Look 986 Mountain Bike Review

Pro Reviews

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Introduction:

At the 2007 Sea Otter, we got a peek at Look’s first mountain bike in many years. It features a monocoque front end and chain stays/bottom bracket assembly. The seat stays are bonded to an integrated seatpost, very similar to the top of the line Look 595 road frame.

The seat and chain stays are flattened to give the rear end a compliant ride. Also, selectable elastomer inserts on the seat post allow the rider to dial in some shock absorbing qualities to the ride. These design elements are complemented by a huge down tube that keeps the front end stable and keeps the bottom bracket very stiff.

This bike is drop-dead gorgeous. It looks like it was sculpted first out of clay for a design project. The integrated seatpost delivers a clean, uninterrupted line that is complemented by Look badging. Plus the E-Post goes in the seat tube with no collars or binder bolts.

So we paid a visit to Look USA in San Jose and we were able to play with the Look 986 for about 6 weeks. We were excited to play with such a beautiful and light bike. We were apprehensive about the integrated seat tube and the liberal use of carbon fiber on a mountain bike.img_0720.jpg

Vital Statistics:

Bike Spec: Look 986, Sram XO build

Price: $5500

Weight: 20.9 lbs

Frame Price: $2499 (with E-post and headset)

Frame Weight: 2.65 lbs

 

The E-post

img_0724.jpgSo we took the bike home and saw that the integrated post had to be cut to this test rider’s 5’8” height. “It’s just like cutting a steer tube.” Marketing Manager Ming Tan said as he left me with a cutting guide kit meant for dealers. Once cut, we’re left with 30 mm of adjustability through spacers. Measure once, cut twice… or is that the other way around? I measured two of my other mountain bikes for seatpost height. I set the mark, taped over the cutting area to provide a cleaner cut and I bolted on the cutting guide. Deep breath, then hack away! First impression was, “Man, this carbon frame is hard!” It took quite a bit of sawing before I got through the frame. I bolted the E-post on and the cut was perfect! From my preferred seat height, I had 10 mm to adjust down and 20 mm to adjust up.

Look took a big risk using the integrated seatpost design to their first mountain bike in years. Many consumers will be fearful of this design in terms of versatility and durability. You can’t drop the saddle, you can’t use other seatpost brands. And in the event of a crash, it might break. I was skeptical too but the good news is, I just cut it and I’ve been riding it non-stop for the last month. It’s no biggie.

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The E-post seatpost weighs 220 grams and is held in the seat tube by elastomers that expand out as a bolt compresses them. An array of spacers is included to dial in the seat height. The interesting feature of the E-post is an Elastomer spacer is configurable to soft, medium and hard. This allows the rider to dial in the preferred seat interface from comfy to full hard, perhaps for race conditions.

The Bike Spec:

img_0808.jpgThis is a race bike and it weighs less than 21 lbs with pedals. The XO spec is excellent with ultralight yet functional parts. The XO shifters and derailleurs are best of class. The Avid Juicy Ultimates are mounted on integrated clamps with the shifters. Another highlight is the FSA K-Force Light carbon crank with ceramic bearings. Drivetrain performance was flawless. The wheels are Mavic Crossmax SLs and the front shock is a Reba SL with poploc. The tires are ultralight Continental Speed Kings that weigh in at only 450 grams each. The tires say 2.1 but they’re really more like a 1.9 tire. The Fizik Gobi saddle is a bit heavy for this bike at 290 grams but it was very comfortable.

The handlebars were narrow and low with 23 inch FSA carbons. But this is a race bike and the riding position is optimized for climbing.

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The ride:

It is a jet. End of story. Look set out to build a fast cross-country mountain bike and they have succeeded.

img_0791.jpgThe geometry is classic cross-country racer as you’d expect with head and seat angles of 71.2 degrees and 72.2 degrees respectively and 42.5cm chainstays. The cockpit is long and the handlebars are low allowing a great pedaling and climbing position

Aside from the ultralight weight, the bottom bracket is very stiff so the bike accelerates and climbs very, very well. In fact, I had plans of removing the front derailleur to lighten the bike since I didn’t need the front shifter to get in the front small ring. But unexpectedly, I found out I could tackle a lot of climbs in the big ring! So the front shifter stayed. To further pursue the ‘climbing machine’ goals, mtbr made a few tweaks and turned the bike into an 18.5 lb. featherweight. The results were awesome as a couple of my long-standing hillclimb records fell to the Look 986.

img_0801.jpgOn very steep climbs, we noticed the front end has a tendency to lift up. This might be due to slacker 72.2 seat angle that puts the rider back a bit. We pushed the seat forward a bit and leaned forward a little bit more on the steeper climbs and it was not much of an issue. Climbing traction was excellent as the tiny Conti tire never seemed to lose grip.

What about handling? Lateral stability is excellent and complements the XC geometry of the bike. So tight singletrack is a dream. The bike is so easy to steer and flip through fast and tight corners.When leaning the bike, it always held its position so carving through the forest was a delight.

img_0794.jpgIt’s also one of the most comfortable hardtails I’ve tried! The front and rear feel compliant and vibrations are dampened by the carbon fiber. Big hits are still well, big so this is not the ideal Downieville rig. For descending, we had a hard time with the low handlebar position and high saddle on very steep descents. So we put a Monkeylite riser bar on it and that helped quite a bit.

During testing, the bike performed very well. The only issue was the rear Continental tire was slashed by a sharp rock on our local descent. Further investigation showed that the tire has a very thin casing.

img_0806.jpgThe E-post elastomer system was somewhat interesting. We didn’t find that it offered much comfort to the rider. We did notice that it changed the saddle feel of the rider to the frame. It’s like having a hard handlebar grip vs. a soft one. It allows the rider to dial in the feel of the bike. But we’re not yet convinced it adds a lot of value.

This is a race bike with race spec so for fun rides, we would put a carbon riser bar, bigger tires, longer grips and maybe convert the fork to 100mm. But as it is, it’s a machine that is very well-suited for XC racing.

In fact, we believe that this bike and the new breed of carbon XC bikes will offer a significant advantage to the top level riders who are able to ride these. 2.6 lb frame, ultra responsive, laterally stiff and a fairly compliant ride are the things worth remembering about the Look 986.

img_0783.jpgStrengths

-light weight

-climbing and acceleration

-laterally stiff

-compliant ride and absorbs vibrations

-excellent component spec

-drop-dead gorgeous

 

 

Weaknesses

-xc position and spec is not steep descent friendly

-E-post – cannot drop the saddle, not travel bike-case friendly, cannot use ultralight seatposts, not compatible with carbon rail saddles

-Front end felt light on steep climbs.

 

 

Bottom Line

This bike is for the XC racer. Whether you’re a top level pro, an endurance rider, an enthusiast who keeps track of your hillclimb records, a competitive rider who wants to school your buddies, this is a good bike. It is purposefully built for going fast and it does it very well. The only knock on it is the E-Post limits versatility of the bike somewhat where you can’t lower the saddle in very steep terrain. We’re giving it a 4.75 rating out of 5. It’s the perfect xc race bike.

Rating:

4.75 out of 5 stars

 

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