks were gaining a notoriety for difficulty.
Bringing a frameset to our mechanics to build up would often quickly see the colour wash from their face as the terms ‘Ergostem’ and ‘Zed Bottom Bracket’ flash across their eyes with the manic PTSD of someone who has huffed and puffed their way through too many builds before this.
It’s quite a rare situation for a company to find itself in. Undoubtedly the quirks and unique aspects of Look bikes are, on the one hand what drive a lot of people to them and also what leaves them to be cutting edge, dominating events like the London 2012 and Atlanta 1996 Olympic track events, 13 medals and 6 medals respectively.
But these quirks have also held back the brand and prevented Look from being household name, to the kind of household bike brand that means you’ll struggle to go out on a club ride and fail to see one.
This brings us to the previous generation Look 795, perhaps the high-water mark of where Look were going wrong. Cool to look at, sure, but try giving it to your mechanic to repair something, or try do some basic maintenance at home (God Forbid!) and you’d soon run in to hurdles and problems caused by the nuances of such an extremely well-but complicated- bike.
When we talk about this last generation of Look bikes in the future I think the overarching theme will be of Olympic level engineering not meeting the accessibility requirements of mass produced consumer bikes. Cool on paper, awesome to brag about whilst out with the club on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but ultimately awkward and difficult – reducing your friendly relationship with your usual mechanic to a quick trip to Sainsburys to provide a crate of beer as a kind of peace offering.
A New History
Naturally, we end up asking, where does Look go from here? Once a brand resigns itself to a very niche set of superfans it is doomed to fail, and luckily, it appears Look have swung the other way. By accepting the limitations of the previous 795,and modernising it without sacrificing their long held engineering standards., the new model Look 795 Blade RS brings the brand triumphantly into the 2020s without a shred of misplaced pride regarding where previous models went wrong.
We built a 795 Blade RS Disc with an Ultegra Di2 Groupset and Dura Ace cranks. We added a set of the new Hunt 48 Limitless Aero carbon wheels with ceramic bearings and used some Sworks Venge carbon aero bars. The finished build Is a stunning looking bike, the metallic blue paintwork really setting the bike apart from the 'all so similar' aero bike offerings that frequent the tarmac these days.
The chunky seat stays and chain stays are distinctive and the intersection with the seat tube and post makes for a meaty looking rear end. I was expecting to feel the reverberations of that rear end from the Surrey Hills pot holes through to the bone but it was surprisingly smooth!
Being an 'Inbetweener' sometimes 54, sometimes 56, sometimes medium, sometimes large, I was expecting the large to be a stretch. The frame Is weird though; short reach, big head tube, huge stand over height. Ideally I would like to slam the stem so the top tube and stem create the integrated line that the bike is designed for. The rather large headtube stack measurement allows for quite a slammed position without giving up too much comfort. Whilst the multi-position seatpost also allows a near TT position which is perfect for the hilly, bendy, traffic-heavy tri that I wouldn't risk a TT bike on.
The Hunt wheels are crazy wide at 33mm. When shod with these 28mm Vittoria Corsas it's a perfect aero profile and room for an even fatter tyre if desired. I'm expecting good comfort too. The 48 depth Is quite tame for an aero bike but I'm anticipating cross winds in the tri, plus I wanted the Limitless Ceramic Bearings which only come in this depth. Everyone knows you're coming with these wheels, you don't need a bell, just freewheel.
The bike weighs in at 8.2KG with the Look aero pedals. About where expected by looking at it, hardly a climber’s bike, but still lighter than the Madone Disc!
Two rides in and I’ve been mighty impressed. It feels tremendously stiff and responsive, as expected the back end is like a block of concrete, but in a good way. The fat wheels offset the rigidity to a degree and the bike does feel pretty comfortable overall. Despite the geometry the fit Is really good and surprisingly, with very little adjustment, I'm in a great endurance position that I feel like I could happily stay in all day. On the long gradual descent over by Windsor Park it was begging me to go faster and felt like it had so much more to give, will save that for a bigger decline. Needless to say, it ticks the main box for an aero bike.
Climbing Is good, the bike feels responsive when up out the saddle, maybe a bit ponderous but you can't have aero, disc and a sublime climber (unless you're Specialized of course!). The higher and more compact position also lends Itself well to a seated longer climb, so should be good in the bigger hills and mountains too.
Maybe It's the wide wheels and big aero bars but overall It does feel like you a sitting on a big lump of a bike though, like a carbon shire horse. Although that may seem like harsh criticism, what it actually delivers is a sense of confidence and the feeling of being firmly routed to the tarmac below you, egging you on to push the descents harder and attack more often.
I've never been a fan of Look bikes for various reasons, but I really like this Blade. It is a great all day comfortable aero bike that is stiff and responsive and looks distinctive. It holds on to their heritage whilst driving them into a new decade of bike design. Peeling back some of their worst previous excesses and revealing a true performance power house.