AX Lightness introduced a number of new and interesting products just over a week ago at Eurobike. Some of the most interesting were the updates to their own lightweight all-around frame and complete bike line-ups, as well as a bunch of new unbelievably light wheel options. But not to be discounted was a rethinking of their product levels and finishes, another new saddle, and little changes their super light stems.
Read on for full details…
Vial Evo Frames
AX developed the new Vial Evo as a completely new iteration of last year’s original Vial. While weight was a major target of the original and definitely considered for this update (the Evo drops 120g from the Vial), more important to AX was building a strong, stable, and comfortable bike without restriction on type of riding. (It does have a mx 100kg rider limit.)
The frame features complex shaped tubes that are individually hand laid in their german production facility, exclusively from premium quality high-tensile fibers. Plus, the frames incorporate high modulus fibers strategically located in select areas to reinforce against exceptional loads. This can clearly be seen with the bare no-paint finish where different 3K carbon is used in stress areas like around the bottom bracket, derailleur clamp, and bottle bosses. The overall frame design is prominently asymmetric, most easily seen by the higher-volume non-driveside chainstay and seattube/downtube junction. At the same time an effort was made to improved aerodynamics, with updates like a more hour glass shaped headtube. Integrated bearing seats lend lighter weight, higher stiffness, and the prevention of creaking.
Frame size specific tube diameters and adapted wall thicknesses give smaller riders a more balanced bike, with better handling, more damping and comfort, and more predictable cornering character. At the same time larger riders also get a torsionally stiffer frame, with the same sharp handling and scaled comfort.
AX presented their new Vial Evo complete bike at the show with a couple of price points. The top-end bike that won Eurobike Gold includes a lightweight Ax Lightness build kit with a full Dura-Ace Di2 build for a whopping €11,500 at 5.2kg. New at the show was a more ‘affordable’ SRAM Force 22 group with aluminum components from partner Zipp for a slightly more reasonable €5800 and still just 6.5kg
The updated Vial Evo frame can also be had as a frameset with either a 3T Rigida Team – €2990, or for the Evo D version with a german-made THM Scapula CT fork – €3490 (D for Deutschland). The frame itself has a 1 1/8” to 1 1/4” headtube, uses BB386, has internal mechanical/electric routing, promised tire clearance for 25s, uses a 27.2 post, and comes in 4 sizes. It weighs between 660-720g depending on size (+20g per size), while the one they had displayed on a scale read just 650g for a 52cm.
The biggest AX headlines for the wheel products are a new road clincher rim and new road disc wheels. The new road Ultra Clincher rims were a long time in development as AX Lightness had many obstacles to overcome to deliver the great performance and exceptional low weight they demand. The biggest issues were producing a lightweight carbon rim that could stand up to the high pressures of road use, and could then take the extra rim heat accumulation from braking. AX is adamant of the superiority of hooked rims, and had a interesting diagram showing how the hooked rim creates more air volume, better damping, and better grip for a given tire as it effectively increases tire width almost a full size while keeping a more dimensionally stable round profile (at least at road pressures).
AX uses a unique molded-in tire bead hook that they construct with a more time intensive, proprietary 3 part mold. Very importantly they do not machine the rim profile after molding, as this creates micro fissures between the carbon fibers at the single point of the rim most likely to experience external abuse from impacts and debris infiltration. Spoke holes are also molded-in, not drilled, which allows a lighter rim that retains the ability to use high spoke tension builds. Lastly braking surfaces are also molded in with no need for post-machining. All of these operations require tighter manufacturing tolerances, which is one reason why AX Lightness keeps all of their production in-house at their headquarters. All of AX Lightness’ rims retain a 3K carbon weave finish, since carbon fiber can only draw heat in the direction of the fibers, so heat dissipation away from the braking surface diminishes measurably when UD fibers are used.
AX has been testing the rims with tubeless road tires with great success and is happy to verify their tubeless compatibility. (Their existing MTB rim profile developed in the same method was verified as tuebless-compatible.) The road Ultra Clincher rims boast aerodynamic toroidal 26mm wide x 28mm deep profiles (with an 18mm internal width) that was actually independently developed, but licensed with Zipp due to their similar profile. Weight for their 28mm deep Ultra Road Clincher wheelset is an amazing 1065g, with a 45mm deep version at only 1195g. Hubs at this level are Extralite’s Ultra series, and rider weight limit is 100kg.
On the disc-brake road front, AX presented 3 Selection ‘entry’ level and 3 Ultra ‘premium’ wheelsets as light as 850g for the set. The Selection level Road Disc wheels are all built on their SRT24mm or Stream 38mm tubular rims with either Tune King/Kong, Tune Princess/Prince, or the new Extralite Cyber disc hubs, from 880-1145g. It was the first time we have seen these new quick-release only ultralight road disc hubs from Italian firm Extralite, and their machining is certainly impressive. All of the Ultra Road Disc wheelsets use the new Extralite hubs, paired with either AX’s Ultra 24mm tubular (<850g for the set), their Ultra Clincher 28mm (1100g), and Ultra Clincher 45mm (1240g).
AX also was teasing us with a new mountain bike wheel that is in development, but not yet ready for the show. The new MTB Clincher Enduro will at first be offered in a 650B only version with a completely new 46mm wide (36mm internal) rim featuring their tubeless-compatible clincher bead. It is a direct response to the technical trail riding by many customers of their current 33.5mm wide cross country rim. We’ll keep an eye open for the new rim when we visit AX Lightness later this fall.
New Component Hierarchy
Another big overall change that was easiest to see in the wheelset lines is a new way of branding the different levels of their products to more clearly define the hierarchy of components. All new products will now fall into one of three categories: the standard Selection, a step up to Premium, and the top-of-the-line Ultra. It isn’t necessarily across the board, but to get a general idea the Selection products will often have a 100kg rider weight limit; Premium parts will shed some weight often with less material, and have a 85kg weight; and Ultra parts will drop even more weight, usually with a higher quality carbon material and different layups with greater strength and stiffness, and still keep the 85kg limit.
On the saddles front, AX is going to try to simplify their offerings, even while they are still introducing a new saddle. The new Leaf Plus adds colored leather covers to their recessed center-channel, cut-out saddle. Just like the Endurance Plus we showed at the beginning of the year, the leather covers are not about added flex, padding, or comfort but a lees slippery interface with a rider’s shorts and an opportunity for a splash of color from a company working almost exclusively in the blacks of carbon fiber. Pricing will most likely match the Endurance Plus at €269.
With the new saddle option, AX plans to move towards offering each of its three main saddle shapes – traditionally shaped Sprint, Endurance with center relief channel, and Leaf adding a center cutout – in a carbon only, small leather swatches, and full leather cover versions. Special rail options and limited editions will continue to be available.
Lots of other little changes happen across the lines too:
- All stems now come with a revised 1-piece aluminum faceplate. The updated faceplate is a rolling change that has been a long time in the works with the new single linked plate allowing much higher bolt torque, making handlebar installation easier and more reliable for end-users.
- AX showed a new forged and machined aluminum crankset. Details were few, but the word is that it will actually be replacing their carbon Morpheus crankset, which is maybe too labor intensive to produce without a big enough benefit over the competition?
- The standard finish is now Unidirectional on most parts to have a more consistent aesthetic across the lines, but a 3K weave remains an option on just about all parts.
- All handlebars have been upgraded to 31.8mm. AX doesn’t see a need to do anything in 35mm anytime soon. They say that were able to get the strength and stiffness they wanted with 26.0 bars, but have transitioned over to 31.8 for customer convenience and stem interchangeability.
We were drawn in with a discussion about how AX products are almost entirely unpainted, with Uv-resistant resins, the parts are typically only polished when they come out of the molds. We then got to talking with the head of sales for AX Lightness more about their product development, including the extensive third-party and in-house testing of their products to ensure safety and durability for riders above their published weight limits. We realized that we could spend several posts just talking about how the products come to life, so we agreed to go get a first hand account from their Creußen, Germany facility where all their products are made.