Argonaut may not be a bike brand you’ve heard of. It slots away in a neat, niche corner of the industry: custom, produced in-house and unapologetically high-end. Unlike other brands on the market, Argonaut only offers one model on their website: the refined, intricately designed, do-it-all RM3. Ben Farver, who founded Argonaut back in 2007 in Portland, Oregon, explains that the brand’s fundamental aim is to create “a great riding bike.” Argonaut makes no compromises on its way to achieving this goal.
As many brands focus on creating bikes that have aerodynamic properties or specific lightweight attributes, Farver sees ride quality far above aero gains, and currently has no desire to expand the Argonaut range. In fact, as he tells me from the Argonaut HQ in Bend, the intention of the RM3 is solely to achieve “next level ride feel."
"It’s a well rounded road feel so you can tell what kind of surface of road that you're riding on, but not in a negative way. The bike soaks up road vibrations super well and rides super smooth, but then also gives positive feedback.”
How the bike fits with the rider is also of utmost importance to the brand, and not just from a surface level perspective. Argonaut goes further than simply attributing a frame size to a rider by engineering the carbon inside the frame so that bending stiffnesses are individual to every consumer.
While Argonaut used to only offer fully custom frames to consumers to achieve these lofty heights of superiority compared to a mass-produced monocoque bike, the brand has recently forged a new path entirely by introducing 12 different pre-made geometries.
This doesn’t see them say goodbye to the custom element that sets Argonaut apart from the rest: every RM3 is still made to order and each of the frames’ carbon layup is still individual to the rider based on factors such as weight, FTP and the general landscape where the bike will be most commonly used. Rather than having one set of adjustable moulds for each size, Argonaut retains geometry specific tooling meaning that each size has its own set of frame tooling.
If a rider doesn’t fit with the pre-existing geometries and wishes to go full custom then the brand’s unique, 3D printing frame moulding allows Argonaut to have, so they say, no limitations on geometry – they can make bikes of any size, for any rider.
It’s all made easier by keeping things entirely in-house. The RM3 frame and forks are designed, manufactured and tested at Argonaut’s facility in Oregon. This gives the brand a level of control that few other brands can claim, as well as peace of mind to the consumer that the entire production of their bike has been done in the same building. “In 2018, we had the opportunity to basically take over the production of our bikes and develop our own manufacturing capabilities. We moved into a bigger shop, acquired all the equipment to make proper composite frame moulds, and then started working on the RM3,” says Farver.
For the last few months, I’ve been riding Argonaut’s RM3 on the unforgiving British roads, ascertaining if it is really worth the hefty price tag.
RM3 frame and forks
The first thing that struck me when I lifted up the Argonaut RM3 for the first time was how light the bike was. Since Argonaut themselves don’t market the bike as made for any particular terrain, I hadn’t expected the bike to have such a lightweight feel.
The bike’s light weight is, of course, ever present when riding the RM3, especially with the advantage it gives up steep climbs or long mountains. It gives the bike a feeling of fragility and elegance, but at the same time, the RM3 feels incredibly stiff and sturdy on descents. It responds well to every acceleration thrown at it, actually feeling like it gets more stable as the speed increases. I felt like the bike gave me more confidence on descents, I trusted it to glide over rough terrain, to be quick and agile if I needed to skirt around any potholes and support me if I hit a corner fast. At lower speeds it handles well too: I felt like I could communicate with the bike, like the RM3 and I got on well. It listened and did what I hoped it would do, smoothing out vibrations on rougher terrain and helping me to nail the line I wanted on technical corners. I rode the bike on fast local chaingangs and secured a few town sign sprint wins on my RM3 and was impressed with how quickly it responded to accelerations, I think the short 408mm chainstay length helped with this.
When I speak to Farver on the phone after riding the bike for a couple of months, this all starts to make sense. This ride feeling hasn’t occurred through chance: Argonaut has thought of everything, and it’s paid off. Farver tells me that the torsional, vertical and horizontal bending stiffnesses have been tuned specifically in every part of the frame, and though I was riding a pre-made 51.5cm frame, consumers purchasing an RM3 will have the added benefit of the specifically tuned vertical compliance and a custom carbon lay-up based on weight and power output.
The fit of the RM3 is also an influence on how good the bike feels to ride. Though I received one of the pre-made geometries rather than a custom size and I didn’t get the service that a regular customer would by having the frame tuned to my power output and weight, I still felt incredibly comfortable on the RM3. Argonaut made me a custom stem to completely dial in my fit, and as soon as I jumped on the RM3, I was at home. I’m not someone who can usually hop between bikes, but I almost felt like I’d been on the RM3 before. Put most simply, the bike did what a bike is supposed to do: it worked for me, getting me to where I was going comfortably and quickly. I had no back or shoulder pain, or niggles in the knee that can occur from riding a bike for the first time.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the Argonaut looks clean, sleek and expensive without resorting to loud logos or designs. The fully internal cabling, minimalist branding and neat cockpit all contribute to this, while the Zipp NSW 454 wheels that adorn the bike gives it a racey look.
SRAM Red eTap AXS groupset
The bike I tested came with a 12-speed SRAM Red eTap AXS groupset. I’m used to riding Shimano, so it took a while to get used to the feel of the SRAM shifters, and I still would stick to the fact that I prefer the ergonomics of Shimano shifters – I find them more comfortable as a rider with smaller hands. From a performance standpoint, however, I can’t fault the groupset during the time I’ve used it. The shifting was quick, reliable, smooth and quiet, helped by the cassette’s tooth patterning and increased clearance. Even when changing under load and when shifting over broken surfaces, the rear mech’s damper increased the chain tension which prevented any chatter or bounce. I used a 10-33T cassette with 48/35T chainrings and I found these gave me enough gearing options for the terrain I was tackling.
Argonaut’s RM3 is only available as a disc brake bike with the brand arguing that disc brakes offer better stopping power and put no limitation on tyre size. I found the SRAM AXS rotors to have impressive stopping power, aiding the confidence that I felt on the descents when riding the RM3. They were noisy in the wet, but this is a common issue among many disc brakes. I found that the thru-axles added stability in the corners and reduced flex. At the rear of the RM3, Argonaut has collaborated with The Robert Axle to make custom 12x142mm rear axles which also aided my control in corners and when accelerating.
The Argonaut RM3 that I tested also featured CeramicSpeed’s OSPW (OverSized Pulley Wheel) which helped improve drivetrain efficiency and saved me watts, as well as giving a real smoothness to the bike. Although, I’d say this is a marginal gain and splashing an additional £300 on an OSPW probably isn’t worth the extra cost.
Zipp 454 NSW Wheels
The RM3 that Argonaut sent me was equipped with Zipp 454 NSW wheels, although the build listed on the brand’s website says that the bike would come with Princeton Grit 4540 Carbon-Ti wheels. Farver explained that the builds listed on the website are recommendations only and that most RM3’s sold to consumers come with different wheelsets depending on where the bike will be ridden. Argonaut opted to send me the Zipp 454’s because it’s predominantly flat in the UK where I was testing the bike.
I can’t deny that the Zipp 454 wheels were fun to ride; they roll smoothly and fast on the flat, holding speed extremely well, plus they’re aerodynamic thanks to the sawtooth rim. They handled well and were light and stiff, but I wasn’t blown away by their stability when riding in crosswinds at high speed. Although they climb reasonably well for a wheelset focussed on aerodynamics, I wouldn’t recommend these to the everyday rider who doesn’t want to change wheels before each ride depending on weather conditions. There are wheels you can get at a fraction of the price that perform well on a wider range of terrain – I’d reserve the 454s for crit races or fast chaingangs, as opposed to a hilly group ride.
The Zipp 454 NSW wheels were dressed with 28mm tubeless Schwalbe Pro One tyres which I found were grippy and fast rolling. They had a nice, floated ride quality which gave me confidence on rough terrain while easy compliance also gives them excellent grip as you tip them into corners even when things are wet and slippery. The Schwalbe Pro Ones are tyres to go for if you’re looking for high speed and performance, they feel responsive, light and lively on the roads.
The Argonaut RM3 has clearance for tyres up to 35mm – an impressive achievement that Farver worked hard to make possible without compromising that sweet spot geometry he’s found with the frame. Farver explains that the seat tube on the RM3 is not fully in-line with the centre of the bottom bracket, instead it’s slightly canted forward to give the rear tyre more room without shortening the chainstays. To maintain stiffness at the chainstays, Argonaut has made a yoke style assembly with an asymmetric, wider, non-drive side stay. The brand has gone to the detail you’d expect from such a premium offering.
Despite RM3’s ability to take wider tyres, Farver is careful to explain that the bike is not marketed as a “gravel” or “all-road” machine. “The RM3 is, first and foremost, made to go fast. It’s a race style road bike. As soon as we started talking about bigger tyres, and using it for gravel, all of a sudden it takes the focus of what the bike is intended to be away,” he tells me.
“It's a positive design feature to allow the user more variety with how they use the bike, but we don't we don't talk about it as a gravel bike."
Realistically, there is nothing about the performance of the Argonaut RM3 that should stop someone from buying it. It’s an exceptional bicycle, made from Farver’s impressive, deep understanding of what a bike should be and what it should do for the person riding it. It’s a far cry from stock, Asian-sourced frames that dominate the market, instead a well-crafted piece of machinery that I would go so far to describe as a form of art.
Every detail has been thought of by a team of mastermind frame builders that, most importantly, ride bikes themselves and know how important it is to trust in the machine you use to hurtle yourself down descents and navigate around tight corners. From tyre clearance, to the carbon layup, to carefully selected components which compliment the rider, to the personalised experience of getting a new bike in a world which has become all about quick, immediate purchases, Argonaut has thought of everything. This goes a long way to justify the price point of the RM3, which starts at 10,800 USD for the cheapest build on offer.
The price may make you gasp and shake your head, but it’s worth keeping in mind that high-end bikes such as Specialized’s S-Works Tarmac are more expensive than the RM3. It’s true that Argonaut RM3 is far from accessible for most people, but this isn’t a bike for most people and that’s the whole point – each one is unique, custom and out of the ordinary. The performance of the bike matches that of brands that dominate the industry and are ridden by the WorldTour professionals, but the craftsmanship and bespoke tailoring that goes into building the RM3 is what truly sets it apart from the rest.