By Jay Prasuhn
AS TESTED WITH SHIMANO 105/TEKTRO/FSA MIXED GROUPSET XS (50), S (52), M (54), L (56, TESTED)
The bike industry is an interesting domain. You have big brands that fly media around the world to ride their bikes over the Dolomites in an effort to create a congenial experience for bike testers. For the small entrepreneur, it’s tough to compete with that.
But they can. This summer, A2 founder AJ Alley dropped me a line; he was interested in my getting some time on his signature bike, the Speed Phreak. There would be no trip to Italy; I’d ride on my home roads. Sounded good to me. A few hours later, we’d built the bike and were riding down Highway 101
Alley’s take on the bike industry is to make the value proposition the star. It means—by full disclosure—there would be no big wind tunnel testing data story. There would be no layup schedule explanation. Instead, it’s pretty simple: A2 wants to be the brand that delivers a solid, aero carbon-fiber bike to the in-the-door consumer. It’s a stark contrast to all that we love to see.
But don’t be so jaded; a sub $2,000 bike can be pretty good. It may take a bit of massaging, but the Speed Phreak can be made into a quick machine.
To be clear, there is a difference between the Speed Phreak and, say, a Cervélo P5X. Like, in so many ways. The P5X is deceptively light, has the white paper pedigree to prove the product, has more storage than a 3 TB hard drive and is a total affront to standard design. On the other hand, the Speed Phreak represents… standard design.
Which ain’t bad. Two sets of bottle bosses, and a set on the top tube for bolt-on bento boxes. Solid components with a mix of Shimano’s 105 and FSA alloy crankset for a good 11-speed groupset ensure nothing is gonna break; it’s all good, reliable stuff. The Speed Phreak also features a traditional 1?-inch fork/stem interface and brakeset, meaning no proprietary parts to source in an emergency.
The Speed Phreak has happily predictable steering characteristics; not sloppy, but certainly not nervous. But the fit is a bit like the old Cervélo P3: long and low. The head tube on our 56 cm is 23 mm shorter than the updated (i.e., taller) Cervélo P3, an ideal apples-to-apple comparative.
While the stem is a clean, totally horizontal and aesthetically-pleasing offering (available in three lengths and featuring a removable top plate capable of hiding shift and brake cables quite cleanly within), it is limiting to the typical triathlete.
For those that need to come up (and that’s going to be most of us considering the Speed Phreak’s short head tube and the stem’s nonreversible design), the stack can be adjusted by adding spacers under the pads and further supplemented by removing the flat stem and replacing it with something with a bit more rise. Were it me, I’d ditch the stem and go with a standard design with more rise.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention weight. The website has an average weight of 20 pounds for the bike, and that’s generous; the frame is built solid. Add an incredibly stiff stem and a weighty alloy FSA crankset, and it rolls like a freight train on the flats… but it’s difficult for your legs to not notice on the climbs.
One small detail that’s missing as well is a fit chart. It’s a bit of a throwback, but A2’s fit system consists of the early 90s nomenclature of using a book and tape measure to determine your fit size. I don’t care if aero data isn’t your thing, but fit is everyone’s thing, and stack and reach is the law of the land. All I can discern is it’s long and low.
In summation, the Speed Phreak is a bit of a throwback to the days of Kuota and Normann Stadler. That bike also went to market without any data… but folks snapped ’em up because they simply looked fast enough under Normann. For the most part, triathletes want data for our spend. But there does exist a segment of triathletes who simply don’t care enough; if the aero tubeset comes with a 3-gram penalty at 15 degrees of yaw, it’s not gonna make a lick of difference to their experience. The bike looking the part is enough.
But for those who are just getting in the multisport door, or who are funds challenged (i.e., ramen-carbo-loading college kids), the Speed Phreak is certainly worth a look. Were it my money, I’d sacrifice the heavy stem for a standard 1? offering, shorter in length and give it a bit of upward kick. I’d likely save a pound as a happy accident to the swap. Counteract the challenge of the geometry, and you’ve got a solid starter bike on your hands capable of putting up its dukes against the Cervélos of the world. Grab the Speed Phreak if it suits your budget, but be sure to put a bit more money aside for fitting; you’re gonna need it.