Our test rig has proven a capable companion, even during some rough, dirt road riding in the hills outside Boulder.
Strip away the name (and all the lingering baggage that comes with it) and the Podium 7 is one of the most enjoyable bikes I've climbed aboard this year. It's a full carbon steed with oversized, thin-wall tubing that makes it stiff without being harsh, and compliant without feeling noodly. Indeed, it's a solid all-around rig that could be raced for a furious hour at a Wednesday night criterium, and then ridden all day on a weekend epic into the mountains.
But then there is that name: Diamondback…
By their own admission, this is a bike company that severely lost its way for a while. After years of formidable success, primarily in the BMX and mountain bike realm, ownership (and company strategy) changed for the worse. "There is no doubt that for a while we were mismanaged internally," conceded current marketing director Jon Kennedy. "The brand was sold, licensing of name was released, and things were really ambiguous for a while."
Put another way, the Diamondback name became synonymous with crappy bikes sold at big box stores. Profit, not quality product, became the company's primary motivator. And it is that major misstep, and the accompanying perception that lingers even today, which makes it hard to wrap the brain around the idea of a high zoot, $8,500 carbon fiber road bike dressed with Campagnolo Super Record that has the name Diamondback striped across the top tube.
But this needle-scratching-record realization is just what Diamondback was gunning for when it launched the Podium 7 last year.
"Look at the history of other brands," insisted Kennedy, when I asked him to help me understand - and believe in - the "new" Diamondback. "Take Specialized for instance. In 1990s they weren't a road bike brand. But they've changed that perception. It's the same with lots of other brands. Once upon a time they were new to the road market, but now they are go-to brands."
And how did they all pull off this transformative act? "They all started with great products," said Kennedy. "And the Podium 7 is our great product. It's our stake in the ground that says we have invested heavily in research, in development, in time and energy and money. History has to start somewhere and this is our historical moment. There's nothing that says Diamondback cannot make great bikes."
It's a point I can't argue with. Just like American automakers can bootstrap their way back to respectability, so too can a once-flailing bike maker become relevant again. And this bike, with its head-turning candy apple red paint job and pleasing road feel, is relevant whether you like it or not.
Our test rig offers a sneak peek of next year's line-up, which includes a HED wheelset.
Highlights of the 2013 Podium 7 model starts with price. At $8,500 for Campy Super Record or $7,200 for SRAM Red, the 2013 Podium 7 is a relative bargain, especially when you factor in the Easton EC90 SL carbon clincher wheel spec. But price alone is not a market share winner. Remember, that's what's got Diamondback into trouble in the first place.
To give its halo steed legitimacy, Diamondback enlisted the respected design skills of Kevin Quan, a bike industry vet who's done previous turns with Cervélo and NeilPryde. Quan's mandate was to create a bike that was both race worthy and all-day rideable. The end result was a frame that utilizes what Diamondback calls an Advanced Monocoque Molding Process (or AMMP), which is said to reduce the amount of lay-up material needed, thus reducing weight.
Claimed frame weight for an unpainted 56cm is a wispy 850 grams, 100 grams less than the frames of the Podium 5 and Podium 6 model lines. As for our size 58cm test bike, it tips the scales at just a shade under 15 pounds, sans pedals. And that number is skewed by almost 100 grams because our tester is outfitted with a slightly heavier HED Jet 4 FR wheel set that will be part of the line's 2014 spec. (More on this later.)
The frame itself is full of the modern amenities we've come to expect from high-end road bikes. Power transfer is enhanced by a girthy press-fit BB30 bottom bracket, the headtube is tapered from 1 1/8 to 1 1/2 inches and has molded-in bearing seats for the integrated headset, and the 360-gram fork is constructed with continuous top-to-bottom carbon fiber strands that eliminates the need for an aluminum race, while decreasing weight and adding strength.
Add in sleek internal cable routing, a comfort-enhancing 27.2mm seatpost, replaceable front derailleur hanger, and the fact that the squared chainstays are asymmetric with wider tubing on the non-drive side to take advantage of the wide BB shell, and you get a bike that simply feels fast.
Dig into a pedal stroke and forward propulsion is immediate and efficient. And while the 53x39 11x25 gearing on our test bike is not particularly friendly on the ubiquitous steep hills that abound in our Boulder, Colorado testing grounds, this bike is an absolute laser going up shorter, medium grade pitches. It's also exceptionally stable at speed and tracks through tight, fast corners like it's on rails. Perhaps that's why rumor has it that a prominent U.S.-based pro team will be racing on the Podium 7 in 2014.
Speaking of 2014, since it's so close to the time of year when next year's products start rolling out, Diamondback provided RoadBikeReview with a sneak peek of what the future holds for the Podium line. For starters there's going to be a subtle name change. Instead of numbers indicating frame material (Podium 1-4, alloy; Podium 5-7, composite) the top-end composite model will next year be known as the Podium Equipe, and come spec'd with new 11-speed SRAM Red (MSRP: $8,000) or Campagnolo Super Record ($10,500).
Wheel spec, as mentioned above, will change from Easton to HED. This move, according to Kennedy, is being done in part due to some braking issues with the Easton EC90 SL carbon clinchers (1,550 grams). The 46mm HED Jet 4 FR's meld a carbon aero section with a scandium outer ring and brake track (1,643 grams). And while we didn't get a chance to ride the Easton wheels, we can confidently vouch for the stiffness, quick wind up, and confident braking performance of the HEDs.
It's a similar thumbs up for the 11-speed Campy Super Record group, which slides up and down the gears smoothly, and has comfortable, ergonomic hoods and levers that accommodate a variety of hand positions.
The tight curve of the brake cable exit makes for some mushy brake feel.
One big knock, though, is braking feel, which has been mushy at best. We're attributing most of this to the circuitous path traveled by the rear brake cable. After cleanly entering the frame at the front of the top tube, it exits at the bottom, causing a sweeping bend in the housing as it finishes its journey to the rear brake caliper. Moving this exit point forward and up would likely go a long way to smoothing out cable friction and improving braking feel.
We'd also love to see a slightly shorter head tube option for the hardcore racer crowd. Our 58cm measures 180mm, which is more in line with today's endurance-oriented geometry. But these are relatively small complaints in light of what has been a thoroughly enjoyable month of test riding.
Reparation of the Diamondback name may still have some miles to travel, but the Podium 7 is already very close to triumphantly crossing the finish line.
- Reasonably light frame weight
- Internal cable routing
- Competitive pricing
- Continuous strand fork construction
- All around ability
- Frame stiffness
- Vertical compliance
- 27.2mm seatpost
- Top-shelf drivetrain spec
- Candy apple paint (if you like it, which we do)
- Circuitous rear brake routing
- Headtube height will turn off racer crowd
- Candy apple red paint (if you don't like it)
- Legacy of brand
More Images: See extensive gallery below.
More Info: Diamondback.com.