Sixish years ago, I wrote An Open Letter to Delta 7 Sports, Maker of the Arantix Mountain Bike, where I related my impressions of the then-new Isotruss frame. It’s one of the most popular posts I ever wrote, in spite of the fact that it’s possible I made an occasional sarcastic remark therein.
To my surprise, in spite of the considerable attention I brought to them, the good folks at Delta 7 never invited me to come take a ride on one of their bikes.
And then Delta 7 became known as much for the way their bikes self-destructed during the 2008 Interbike Outdoor demo day as for their exotic-looking (with pricing to match) spiderwebbish frames, and went out of business. Imagine that.
I wept bitter tears, knowing I would likely never get a chance to ride something that looked like a bike mated with a Hoberman Sphere.
Well. Never say never. Except for when you’re saying “never say never,” in which case it’s perfectly fine to say it twice in a single sentence.
All of this is, of course, the nonsensical preamble to the fact that a new company—Razik Bicycles—has emerged, rising from the ashes of Delta 7 like some unholy latticework-constructed phoenix. (And I mean that in the nicest possible way, naturally.) And last Saturday, I got to spend an hour or so riding one myself.
And this is what I thought.
How It Looks
Let’s start with how the bike looks, because–love it or hate it–there’s no getting around the fact that the Razik Vortex is eye-catching.
Heath Thurston of Razik lifts the Vortex.
The frame, up close. Yup, took this shot with my phone. Steady hands, eh?
There’s an exotic geekiness to the look of this material, and you’re going to make your own decision as to whether you like it. In photos, I don’t. Not really. It’s too “We’re doing this because we can” for me. But when I looked at it in person, the wildness of the material kind of grabbed me. I was drawn to the rough, Klingon-y look of the Isotruss weave, and I thought, “Well, that looks pretty darned cool.”
Heath at Razik was awesome enough to let The Hammer and me take a couple of the demo bikes and ride them for half an hour or so. Which, by the way, turned into 90 minutes, since neither The Hammer nor I have anything that resembles a sense of direction; we got lost and rode around the industrial warehouse maze for quite a while. In fact, it’s only due to a rare piece of luck that we aren’t still out there now.
Foolishly, as The Hammer and I began our ride, Heath did not ask what I was carrying in my jersey pockets, which I figure he’s going to regret in about three paragraphs.
I tooled around for a few hundred yards, getting a feel for the bike, then I stood up and sprinted, wanting to see whether these airy tubes made for a flexy frame.
Nope. The Vortex sprints great. Stand up, grab the drops and fly. Not flexy at all. Which brings up the question, is it too rigid? The answer is easy: it’s not. The lousy chip seal roads we were riding on are buzzy and harsh, but the Vortex smoothed it out.
As far as handling goes, the Vortex corners nice and tight. In fact, it’s a little too tight for my taste, with a shorter wheelbase than I’m used to. Riding hands-free takes more concentration than usual, and turns can feel just a little twitchy. Part of this, granted, may be that I had to ride a 56cm frame, which was too big (I usually ride a 52).
To be honest, though, the ride characteristics of the frame material — the Isotruss carbon weave — are almost impossible to tease out. The frame is light, sure, but no lighter than other carbon frames. It’s stiff when you pedal, but frame stiffness is absolutely a choice nowadays, not a material characteristic. It dampens out some chip seal buzz, but adjusting your tire width and pressure affect that ride attribute way more than your frame choice.
There were a couple of things I thought might be a problem that turned out to not be problems at all. It was a windy day when we rode, and so I listened for whistling from the frame. I confess to being disappointed that there was none.
I wondered if rocks would get stuck and rattle around in the frame, so I stopped at the side of the road, picked up a few pieces of gravel, and dropped them into the frame. At which point I found that anything that falls into the frame easily also falls out of the frame easily. Which, alas, deprives me of getting to say, “They should have named this the Razik Rattler.”
There were two things that bugged me, however. First, the tubes—including the top tube— are thick, and the Isotruss weave juts out. So the inside of my knees and legs grazed the top tube pretty often.
Did they graze the top tube more often than they do on my own bike? I honestly don’t know. But I certainly noticed it more often.
Next, the brake cable comes out of the frame at an odd place, so it extends out (to the left) rather than up. The inside of my (admittedly massive) quads bumped this cable dozens of times during the ride. Would I eventually adapt? Probably. But should I have to?
So, do I like it? Sure. Does it ride well? Sure (again), but some will like it more than others…which is true for every bike in the world. Was the ride life-changing? No.
Is it wild-looking and eye-catching? Yes. In fact, for the first time ever, a couple of guys on recumbents going the other way actually swiveled their heads as I went by.
Although if I were the Razik marketing guy, I might be hesitant to go with the tagline, “Even wackier-looking than recumbents.”
To think of the Razik Vortex simply as a bike—something to ride—is a mistake. It is so much more, as I took the time to discover while on my test ride.
First and foremost, what other frame allows you to do this?
The ability to grate some cheese for a mid-ride picnic cannot be overestimated. Nor the ability to strain pasta with your bike.
And what if you and (up to three) of your riding companions (ages 4 and above) gets bored of riding and wants to mix things up a bit? Well, with the Razik Vortex, a handful of gravel, and some coffee stirrers (or, in a pinch, twigs from a tree), you’re all set for an afternoon of KerPlunk-style fun:
And don’t even get me started on what a cool tanning pattern you might be able to give yourself if you were to lay out in the sun with this bike on top of you.
Other Things That I Should Probably Mention
What haven’t I talked about yet? Well, how about the fact that Razik bikes are fabricated and handbuilt in Utah. Check out this in-process, pre-baked tube:
I only wish they’d leave that metal tube in the completed bike. Now that would be Klingon-y.
And the whole handmade-in-Utah thing is at least partially where the price comes from: a frame costs $3999. That’s a lot. And once you build it up, you’re going to be looking at a $10,000 bike. [UPDATE: Heath at Razik tells me you can get a Shimano Ultegra build for under $5799; this isn’t yet on the website but he tells me it will be soon.] If you want to go top-end electronic (Shimano Di2 Dura Ace, Campy Super Record EPS), you’re looking at $15k or above.
Which is not unheard of. For an exotic builder, in fact, it’s not even outrageous.
But Razik has some Delta 7 baggage it’s automatically saddled with, and if I were them (which I’m not), I’d focus on getting those prices down and on making it clear that this is not Delta 7. I’d be clear that Delta 7 was focusing on the novelty of Isotruss, instead of focusing on being a good bike manufacturer that happens to be using Isotruss for a frame material.
And I’ll be interested to see what else Razik builds — Razik says they’re going to build a FS mountain bike, as well as a 29er hardtail.
Is the Razik Vortex the new dream bike, made with a new dream material? Well, ninety minutes of riding in a flat industrial park (fifteen of which was spent taking ridiculous photos) is probably not enough to answer that question.
I will tell you this: I’d be interested in riding one built my size, on a big climb. I have a feeling the Vortex might shine there.
And if not, well, at least I’ll have the wherewithal to make a nice cheese and pasta dish at the summit.