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NBD and first impressions: Factor LS - a gravel bike for roadies

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

NBD and first impressions: Factor LS - a gravel bike for roadies

Old 11-04-20, 12:25 AM
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guadzilla
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NBD and first impressions: Factor LS - a gravel bike for roadies

I have been looking for a do-it-all bike to complement my Venge. I had a Cervelo R5 earlier that I flat-out loved (it was the nicest bike I have ridden in 12 years of cycling), but with only 30mm tire clearance, it didn't really offer anything that the Venge didnt. So with a heavy heart, I sold it and got myself a Factor LS. Placed the order in early August, got the bike in mid-September and then had to wait for a Praxis M30 BB to be imported in (last minute change in crankset from Quarq to Power2Max). The build got delayed a little further as the seatpost clamp included in the spare parts box was the wrong one. Factor was kind enough ro send one via courier but there was a typo in the address, and it got sent elsewhere. To cut a long story short, finally, everything came together on Monday and I took her out for her first spin yesterday.



This is going to be used mainly on the road, with occasional stints with fat tires when I go riding in the mountains, so it is configured pretty much as a road bike:
- Ultegra Di2 groupset pulled off my R5
- Power2Max power meter (a change of pace from the Quarqs I have on my other bikes) 50/34
- 3T Superergo handlebars
- Zipp Sprint SL stem
- Controltech carbon seatpost
- Some random Ali Express carbon saddle that weights 120gm and cost $20
- Speedplay Zero pedals
- Ultegra 11-32 cassette
- Lightbicycle AR36 wheels with S-Work Turbo 26c tires (I actually plan to run Roval CL50s with RapidAir 26s, but need to top up the tubeless sealant first - havent gotten around to it)
Bike weight - about 7.7kg fully built (including cages and pedals)
[The chimney is going to get cut further. This is just the prelim config while I get a few rides and dial in the set up]

Initial impressions: the bike is definitely stiff at the BB. Not as stiff as the R5 (where pushing off on the pedals felt like pushing off on a wall - ZERO give) but enough to make the bike feel snappy: when you start to slam dance on the pedals (as we are all wont to do), it surges without any feelings of flex (and THAT is the single biggest ride attribute that I like). It's also noticeably smoother than the Venge when going over small imperfections on the road - and perhaps comparable to the R5, I'd say. Handling-wise, it isnt as agile as the Venge or the R5, but it is pretty nimble and I would have no issues doing group rides on it.

Is it as awesome a ride as the R5? No, but then, as i said earlier, I have not ridden any bike that compares to it. But it is unfair to compare a gravel bike to one of the top Pro Tour level road bikes - I only bring it up because i flipped the R5 to get this. On its own merit, this a very competent bike: balanced would be a good descriptor. It's fun to ride, it feels snappy and handles very much like a road bike, and it is quite comfortable as well without being boring or feeling like an ambulatory couch. As someone who likes snappy-feeling bikes, I am very pleased with its ride quality. And the added flexibility of being able to add tires up to 43c on it makes it far more versatile - which is what I really wanted in my second bike.

I am off tomorrow for a long weekend of riding in the hills with some riding buddies, and am taking this with me. Will post a longer review then. But so far, am very pleased with the purchase.
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Old 11-04-20, 08:02 AM
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Nice!

Are you still going to run the 11-32 on the fatter tires? Can the RD accommodate larger?
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Old 11-04-20, 08:06 AM
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Nice.. though I don't see why you abandoned the R5 since you're opting anyway to running 26mm tires on the Factor?
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Old 11-04-20, 08:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Sy Reene View Post
Nice.. though I don't see why you abandoned the R5 since you're opting anyway to running 26mm tires on the Factor?
...

Originally Posted by guadzilla View Post
This is going to be used mainly on the road, with occasional stints with fat tires when I go riding in the mountains...
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Old 11-04-20, 08:20 AM
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Originally Posted by WhyFi View Post
...
Doh! Missed that bit. Though Guad really seemed to like the R5 ride better; not sure I'd give that up for occasional stints off road -- tradeoffs I guess.
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Old 11-04-20, 08:23 AM
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Originally Posted by WhyFi View Post
Nice!
Are you still going to run the 11-32 on the fatter tires? Can the RD accommodate larger?
I think the medium cage RD fits up to a 34t - but at present, I have no plans to go more than a 32. I climbed Alpe D'Huez comfortably on a 34/30 and I dont see myself doing too many climbs that are steep enough to require more than a 32. Of course, I wont be riding single track with it either - at most, dirt/graded gravel roads in places like Bhutan or Kazakhstan. So for that, I think this *should* suffice.
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Old 11-04-20, 08:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Sy Reene View Post
Doh! Missed that bit. Though Guad really seemed to like the R5 ride better; not sure I'd give that up for occasional stints off road -- tradeoffs I guess.
Tradeoffs, indeed. Going with a bike that's slightly less satisfying on pavement probably saves him some space and at least a few thousand, though; I mean, you wouldn't expect him to slum it with an aluminum gravel bike and 105, would you?!
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Old 11-04-20, 08:30 AM
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Originally Posted by guadzilla View Post
I think the medium cage RD fits up to a 34t - but at present, I have no plans to go more than a 32. I climbed Alpe D'Huez comfortably on a 34/30 and I dont see myself doing too many climbs that are steep enough to require more than a 32. Of course, I wont be riding single track with it either - at most, dirt/graded gravel roads in places like Bhutan or Kazakhstan. So for that, I think this *should* suffice.
Well, there's two issues for me, and I think that I'm about the same size as you: a) bigger tires effectively give you taller gearing b) standing on climbs unweights the back and your tires are likely to break loose on surfaces like gravel. So yeah, you really need gearing that'll allow you to sit and spin and you need to compensate for the larger wheel/tire circumference.
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Old 11-04-20, 08:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Sy Reene View Post
Doh! Missed that bit. Though Guad really seemed to like the R5 ride better; not sure I'd give that up for occasional stints off road -- tradeoffs I guess.
In an ideal world, I'd love to have kept the R5 and gotten this. But between my wife and I, we already have 6 bikes in the house, and she still needs a proper race bike (an R2 isnt sufficient, given she actually won her AG in the last 70.3 she did, and also podiums pretty much every bike race she does) and I want a Pegoretti at some point soon. Since we live in an apartment, that's way too many bikes.

Also, i am running 26s because that was what was on the wheels when I sold the R5. Once they are done for, I am going to run 30-32s on the CL50s are my road riding setup and maybe 35-40 gravel tires (Conti Terra Speeds or similar) on the pictured LB wheels.

Last edited by guadzilla; 11-04-20 at 09:43 AM.
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Old 11-04-20, 09:42 AM
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Originally Posted by WhyFi View Post
Well, there's two issues for me, and I think that I'm about the same size as you: a) bigger tires effectively give you taller gearing b) standing on climbs unweights the back and your tires are likely to break loose on surfaces like gravel. So yeah, you really need gearing that'll allow you to sit and spin and you need to compensate for the larger wheel/tire circumference.
Ah yes, good point. The kind of roads I have in mind are mainly unpaved or poorly paved roads. I did something similar back in 2013 in the Tibetan Himalayas on a 50/34 and 28t cog: it was roads like this or worse (fully dirt) and I did suffer a lot - while some of it was the altitude (this is at 5100m), you are right that dragging the fatter tires (these were 700x32s, i think?) on loose-pack dirt was definitely harder.

Will keep this in mind and pack a 34t cassette and see how that goes. Fingers crossed, that will work. If not, maybe put a MTB RD and monster cassette....

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Old 11-04-20, 09:53 AM
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That sounds like a hell of an adventure!

I haven't looked in to it, but I'm wondering if there's a GRX RD/cassette that would be able to slot in?
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Old 11-04-20, 10:17 AM
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Originally Posted by WhyFi View Post
That sounds like a hell of an adventure!
I haven't looked in to it, but I'm wondering if there's a GRX RD/cassette that would be able to slot in?
I think it should be compatible, yeah.

But I should also confess that I am getting a custom steel bike made for myself (to replace the one I own, also by the same builder, which i plan to sell), which is going to be a folding/breakaway design for bike travel. That is likely going to have 1x Etap Force, and full gravel gearing, as I dont see myself as needing a big chainring on that bike. The above trip was on a Ritchey Breakaway, and i think the same trip with fatter tires, easier gearing and disc brakes would have been a lot more fun. May do it again, actually....
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Old 11-04-20, 12:22 PM
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How do you feel about the geometry on the LS versus the R5?
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Old 11-04-20, 01:02 PM
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Originally Posted by jbasirico View Post
How do you feel about the geometry on the LS versus the R5?
It's been 3 months since I rode the R5 and in between, I have been riding my TT bike, Venge and my CX bike, so things are a bit blurry (and also, that makes it harder for me to really identify subtle details in handling due to geometry as I am used to bikes with fairly different handling characteristics).

With that in mind, I'd say the LS feels slightly more stable/less agile at making rapid corrections, but it isnt significantly so. With my CX bike, I can FEEL the notably higher BB. With the LS, I dont have this impression of anything being significantly different from what I would expect a road bike to be, other than the fact that it is a little more stable/less twitchy/less agile than the Venge. This weekend will have a lot of climbing and descending, which should give me a better idea of how it handles.
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Old 11-04-20, 04:04 PM
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Very nice! I had looked at that before getting on the list for a custom steel of my own.

May I ask why you changed from Quarq to P2M, and what you think having done it? There are three Quarqs in my household and they're the most reliable powermeters I've used, but I'm always open to better options in the future.
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Old 11-04-20, 04:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Bah Humbug View Post
May I ask why you changed from Quarq to P2M, and what you think having done it? There are three Quarqs in my household and they're the most reliable powermeters I've used, but I'm always open to better options in the future.
Quarq is still using a magnet for cadence (and therefor, power), aren't they? I don't know how much of a difference that makes in practice, but (as a P2M owner) I do like the idea of that.
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Old 11-04-20, 05:35 PM
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Originally Posted by WhyFi View Post
Quarq is still using a magnet for cadence (and therefor, power), aren't they? I don't know how much of a difference that makes in practice, but (as a P2M owner) I do like the idea of that.
Nope, not as of the dZero/ dFour/ dFour91 line. None of the three we have needs a magnet. Agreed, that would be a definite cause to change.
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Old 11-06-20, 03:58 PM
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no fender mount, what was Factor thinking
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Old 11-06-20, 06:07 PM
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It has fender mounts
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Old 11-06-20, 06:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Bah Humbug View Post
Nope, not as of the dZero/ dFour/ dFour91 line. None of the three we have needs a magnet. Agreed, that would be a definite cause to change.
Non magnet power meters have a small amount of lag when starting from a stop. That issue really only effects track riders who feel they need the accuracy for analyzing standing starts. Very few power meters use magnets anymore.
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Old 11-12-20, 09:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Bah Humbug View Post
May I ask why you changed from Quarq to P2M, and what you think having done it? There are three Quarqs in my household and they're the most reliable powermeters I've used, but I'm always open to better options in the future.
No real reason other than FOMO.... like you, I've only had Quarqs (5, at one point), and love both the powermeters and the Quarq service. I was switching from 175mm/130BCD cranks to 172.5/110mm and decided to use the opportunity to try something different.

Btw, what custom steel? Tubing, bike type, etc?
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Old 11-12-20, 09:47 PM
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So a slightly longer review, after a weekend of riding in the mountains (including a bastard of a day with 2 massive climbs of 900-1000m each, and total elevation gain of 2300m).

As I had mentioned in my earlier quick review, one of the most critical attributes I look for in a bike is BB stiffness - a bike with some flex there may not actually be slower on the road (case in point - my old titanium Lynskey, which felt flexy but on which I have done some of my fastest rides ever), but I don't like how it rides. The Cervelo R5 was one of the stiffest bikes I have ridden in terms of efficiency - pushing down on the pedals felt like pushing off a wall: zero give. And it matched that with very good comfort as well, making for a ride that was plush without being boring.



Was the Factor's BB/drivetrain as stiff as the Cervelo? No, not really - it lacked that sense of implacable lack of give that greeted every pedal stroke on the R5. But that's a hard ask of any bike (even my Venge doesn't achieve that). By any other standard, it's certainly very stiff. On the climbs, when your legs are tired, BB flex feels as though the bike is sucking the energy away. That was not the case here. Put the power down, and the bike surges forward in a very satisfying manner, and even at the end of a 5.5 hour slog, I never felt that the bike was sluggish or slow.

We got rained on during an extended descent - cold hands, pouring rain and steep hairpin curves on dirty/broken made for a very bad combo. While I definitely was not going all out on the descents, I did choose to take some sharp lines when it was safe to do so, and the bike rewarded that with very confident and deliberate steering/handling. There was no hint of wobble, no feeling of oversteer/understeer - all I had to do was pick my line and the Factor LS followed. Very confidence-inspiring!

And on broken patches, even with road tires, the bike did a great job of attenuating the impact of that initial hit. No, it was not as cushy as my steel bike, but it was surprisingly comfortable - there were a few times when I was bracing myself for a pretty serious jolt coming to my arms, but the actual impact was a lot less than I expected.

Handling is surprisingly agile for a bike with a slacker head tube - the shorter chainstays and wheelbase help, I imagine. As far as a trade-off between agility and stability goes, I never felt myself noticing one (or missing the other) more - which would make the Factor LS very balanced in terms of how it handles.



In fact, balanced is the perfect way to describe the bike: it is a very good mix of stiff in the right areas and comfortable in others (the dreaded "laterally stiff / vertically compliant" phrase comes to mind), and also balances agility vs stability, as mentioned earlier. At no point during the ride did I ever find it lacking in any area - and that overall competence is what makes the Factor LS a very versatile bike.

What about the negatives? There are a couple of minor ones, as it turns out.

The frame comes with mounting points for fenders and a bento box on the top tube. Each of these holes are concealed by rubber plugs. And these plugs get lost very easily. In the time I have had it, the bike has been in the car a lot - to/from the bike shop to get built, to the riding camp and back and also in a van each day to/from the start/end point of the day's ride. In that time, I have managed to lose 3 of the 4 rubber plugs, leaving each screw hole exposed. It is hardly the end of the world and perhaps for people who don't travel a lot with their bike, this may not be an issue - but I gotta say, seeing the gaping holes there affects my Roadie OCD something fierce. I have asked my LBS see if Factor can send in a few more plugs - given how good Factor's service has been so far, I expect this won't be an issue. But I will always be hoping I don't lose those replacements in the future! Perhaps a less fussy alternative on the next iteration of the bike?

The second is that attaching the rear through axle is very finicky. The RD hanger tends to move a little and you need to push it just so, in order to be able to thread the TA easily. To be honest, I am not sure if this is a feature or a defect - have written to Factor and am waiting to see what they say. If the former, I am not sure what this accomplishes, other than just slowing down the wheel change process.

That's about it, so far: 2 very minor issues.

[Update - Factor is re-tooling the plastic plugs to make them more secure and have promised to mail me a few once they get it. And the issue with the rear through axle was something as simple as the mechanic not tightening the RD hangar firmly enough, causing it to move around. So not an issue with the bike at all]

Re color: truth be told, I would have preferred a custom paint option, as Factor offers with their other bikes, but apparently they were unable to do so in 2020 due to excessive demand. Fair enough. And my desire for a different paint is mainly because I already have a fully-blacked out Venge, and so wanted something different. I was considering getting the bike re-painted and bidding goodbye to the warranty - however, the exposed-carbon paint with a glossy clearcoat looks very sharp and now that I have it, I no longer feel any urgency to get it repainted.

The Factor also clocks in lighter than most gravel bikes out there. Yeah, I know bike weight really doesn't matter that much from a performance point of view, but let's face it - there is something very cool/fun about having a light bike. Even an aero geek like me gets warm fuzzies at seeing a low number on the scale.

As far as performance goes, this is a fantastic all-rounder and for me, the perfect complement to the aggressive, racy Venge. This is a bike on which I can smash out long rides without getting beaten up and while still retaining that agile, racy feel. And the fact that I got all of this at a price that is a fraction of a SLR or S-Works or whatever is an added bonus.


Last edited by guadzilla; 11-26-20 at 05:15 AM.
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Old 11-13-20, 05:49 AM
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Originally Posted by guadzilla View Post
No real reason other than FOMO.... like you, I've only had Quarqs (5, at one point), and love both the powermeters and the Quarq service. I was switching from 175mm/130BCD cranks to 172.5/110mm and decided to use the opportunity to try something different.

Btw, what custom steel? Tubing, bike type, etc?
I had initially intended to go with Cicli Barco, but after a multi-week break in emails I thought I had annoyed him and put in a deposit with De Salvo (who is cheaper and much more local of course). It'll be Columbus Spirit, and an all-road (road geometry, 38mm clearance). Part of the reason is that my torso/ leg ratio is big enough that I need long and low geometry, and most gravel bikes are stacked to the sky. Even the R2 is barely low enough.

The design freedom is both wonderful and frightening.
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Old 11-13-20, 07:59 AM
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guadzilla Thank you for the excellent write up!
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Old 11-25-20, 08:36 PM
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Originally Posted by guadzilla View Post
What about the negatives? There are a couple of minor ones, as it turns out.

The frame comes with mounting points for fenders and a bento box on the top tube. Each of these holes are concealed by rubber plugs. And these plugs get lost very easily. In the time I have had it, the bike has been in the car a lot - to/from the bike shop to get built, to the riding camp and back and also in a van each day to/from the start/end point of the day's ride. In that time, I have managed to lose 3 of the 4 rubber plugs, leaving each screw hole exposed. It is hardly the end of the world and perhaps for people who don't travel a lot with their bike, this may not be an issue - but I gotta say, seeing the gaping holes there affects my Roadie OCD something fierce. I have asked my LBS see if Factor can send in a few more plugs - given how good Factor's service has been so far, I expect this won't be an issue. But I will always be hoping I don't lose those replacements in the future! Perhaps a less fussy alternative on the next iteration of the bike?
I saw a suggestion to use these dome plugs to fill the holes for bike accessory mounts. I think there are also some cheap purpose-built plastic plugs you can use or even M5 nylon bolts can also be used, all of which cost a few bucks at most and weigh practically nothing.

https://www.mouser.com/ProductDetail/836-2590
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