By Jason Heaton
on 5.10.11
Photo by Gishani

The great Belgian cycling champion, Eddy Merckx, once said, “If you want to ride faster, don’t ride upgrades. Ride up grades.” It must have been well-known to The Cannibal, even in his day, that cyclists love to make excuses. “I’ve strained my IT band.” “I’m waiting until fall to peak.” “I can’t afford a lighter bike.” While the first two are dubious excuses at best, the truth is, the last one has been something of a truism for most amateur cyclists. Most weekend warriors have had to settle for steel or aluminum frames and bottom shelf components for years while watching enviously while their more flush fellow club racers are riding pro level machines made entirely of carbon fiber. Well, scratch that last excuse off the list and start lining up some hill repeats. Your bike has arrived: the 17.5-pound LOOK 566 Rival ($2,599).

In the mid-1980s, LOOK, a French company that made ski bindings, introduced the world’s first “clipless” pedal system. The spring-loaded pedal, which mated to a cleat on the bottom of the rider’s shoe, locked the foot securely for optimum power transfer and security while allowing for quick release with the twist of the heel. The pedals eliminated the need for the old style clips and leather straps which were clumsy and dangerous. LOOK soon got out of the ski binding business and started making bicycle frames as well, becoming a pioneer of carbon fiber manipulation. Until recently, LOOK bikes have remained largely cost prohibitive, ridden only by serious amateur racers and the pros they emulated. But with the 566 Rival, LOOK has succeeded in building an ultra-lightweight road racing bike that costs less than $3,000.

The 566 fills a niche position for the rider who wants a race bike that’s comfortable enough for fitness riding and the occasional century (100-miler) but who also might enter the odd criterium or road race on weekends. It accomplishes this with a more relaxed frame geometry and highly engineered tube shaping. Oh, and the fact that every inch of it is high modulus/high resistance carbon fiber. Did I mention it weighs about 17 pounds?

So why carbon fiber? Everyone knows it’s ultralight but then again, so is aluminum and titanium. And while steel remains the gold standard for ride comfort, it is too heavy to be considered by those who favor speed. Of the three materials, carbon fiber provides the best mix of light weight, compliance and responsiveness. But carbon fiber, done right, has always been prohibitively expensive and only used in forks and the rear triangles of bikes priced for mere mortals. That’s why the LOOK 566 is so amazing. You get the ride characteristics of a $6,000 frame for half that price — and that’s for an entire bike.

So how does LOOK do it? Here’s the big secret: the frame is made in Taiwan. While most bikes under $3,000 nowadays are built in Taiwan, they’re almost all off-the-shelf designs and made from aluminum or steel. The 566 is LOOK’s first bike built outside of France but honestly, you can’t tell the difference other than the price tag. The exotic carbon tubes and bold paint scheme ooze continental sophistication and fit and finish are trés bien. You gain a five mile per hour advantage just sitting on it.

My test rig came outfitted with the excellent SRAM Rival gruppo (shifters, brakes and derailleurs), which provide intuitive snappy shifting and Brembo-like stopping power. A Mavic Aksium Race wheelset spins up fast and proves sturdy on a variety of road conditions. Being close to the bike’s 100 kg weight limit, I swapped out the carbon fiber seatpost for a Thomson aluminum number to avoid a painful accident. Of course what would a LOOK bike be without matching pedals? Mine came with LOOK’s Keo Blades, which are again redefining pedal technology. The Keo Blades eliminate a coiled spring for tension altogether, favoring a carbon fiber leaf spring. The pedals continue LOOK’s legendary ease of entry and release and a broad platform for optimum power transfer and no hot spots.

The 566 is outfitted with a versatile gear set that has a 50-tooth big ring and 34-tooth small ring upfront mated to a ten-speed rear cassette. While this gives you a low gear to get you up the steeps without surrendering to a three-ring granny gear, top end is a little lacking and I found myself spinning out on the flats and downhills. The bike handles like a dream, even with the relaxed geometry, corners and descends well and accelerates like the proverbial bat out of Hell. The carbon fiber frame lived up to its billing in the comfort department and I found myself seeking out dirt roads and cobbles to test it out. Climbing? Well, for a Clydesdale like me, who’s typically off the back of the pack when things go vertical, the 566 was something of an equalizer. With its light weight and snappy rear end, I may not win the Tour’s polka dot jersey, but I can at least hang with the flyweights a little better.

There are some downsides to having such a swanky bike. You’re going to have to start matching your riding kit to your bike – it’s just too gauche to wear anything but red and black with the 566 Rival. You might even need to shave your legs. But perhaps the worst thing? No more excuses. Get this bike and people will expect you to be fast. Plan accordingly and start riding up grades. Steep ones.

Buy Now: $2,599

Photos and video by Gishani

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