Carbon Bikes - LOOK ONCE Team Replica 1997

"Courtesy Bicyclist Magazine, Petersen Publishing Company" and feaured in the February 1997 issue.

By By Derin Stockton

With most high-performance vehicles, racing is the ultimate testing ground. Whether cars, motorcycles,

boats or bikes, the chances are very high that if you use one, you are benefiting from technology refined

through racing. The lessons these companies learn by exposing their products to the harshest of conditions

benefit us normal consumers in everyday life. Of course, one quick glance will tell you the car you

roll out of your driveway every morning and the cars that race the Indianapolis 500 bear few resemblances

beyond their four wheels. And you'd have a hard time taking Jimmy Vasser's Team Target/Honda Indy

car down to the store for groceries and filling it up with unleaded on the way home-if you could get your

hands on it in the first place. You can, however, purchase a bike identical to the ones racing and winning

the biggest races in the world, a bike refined in the biggest races by the top professionals: the Look KG


Look has a strong history of proving itself in competition. In 1986, when legendary French racer Bernard

Hinault and Greg LeMond fought their epic battle in the Tour de France, they were both aboard Look KG

96 carbon frames in the mountains. Hinault was the first racer to use Look clipless pedals for his recordtying

fifth Tour win in 1985-the first of their kind-and the starter of the clipless pedal revolution. Fast

forward to 1997 and it seems little has changed. The number one racer in the world, Frenchman Laurent

Jalabert, wreaks havoc on his competition aboard a carbon-fiber Look KG 171 road bike along with the

rest of his ONCE teammates. Unlike some pros who have bikes built by a custom builder then have paint

and decals matched to look like their team bikes, the KG 171s distributed in the U.S. by Veltec Sports

are exactly what Alex Zülle, Jalabert and company race on. 'From a distance, the KG 171 doesn't appear

much different from a conventional road frame. A tubular, double- triangle design is used as opposed to

the monocoque designs favored by companies such as Trek (OCLV) and Kestrel.

When I talked with Jason Meyerson at Veltec Sports, he offered an explanation as to why Look chose this

design. "Monocoque frames, in my opinion, are the wrong way to build carbon-fiber bikes for the masses.

Those designs are for a specific type of riding-time trialing-which requires a bike to be very rigid and

aerodynamic. The KG 171 is a tubular bike, so by design alone, the bike is going to be more comfortable.

A consumer may end up buying a monocoque because it looks cool, but he won't end up with a bike that

serves his best overall interests," Meyerson explained.

Also setting the KG 171 apart from other carbon-fiber frames is the type of carbon fiber used. Look has both

Kevlar and ceramic material interwoven into the carbon to improve the ride. The Kevlar acts as a dampener

to take the sting out of road shock and the ceramic adds rigidity to the tubeset.

"If I had to name two adjectives to describe the KG 171 compared to other carbon bikes, they would be

comfortable and lively," Meyerson continued. "One of the most underrated qualities of high-end bikes is that

many of them are uncomfortable. With the KG 171, you can go out and get a high-end road bike and still be

very comfortable. We consider it a true road bike, where the owner can ride 100 miles on it and not be sore.

It's also springy and very lively. Carbon-fiber tubesets don't want to flex. If you flex them, they want to snap

back instantly, so you get that real lively feel."

The tubeset also has more interesting features. While other companies use only unidirectional carbon (where

the carbon is all oriented in one direction) for their frames, the Look uses a multidirectional carbon fiber. It

has unidirectional carbon fibers at the base of the tubes, but there is multidirectional carbon weave around

it. This gives the tubes the ability to be stiff in multiple directions. "There are many different varieties of

carbon fiber, and Look uses one of the best, most sophisticated carbons there is," Meyerson said.

The blazing bright yellow paint of the KG 171 came in Team ONCE yellow, which would normally hide all

traces of carbon fiber, but you don't think the folks at Look would be that foolish do you? There are two oval

areas-one on the top tube and one on the fork-that have no paint and offer a glass bottom boat's view into the

network of beautifully laid carbon fiber. That way you can still have a cool paint job and bragging rights as

well. Aluminum lugs are used to join the tubes together (via thermal bonding), which seemed nothing short

of bombproof to this tester. The KG 171 has a full carbon Look fork, which uses normal carbon fiber without

Kevlar or ceramic in it. The frame has a replaceable derailleur hanger, so if you ever shift into the spokes, it

makes a potentially costly repair a simple one. You can buy the KG 171 as a frameset alone or with different

component kits. Ours came equipped with a Shimano Dura-Ace group, Look 286 pedals and 32-spoke

Mavic Reflex SUP rims with Continental 700x23 Grand Prix tires.

Just from its race record alone, you'd have a hard time denying that the KG 171 is capable of most anything.

While other teams use different frames for different events (steel for flat races, aluminum, carbon or titanium

for the mountains), the entire ONCE team uses these frames for every type of race situation (with the exception

of certain time trials, where a Look time-trial frame is used.) Laurent Jalabert smokes his competitors in

the fiercest of field sprints, and Alex Zülle rockets up the Tour's steepes climbsm all abouard the same frame.

In fact, Look is proud to point out that the KG 171 was the only nonferrous frame used in the European pro

peleton in '96. barring the hilly special events, all the other teams were racing primarily on steel.

From the moment I threw a leg over the bright yellow bike and peered down at the carbon "porthole," I

loked it. There is a certain overall feel I get from a bike that has been tested and refined under the toughest

racing conditions in the world, and the Look has that feel. It climbed, descended, sprinted and just flat out

hammered with no real flaws. The frame lived up to Jason's billing as a "true road bike," being extremely

comfortable after a long ride and offering no surprises in the handling department. The 74-degree head angle,

coupled with the Look carbon fork's 4 fcentimeters of rake, provides perfect handling. It suited my taste

for a quick-handling bike that can dive aggressively through the turns, yet wasn't too quick to make smooth

transitions between turns on high-speed descents an effort. I have to agree with Jason that it didn't have the

usual "wood plank" feel that some carbon monocoques can have--it rode more like a normal frame. I still

prefer steel for my 6-foot 2-inch, 190-pound engine and probably always will, but the Look rode as well as

any nonsteel bike I've ever ridden. There were certain situations, such as aggressive out-of-the-saddle climbing

or sprinting hard in a big gear, where I felt the limitations of the KG 171's stiffness. I think that bigger

riders run into rigidity problems with nonferrous frames that normal- and smaller-sized riders don't, usually

in sitting situations like I've previously stated. The 73.5-degree seat angle is neutral enough that I had no

trouble getting the correct fore-aft position of my saddle, and neither should you--with the Look Ergo carbon

seatpost's huge range of adjustability, I think anyone could get it right. The Avocet O2 Air saddle didn't

agree with my backside--too narrow on the nose and not enough padding--so I switched it out for a Selle

San Marco Rolls during my testing. Rear brake housing routing inside the top tube and a braze-on front

derailleur mount helped keep the Look's lines very clean. Of course, like any good road frame, it comes with

double water bottle mounts to ensure proper hydration on those long summer rides. The Dura-Ace 8-speed

STI groupworked without a flaw. With 39/53 chainrings and a 12-23 cluster I had a wide range of gearing,

but still ongerd for a 16-tooth cog in some situations.

After spending time in the saddle on this machine, I can see why it is the chouce of one of the top teams in

the world. And if you think they're only riding them for the money, guess again. ONCE receives no money

from Look for the use of its bikes, which is very rare in the big business of professional cycling. According

to Meyerson, Look sponsoed ONCE when they were a smaller formation--before they had hired all their big

names--and stuck with them through thick and thin. After ONCE obtained more sponsorship and hired better

racers, they still opted to stay with Look because the ravers really like the products. In fact, ONCE has just

signed with Look for another four years. If that isn't a strong endorsement, I don't know what is.

Price on the KG 171 frame and fork is $1650 retail. The bike we tested retails for $3605, which includes a

Look Wrgo Stem (if you don't need the Ergo stem and want to go standard, knock off $150). Frames come

in yellow and black. Over the summer, Veltec Sports received 25 limited edition pink Tour de France-replica

KG 171s. The Tour doesn't allow any teams to compete in yellow jersyes because that is the color of the

Tour leader's jersey. Every year in the Tour, and only the Tour, ONCE races with pink jerseys instead of their

regular yellow, and Veltec still has frame sizes left to sell in ONCE Tour pink.

I know I've pushed this bike's ability to race the top races in the world, but don't think that you need to be a

racer to benefit from its technology. If you are interested in a high-end bike for racing or riding, you can rest

assured that the KG 171 has been tested and refined under the toughest of conditions. I may not be racing in

Milan-San Remo or the Tour of Spain, but it was nice to know the bike I was riding has won both. The biggest

problem I see with the Look KG 171 is if you get dropped from your local training ride, you won't be

able to use the bike as an excuse!

KG 171

This frame came out after LOOK's original carbon frames. The original frames came out in the late 80's. They were the KG56,KG76,KG86,and the KG96. The KG171 is the successor to the KG96. It was LOOK's top end frame at the time. It was produced from the early 90's until 1997-98. It was replaced by the KG271, than KG281 and in 2002, the KG381i. The KG171 was a pro level frame when it was produced. ONCE used to ride the KG171 until they switched to Giant. The current generation LOOK frames aren't much lighter but they are stiffer. The 171 used round tubes while the 271 and 281 use variable shaped tubes.


"Have you kept any of your bikes? "
L.J: I'm notreally a collector, but I would have like to have kept some of

them. Great memories should be preserved. I only have the

one with which I won la Vuelta in 1995*
. With Once, Manolo,

for example, kept my bike from the World Championship in

San Sebastian. He wanted to keep the bikes from great


*Winner of la Vuelta on Look KG 171.