When a brand launches a new bike they’ll often unveil it at an exotic location, wining and dining the cycling media with the aim of providing them with an unforgettable experience that will hopefully trickle down into the resulting review.
In my 20 years as a cycling journalist I’ve been on some highly memorable ones, the launch of the Look 785 RS on top of Alpe d’Huez probably being my favourite. So when Reap invited me to an industrial estate outside Stoke-on-Trent… well, I’ll admit I didn’t find the idea all that enticing. But although there were no sweeping Alpine vistas, the detailed insights into this innovative British brand, which makes its carbon frames here in the UK, were far more useful. Plus I didn’t come home with the hangover.
I did head off back down the M6 with a brand new disc-brake version of the Vekta, Reap’s aero road bike, a carbon monocoque frame 100% designed and manufactured in the UK, which I tested for a month during the summer.
Design and development
Reap launched the original rim-brake Vekta two years ago. Before that was the Generation 1.0, a radical-looking beam bike designed for non-UCI time trialling and triathlon.
“We learnt an awful lot developing the TT bike which, as a beam bike, has its seat tube and seatstays missing,” says Reap’s founder and head engineer Martin Meir.
For the Vekta’s more conventional UCI-legal diamond-shaped frame, Meir joined the dots in CAD, keeping the same truncated aerofoil tube shapes as the beam bike. Reap tested the first rideable prototype at Derby velodrome with Dan Bigham and later in the wind tunnel with pro triathlete Tom Bishop piloting a road setup. They recorded a CdA of 0.19, a coefficient of drag number usually only achieved by time triallists. “We knew we were onto something aero-wise.”
Carbon manufacturing is Meir’s bread and butter. As a composites engineer with 30 years’ experience, his company has produced automotive interiors for Bentley and built carbon-fibre hulls for the Gibbs Humdinga, an amphibious rescue vehicle. The day after our meeting he was working on tooling for a carbon-fibre hearse body and later in the week an electric sea taxi producer was coming from Belfast to look at the factory. He’ll be making the carbon frames for the Muoverti TiltBike once production starts. Meir set up the Reap brand in 2014, with the Generation 1.0 launched two years later.
“We understand what carbons to use,” he says. “For the Vekta we’ve used high-modulus carbon balanced with some higher strengths to give us the feel that we want. Then we can optimise the placements. That’s how you make a bike perform how you want.”
Reap uses Toray M40J, a high-modulus unidirectional carbon, which Meir says is “higher modulus than Toray T1100 [the top carbon of competitor high-end bikes]. He continues: “T1100 is more strength orientated - stronger but not as stiff. If you use more M40J, you get the same strength properties but with better stiffness.”
Although the Vekta’s carbon might trump T1100, Meir refuses to be drawn into a war of the weights: “We don’t take carbon out just to satisfy a spreadsheet. So we’re slightly higher on frame weight but that’s a conscious decision. I want to put the carbon where I want it to give you the performance, and that extra couple of hundred grams is only a small percentage of the whole bike. Just for the sake of saying ‘we’re aero AND light’ it would be disingenuous of me to take out carbon.”
In any case, the Vekta built up with Ultegra Di2 with Princeton Wake 6560 wheels weighs 7.5kg, which is light by anyone’s standards.
Made in Britain
The Vekta is made as a true monocoque in Reap’s factory, as Meir explains: “Although frames are moulded in one in the Far East, they’re not laid up in one. When you make in sections, you wrap a BB section, then wrap the seat tube, everything is quite disconnected. You don’t have the continuous flow of fibres. With the Vekta you haven’t got disconnects between the head tube and the BB - you've got one piece of carbon straight down. We hope that’s one of the things that differentiates the ride quality of the Vekta.”
Additionally, Reap uses carbon rather than aluminium moulds for the frame. Meir says: “Because we want to make monocoques we chose carbon tools, which have better heat distribution and thermal cycles. Also they’re quite lightweight and easier to handle than a big aluminium tool.
“The barrier to entry in tool technology is you have to spend an awful lot of money gearing up to do it like the Chinese do it, but we can make what we want with carbon tools. A carbon tool will make us 300 bikes and since we make our own carbon tools, if we get to that point we can just make a new tool. It’s more agile. We have some aluminium tools for some of the smaller parts, because it’s just as quick to make an aluminium tool as a carbon one when it's a smaller part.”
The fundamental frame of the disc brake Vekta hasn’t changed compared with the original rim brake version - and Reap can still make a rim brake version for customers who want it - but the wing-shaped carbon bar and aluminium stem, which resemble a stealth fighter, are completely new.
“We hate integrated cockpits,” says straight-talking Meir. “It’s a pain to change the width of your bars or the length of your stem, because you’ve got to buy a whole new front end. That’s not right. The big boys just send a bike out in a box with one size bar… and how many people actually know their bike fit data in advance?
“So we designed our own bar and our own stem. We make them all in house. The cables all feed through, completely concealed.”
To remove the stem without disconnecting the brake hoses is easy: there’s a simple plate on the underside that can be removed and the stem lifts off. It’s a neat solution, the stem flat and parallel with the top tube, the bar narrow and wing-shaped with a slight flare (available from 36-42cm).
You can choose from stock builds or, as every Vekta is built to order, spec your own. The Ultegra Di2 with Princeton Wake 6560 wheels at £10,000 is the second most expensive of the stock builds. The top model with Dura-Ace Di2 and Princeton wheels is £11,500, while the ‘entry level’ comes with 105 Di2 and Parcours wheels and costs £6,950.
Given the Vekta is the road incarnation of Reap’s beam TT/tri bike and is designed to go as fast as possible, the geometry feels surprisingly neutral, with no super steep seat tube or twitchy steering. The size 56 I tested has almost ‘classic’ angles - 73.5° seat and 73.1° head. Meir says Reap based it on Cannondale’s geometry, which is frequently hailed as perfectly balanced.
I was fortunate that the Vekta almost exactly lined up with my bike fit measurements and visually looked exactly right too: long stem and narrow 36cm bar, exactly the right amount of bar-saddle drop, not too much exposed seatpost… it could have been custom made for me.
All I had to do was get on it and pedal, and I found right from the start that a relatively modest amount of power produced a huge amount of speed, suggesting that this is a very efficient bike indeed.
My first ride was around my usual test loop, but I threw in two circuits of our local sporting time trial course to bump it up from 25 to 40 miles (64.3km) just because I was enjoying going so fast. I averaged 21.7mph (34.9kph), and I’m pretty sure that’s a higher average for that particular ride that I’ve ever done on a road bike. According to Strava it’s six minutes faster than my next-best matched ride, which was on a Lapierre Aircode. It mostly consists of lanes, has nearly 2,000ft (609m) of climbing and is not a dragstrip by any stretch.
There’s no doubting the Vekta’s stiffness - but unlike many of the latest aero bikes from the big brands, it doesn’t have any kind of comfort ‘system’. The Canyon Aeroad has a seatpost with a thinner section that flexes inside the seat tube; the Trek Madone has its IsoFlow hole… these are aimed at introducing some compliance into frames with deep tubes that are vertically very rigid. How does the Vekta avoid a harsh ride?
“We manage a balance between comfort and stiffness via the dropped position and shape of the seatstays and by changing the layup slightly so that you get a little bit of movement,” says Meir. He explains that the stays are designed to flex slightly laterally, since vertically is obviously not possible.
This, along with the disc brakes accommodating higher-volume tyres - I was using 28mm GP5000s - supplies enough vibration damping and isolation from rough roads, though it’s fair to say overall the Vekta has a firm rather than a plush ride. But then again, it’s a Ferrari not a family saloon.
On my second ride, I took the Vekta on a route that incorporates a narrow, twisty, potholed climb called Weare Street, which has been a target for local KoM hunters since Strava began. This time I went down it rather than up and got a PR for the two-mile descent, a perfect test of its stability and handling on poor surfaces.
At the end of my time with the Vekta, my only disappointment was that the club 10 where I was planning to race it was cancelled due to bad weather. I’m absolutely certain I would have got a road bike PB.
Compared with the other aero road bikes I’ve ridden this year - the Canyon Aeroad, the Giant Propel and the Cervelo S5 - the Vekta for me is the most uncompromisingly fast. It is a bike built for speed on flat and rolling roads, in Reap’s words, and it 100% delivers.
Pricing is also competitive considering this is a bike completely designed and manufactured in the UK and made to order.
Overall, I am a huge fan of the Vekta and also a huge fan of what Reap is doing. Stoke-on-Trent, not Shenzhen, is where the magic is happening - and this is only the start of it, according to Meir.
Just before I left the factory, I asked him where he sees Reap going, what he predicts for its future.
“I was hoping you’d ask me that. I want to win the Tour de France,” he says. “1980 was the last time a UK brand won the Tour. Every F1 team is based here, the technology is here, so why not? You need the products, the infrastructure, the people, the supporting mechanisms, the knowledge. We’ll need the financial stability and size. We’ve set ourselves a production schedule for producing 100 bikes for this year. We used to make 1,000 parts a week here for Bentley so there’s no issue doing volume.”
He continues: “For the moment we need to sell 100 bikes over the next however many months… the problem we have is we’re trying to compete against the Canyons and the Treks, who have massive marketing budgets. So we’ve got to be slightly more stealthy, get 100 people on bikes who will hopefully be advocates.”
Reap already has Jason Kenny, Britain’s most successful Olympian of all time, on board as an investor, ambassador and member of the development team.
I, for one, wouldn’t bet against seeing a yellow Reap on the Champs-Élysées before the end of the decade.
For more details check out Reap’s website.