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Customer Review RTD-90

Recently Paul Donnelly got in touch to let us know his first impression of an RTD-90 Di2 road bike he had bought from us. Here is what he initially had to say about the bike;


This iteration of the new RT-90 is a first for Planet X; it's not their first hydraulic disc brake equipped road frame, nor is it their first Ultegra Di2 bike, but it is their first hydraulic disc Di2 using the new R785 brake set, badged up as the RTD-90.


This bike is bang on trend with all the latest performance enhancing, comfort inducing components you can presently throw at a race-oriented cycle. It has the afore mentioned Ultegra 11 speed Di2 group coupled with Shimano's hydraulic disc brakeset, the sublime Vision Metron 40 clincher disc brake wheels shod with the (currently preferred by the pro's) wider profile tyres, 25mm Conti 4000s II. The tyre bed is wide and the carbon rim profile toroidal allowing the use of these wider tyres which have a lower rolling resistance but also provide a comfortable ride.


The seatpost is a skinny SL-K 27.2mm carbon post from FSA, supposedly reducing road buzz and providing more comfort. Fat 35mm handlebars are supplied from Selcof providing a stiffer but lighter bar. The chainset is a 52-36 along with an 11-28 cassette giving a useful spread of ratios.


Planet X are even supplying the bikes liveried in the currently popular dayglo colours… I can't say it contributes much to performance or comfort but I've already had quite a few positive comments regarding the paint work. I'm yet to be convinced, being a fan of the understated finish of the Planet X Mondo.


Speaking of the Mondo, it’s the bike I've used as the benchmark against which I've compared the RTD-90.


So, how does it ride?


The Di2 gears and the hydraulic brakes are a revelation. Once the gears are set up, you don't have to worry about trimming or having to adjust the gears due to cable stretch, every gear change is precise under any condition - grinding away uphill, standing sprints - and multiple shifts are achieved just by holding the appropriate button down.


Braking is taken to a new level with these hydraulic discs. To my mind, combining carbon rims with disc brakes is the ideal use of these materials resulting in confident, predictable braking with fatigue-reducing comfort.


The RTD-90s frame could be described as 'beefy', 'chunky' or 'robust', the down tube having a somewhat boxy profile and both the seat tube and down tube are the same width as the bottom bracket at their lower limits to provide zero flex in this area.

This results in the sensation that no power is wasted when pushing hard on the pedals but the narrow seat stays provide a vertical compliance to smooth out the bumps in the road surface.


So what, you may ask, is the dilemma?


Well, all of this technology comes at a cost, although not a financial one.


The RTD in this guise is up against bikes like the De Rosa Idol, Wilier Cento 1SR, Colnago CX Zero and Felt Z2 to name but a few, but the RTD wins hands down with it's Vision 40's, Prologo Zero saddle, SL-K carbon seatpost and Selcof bars and stem included in the price (there are a few customisable options available on the Planet X site)


The cost is a weight penalty. Strengthening the forks and frame for the differing forces involved with disc brakes, beefier hubs and more spokes in the front wheel has resulted in a substantially heavier bike. The kerb-side weight of my XXL RTD with cages, pedals and spares kit weighed in at 8.7kg whereas my XL Mondo SRAM Red 10 speed (the 2 have very similar tube lengths & geometries) came in at 7.2kg.


I have to admit that, on the first big climb I did earlier this week - the Col du Soulour - I didn't really notice the weight difference, posting my second fastest ascent for this col, but the cumulative effect on the following climbs of the Hautacam and col de Spandelles began to take its toll.


The dilemma is that the RTD-90 is ideal for the Pyrénéen descents, gear changing is so effortless that I almost change for the fun of it and I feel more comfortable and confident on the descents where as I simply expend less energy getting to the top on the Mondo.


In summary, I'd say that the RTD-90 is a jack of most trades, but not a master of all. The frame facilitates great power transfer, all day comfort, excellent handling, peace of mind for precise gear changes and predictable braking in all but the most extreme of conditions. Whether I use it for the week long challenge of the Haute Route in August with over 20000m of climbing is yet to be decided. If Planet X could shave another kilo off....


That's probably just a case of having your cake and eating it too. But then, if it's your cake, why wouldn't you?


After sending us his initial thoughts just over a week later we received another email from Paul. He’d spent some more time riding his RTD-90 and wanted to clear up a few of his initial reservations based on time in the saddle. What he found was that the bikes performance had really outweighed all of the concerns listed above.


After riding the RTD-90 for just over a week and logging some 700kms, it seems I'll have to revise my criticism of the bikes weight. I might have hinted that this possibly wasn't the best bike to take into the high mountains, but not to do so would be to deprive yourself of a heap of fun and maybe even some PB's.


While there's no denying that 1.5kgs is a significant amount to be giving away (the difference between my SRAM Red equipped Mondo and the RTD-90), whatever time is lost on the ascent is more than made up for on the rest of the ride.


As a (very unscientific) experiment, I took the best file of a 107km lumpy route I did on the Mondo from September last year on a still day, 26°C, when I was hitting a particularly good run of form after the summers races and used it as my virtual training partner to race against on the RTD. The test was hardly done under strict lab conditions, the day being breezy with a high of 35°C. The Mondo pulled away from the RTD on the climbs, but not by much, only to be overhauled on the descent and dropped on the flats resulting in a 2 minute time gain by the end of the ride in favour of the RTD; 3:47:46 vs 3:49:49 over 106.9km with 1800m of climbing.


So what did I learn from this?


Well donning my white coat for a moment, I would say that we have to take a Gestalt view of the bike in that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.


Sure, there's energy expenditure in taking the extra weight up the climb but there's energy saved in efficient power transfer to the back wheel - this bike doesn't consume extra energy in over-braking, energy used in controlling the bike, energy consumed in fighting wind resistance or energy wasted in trying to stay comfortable over long distances.


The extra weight is, in part, due to the frame being beefed up to cope with the differing braking forces from having the disc located at the lower end of the fork rather than at the crown. And while the chunky bottom bracket gives the frame a lateral stiffness, the carbon lay-up and profile of the tubes provide a damping effect that allows the bike to soak up the road bumps, leaving the rider with the sensation that the bike is well planted with good ground contact.


Lighter frames with less compliance paired with skinnier tyres and narrow rim profiles tend to skip and jump over variable road surfaces, hardly inspiring confidence when hurtling into corners at high speed. The RTD, in contrast, is calm, collected and well-mannered which, allied with the hydraulic brakes, means that braking can be applied later in the approach to the corner, more momentum can be carried through the apex and faster and safer descents are the result.


For a retail price of £3000 for the Di2 version (£2499 for SRAM Force 22), Planet X are offering a lot of bang for your buck. In fact, it's the inverse of Gestalt theory in that the whole is a lot less than the sum of its parts (the Vision wheelset and Ultegra Di2 would come in at £2200 if bought separately).


The whole package of frame, wheels, brakes and Di2 all combine to create a well-balanced, high performance bike, so don't get too hung up on the kilograms. It's a bit like a rider trying to achieve ideal race weight - loose too much and performance will suffer.


 Check out the RTD-90 Elite Disc Edition here and read out guide to the benefits of road disc brakes here.

28 July 2015

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