I’ve never seen a ninja on a bicycle. Then again, if a ninja did ride a bicycle, would I see him? Stealth is kind of important for those guys.
So, if you asked me to find the best bike for a ninja to ride, I’d pick this one: BMC’s UC01 city bike.
This thing has stealth in spades. Its matte black paint job is dressed with black decals, and there are just enough red highlights to make it mysterious. But the real stealth feature is the silent Gates carbon belt drive that replaces the typical chain.
For non-ninjas, a quiet ride isn’t really a feature worth salivating over, even though the startling silence of the bike is enjoyable on the occasions when you find yourself away from the noisy traffic of the city. But where the carbon belt really shines is in its practicality. Developed for industrial use (think saws, drills, and other machines with fast-moving drivetrains) and increasingly found on motorcycles, carbon belt drives require almost no maintenance, repel water, dirt and mud, and supposedly last about twice as long as metal bike chains.
Gates’ CenterTrack system, which puts a small ridge down the centerline of the drivetrain, keeps the belt from wiggling from side to side as you pedal. And because the belt doesn’t require oil or lube, you don’t have to roll up your pant leg — a perk I appreciated more than I thought I would. BMC has kept the bike even more low-maintenance by wrapping the belt around an 11-speed Shimano Alfine internally geared hub. Those 11-speeds gave me a wide enough range for all but the steepest climbs here in San Francisco.
The real stealth feature is the silent Gates carbon belt drive that replaces the typical chain.
One drawback of an internally geared hub is weight, and the UC01 wasn’t immune. The triple-butted aluminum frame and carbon fork are lightweight, and the added heft of the hub is enough to make it noticeably tail-heavy. Between that and the straight bars, the bike is great for cruising along at speed, but doesn’t give a ton of power when accelerating away from a stoplight.
BMC has years of experience building traditional racing bikes — the Swiss company sponsored 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans — but is making its first foray into belt-driven bikes with the UC01. The company has been bringing UC01s on tour for its racing team to use when they want to tool around in town before and after races. (They even produced a special model for Evans’ home use: the super-light MC01.)
To spec out the UC01, BMC mostly uses Shimano’s Alfine components — the company’s high-end “comfort” line — and they don’t disappoint. The hydraulic disc brakes gave great stopping power, but retained sensitivity even in the rain. The slick Shwalbe tires, also standard, are fast yet cushy, and the Fizik grips and saddle are both stylish and comfortable.
These are premium parts, and the bike’s price tag reflects that. The model I rode was the European version of the UC01, which sells for 1,900 euros, or about $2,420. (Later this year, American customers will see a model using the same frame but with slightly different specs priced at $2,000.) You really feel like you’re riding a luxury machine. It’s obvious BMC didn’t skimp anywhere except the pedals, though a lot of bikes don’t even come with pedals to begin with.
One oddity with my test bike was the 26-inch wheelset — the European version of the UC01 I rode comes with the smaller, mountain-bike-sized wheels. The bike is consequently a bit squirrelly until you get used to it. An optimist would call it “nimble,” and that it is, especially in traffic.
The aforementioned, less-expensive American version will sport a more road-friendly 700c wheelset as an option, and will come with an 8-speed hub. Also, the American version of the UC01 only comes with a silver paint job for now, though we’ll have the option of buying the same black-on-black version with the 11-speed hub next year.
So no stealth bikes for us just yet. But then, we can’t all be ninjas.
Photos by Jon Snyder/get-gadget