Guru Photon Review
Lighter Than Air - by Phil Cavell and Guy Pearson
Thanks to Guy Pearson from Pearson Cycles for stepping up and helping with this review. My back problems are keeping me away from riding still - read latest blog if you want to bore yourself rigid with the minutia.
I did spend a fair amount of time on the Photon last summer and I managed to grab a short refresher this 2012 test-bike also. I value Guy's opinion greatly - I had a grudging respect for Guy for much of my racing career (he was on a different team) - we often seemed to end up in impossible breaks together and as a result contributed inordinate amounts of work to carry group of dandy free-loaders to the line. In short we are (in my case were) rouleurs not afraid to lean into the road ahead. Also like me Guy tends ride well in technical terrain where experience and smoothness keep momentum when some cannot resist the comfort of braking. We are also the same height and ten years ago resembled each other on the bike.
And that's quite enough of the Guy love-in - lest we forget that nine years ago I would have happily burst my left lung to beat him in a sprint!
'An Engineer's Bike'
The design brief for the Photon was simple - build the lightest custom frame in the world ever. Sub 700 grams was the target weight. The actual frame the client receives will depend on their weight and riding style but between 650 and 750 grams is typical in our experience. This test-bike built up to 12 pounds or 5.8kg without any special effort at all.
To consistently achieve these unprecedented weights takes about forty man hours of precision engineering per frame. We were astonished when went to Guru in December just how labour intensive and micro-focussed and controlled their carbon construction is - the whole place has the feel of a Formula 1 research lab.
Carbon But No Copy
A significant part of the Photon frame is constructed with unidirectional intermediate-modulus, high-strength carbon. This gives a good balance of strength, feel and weight to the Photon fuselage. But in key high load areas the structure is reinforced with an incredibly high-modulus carbon weave, which by nature is stiffer and lighter. To work at this level requires skill, precision and time that would simply not be economic on mass-produced frames.
Similarly Guru use a significantly higher fibre-to-resin ratio than most manufacturers so the volume occupied by resin is minimized to enhance mechanical properties provided by the carbon filaments.
The reason this is not industry standard is cost - the whole process is less forgiving and more time-intensive and therefore more expensive. This is only really possible on a handmade high-end product.
Flying The Photon
The Photon as outfitted here is exactly half the weight of my 1992 7/11 replica bike that is on display ten feet from where I am writing. Half the bloody weight! Now we are not weight obsessed here at Cyclefit but a bike this light writes its own script. Everything else is merely sub-plot because the main narrative is how different it feels to what you normally ride right?
And this is not the lightest groupset, with the trickest brakes or freaky tyres and seatpost. This is solid everyday gear with the addition of Lightweight's entry-level Ventoux wheels. What Guru has been able to do by beating the likes of Parlee and Cervelo, not by sliver but a few hundred grams is astounding. Partly in increasing the overall power to weight of the athlete but more especially in the dynamic balance between the rider and the bike. It just feels like a re-defined relationship to what most of us are used to most of the time. You have a sense of your relationship to things in life: the weight of a full kettle, closing resistance of your car-door etc. And when things interact vastly from your experience and therefore what you expect, it is a paradigm shift. It is bewildering.
And bewildered sums up Guy's first experience.
"I did not expect that. Everything happens in a hurry - acceleration, turning, stopping. To start with the thing felt just to light to lean - surely it will fall over?"
You naturally expect so much to have been sacrificed for light weight - the first casualties being ride quality and strength. But this really is not the case. The Photon has a well attuned harmony and resonance with the road and rider. In the thousands of hours Guru spent making the Photon light they also overcame all the challenges to making it ride well and strong. Myself and Jules witnessed the destruction rig at Guru and what it can do to a bike - look at the little movie the from the Guru Factory. The guru engineers are of the opinion that the Photon is the strongest carbon frame they have ever built.
We are about to equip GPM10 with Photon's as their staff bikes. Mark and his crew ride thousands of the toughest miles per year possible in all weathers. They crash a bit and throw the bikes on and off their roof-racks daily.
£4400 - Frame and fork - Full Custom
Postcript - from Stuart Jeffreys - Pearson Cyclefitter - A PHOTON RANT!
I want to apologise to every one I have ever sold a bike to, weather it be a Specialized, an Orbea (need to say sorry to the Mrs for that one!), a Pinarello, a Trek or even God for fend a Colnago. I am truly, deeply sorry, I sold each and every one of you the wrong bike!
I used to think that if you bought a Cervelo you could do no wrong, I’ve had three, and there was no higher art than the Italian mastery of a Colnago, or the cutting edge ride of a Parlee don’t even get me started on the Time RXR I had, BUT, and I say this with some humility (not easy for me) I WAS WRONG!
I rode home on our test Guru Photon, and that’s it. I mean game over! As much as Di2 is a game changer, the Photon is the end game! Without a shadow of a doubt, no questions asked and with no hype, it is the best frame I have EVER ridden, hands down; the best!
It’s not the weight (it’s light), nor the stiffness, or the ride quality, but as with all great things it is the sum of it’s parts, and oh so much more. I would have trouble putting my finger on it, but there is just something extra there, an understanding of material and ride that just works, and it doesn’t even fit me that well (yet!).
I don’t particularly love the colour; Guru offer custom paint, I would have a different set up; if your buying one, why wouldn’t you run Di2, I would prefer an ISP; Guru no longer offer this on a Photon (boo hiss!), but I just do not care. I would hve this frame as it is in a heart beat, it really is that good!
Ride quality is a personal thing, that seems to be misunderstood by most, particularly those in the cycling press, but it is an individual thing, that we all have a view on; until now, this frame is just right. I don’t care if you race crtis or ride all day sportives, hel take it off road (great off road climb up Ranmore that I’ll do on Sunday) it just doesn’t faze the Photon.
Look, I don’t know any way to put it than this….if you’re looking for a new frame, sell what ever you need to, I mean, kidney, child, house, the other half, and buy a Photon! If you are considering spending £7500 on a certain stock frame from California (I never thought I would say this) DON’T! Spend £4300 on a full custom Photon, and but a posh pair of wheels with the rest, or pay for a trip to the mountains and ride past the over priced Cer…’s and laugh at the “trend setters”.
I want this bike, I will have this bike, I may never buy another bike after this…well, maybe!
I am, however profoundly sorry to all those I have sold the wrong bike; even if their bikes did fit really well!!!!
That is 12.13lbs or 5.8kg
Lack of bulk takes Guy by surprise
Looks like NASA but is in fact GURU
It takes 40 hours to make a Photon
Guy poses while Leslie Phillips looks on
The eyes have it
Guy's calves give chainstays something to think about