Dan Sullivan and Mike Hawkins ride the latest offering from Swift, the Carbon Ultravox TI road bike. Garnished with Zipp wheels, bars and stem finished with SRAM Red 22
The Ultravox TI is the top-model road frame from Swift Carbon, set up by ex-pro Mark Blewett.
A sharpened-up version of the standard Ultravox RS-1, the TI (Team Issue) is very much a race-oriented frame that maximises speed through stiffness and low weight.
When we caught up with Blewett at last summer’s Eurobike show, we asked him whether we could try out the updated 2014 model. We explained that we wanted to fit SRAM Red22 HRR hydraulic rim brakes, and asked whether it would be possible to run the continuous hose through the frame. At this point Blewett’s eyes lit up. “Not yet,” he said.
It transpires that Blewett likes a challenge, and we’d just created one for him. More tantalising for us was what he said next. “Give me a few weeks.”
When Blewett set up Swift Carbon, his methodology was a little different from the norm; he established his base in Taiwan with the aim of developing bikes directly with the factory. So when we asked for something slightly different, he cracked on with designing it as soon as he got home.
Despite the factory being closed during September, in less than six weeks an email arrived to say the U-Vox was ready. We were seriously impressed. You’d be forgiven for thinking that perhaps our updated version was a rush job, but if that were the case, it wasn’t apparent in the bike. Where the hoses and cables had been threaded through the frame, everything was beautifully finished.
As we all know, SRAM has run into trouble with the HRR brakes. It has had to recall them and replace them with standard mechanical brakes, and we’ve already had to re-cable the bike a couple of times; each time, we’ve been impressed at how easy this job is made by the build.
For the 2014 version of the Ultravox TI, Swift has added Toray T1000 carbon along with Mitsubishi-Rayon 40 high-modulus carbon at the front end, with the aim of increasing the stiffness at the head tube.
At the same time, the cable entry-point has been refined to create smoother cable lines and improve efficiency. Box sections at the head and down tube along with the bottom bracket have also been added to boost power transfer. The additional stiffness becomes apparent during hard efforts and accelerations.
The other area in which the Ultravox comes into its own is descending. Corner after corner, it goes exactly where you point it and gives you the confidence to go faster and turn harder. As a result, the TI is a very fast machine.
In addition to the higher-modulus carbon- fibre, Swift uses novel moulding techniques that are reported to produce a more uniform frame thickness and improve the internal finish. You may wonder why the internal finish of the frame, never seen, is important. This is because a smoother finish and better control of the thickness has allowed Swift to reduce overall wall thickness and therefore make the Ultravox lighter.
The design of the Ultravox is excellent, and this tester particularly liked the more traditional geometry — a near-horizontal top tube and less seatpost, bringing the rider much closer to the frame and further improving control. Viewed from the side, the seatstays are super-skinny, in contrast to the extremely boxy down tube. The slimline seatstays are supposed to improve comfort, but after a few hours on the bike, you begin to question whether they really are providing much cushioning.
This is a race thoroughbred for which comfort is not the biggest priority. The 27.2mm seatpost doubtless absorbs some of the sting, but it’s nonetheless disappointing; its quality, especially the clamp, doesn’t match that of the engineering found elsewhere on the bike.
This style of single-bolt knuckle clamp is tricky to get right, as it relies heavily on friction to prevent rotation. Swift’s version had to be completely taken apart to change the angle, and once done, the new angle couldn’t be fine-tuned.
“The Ultravox comes into its own when descending”
The Ultravox has a matt satin-black finish, which looks great if you can get it clean, but doing so isn’t easy; inevitably, dirt thrown up is conspicuous around the bottom bracket.
Our test build was originally put together with SRAM Red 22 HRR brakes, but they had to be stripped off and returned to SRAM. A replacement set of mechanical brakes were fitted, along with the budget Quarq Riken power cranks (SRAM owns Quarq). The overall package was very good, but is it as good as the alternatives?
The redesigned DoubleTap shifters feature a host of SRAM technology including ErgoDynamics, Reach Adjust and ZeroLoss. The brake lever has been lengthened and, when used with the Red calipers (with AeroLink for amplified braking power) provide plentiful stopping force.
The hood has been redesigned to improve finger-wrap, and this tester never felt uncomfortable or any hand numbness, even after several hours. However, as with all SRAM shifters, the hoods have an inexplicable depression exactly where your thumb rests, which feels unnatural. ZeroLoss is meant to ensure all movement of the shifter results in pull of the cable — a problem we’ve not encountered elsewhere, so we can’t help wondering whether SRAM have tried to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist.
It is meant to improve shifting precision and, though the downshift is good, the up-shift is somewhat compromised by the DoubleTap function. I frequently found myself mis-shifting, having not pushed far enough through with the shifter. A month of testing, having swapped from Campagnolo, wasn’t enough to get completely au fait with the system.
The front derailleur incorporates Yaw technology, which means the chain cage moves in and out throughout the shifting motion, and also rotates to eliminate chain rub and the need for trim. Though it’s a good idea, it’s somewhat delicate and in the extreme positions we still experienced some chain-rub. This could be dialled-out, but required time and patience, and didn’t entirely solve the problem.
The bike was rounded off with a pair of Zipp 202 Firecrest Carbon Clinchers; they are stiff and complement the aggressive style of the Ultravox. As a racer, I’d rather use tubulars and reduce the weight by around 200g for racing, or use a cheaper wheel for training. But if you can afford the carbon clinchers for every-day riding, why not?
This is a great bike that doesn’t fail to turn heads. Aside from the niggles mentioned, I enjoyed riding this machine; it’s as stiff as any race bikes needs to be, and corners with incredible balance. The groupset isn’t perfect but its imperfections are inherent in the way SRAM’s system operates. If you like SRAM, there’s little doubt you’ll love Red 22; either way, the Ultravox is a great, superb-handling race machine.
As a relatively new brand to the UK, Swift Carbon is between distribution companies but, with stock held in Europe, it’s still possible to get the frames — and quickly. Currently, The Shed (www.theshed.com) is the only regular stockist, so you can order from the Hereford shop or, if you’d prefer, you can go directly to the European headquarters. For more on Swift email email@example.com who can help you either buy directly or through your local shop.