Argon 18 started out as a small Montreal based company but in recent years has garnered some attention with title sponsorship in the Tour de France. The Bora-Argon 18 team has brought the Argon 18 name to the World Tour level and there are lot more of them on the road than ever before. In terms of performance bikes, Argon has split its lineup down the middle with the Gallium sitting firmly on the lightweight side of things, appealing to weeniest of weight weenies, while the Nitrogen sits comfortably with the aero crowd. Because this bike is meant to be a performance racing bike, this review will focus predominately on its ability to do just that: race. While I have seen some Nitrogens popping up on weekend club rides, this bike is meant to be aggressive and fast, and that is the criteria against which I will judge its performance.
One of the things I love most about Argon 18’s high end bikes is that they supply both the parts to build up a mechanical groupset or Di2. There are two sets of grommets, two bottom bracket covers, and an included seat post battery holder. I have built this bike with both an Ultegra 6800 mechanical groupset and an Ultegra 6870 Di2 groupset. In both cases the build was relatively easy. The internal cable routing offers large openings (which are filled nicely with the supplied grommets) making fishing cables relatively easy and the entrance of the cables into the frame are logical and handy. Both the Di2 wire or the front/rear derailleur cables, depending on your build, enter the frame on the top tube just behind the steerer tube. This is a feature commonly seen on performance TT bikes because of its supposed aerodynamic advantage. It should allow for shorter cable housing because the cables are able to pivot at nearly the same point as the steerer tube which prevents pulling on the housing when the bars are turned left or right; as can be the case with standard entry points along each side of the down tube.
Argon 18 uses a proprietary head tube design to incorporate their press fit 3-D steerer tube system. The rider can choose between 3 different heights of head tube and can additionally add spacers as necessary. The headset bearings are surprisingly easy to install. The bearings themselves aren’t exactly press fit as much as they just sit in a cup (on the top) and rest on the steerer tube on the bottom. One of the things I didn’t like about this design was the lower headset bearing. To install you simply drop the bearing onto the fork and then slide the fork through the frame. That’s it. As a result, there is a gap between the fork and head tube, which is far too large for my liking. I noticed that after only a handful of rides, water and dirt were able to penetrate the gap and gunk up the headset bearing. The tolerances could have more finely tuned to prevent this large gap while still leaving enough space to prevent contact.
At first glance this bike doesn’t look as aggressively aero shaped as some other aero road bikes on the market and could easily slot in with a group of weight weenies without drawing too much attention. The most obvious aero feature is the shaped seat tube and post and the cutaway for the wheel. The down tube is more a rounded rectangle, which isn’t what we would normally expect from an aero tube. After discussing with my wife, an aerospace engineer, we came to the conclusion that this shape probably allows better performance in cross wind situations and better flow over bottle cages. Argon 18 specifies that the bike is optimized for aerodynamics with one bottle, although it doesn’t indicate whether this is a seat tube bottle or a down tube bottle. Most research suggests that on a standard road bike, the seat tube bottle is more aerodynamic because it creates a tear drop shape with the smaller seat tube, but my guess for this bike, because of the shape of the seat tube and the down tube, respectively, the down tube bottle is probably the aerodynamically superior choice.
Incorporated into this bike are hidden brakes. Argon 18 uses V-brake style brakes hidden behind the front fork and built in to a recess in the seat stays. The front brakes are almost indistinguishable from the fork, while the rear brakes blend nicely with the geometry of the seat stays, noticeable only as a result of clashing colours (black brakes, white seat stays).
Two Setups One Bike
The Argon has a reversible seat post so that it can be setup as a TT bike. It certainly won’t be the most Aero TT bike out there but it’s UCI legal frame and design mean that there won’t be any problem using this bike as an all-in-one, particularly if you don’t have a chance in winning a TT anyway, although it might help you get closer.
Here the Argon 18 is setup with the seat post reversed for TT position and a set of Vision TT base and aero bars with a Di2 climbing shifter in lieu of the TT shifters. A set of Flo Cycling 60/90 wheels round out the TT setup.
Here it is set up in road position with the standard seat position and Profile Design Canta Ergo bars. A set of Woven Precision 45s round out the road setup.
Fit and Ride
The 3-D head tube system offers a wider range of fit options than any one person would need, but I’m certainly grateful Argon 18 included so many as it allows for better fine tuning of the fit. For those that prefer a large stack height, the 25mm head tube configuration allows a rider to have 25mm of height before ever needing spacers, which allows for a more rigid steerer tube and tighter handling. I rode with both the 15mm height and completely slammed. I found both positions comfortable but the slammed position, with no added head tube, the better fit in terms of performance. The bike handled better and was more responsive to my whims.
As I stated at the start, this bike is meant to be aggressive and fast. Because of this, the frame offers no give whatsoever. It is extremely rigid. That being said, I wouldn’t classify the ride as excessively harsh. You can certainly feel the asphalt better on this bike but the increase in stiffness also increases the bike’s responsiveness. The stiffness of this bike is noticeable in sharp accelerations and sprints. There is almost not perceived lateral flex. I built this bike with a Canta Ergo carbon handlebar by Profile Design and the only flex I could discern was from these bars and not the bike. With more rigid bars I might find the ride harsher on the hands but I certainly had no complaints from my butt.
This bike looks and feels like a solid crit and sprinting bike but it is also surprisingly well balanced when out of the saddle climbing. In hard efforts up steep climbs I found that both tires were firmly planted on the ground, which is something I can’t say for some other lighter ‘climbing’ bikes I’ve ridden. One might chalk that up to the weight of the bike being greater but with a set of 45mm carbon wheels, bottle cages, a Garmin 520, Ultegra 6870 Di2, and Look Keo Max pedals this bikes weighs in at just under 16.5 lbs. If we’re going with the legal limit, it’s right on the edge. It’s certainly not the lightest bike on the market, but it’s not a tank either. There are many high end road bikes that lack the aerodynamic capability of this bike but weigh the same and that’s a huge advantage in my books. (As a side note, if you want this bike to be a little lighter, you can fork over some more money and get the Nitrogen Pro. The frame is a few grams lighter and you get some fancy one piece handlebars).
If I were to give my complete and honest opinion about this bike it would probably be embarrassing and look something like a 13 year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert but if I’m being conservative and trying to give the impression of objectivity and critical analysis, I would say this is a great bike.