I was introduced to the Factor O2 on a blind date. Little did I know it would be love at first ride....
Unfamiliar with the Factor brand, I soon learned of their reputation for excellence. Founded in 2007 in Norfolk, England, the engineering offshoot quickly gained fans with their rule-breaking designs and high profile collaborations. It’s been said anyone who’s ridden a carbon road bike owes a debt to Factor, who was the first to break the 1,000, the 900 and the 800 gram thresholds with technology since emulated by nearly every major manufacturer.
Having branched out into producing their own complete range of bikes (instead of contracting for others), Factor’s deceptively simple goal is to produce bikes of unparalleled excellence for the discerning cyclist in every category. The O2 is their all-rounder: a little bit aero, comfortable for hours on end, and responsive as a go kart full of amphetamines yet stable in the speedy stuff. It’s available with disc or rim brakes (nearly identical but for small weight and price variations); choose between frame only, frame and wheels and contact points, or a top shelf Dura Ace Di2 build (as tested here).
Each hand built frame comes exclusively in a top end layup; by undertaking everything in-house from the first cut of carbon to the final heat treatments, Factor works to tighter tolerances than just about anyone else. What does this mean for the rider? Lighter, stiffer, consistently excellent, all without overbuilding the bike to account for variations in production.
Factor’s quest to achieve the “liveliness” that separates good bikes from the truly great has led to some unconventional designs, as I learned once I began my setup. Firstly, there’s no seat clamp: the entire mechanism is internalised within the frame, earning points for sweet aero gains and appealing to my love of minimalist aesthetics. God help you, though, if you manage to strip that bolt.
When I went to adjust the handlebars, I discovered the stem and bars are an integrated unit (no hidden bolt this time) made in-house by Factor subsidiary Black Inc. It turned out the bars didn’t need adjustment after all; no matter where I put my hands when riding, they just felt right. Overall, the O2 casts a striking silhouette, with internal cables and an elegant, understated paint job guaranteed to turn the heads of like-minded riders.
Shimano’s Dura Ace is appropriate on this bike, with Di2 for good measure. Factor recommends the disc version of this bike over its rim-braked twin, so Dura Ace discs with 140 mm rotors are responsible for anchoring riders to reality when they start to see red (at traffic lights, that is).
Black Inc also contributes a Fifty C carbon wheelset to the mix, a 45 mm wheelset optimised for improved aerodynamics and ride quality. The hubs get Ceramic Speed bearings for low resistance; the rear boasts a pleasingly quick engagement when the pedals are stomped.
My first five minutes on this bike were spent feeling rather embarrassed...because I hadn’t chosen my finest bibs or jersey for this outing. It was as if I had shown up to a first date at a fancy restaurant in shorts and a T-shirt. This bike deserved better, and I felt, somewhat ridiculously, as though I were letting it down. But I soon learned the O2 is a forgiving partner; we rolled through the local terrain as if we’d been together for years.
I appreciate how astutely this bike dulls road vibrations without sacrificing feel or responsiveness, almost as if it can detect a bumpy surface, and instinctively know how that would affect handling. The crappiest chip seal I could find wasn’t enough to phase the Factor.
Riding the O2 had me constantly wanting to push that bit harder, shift up that extra gear, stand and climb a little bit longer. The bike actually had me wishing I were a better rider, to live up to the example it set for me. Every few minutes I noticed something new: from the curve of the bars and the minimalist Garmin mount, to the momentum carried on the flats and the stability in the corners...there’s a lot to like here.
My time on the Factor O2 has been short but memorable. It’s not a bike of gimmicks; there are no magical antivibration inserts or hidden suspension linkages to be found. There’s just incredibly precise engineering packaged down to 7 kg of distilled performance.
I have little doubt about Factor’s claims now that I’ve seen their O2 in action, and might just have a new name to top my list of favourite road bikes. Should you find yourself on a Factor, other riders may know little about your choice of ride, but it matters not. They just don’t know what they’re missing!
Distributor: Industry X Limited
Images by Cameron Mackenzie
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