Thursday, September 3, 2009

Museeuw MF-1 Review

I'll preface this review of the Musueew MF-1 with the fact that I'm not a cycling industry journalist or a professional reviewer. The perspective I can bring is that of a 3 year criterium and road race veteran with podium finishes and now (ahem) European racing experience. I've already covered the process of getting the bike but if you missed it here's a link back.

Getting my hands on this bike was a real coup. A main premise of the whole trip to Belgium was to race bikes. This could have been severely undermined if I ended up with a garbage bike, or no bike at all! Happily, not only did I get fantastic bike, I got an exotic piece of top-shelf European racing hardware that combined truly unique materials, pro-peleton components and eye catching styling.

MF-1 Music Montage from Litterbox on Vimeo.

Since the bike was a demo from the factory it's equipment load-out was a mystery until the day I picked it up. I had some hint from my contact at Museeuw Bikes that it would be equipped with Campagnolo components. This for me would have been a great option as my bike at home is similarity built-out. Which is why I was surprised to find that the XL MF-1 frame was set-up with SRAM Red from the cock-pit to the derailleur. I've had some experience with the SRAM gruppo from some months back when my coach loaned me his Colnago rigged up with the SRAM Force group. Transitioning to this component group takes all of 10 minutes on the bike to get used to the shifting mechanism. If you've never ridden it, the shifting features a single control lever behind each break lever the works on a "double tap" method. On the right hood you press the lever until it clicks once to shift into a bigger or "harder" gear, and press two clicks to shift into an smaller or "easier" gear. Since this isn't a component review it leave it at that except to say that my only gripe with the SRAM shifting with that the front derailleur has very limited trimming capability, expecially in the small chain ring. This can cause some irritating chain rubbing when riding in a crossed-up configuration - which I'm want to do. The component group is very light however, with crisp and dependable front and rear breaking complete with Swissstop break pads and precise shifting felt right at home on what was to be a very fast and capable road bike.

For wheels the MF-1 came with some very stiff and capable Museeuw branded shallow section carbon and aluminum clinchers, dressed smartly with top-end white and black Vredesten tires. The saddle was a very Euro looking white Fizik Aerione, with carbon braided rails, adding, or subtracting I should say from the already light feeling bike. The cockpit was an FSA intergrated stem and bar combo with a 110 milimeter length stem section and medium reach ergonomic drops. For me this was a perfect fit combined with the rest of the bikes geometry. And I should add also shaved additional grams from the biked over all weight.

Even in Europe Museeuw bikes are a rare sight. This one with a very understated gloss finish over naked carbon weave and smart looking and restrained graphics turned out to be a real head turner. When stopped in the French walled city of Burgues for a water break, a group of little french kids gathered around asking how much I paid for the bike. Almost everything about this bike is unique - from the long integrated seat mast to the dramatic wishbone fork and seat stay sections, even the carbon/flax texture stood out. I'm not sure if the composite 1/2 carbon and 1/2 flax material contributed to the look, but a close examination of the outer material wrapper revealed a tan organic looking reflective quality that seemed to live just beneath the carbon weave. In sunlight, which I was lucky enough to have a lot of - the bike really sparkled. While featuring a lug and tube design, tube shaping is anything but orthodox. This is most notable on the top tube and head tube lug assembly. The top tube has a variable shape with a thinner profile at the seat tube section that quite noticeably thickened toward the head tube section. The head tube lug has a bow like shape in profile and narrows at the front into bladed airfoil shape. To the naked eye I couldn't tell if the head tube featured a tapered design. The threads at the top of the headset looked like they were the same diameter at the top of the forks. This didn't detract from the bikes solid front-end ride qualities.

Steering was crisp and responsive but not jumpy or nervous. The front wheel tracked impeccably through turns and handled predictably over the roughest pave. And there was plenty of that to experience on this adventure. Nearly all the streets of Brugge had different sized cobbles. Some were neat and tightly placed, while others resembled the nightmarish broken blocks as seen in such races Paris Roubaix or Liege Bastogne Liege. Over all of this rough stuff the MF-1 preformed perfectly, gobbling up and heavy patches with the smooth qualities of a classic steel frame combined with the bottom bracket stiffness and weight of 21st century carbon. The unique material blend of carbon and flax fiber delivered on these great ride qualities. I suspect that the frames geometry and over-sized wishbone fork and seat stay played a roll in this area as well. This combo of stiffness and comfort are things we often read about, but rarely get to experience. In ride quality the MF-1 delivers big time.

The seat bracket atop the integrated seat mast was simple and very functional. Forgoing the flashy complexity of some other brands the MF-1's seat mount offered 3-4 centimeters of adjustment. This was important because the mast on demo bike looked as if was uncut at it's full length from the factory. I'm tall at 6'3", and needed all of that adjustment down ward to get the seat height at my optimal position. I've been riding long enough that I can get a seat height adjusted by feel, but it wasn't always that way. Some many years back I found some formula online that took into account inseam to calculate a proper height adjustment. The number worked for me and I've been using it since. It seems that things in Europe are somewhat more old school in this regard. The mechanic at Plum, the bike shop in Oostende offered to adjust the seat for me by having me sit on the saddle and dangle my feet with my toes on the ground. When he was done the seat was nearly an inch higher than I was accustomed to. I had some of my own tools so discretely adjusted it later.

While I never weighed the bike, the old "lift test" screamed "I'm light!" While I was waiting to check into my hotel in Amsterdam I had the bike with me at the check-in desk and the bell hops and concierge all took turns picking it up and marveling at it's subdued but rich rich styling. This bike was unabashedly at home in the lobby of a 4 star European hotel. I shutter to think what this thing would weigh with a light set of carbon tubular race wheels. I estimate that the bike as equipt for me was under 16 lbs. Impressive for an XL sized frame with clinchers.

After two weeks of exploring West Flanders, France and The Netherlands and then testing the bike in some very extreme race conditions it's difficult to find anything wrong with Museeuw's top on the line MF-1. I did have some issues keeping the headset tightly adjusted, but I cant hold that against the bike as a whole. The MF-1 is comfortable enough for the recreational rider looking to do cyclosportif riding and centuries, but stiff, agile and light enough for real top end racing. The MF-1 could easily be standard equipment and any Pro-tour team.

Perfection comes at a price as they say, and the MF-1 is no exception. I was very lucky to demo one. I've seen Musseuw frames and forks listed for as much as $6500.00. Certainly not a bargain, but if superior ride, race capability and a unique bike are your goals no bike I've ridden compares to the MF-1.

1 comment:

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