All Hail the Helios C6!

CHARLES LEE | 16th Jan 2015 | PRODUCT REVIEWS

All Hail the Helios C6!
Truth be told: Polygon bikes have a history of not resonating well with the majority of cyclists in the local community. Some lamented that Polygon is not an “European” brand. Some equated Polygon’s relatively inexpensive ranges of bikes to the worldly-wise concept of “cheap-means-no-good-and-therefore-don’t-buy”. Some don’t like Polygon bikes simply because… well.. all their peers don’t like the brand!

Having heard so many negativities surrounding this Indonesian-based bike manufacturer, I must admit that I was a little skeptical when I was given the opportunity to review the 2015 Polygon Helios C6. But nonetheless, I brushed away my prejudices and told myself to grade it like an “O” Level examination marker who has never taught the student of whom the script belongs to.

FIRST IMPRESSION

Marketed as an Endurance-Class road bike for the rider-of-all-trades, the Helios C6 sits comfortably in the middle of 8 different models in the same series. Below the Helios C6, there is a C2 (which is positioned as the entry-level bike), C3 and C4. Above the C6 are the C6 Disc, C8, C8X and C8X Disc (which is the highest-end model in this line-up).

Taking a glimpse of the bike when it first arrived at the Togoparts office, the C6 surprised me with its neat looks.  It uses the same UCI-approved ACX Advance Endurance carbon frame as its elder brother, the C8.  With the exception of the C3, Polygon has applied glossy black as the colour scheme to its entire 2015 Endurance series.  The font of the brand “Polygon” underwent a conspicuous make-over with a more sans-serif outlook.  Aesthetically, the 2015 paintwork on the C6 projects a no-nonsense attitude.

Lifting it up for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I did not have to use significant muscle power to hold the C6 up.  Despite being outfitted with entry-level components, the C6 managed to tip the scales at a respectable 7.90 kg.  Credit for this light-weight accolade has to be given to Polygon’s proprietary ultra-high modulus T-series carbon frame.

Standing over the top tube, one will not fail to notice the clean lines of the C6.  The welding for every joint is smooth.  The tapered steerer aero-blade fork employs the same material as the frame and it is light enough to help share the frame’s responsibility to keep the C6 within the sub-8kg category.  On its front, the bar tapes were neatly woven to the handlebar.  As the bar tapes did not produce any noticeable bulge along the curves of the handlebar, I do not foresee any major discomfort over long rides when I place my palms in race position.  The cable routings were strapped tightly within the front of the bar tapes.  I have seen loosely-hanging cable routings which sprouted out from the bar tapes in other road bikes and felt that the C6 looked very professional in this aspect.  Of course, the tight binding could be attributed to the relatively new bar tapes; once the bar tapes lose their elasticity, the cable routings will start to hang loosely.  This can be easily fixed by a mechanic.  I was glad to see that the cables were routed internally from the top tube and the down tube to the chain stay, which is the standard in modern road bikes.

The handlebar, stem, saddle and seatpost are from Entity, and they looked decent enough to perform their jobs well.  None of these are made of carbon though.  Apart from the steel rails used for the saddle, the handlebar, stem and seatpost use alloy.  With a semi-aerodynamic seatpost and the noticeably-flattened seatstays, my visual judgment is that the C6 will offer a more comfortable ride over other bikes in its category.

A subtle observation is that there is no quick-release skewer at the seatpost clamp.  It will be a plus point to many roadies if the seatpost clamp employs a quick-release skewer (so that the rider can adjust the seat height during a ride).

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE COMPONENTS

The C6 is positioned as an entry-level Endurance bike.  Hence, it is no surprise to see that it is similarly decked with entry-level components.  The C6’s rolling department is made up of the Shimano RS21 Clincher wheelset.  The C6’s 22-speed groupset, which comprises the brakeset and the drivetrain, hails entirely from the Shimano 105 5800 product range.

Wheelset:  The Shimano RS21 Clincher  wheelset is an all-time-favourite product which is targeted at the mass market who wants to get the best value out of their rides.  While modestly priced, the RS21 is specifically built to serve a dual-purpose in the training and competition arenas.  Made of aluminium, the 1.90kg (approx) 24mm rims incorporated a wear indicator, which allow the rider to know when to get a replacement.  But a lot of riders never get to do so because the RS21 is known to be very durable and it seemed to last forever!  Its feathery weight is also attributed by the stainless steel spokes.  One may wish to note that the RS21 is compatible with 8 / 9 / 10 / 11-speed casettes from Shimano and 8 / 9 / 10-speed casettes from SRAM.  This flexibility offers a good level of playing field for riders to experiment the different types of set-up.  The wheelset is accompanied by the Schwalbe Ultremo road slicks, which are puncture-resistant and prevent the bike from slipping / sliding.  With the heavenly combination of affordable price, product compatibility and high quality, it appears that that Polygon’s decision to outfit the C6 with the RS21 is a wise one.  In the looks department, the colour-matching RS21 (only black is offered) provides overall colour consistency in the C6’s racing livery.

Groupset:  To keep the bike affordable, Polygon chose the Shimano 105 5800 groupset for the C6. While it is deemed as an entry-level groupset, Shimano attests that the technology used in the Shimano 105 groupset is derived from its upper-spec’ced Dura-ace and Ultegra counterparts.  Hence, one can be assured of the quality of the product that drives and stop the C6.

(i)  Brakeset

Shimano has coined “Dual Pivot” as the term of the brake calliper design.  Using a symmetrical twin pivot design, Shimano claimed that control and power improved by 10% when compared to the older 5700 brakeset.  Riders who prefer thicker slicks will find the 5800 brakeset a joy to have: The callipers are designed to house a higher arch to accommodate tires as thick as 28mm.  This flexibility helps positioned the C6 as an all-rounder bike.

(ii)  Drivetrain

The Shimano 105 FC 5800 chainset employs the latest 4-arm Hollow Tech II design, which is said to be stiffer and lighter than the previous 5-arm design.  Potential buyers of the C6 will also be happy to note that the 105 chainset uses the same design as those in the Dura-ace and Ultegra product series.  Shimano offers 3 different gearing options, and Polygon has elected for the 50-34T gear option to be fitted on the C6.  This is a good choice as this compact gearing ratio accommodates a wider spectrum of different terrains, which brings back the C6’s philosophy as a made-for-all bike.

The front and rear derailleurs have also been improved.  The front derailleur has a longer link arm.  The rear derailleur uses a new spring mechanism and cable pitch, which are said to increase the derailleur’s robustness.  The 11-speed cassette comes in 3 gearing ratios, and Polygon chose the 11-28T gear option for the C6.

Likewise, the technology behind the 105’s shift levers lifted a page from the design books of Dura-ace and Ultegra.  The new shift levers are not only lighter, they can be adjusted to suit different hand sizes by using a 10mm screw.  This feature gives riders with longer or shorter fingers a good reason to contemplate buying the C6.

Cockpit:  The C6 is equipped with Entity Expert handlebar, stem, saddle and seatpost.  Whilst some may loft the idea of using parts of brands that are actually owned by the manufacturer (Entity is owned by Polygon), the qualities in terms of strength, weight and finishes appears to be good.


THE RIDE ON THE C6

Despite being an entry-level bike, the quality of the riding the C6 matched, if not surpassed, some of the higher-end models in the market.

Acceleration:  Beginning the ride on the C6 was a pleasant affair.  Probably due to its slanted top tube, the C6 felt balanced with a lowered centre of gravity.  There is no top-heavy feel.  Accelerating the C6 felt light and sturdy with no frame flex.  The C6’s integrated sealed bearings helped kept the steering smooth and steady.  Quick gear shifting in the rear derailleur department remained crisp and precise with every consecutive push of the lever.  Minimal lever pressure was needed to shift the rear gears.    In another scenario, I had purposely pedalled the bike off from the 5th, 6th and 7th gear, hoping to see some strain on the 105’s drivetrain system.  To my dismay, the system worked well without any complaint.  However, shifting the front derailleur was a little compromising.  First, I had to use considerable force on the lever to shift the chain from the inner chainring to the outer chainring.  Shifting back to the inner chainring posed no issue though.  Second, the front derailleur emitted a rattling sound when the chain stayed on the outer chainring.  I would suppose that the sound was due to the brushing of the chain against the front derailleur’s link arm.  Visiting the mechanic to adjust the front derailleur rightwards should do the trick.

Cruising:  Cruising the C6 felt good.  The carbon frame and fork absorbed most of the shocks and bumps, allowing my ride to stay comfortable and vibration-free.  Throughout the 2-hour ride, I did not experience any saddle soreness.  I could think of 2 reasons for this.  First, the size of the C6 was proportionally right for me.  In fact, Polygon offers 6 different sizes for the C6 and there is bound to be one that suits you.  Second, the Entity Expert saddle is thoughtfully-designed to minimise discomfort on the bottom.  I had initially thought that the saddle would be too hard for most riders.  But it exceeded my expectations.  Thanks to the 2 water-bottle mountings, dehydration was never an issue.  During my test ride, I must say that the C6 was a pleasure to ride on and “Just enjoy the ride!” were the only words that came to my mind.  I could have ridden on and on…

Climbing:  In the past, frames constructed of aluminium reigned among others in terms of stiffness, and top riders elected to use aluminium bikes because the frames allow for optimal transfer of energy from the legs to wheels.  Thankfully, with modern carbon technology, carbon inherits equal, if not better, stiffness and toughness as aluminium.  The carbon-framed C6 was no exception.  I did a fairly long climb and was happy to note that the bike maintained its speed without significant energy loss.  In vehicular parlance, the C6 has a fairly-impressive ”torque”.

Cornering:  Thanks to the bike’s lower centre of gravity, cornering the C6 was made relatively easy.  Nonetheless, adopting the correct cornering techniques (such as lifting the body weight from the saddle and transferring it to the outside pedal) is a must to prevent crashing the C6.  Schwalbe has long been a maker of road bike tires and the Schwalbe Ultremo slicks gripped the tarmac well.  My test ride took place on a rainy day and there was no noticeable “hydroplaning”.  The slicks managed to stay in line on the wet tarmac when cornering (note: I was prepared to slide and fall at that point in time!).  I am satisfied that the C6 did well in its cornering test.

Stopping:  The 105’s braking power met my expectations.  Reaction time (from the moment I pulled the lever to the time the brake calipers clamped on the rims) was quick and fuss-free.  I executed a few emergency brakes and noted that the callipers did not “jam’ the rims.  Locking the wheels are common in many other bikes and it is often the main culprit of sustaining injuries from falls.

TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY

Priced at SGD 2149, the C6 is considered an affordable bike that can take the rider-of-all-trades through charity cycling, long-distance trainings, weekend exercise regimes, competitions and casual riding along the park connectors.  Whilst some may raise questions on whether the Polygon’s brand-name is worthy of the price tag, another school of thought will argue that one will not be able to buy a carbon frame and quality entry-level components at this price range, if not for the fact that Polygon houses its own manufacturing, processing and assembling plants to keep the costs of producing the C6 low.  Leaving the branding out of the equation, the C6 is equipped with respectable components and these components have shown to be reliable performers.  Unless you are a pro racer in an international team, getting a higher-spec’ced bike will, at most, offer you some negligible advantages.

Due to costs and limited living spaces, most roadies in Singapore do not own different types of road bikes for specific uses.  This is where the C6 comes into the picture.  It is light enough to go fast at races.  It has components that are decent and durable (so that savings are incurred in the long run).  It is comfortable enough for endless hours of enjoyable riding.  What more can one asks for?

I think I will get one myself.

The Polygon 2015 Helios C6 is available in all Rodalink stores.
Check them out and bring them home!