It’s time to see whether the German carbon specialist can make a bike that matches the performance of its wheels
Which came first: the wheels or the frame? Perhaps surprisingly in Lightweight’s case, given that its name is synonymous with high-end (and high-priced) carbon wheels, it was actually the frame. As the story goes, back in the company’s early days, before it was acquired by German aerospace carbon engineering aficionados CarbonSports GmbH, Lightweight’s first stab at a cycling product was a carbon road frame called Total Eclipse.
More than a decade on, with its wheel business now firmly established, the company has decided it’s time to revisit the bike project. The bicycle industry is in a very different place to when Lightweight was first tinkering with a carbon frame, however, so the old frame blueprints were shoved aside and the engineers started afresh. With the reputation of its wheels based on them being entirely handmade, the initial thought was that a frame bearing the Lightweight name should be built the same way. But market realities intervened, as Lightweight’s Frank Jeniche explains: ‘Producing a frame for today’s market using our state-of-the-art knowledge, materials and technology the things Lightweight is known for and building in-house as per all of our wheels was possible, but we quickly realised the cost of each frame would have to be well in excess of ₣10,000 (about $14,500), and we felt this would limit the target market too much.’
Cheap at half the price
The Urgestalt (meaning ‘primordial’ or ‘original form’) is built in the Far East, albeit under strict supervision and direction from project manager Oliver Kiesel, allowing it to arrive at a more realistic cost of a sniff under $7,000 for the frameset (including seatpost). I’m not sure at what point $7k became ‘realistic’ for a frame, but that’s a discussion for another day. That said, I find myself asking whether Lightweight is actually selling itself short because, after all, this is a brand that has traded on providing exorbitantly priced equipment to people with extremely deep pockets. The motto of Lightweight’s general manager, Erhard Wissler, has always been ‘build the best or not at all’,
and yet the company has wheelsets in its catalogue that cost as much as the Urgestalt frame, and other brands are building far pricier frames. The sell-out success of the Cervélo California Project frames at around $11k comes
to mind, for example.
Of course $7,000 is still a lot of cash, and the price tag should be a reflection of just how well the bike performs out on the road. And now that I’ve ridden it, I can say with my hand on my heart that the Urgestalt is worthy of the investment. Perhaps…
Allow me to explain. The thing I noticed when boarding the Urgestalt for the first time was its lack of mass – the complete bike including pedals and bottle cages hits the Cyclist scales at a mere 6.1kg, which is lighter than my cat. No, really. The next thing to become apparent was the rigidity – the bike remained entirely unflappable and laughed in the face of my best efforts to unsettle it with all-out sprints. I was smitten from the start. The sensation of being reimbursed in spades for my pedalling efforts, and never having to second guess the line I traced through fast curves, meant that my time on the Urgestalt was nearly always accompanied by a grin.
The superlight and laterally stiff Meilenstein Obermayer tubular wheels, which were slotted in for much of my time on the bike, contribute a large amount to the ease with which the bike accelerates and its precise handling. The tag at the front of the top tube says ‘Frame My Wheels’ and it’s fair to say these two Lightweight products are, like a peanut butter and jam sandwich, a match made in heaven.
My only slight gripe was that the wheels seem a little ill at ease in gusty conditions, particularly crosswinds, when there were a few unnerving moments. I also tested the Urgestalt with some Zipp 303 Firecrests, and even with a much cheaper set of aluminium wheels to ensure that any weaknesses in the frame were not being masked by a set of $6k hoops, and I’m pleased to say that whatever wheels I used, the Urgestalt’s qualities shone through.
There’s more to a good frame than just being light and stiff. As many bike engineers will attest, to achieve these two traits alone is not really that tough a design brief. When you’re shelling out this level of cash the expectations are far greater, and you want a ride quality that is second-to-none regardless of how long you pedal and no matter what the road surface dishes up.
This, for me, was where the Urgestalt faltered slightly, and the reason for my ‘Perhaps’ comment a little earlier. It wasn’t until I took the bike beyond the 100km threshold, and on one occasion close to double that distance, that certain aspects became apparent. My feet went numb at times, despite wearing my usual old-faithful shoes, and my backside hurt a fair amount, despite a previously proven all-day-comfy chamois. It seems for a rider of my bodyweight (around 68kg) and riding style, the Urgestalt feeds back a fair bit of vibration through your body.
The reason I mention my bodyweight is that my suspicion is a heavier rider may not have the same sensation, or at least to a lesser extent, with a little
more mass keeping the bike planted more firmly.
But let’s keep some perspective – the problems I found were no worse than discovering a slightly burnt currant in an otherwise perfectly baked fruit cake.
The Urgestalt remains one of the best riding experiences I’ve enjoyed in many, many bike tests, and I would not hesitate to pick it for all but the longest and roughest of my rides. Certainly for anything that involved pinning on a number I’d jump to it. And while aesthetics are very much a matter of personal opinion,
I also admire the way Lightweight has integrated some of the most modern thinking in terms of frame technology, but done it in such a way as not to impact on the clean lines and rather traditional look.
Model Lightweight Urgestalt
Groupset Dura-ace Di2 9070
Wheels Lightweight Meilenstein Obermayer Tubular
Finishing kit Lightweight custom carbon seatpost, Lightweight Rennbugel bars, 3T Arx stem, Selle Italia SLR saddle
Price $6,999, frame, fork, seatpost, headset: $16,999 (approx.) complete bike