Kona 2015: Culprit unveils new Legend prototype
Cycling startup Culprit has unveiled a brand new prototype of its Legend bike, first shown at Interbike last year, the new prototype is a completely different design, the molds for which have not yet been cut. Culprit is still working on the design, and set to launch a Kickstarter campaign in November. They'll be seeking a cool quarter million for the project, with framesets coming in around the $3,000 mark for early backers, or $3,900 for regular retail customers later on. In the world of ultra-expensive frames, this may be a great value. But is the frame worth the cost and the wait of a Kickstarter? Let's take a look.
First off, this frame bears very little resemblance to the version we saw last year. The only similarities are that first, it's still a traditional double diamond construction minus seat stays, and second, it comes in a version with disc brakes or standard brakes.
The bike is interesting, but definitely doesn't impress me in the same way the new Argon E119 or the new Canyon Speedmax have done. In many ways it looks a bit like a "me too" design, taking cues largely from the Felt IA, Specialized Shiv, and Cervelo P5, but without necessarily adding any real innovations of its own (other than the disc brakes, which we will address).
For a while, Culprit was something of a mystery - a brand that seemed to come out of nowhere into the tri space last year, but never actually sold their advertised bike. I was always curious about the nature and makeup of the company, and this year I got more info from the face of Culprit, Joshua Colp. Culprit is more or less his brain child. But he's not a designer, nor an engineer, nor a pro athlete, nor a financier. Rather, he had an idea for a company, and with the help of some financing from his wife's family, launched the company. He originally told us that 100% of the company is in her name only, but later clarified that he was only joking, and that he indeed legally owns 50% of the company.
There are only four employees in Culprit, which I presume includes Joshua and his wife. But the design and engineering work for the brand is not the job of a dedicated employee; it was an independently-contracted job. So basically, Joshua is the "man with a plan," and the job of actually designing product is farmed out. Perhaps this is why the bike feels the way it does: a bit of this, a bit of that, but without necessarily a character of its own. Joshua looks around the industry for what he likes and doesn't like, hashes out a very rough napkin sketch, and asks a designer to accommodate his idea for a bike.
Culprit is a big believer in disc brakes, despite the fact that the add a significant aero penalty.
I suppose that's why Culprit feels to me like a different kind of company. It wasn't founded by engineers (SRAM, Zipp, FLO, etc). It isn't an established name with a whole team of in-house engineers (Felt, Cervelo, etc). It wasn't founded by a pro with a unique vision for the sport (Dimond, Ventum). Culprit is a different beast entirely. I'm not trying to pass too much of a value judgment on what it is, but in truth I'm more excited about the other examples I just mentioned, whose stories of invention and innovation get me excited. Culprit just feels a bit more bland, to put it bluntly. Nevertheless, there's a lot of work that went into this bike, and I want to be fair to what the bike is, not just the company working to make it a reality. So let's check it out.
The idea behind the Legend was fairly simple: Joshua Colp is a big believer in disc brakes and wants to see them on a tri bike. He also thought it'd be a good idea to remove the seat stays, but otherwise leave a traditional double diamond geometry intact. For the rest of the bike, it looks like the idea was to try to follow industry best practices for the remaining aspects of storage/hydration/cockpit. So that's essentially what you see before you. If the tube shapes and frame members remind you of a Felt IA or Cervelo P5, you're not alone.
Compared to the previous version, of course all the tube shapes are new, there's a custom-designed bento box for behind the stem, and the rim brake option has changed from the TRP TTV brakes to a new prototype TRP brake that looks very much like the Madone brake. It's a very clean-looking centerpull design, though I wasn't able to confirm exactly how it works mechanically, as the version shown in Kona was a plastic 3D print, just like the rest of the bike. Either way, I'm delighted to see a centerpull design in place of the TTV. The brake is hidden by a magnetic cover (nice!) which Culprit readily volunteered was inspired by our own Omega X. Good on ya - I'm always glad to see magnets replacing bolts, where appropriate.
Sadly, there's no option for standard mount brakes. Colp simply didn't ask the designer to design space for the center hole or to drill it. When I asked why not add the hole for a standard brake, he simply said "I don't know. I guess I didn't want to." This is something I've applauded Scott for on their Plasma 5, and Quintana Roo on their PRSix bikes - there's plenty of room for that hole, so just go ahead and drill it! I can't understand why companies like Cannondale, Diamondback, and Culprit neglect such an easy bit of convenient design.
Nevertheless, rim brakes ARE an option, for those who care about aerodynamics. Culprit's own testing shows a significant disadvantage to disc brakes, but claims that their superior braking will make up for any difference. I disagree, since a well-designed and properly-installed rim brake will easily lock up your wheel.
Front end view
Ok, apart from the brakes, as I mentioned, there are a lot of best practices on the bike. A dropped down tube hugs the front wheel very well; the space behind the fork crown is nicely closed; the seatpost features Ritchey SideBinder hardware and a 10mm center rail; the seatpost binder is a wedge design; there's an integrated bento box behind the stem; cables and electronic wires are hidden in the bars/stem; there's plenty of good adjustment in the bar, which features a kammtail back and what looks like Profile Design type extension clamps. The front end is generally nice and narrow, and the fork blades take a very wide stance to reduce pressure drag as we've recently seen on Orbea and Dimond forks. One last little feature is a door on the back end of the top tube that provides additional storage for a multi tool. This is similar to the rear box on the new Canyon bike, though with far less space.
In the end, I feel a little torn; there's actually a lot of really good stuff going on here, and the bike honestly looks very good. But when there are such similar offerings from other more well-established companies, I'm inclined to lean their way. If I were a disc brake fanatic, or if I saw some unique innovation in the bike, I'd be thrilled with the new Legend. As it is, I find myself leaning towards the Cervelo P5, the Argon E119, or the Felt IA. Each of those bikes are pretty similar, but each one has its own unique merits and innovations that set it apart. Keep your eyes out for more from Culprit, I think if they stand the test of time there might be a lot more cool stuff from them down the line.