Look’s 596 is a high end super-bike that competes with
other triathlon super-bikes: Cervelo’s P4, Scott’s
Plasma, Trek’s TTX and Felt’s DA. This is the tip-of-the-spear
for performance triathlon bikes and should deliver the optimal
mix of weight, aerodynamics, stiffness, ride comfort, fit and
mechanical performance. At this price, there should be no excuses.
The Look 596 carries a suggested retail of $4999.00 for the
frame, integrated fork, seat-mast, crank, bottom bracket pedals
(!) and two stems along with spares. While that is a lot to
spend, you are getting a lot of components with the frame, notably
an ultra-lightweight bottom bracket and crank- more on that
in a minute, and a set of high end pedals. All you need to add
are a transmission (derailleurs and shifters), cockpit, wheels
and a saddle.
Viewed from the front the 596
is extremely narrow and maintains its thin profile until
the rear triangle begins.
|Starting at the front of the
Look 596 is the integrated fork/ frame/stem assembly. The
front of the bike is extremely narrow and it remains skinny
all the way to the rear triangle. This is a cornerstone
of good frame aerodynamics. A bike that starts thin but
bulges out somewhere in the main triangle will almost always
produce more drag. In general, thinner is faster, and the
596 is razor thin, the entire main frame is about the width
of a U.S. quarter coin. The integrated head tube/fork assembly
is very deep. This aspect ratio of depth to width is Look’s
answer to front end aerodynamics.
The fork is integrated into the head tube. The stem originates
in front of the axis of steering. When you think of stem length
on the 496 you measure the total distance from the anchor bolt
in the fork to the center of the bar clamp on the stem. The
stem itself is girder-like with four mounting bolts held at
5 Newton meters of torque. As with all stem plates, bring these
up to torque in an “X” pattern and use a torque
wrench. This stem design combined with the sturdy aerodynamic
fork crown makes the front end of the 596 stable and confident.
When you climb out of the saddle the bike feels solid. Steering
at low speed as you enter a crowded transition area is well
mannered. The front brake is partially recessed into the fork
with the trailing edge of the brake pads actually between the
fork blades. This is not only an aerodynamic feature but also
helps with front end brake feel, which, along with steering,
is superb. One of the first things you notice about the Look
596 compared to other advanced tri bikes is sure-footed steering.
A lot of carbon fiber cockpits used on lightweight tri bikes
are relatively flexible and don’t inspire confidence.
The 596 front end makes up for that. If you have ever tried
to negotiate a wide turn in the aero position only to rethink
that line half way through the turn you’ll appreciate
the confident handling of the 596. The bike holds a line well
through a corner. More flexible front ends on other tri bikes
tend to “fade wide” under hard cornering- an unsettling
feeling. The front end on the Look 596 isn’t wimpy. It
goes where you tell it. Yank hard on the bars on a tough climb
and the bike obeys. The front end design of the Look 596 yields
tangible improvements in comfort and handling while offering
a potential aerodynamic benefit as well. This is the hallmark
of integrated bike design: Everything is optimized. Nothing
is an afterthought.
A deep aero section and excellent sizing
flexibility on the integrated front end.
The unique stem design of the Look 596 provides an impressive
range of cockpit positions with no spacers. On other
high end aero triathlon bikes much of the aerodynamic benefits
are eliminated by adding a stack of spacers to make the front
end high enough for most riders. Having a low front end does
make a frame more aerodynamic, but if the rider must add a stack
of spacers to achieve a comfortable position then most of the
aero benefit is lost.
In addition to the ease of adjustability
the stem is extremely stiff.
|The Look 596 in my size has an effective
head tube height of 130 millimeters compared to only 90
millimeters on my Cervelo P3C. That is a whopping 4 centimeter
difference (higher) in my frame size. Adding 4 centimeters
of round headset spacers would compromise front end aerodynamics.
If you like a moderate to higher aerobar configuration the
Look will enable you to achieve it without spacers. You
can also position the stem in the lower mounting bracket
on the 596’s integrated fork/head tube making the
front end very low. This is a clever design that maintains
aerodynamics while completely eliminating the much less
aerodynamic round headset spacers. Look scores a tangible
victory here. You can build the front end of the 596 low
or high and easily adjust in between for different length
events. The front end design on the 596 is well conceived,
lightweight, sturdy and aerodynamic achieving several design
goals simultaneously. Athletes will appreciate the versatility
in the front end when they go from short distance to very
long distance events. If you like a higher handlebar position
for Ironman distance but want to go lower for sprints, Olys
and 70.3 distance the 596 facilitates this without stem
changes. The front end of the 596 is well conceived and
features an enormous effective range of adjustment.
No need for spacers and a very
wide range of cockpit adjustment.
The main frame of the Look 596 includes a narrow,
aerodynamic down tube in an airfoil shaped seat tube. It is
the top tube that raises questions. While there is little consensus
on aerodynamic design of triathlon bike top tubes the company
with the most logical design is Cervelo. Cervelo top tubes (P2,
P3, P4) are horizontal, minimizing forward facing surface area
and reducing drag. Look uses a visually striking “kinked”
top tube that does increase stand-over clearance but is less
aerodynamic than a horizontal top tube, suffering a similar
aerodynamic fate as the Specialized tri bikes. This is long
on fashion but short on function. The Look 596 would be more
aerodynamic with a flat top tube, and Look embarrassed themselves
by conceding that the design feature was predominantly aesthetic.
At least they are honest about it. Having ridden the bike I
will come to Look’s rescue a little by adding that this
aids in out of the saddle climbing, but you can’t argue
away an aerodynamic penalty. The bike would have better aerodynamics
with a flat top tube similar to the Cervelo P series.
Look concedes the bent top tube is a
cosmetic feature with little or no technical merit.
Look may earn (at least partial) redemption with an innovative
approach to rear end aerodynamics. Look used the wind tunnel
facility in Magny-Cours, France used by Formula 1 teams and
emphasizes the validity of their tests since they were conducted
with a live, pedaling rider. While there is little consensus
on bicycle aerodynamics among manufacturers there is a general
sense that a bicycle rear wheel either needs to be so close
to the frame that it permits almost no air movement between
frame and wheel (Cervelo P3, P4) or far enough away that the
air can move freely in this space. With the introduction of
new lenticular “bulge” disk wheels and wider, more
aero wheels from Hed and Zipp, any bike design having very tight
rear wheel frame clearance will limit wheel choices- those new
wider aero wheels don’t fit. Look has opened up the rear
end of the 596 for air to move at low pressure between rear
wheel and frame. An added spin off is that all wheel designs
work well whereas close proximity rear wheel designs have best
aerodynamics with a flat disk wheel adjusted very close to the
frame. The Look 596 rear end works well with Zipp and Hed “bulge
rim” disks as well as deep section rims of all depths
and widths. While there is no consensus on the “fastest”
rear end design the best designs tend to reside at either extreme-
wheel either very close (Cervelo) or relatively far (Look) from
the frame. Additionally, the Look 596 rear end is “idiot
proof”. If the close proximity rear end designs (P3 and
P4) aren’t adjusted correctly and checked occasionally
you may experience tire rub on steep climbs or if the wheel
moves slightly. Not possible on the Look 596. If you are a current
P3C owner and you see rubber skid marks on the back of your
seat tube when you remove your rear wheel than you’ll
suddenly appreciate the value of this contrary design them.
No matter how aero having a tight rear wheel is, if the tire
rubs the frame, it’s slower.
Look uses a widely spaced rear end to
improve aerodynamics according to their tests at the Magny-Cours
Formula 1 wind tunnel in France.
Brake mounting on the Look 596 is traditional meaning no aerodynamic
benefit here but also no unusual cable routing or mechanical
issues relating to unconventional brake placement. It’s
not the most aero but it is the simplest.
|Traditional brake mounting
is easy to work on and simple but not as aerodynamic as
some modern "superbikes".
Cable routing on the 596 is mechanically simple
and smooth resulting in excellent component performance. The
cable housing stops are part of the frame so they can’t
come loose. Bare derailleur wire runs through the frame reducing
weight. No problems here- a clean design.
The mechanical details of the 596 are
superb with excellent, simple internal cable routing that
is easy to work on and provides good component performance.
There are some functional design benefits to Look’s
596 rear end. The rear derailleur hanger is replaceable, a significant
functional advantage. Rear derailleur hangers on almost all
other popular aero bikes are not replaceable. If you severely
bend the rear derailleur hanger by knocking the bike over in
a transition area you can’t replace it separately- your
entire frame is likely ruined. Not-so on the Look 596. If you
bend the derailleur hanger on the 596 you simply bolt on the
spare hanger included with the bike. Good thinking Look- on
an expensive, high performance triathlon frame that is likely
find its way into a flight case this is a good, functional feature.
A replaceable derailleur hanger is a
practical feature missing from many high end tri bikes.
The Look 596 uses the recent design trend of eliminating a traditional
seat post and using an adjustable length seat mast instead.
Scott, Kuota, Quintana Roo, Pinarello, Ridley and others are
also using integrated seat masts. The benefits include control
over ride quality using the elastomer shims included with the
bike. These shims come in different densities ranging from soft
to very firm and different thicknesses for setting saddle height
precisely. I was initially uncomfortable with this design and
yearned for an old-fashioned seatpost. I have come around though
after experiencing the luxurious shock absorption afforded by
the soft elastomers. The design is also more durable than some
integrated aerodynamic binder bolts (Cervelo P4) and more streamlined
than exposed binder bolts (Felt B2, DA). In general I’m
won over to the Look seat mast design- it enables enhanced control
of ride quality, it is super durable and never slips, can’t
break and is light weight and aesthetically pleasing. For a
frame in my size (I’m 5’9”) it does still
fit easily in a flight case with both wheels removed. Another
benefit of this seat mast design is that your saddle height
is easily restored if the bike is flight-cased and your saddle
adjustment cannot change or slip. On a regular seatpost design
if the piece of tape you used to mark your saddle height falls
off you may be adjusting your saddle height by feel out of your
flight case. This is another example of component integration
that offers tangible benefits with no drawbacks.
|The sizing elastomers are
hidden inside the rubber boot on top of the seat mast. Various
thickness and hardness elastomers tune the fit and ride.
The saw guide is soft aluminum and must be used carefully.
A Look road frame is shown in this photo.
The guide is provided with the frame and tightens securely
for a good cut.
the saddle height and ride quality by using the elastomer
Sizing the seat-mast correctly
is a measure twice, cut once situation. Look provides
a saw guide for making certain the cut is straight. Use
the guide carefully as your saw blade can actually cut
into the guide during the cutting. Once the post is cut
to the appropriate length there is a significant amount
of saddle height adjustment available using the rigid
sizing shims provided with the frame. As mentioned these
are provided in several thicknesses and durometers (hardness)
ranging from rigid to soft. Bikes with seat masts sometimes
don’t fit inside flight cases but our size Small
test bike fit inside a standard Trico Ironcase hardshell
flight case easily.
The most impressive example of integration on the Look
596 is the crank/bottom bracket/pedal assembly. This is
no longer a hodge-podge of separate bottom bracket, crank
and pedal components, but an integrated system with integral
sizing and gearing adjustment, lighter weight and lower
bearing resistance than traditional designs. In short,
this design is brilliant. It offers significant benefits
with one drawback- no pedal choice. No matter what size
frame you need you have the choice of 170, 172.5 and 175
millimeter cranks on the bike. In other words-
you don’t change cranks to change crank lengths.
Additionally, the chainring spider has mounting holes
for both 110 millimeter bolt
pattern (compact) chainrings and 130 millimeter (full
size) chainrings. This degree of fit flexibility is unheard
of in previous designs. This is accented with an innovative,
oversized bottom bracket assembly that lowers bearing
rotational speed and bearing resistance while increasing
bottom bracket stiffness. The Look 596 is supplied with
a high end pair of Look Carbon clipless pedals that are
specific to this bike. This integrated pedal works with
the unique crank to facilitate the ability to change effective
crank length with the same crank arm. If there is a drawback
to this design I can’t find it. If you do find one,
there is an adapter that enables you to install a traditional
bottom bracket- although I’m not sure why anyone
would want to. Perhaps the only drawback to the highly
integrated approach is that you must use the special Look
pedals supplied with the bike in order to appreciate the
other advantages of the integrated crank and bottom bracket.
I have no issue with that since I like these pedals. They
are lightweight, have good rotational movement (float)
and cleats are readily available. I switched to this system
from Time RXS and I am perfectly happy with them. It was
a worthwhile switch to gain the adjustability in gearing
(compact and normal) and the better bottom bracket assembly
along with extremely light weight of the entire package.
Summarizing the technical features and benefits
of the Look 596 we see:
This is a pretty attractive set of features and
benefits with only minor concessions. The incredible ride quality
alone is the most striking benefit and noticeably different
from other bikes- especially on a hilly course or rough roads.
On a triathlon course like the St. Croix 70.3 with its bad pavement
and difficult hills the Look 596 would be a significant advantage.
Very large bearing reduce rolling resistance and provide
excellent stiffness in the bottom bracket. Note the carbon
The oversized bottom bracket/crank assembly. Removal and
installation are easy and require few tools.
The crank and bottom bracket are an integrated unit designed
together to be light, stiff and have low bearing resistance.
The significantly oversized bottom
bracket shell in the frame is clean and precisely installed.
This unique pedal mounting system
enables three crank lengths with one set of arms using
the different pedal mounting orientations.
The entire crank, bottom bracket,
bearing, cup and chainring spider assembly weighs 416
How does the Look 596 ride? Considering the degree
of difference in this design from a more conventional, less
integrated frameset we expected a big difference and we aren’t
disappointed. The Look 596 rides with the stiffness of a Tour
de France level pro road bike but increased stability in the
aero position. Ride quality is… what ever you want it
to be since you can make it feel pillow soft with the softer
seat mast elastomers or more responsive with the harder elastomers.
I selected the softest ones and have stuck with them- I like
the seemingly conflicting qualities of a very stiff bike from
the oversized/integrated crank and bottom bracket and the plush,
shock absorptive ride from the elastomer pillows in the seat
mast. Using the elastomers has results in a noticeable improvement
in saddle comfort. It is the best of both worlds. Combine these
ride characteristics with highly tunable fit and position and
the Look 596 becomes a high performance argument for system
integration. I have never been on a triathlon bike that performed
so well across the entire envelope of speed and terrain as the
596. There are some bikes that are great on the flats, some
that are exceptionally aerodynamic, some very light and/or very
stiff, some that are luxuriously comfortable and others that
corner well and climb hills well. Getting the amalgam of those
qualities usually means owning four bikes. The Look 596 does
it all well- climb, descend and corner. It is girder stiff and
mattress comfortable while being mechanically sound and feathery
light. If system integration in bike design is the trend the
Look 596 is an argument in favor of it.
Our test Look 596, which has since become my personal
bike for the beginning of the 2009 race season, was built up
with new SRAM Red components, a Zipp Vuka aerobar system and
new Zipp race wheels. The completed bike weighs about the same
as a large house cat, or just under 16 pounds. I’ve never
been on a bike this stiff but this comfortable.
Size names for the Look 596 sound smaller than
they actually are and will likely confuse many customers. The
bikes run very large making the size names sound absurdly small.
I tested both the extra small and the small sizes, ultimately
settling on a “small” which fits roughly the same
as a 54cm Cervelo P3C. I’m 5’9” tall with
a longish torso. The idea of riding anything called “extra
small” just didn’t sound right- but it would fit
me well using the longer stem. The real difference between “small”
and “extra small” is the length of the top tube-
they have the same head tube and seat tube center-to-center
measurement. The Look 596 will not fit smaller riders. If you
are less than 5’6” tall you can cross the Look 596
off your list- it won’t fit. The extra small and small
frame sizes measure identically in stand over height, seat tube
length center to top (not counting the extension above the top
tube) and head tube height. The only real difference between
the small and extra small is effective reach or top tube length.
I have a longish torso so I went with the “small”.
Better names for these two sizes might be “small regular”
and “small long”. Whatever the case the geometry
offers some unique sizing capabilities especially in terms of
reach dimension- it’s just difficult to figure them out
based on some rather ambiguous size names alone.