VAM. It’s an acronym for the Italian term “velocità ascensionale media”. Translated to English it’s “average ascent speed”.
Coined by disgraced cycling doctor Michele Ferrari, VAM is a term commonly thrown around by committed hill climbers. Ferrari is famous for pulling unnatural performances from riders as gradients increase, and so it’s a fitting name for Factor’s latest iteration of the 02, a bike built for conquering mountains.
While the majority of the bike industry’s focus has shifted away from stiffness-to-weight ratios and toward elements such as aero drag, there are still many riders who seek a feathery-light ride to propel them uphill. It’s exactly the obsession of stiffness-to-weight that the new Factor 02 VAM renews, and at just 690g for a 54cm disc brake frame, it’s a bike that looks fighting fit to go a few rounds with the most aggressive flyweights.
I’ve had my hands on a pre-production version of the Factor 02 VAM for a couple of weeks — just enough time to learn about this brand-new lightweight frame and form some opinions.
KEY UPDATES FOR THE 02 VAM
If it weren’t for the bright red “V.A.M” logos over the raw coated frame, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was the original Factor 02. However, this bike has received more than a new name and lick of matte clear coat. The new 02, the 02 VAM, is a case of refined processes, fresh manufacturing techniques, subtle updates, and a materials list that reads like a first-year engineering student boasting on Reddit.
- Model: 2020 Factor 02 VAM Disc
- Usage: Traditional race bike, climbing specialist.
- Options: Rim or disc framesets, custom paint available.
- Frame weight: 690g for painted 54cm disc frame, 310g disc fork.
- Price: US$4,799 for frameset inc. handlebar/stem, seatpost, bottom bracket, and more.
- Highs: Amazingly light and stiff under foot, 30mm tyre clearance, feels like a real race bike.
- Lows: Skittish handling on poor roads, not aero.
The original 02 was built light and stiff, and also with climbing in mind. It’s a bike that has commonly been the go-to for Factor’s sponsored teams, first One Pro Racing (2016), then AG2R-La-Mondiale (2017/2018) and currently Pro Conti squad Roompot-Charles and the Parkhotel Valkenburg Women’s Cycling Team.
The original 02 was by no means a slouch on the scales: a 54cm painted rim brake frame had a claimed weight of 800-850g and 850-890g for the disc-brake version. However, the 02 VAM knocks 100g off the weight of its predecessor, with a rim brake 54cm frame said to be just 670g and the disc version coming in at 690g (with smaller sizes losing, and larger sizes gaining, 30-40g per size). The revised forks are equally feathery, with the disc version tipping the scales at a claimed 310g.
That weight reduction may be equal to a few gulps of water, but it’s a sizeable percentage off an already light option. More importantly, though, Factor claims to have shaved off the grams whilst retaining the same stiffness numbers, increasing frame compliance and growing tyre clearance to 30mm.
Cable routing has been cleaned up, and now both rim and disc brake frames can be run with either mechanical or electronic shifting. On the disc frame, both the hydraulic hose and Di2 wire enter at the headtube, while a grommet replaces the plastic cover on the downtube if you want to run clickity shifting. Also new is the use of direct-mount brakes on the rim brake frame (seatstay mounted at rear), selected for the improved braking and greater tyre clearance they provide.
There’s a new headset topcap cover that provides a more integrated look, too. Compared to the previously used CeramicSpeed headset top cap, it’s designed to match the supplied Black Inc integrated carbon bar and stem. Factor offers the top cap in both 5 or 20mm stacks, and CeramicSpeed bearings still hide within.
What hasn’t changed is the use of a round 27.2mm seatpost, internal seatpost wedge and the BBRight pressfit bottom bracket. Designed by Cervelo, the BBRight system provides an additional 11mm to the non-drive side of the frame when compared to standard PF30 – in the process widening the available surface area of the downtube.
Factor will be selling the 02 VAM as a frameset (US$4,799), which somewhat generously includes its sister company’s Black Inc seatpost, one-piece handlebar and stem, carbon fibre bottle cage (just one) and an aluminium computer mount to work with the included bars. Framesets also include a CeramicSpeed headset, CeramicSpeed PF30 bottom bracket, Wheels Mfg 24mm reducer adapters (for running Shimano cranks) and bartape.
The 02 VAM comes stock in the pictured stealth matte clear coat with red highlights — i’s extremely light and there’s no hiding the layup beneath. Other colour details are available through Factor’s recently launched Prisma studio. A gloss clear coat is said to add approximately 20g to the frame weight, and choosing a fully painted design will add at least 80g. Yes, it appears that much of the VAM’s weight savings are simply from the lack of paint.
The original 02 will remain in Factor’s line, and will now retail for US$3,799 but without the BlackInc one-piece bar and stem or CeramicSpeed pieces. That actually makes the new 02 VAM look like comparatively good value, especially when you know what’s inside it. A quick little composite materials class is now in session.
OPTIMISED GRAM BY GRAM
Factor’s name is taken from the word “factory” and given the company owns its own, founder Rob Gitelis was happy to share the specific processes and new materials used.
Most notably, the 02 VAM is Factor’s first frame to use latex-covered EPS (polystyrene foam) mandrels during frame moulding. The use of latex allows for increased pressure in the moulding bladders and produces a smoother interior finish, better composite compaction, less wasted resin and the ability to utilise more complex shapes. That all said, our favourite ex-Boeing composite engineer, turned carbon frame repair specialist, Raoul Luescher, says it’s now a common method for high-end frame production.
Hidden away on the innermost walls of the 02 VAM are layers of TeXtreme fibres. First used in bicycles by Felt and more recently in Giro’s flagship shoes and helmets, TeXtreme is a “spread tow” (effectively a thinly spread layer of woven carbon), which is less likely to wrinkle and easier to shape into complex forms. This patented concept uses the carbon material more efficiently, and so less of it is required – hence why TeXtreme frames tend to be so light.
The 02 VAM’s top tube and downtube are apparently also treated to a Pitch carbon fibre, otherwise known as ultra-high modulus carbon. The material is incredibly stiff, but as Luescher attests to, it’s also more brittle, and with a raw cost some 12 times greater than more common PAN carbon fibre, it’s no wonder it’s only found in small sections of premium frames.
The materials engineering class continues with the 02 VAM’s seattube which hosts a composite of carbon and Boron fibres. Boron first appeared in bicycles some 15 years ago with Bontrager using the material to reinforce the clamping areas of its premium handlebars. As Luescher explained, Boron fibres are high modulus and great in compressive duties, which backs up Bontrager’s former use of the material.
Factor has used the material to reinforce the bottom bracket junction, front derailleur braze-on attachment point, and material surrounding the integrated seat clamp and has then stripped away non-critical material elsewhere in the tube to introduce flex (compliance).
Like many premium carbon bikes of today, the 02 VAM’s tube shaping and specific layup are tailored to each of the six frame sizes. Taking it a step further than many, even repeatable pieces, such as the bottom bracket junction, are said to be frame-size specific.
WRENCHING THE FACTOR 02 VAM
Setting up the 02 VAM is a relatively simple affair. There are no proprietary component fitments to contend with, cable routing is simply run on the outside of the handlebar before it reaches the frame, and the pressfit bottom bracket tolerances are impressively snug and creak-free. And a quick check inside the frame supports Factor’s claim of a smooth interior finish.
Speaking of that bottom bracket, the use of a pressfit shell no doubt helps Factor hit the frame weight they do, and makes for wide-open access to the internal cable routing, too. But it’s worth noting the supplied CeramicSpeed bottom bracket and Wheels Mfg 24mm adapters are a fair whack heavier than a regular threaded bottom bracket. By providing a 30mm bottom bracket and 24mm adapters, Factor has ensured the provided bottom bracket won’t go to waste. And while the combination works admirably well, my preference is to use Shimano cranks with a single-piece conversion bottom bracket – experience says fewer pieces equals fewer noises.
I did run into an issue with the provided Black Inc seatpost where the undersized carbon rails of my Specialized saddle would rock in the clamp, while the somewhat oversized carbon Fizik rails were rock solid in the same post. It is, however, a standard 27.2mm seatpost and so I simply swapped it out to use my preferred perch.
Care should also be taken when removing the seatpost — I can confirm that you don’t want to accidentally drop the seatpost binder wedge into the frame. Thankfully a blob of sticky grease on the clamp should prevent such an incident. Once installed, it offers a rock-solid hold and suffered no slipping or creaking.
Also, just be wary that the washers on the disc bike’s bolt-up thru-axles are not contained, and they can slide off the axle while transporting a bike – simply re-install the axle back into the frame and you’ll never have an issue.
RIDING THE FACTOR 02 VAM
From the very first pedal stroke, the 02 VAM is everything you’d expect it to be: light, stiff and quick to change direction.
You should feel right at home on the 02 VAM if you’re coming from an aggressive race bike with traditional racing angles. The short wheelbase, 406mm chainstays (410mm for the two largest sizes), lowish bottom bracket and somewhat low stack provide an almost impatient feel to the bike and it takes minimal input to see it swoop into a direction change. This feel is only aided by the reassuringly stiff platform.
The 02 VAM really shines as the gradient increases, and really, the steeper and smoother the road, the better. The stiff chassis, nippy handling, and low weight make it a pleasure to stand out of the saddle and sway the bike side-to-side. Both up and down, it’s a beautifully well-mannered ride on smooth tarmac. As is often cited for race bikes, the stiffness provides a sense of communication with the road — you can feel what your tyres are doing through the pedals, and react to surface changes accordingly.
While Factor claims that both the Boron-composite seattube and revised fork crown were included to improve the bike’s compliance over the original 02, I still found it a relatively stiff ride that can become a handful on poor surfaces. Take the 02 VAM onto what feels like a bump-filled dirt road that’s been covered in course tar, and you’ll soon feel the unyielding rigidity from the lower part of the frame. This skittish feeling had me stiffening up and over-braking as a result.
However, that stiff feeling is mostly related to what is felt through the pedals, and up top your hands and bum are a little more protected. The 27.2mm carbon seatpost offers some give, and there are plenty of flexible aftermarket options if a softer ride is the goal. And despite the appearance, the Black Inc one-piece bar and stem is somewhat forgiving, and there’s a subtle springy feel to it when in the drops. Likewise, with room for 30c tyres – there’s plenty of scope to tame this steed.
That handlebar springiness could also be classified as flex. Pulling on the bars in a sprint gives no detection of flex through the frame or fork, but there is some give at the bars. The flex is not an issue for my pre-emptive winter weight of 72kg — it doesn’t impact the way the bike handles or accelerates, and perhaps if it were an issue, you’d be better served on an aero-focussed bike, anyhow.
GOTTA LOVE THOSE HILLS
Unquestionably light, efficiently stiff, and begging for a change of pace or direction, the 02 VAM is everything you’d expect a weight-focussed bike of this price to be. And while that price is high, it’s also not unreasonable when you consider the long list of premium components the bike includes.
Science tells us that a bike with an aerodynamic approach will be the faster choice on flat or rolling roads. Similarly, this bike is not my recommendation if all you’ve got to ride is rough tarmac. But when the topographic lines are closely bunched together, or you just love the thrill a low weight bike offers on the first kick, then the 02 VAM is just about the perfect tool for the job.