Article Written by Dan Empfield — Read the Slowtwitch Article Here
When I first started counting bikes in the pier in Kona, in 1992, there were 200 brands represented. Sounds like a lot! But it only grew from there, to something like double that number. But I think it’s functionally contracting. Are the bike brands on the pier actually contracting in number? I don’t know. But I feel that the number of relevant bike brands in no-draft triathlon have whittled down to 8. Maybe 12. A lot of bikes and bike brands aren’t reviewed here and when they’re not it’s because I just don’t think they’re relevant, for any number of reasons, that don’t necessarily relate to the model itself (maybe it’s price, availability, restrictions on fit).
Quintana Roo is one of those relevant brands. In fact, if you narrowed the brand list to 4, it’d make the cut, based on its tech, it’s price ranges, availability, and an ability to fit a wide swathe of users.
This new bike, the PRFour, is an advertisement for why that is. This is a disc brake tri bike complete for under $3,000. The PRFour is a textbook downstreaming of tech that began at a higher price point. QR rightly wagered that consumer reticence toward disc brakes would quickly fade and, in fact, it’s now rim brake bikes that’re fighting for oxygen. This isn’t the only wager this brand made, and we’ll get to that in a moment. First, the bike.
As well as I can tell, there are 4 colors, that is, there is black. You can have this bike in black. With 4 trim options (pink, white, blue, red). Trim in this case means liberal decals, lettering, racing stripes, flames (okay, not those last 2, but if it was still my company yes, you’d have flames by God).
The bikes come in 6 sizes, from 48cm to 58.5cm, and you must understand what QR’s doing here. My QR is a 54cm. I’m 6’2”. Why is that? Because QR’s sizing means something. A 54cm bike means a frame with 54cm of “stack” (the height or elevation – just up the Y axis, mind you – of the head tube above the bottom bracket). A Felt IA in size 56cm has a stack of roughly 54cm. A Dimond Marquise in size M, a Trek Speed Concept in size L, and so on, all have a stack of 54cm (or 540mm). If you get this bike understand the sizing. Or, go on our Reader Forum and ask.
This is not a superbike, which is to say, the bike does not have an integrated front end, proprietary stem, etc., that sometimes expands a bike’s adjustability (Trek’s Speed Concept) but most often limits it (Scott Plasma Premium). QR did the very smartest thing it could do: spec Profile Design aerobars. I’ve written about this in the past. If you’re a bike brand, you must overcome the objection to spec’ing any other bar. The price is right. The tech is there. PD is like Shimano drivetrains: If you’re not spec’ing it, why? You must answer that question, if you’re a bike brand.
Some brands, like Trek, answered that question. Here is why we’re not spec’ing PD. Okay. Point taken. Felt has pretty good aerobars, but then one of Felt’s design engineers was a PD engineer for several formative years. Other brands, like Giant, like Specialized, have spec’d their own bars and with debatable outcomes. The latest Specialized, yes! Great aerobar! But, on a bike in the mid-teen-thousands. Once you get down to the $3000 or $4000 range you need to tell me why you’re not spec’ing PD, because of price, adjustability, ergonomics, fit. It’s the Continental Tire of aerobars. There may well be a reason why you choose to spec something else, but you have to explain it. One reason the PRFour fits well is because it’s not a superbike, and because it chooses to spec PD’s aerobars (and pursuit bar).
What you might not see, clearly, unless you’re looking right at it, is that SHIFT+ technology varies throughout the PR line. Simply put, the air is channeled – shifted – in a specific way in these bikes. For the Full SHIFT+ Monty, you’re looking for a super beefy chain stay on the off-side (left side). How robust is this tech, aerodynamically? I love the narrative. But I’ve never seen comparative testing that isolates everything except SHIFT+/No SHIFT+. So, I can’t tell you.
But, one thing I admired about SHIFT+ tech in today’s world of bikes is that the chain stay is fattened nicely (tri had rarely had problems with its systems being too stiff), and we have this new thingy-bob, the disc brake (and caliper), and a frame that shunts air away – off to the outside of a big fat chain stay that shields of fairs that rear brake system – I think QR fell into clover on this. SHIFT+ tech came before the move to disc brakes in tri. QR, if I can make an analogy, was a linebacker in the right place at the right time, and intercepted a tipped ball. Parlee is overtly fairing the calipers and rotors on its bikes. QR is as well, just, via tech that was fortuitously already in play.
Already discussed is Profile Design. For spec geeks the aerobars are Sonic Ergo 35a with Ergo armrests. The PD system is described in detail here. The only minor concern I have with this spec is that the stems range from 70mm to 110mm. The Sonic aerobar system has armrests placed some distance, maybe 15mm or so, forward of where the PD J4 and J5 brackets around which good bike geometries today are designed. Therefore, a change in the bracket’s spatial relationships means a corresponding shortening of the stems. I’d rather see the PRFour’s stems top out at around 90mm, or no more than 100mm. But it’s a small detail. That’s the beauty of mortal bikes: You can change the stem.
Otherwise, it’s a Shimano 105 bike except for Micro Shift bar-end shifters and a TRP Spyre brake caliper. The only thing Shimano makes that is just way out of date, old tech, from the stone age, is its mechanical bar-end shifters. They weren’t even made for that purpose. It was, “Look ma, I can plug road bar thumb shifter into the ends of my aerobars!” But I don’t blame Shimano for not spending a lot of time on this tech, because the world is slowly going electronic. Just, not yet, not at this price point. So…
Micro Shift is fine. Is it better than Shimano? Debatable. But fine. What about FSA’s Gossamer Pro crankset? It is, again, fine. I wouldn’t eject this bike from my brain because of it. Really, what makes the difference is the chain rings. FSA makes really good rings. This bike is spec’d with FSA’s Ultralyft chain rings, which are new. Good reports from the field, anecdotally, but, I just don’t know yet. It has 52t-36t rings and I sat, maybe a decade ago, in an epic spec war with QR’s retailers over this very issue. I think what we’ve seen is that all bikes have been overgeared. Throughout history. It’s way worse to be lacking a low gear than a high gear. The important point is that this bike has a 110mm bolt pattern crank and, as we’ll see over 2019, even this is not sufficient for the road cycling world. But, 52x36 paired with 11 cogs in the rear spanning 11t-28t is a pretty good middle ground. The cranks are appropriately spec’d at 165mm thru 172.5mm from small to large.
The other thing: an ISM PR 2.0. This may not be the saddle you want. But statistically speaking it is. This is the likeliest saddle, based on my own rather prolific testing of which saddles mate to your petooties. Because the seat post on the PR series has a long fore/aft slot that accommodates a sliding seat post hardware, just about any saddle of any type for any rider will fit you. That’s why I don’t worry about saddle position fit with this bike. I only set myself to the task of front-end fit.
This is the really big risk QR took. One of these days I’m just going to write about this, as a standalone theme. QR crossed a number of very arid logistical deserts, getting from one water source to another. When your well is going dry, do you wait it out, until it’s gone? Or do you take the affirmative act of soldiering forward toward a more predictable source of water, knowing you may perish in the attempt?
Quintana Roo brought its paint in-house, in Chattanooga, it’s got 2 paint lines running; it brought its assembly in-house; and it’s now much better equipped to handle the logistics of ordering, inventory, and eventually, perhaps, even more customization. It’s not yet where Trek’s Project One is. It’s not yet where Diamondback’s Custom Studio was (which is now gone). But QR is further along than Cervelo is, tho Cervelo is heading in a parallel direction to QR I think. If you go to QR’s website you’ll see an online configurator, just as with Cervelo. But there aren’t that many configurations. What’s important is, when you handle your own paint and assembly you can do what you want. You have the freedom to expand your customization.
The other thing QR did was embrace multiple sales channels. In a way, QR has arrived where it started. Where I started, when I founded that company 32 years ago. If you were a local bike shop, I wanted to sell my product through you. But you had the earn the margin. Otherwise, I’d just sell it myself. This is where QR is now. I doubt QR will want to sell you a bike if you’re in Dallas or Miami, rather it will push you toward a bike shop that stocks liberally, understands the product, pays its bills. But if it can’t find that dealer, it has a robust direct-selling process.
I was at a launch just last week, bikes were provided, and whoa! I rode a bike that was horrible! In terms of handling. It wasn’t a tri bike. Just sayin’.
When I flew to Kona this past year for the Ironman I gave QR my Pad Stack & Reach, a bike was waiting, in my size (54cm) and I went out to ride. I was at home on the bike after 5 pedal strokes. That isn’t an attaboy for this company. It’s been making tri bikes longer – literally – than any company. These guys were the first. Now, they haven’t always made perfect bikes. There as an interregnum. A forgettable era. But the PR series has been a return to form, and these bikes handle brilliantly.
Two things I’ll mention. One is assembly. There are certain bike companies that manage assembly for the purpose of consumer direct. QR is one. Canyon obviously is another. This makes QR a bike that’s easy to own right out (literally) of the box. Second, even before QR made the move to consumer-facing sales channels it planted a consumer-ownership flag in the ground. Bikes were getting pretty complex to work on. About 5 years ago it said, no more. You’ll be able to work on our tri bikes if you own 2 Allen wrench sizes. Which sizes? I forgot. Probably a 4mm and a 5mm. That’s not entirely true, because Shimano and TRP have their own component-specific sizes. But you get the point.
The industry sort of again came QR’s way with disc brakes because, while these brakes come with their own challenges, it’s a common challenge. As disc calipers and levers improve they’ll improve for everyone, rather than you having to figure out what Trek or Giant or whomever is doing to uniquely make your bike harder to wrench on. Bike ownership is sort of a core QR theme.
So that’s it. Nice bike. Read more here about the Quintana Roo PRFour Disc. And no, as of this writing there is no Partner Agreement I have with my old brand. There is no payment that accrues to me as a result of what you’re reading here. I just like this bike.
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