There’s one thing we know about accessories: car manufacturers love a branded bicycle. No premium car maker’s brochure would be complete without a roof rack topped by funky two wheelers, their frames adorned with corporate logos.
McLaren, however, doesn’t work like most car makers. In fact, when it comes to this bicycle, it doesn’t involve the ‘cars’ bit of McLaren at all. When McLaren decided that it wanted input on a bicycle, it didn’t tap up a Chinese frame maker, write a cheque and send a few hundred decals in the post.
No. Instead, McLaren’s Applied Technologies division, which takes the whole company’s accumulated knowledge and, er, applies it to other industries, approached Specialized, maker of some of the best-engineered bicycles on the planet, with a proposal.
It was along the lines of: “You know that carbonfibre bike you make? Well, we also know a thing or two about carbonfibre. Shall we have a natter?”
The result is a limited-edition road racing bicycle ridden not by those who think that it’s cool to have a car maker’s name on their frame, but by Tour de France green jersey winner Mark Cavendish.
Specialized is no stranger to making high-end bicycles, be they mountain bikes or road bikes, and you’ll find professional racers who use its frames straight off the shelf. In some races, the rules governing how a bike looks and is constructed are fairly open.
Development of the Venge bike started as far back as 2006, when Specialized first thought of including aerodynamic elements of its Transition triathlon bike into a road racing frame. It was near the end of its design phase, in 2009, when McLaren first approached Specialized, and the bike was all but done when the collaboration started in earnest, in mid-2010.
The S Works + McLaren Venge prototype made its debut in March 2011 and the bike started winning races not long thereafter. They’ve made 450, and we test one here.
Design and engineering (five stars)
For triathlon and time trials, for example, Specialized makes a bike called the Shiv, which has an exceptionally aerodynamically efficient frame – so efficient, in fact, that it looks like it’s going a million miles an hour even when standing still.
A frame of the Shiv’s shape, though, may not be used for road racing (events like the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia), which is governed by UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) rules. And aero bikes, because of their vast hollow sections, are typically not especially stiff, which is an issue when it comes to bike handling.
In road racing, frame tubes must not have an aspect ratio of more than 3:1; they’re usually elliptical in cross-section, and one diameter cannot be more than three times greater than the other. So they visually resemble the frames in your local bike shop’s window.
Specialized’s latest road racing machine is called the Venge, a carbonfibre-framed bike that, although unequivocally not an ‘aero bike’, uses lessons learnt from the Shiv to cut as clean a shape through the air as possible.
After the Venge’s conception and aero work is where McLaren came in. McLaren’s input into the frame runs rather deeper than a car maker’s usually does, but this was – and remains – a Specialized bike first and foremost.
Example: when McLaren got involved, the companies set themselves some strict rules. The grade of carbonfibre had to be the same as the regular production Venge model’s, and the McLaren-influenced bike had to run down the same production line. It used the same geometry as well.
Because the production run was going to be 450 strong and these bikes get strapped on to bike racks and treated badly, as bikes sometimes are, it even had to be strong in places that you wouldn’t expect of a full-on race bike. It’s no good if a customer goes to strap it to a roof rack and pierces the top tube, for example. McLaren might not like the Mercedes-Benz analogy, but think of the Venge S-Works + McLaren as an AMG variant of, say, an SL, rather than a stand-alone SLS.