Polygon Helios C5 2016
The road bikes under the Polygon’s Endurance Series have come a long way. Since its debut in 2010, the two-wheelers that were affixed with the Helios brand-name have garnered a fair number of positive reviews, with many characterising them as outstanding road bikes which can traverse over rough terrains and simultaneously as rough riders which are able to travel over long distances without compromising on riders’ comfort.
The 2016 line-up, which is upholding its reputation as the all-rounder performance contenders, looks set to convince serious and recreational road bikers alike that any of its Helios model will be packing a bigger punch than any other endurance road bike. The 2016 Helios C5 is no exception.
The Helios C5, or C5 for short, is a new member to the Helios Endurance family. In the company of seven other siblings, the C5 sits in the middle of the stable, with the proclamation by Polygon as the ultimate machine for all kinds of riding conditions. A quick glance across the technical specifications of the Endurance Series reveals that the C5 is the only model decked in Shimano 105 components. Models below the C5 (C4, C3 and S3) are fitted with lower-specced gears. Above the C5 are the C8 Disc, C8X and the C8X Disc, all of which are Ultegra-ready machines. When comparing the 2016 models against the 2015 ones, one cannot help but instinctively noticed that the Helios C6, a closely-specced model in the 2015 stable, is no longer included in the 2016 line-up.
Dipped in strips of yellowish green against a black background, the colour scheme of the C5 appears to most as a standard road bike livery. But, if one takes a closer look, it will not be hard to notice that the finishing of the C5 is sleeker and far superior in quality. The frame is meticulously polished to a matt finish. The joints between the tubes are neatly buffed. Even though this has been the standard on modern road bikes, the existence of internal cable routings to the rear brake and derailleur of the C5 is a feature which every prospective owner will appreciate. If you are not aware, internalised cables are largely protected from dirt and road grime, which translates directly to prolonged efficiency and lifespan. In addition, internalising the cables helps reduce the likelihood of scratching on the bike frame.
The inseparable element that characterises an endurance road bike is weight and the C5 certainly strikes a strong resemblance to that of a Kenyan marathon runner – svelte, light and fast. Hovering around 7.90 kg, the C5 feels light, thanks to its ALX Advance Alloy Frame and the UCI-approved carbon fork.
A significant contributor to the feathery quality of the C5 is the Shimano 105 5800 groupset. Weighing at a mere 2.45 kg (without including the front and rear hubs), the groupset is only a tad heavier than the Ultegra 6870 Di2 groupset by no more than 40 grams. This is considered a weighty achievement after taking into account the fact that Ultegra is Shimano’s second-best groupset in the road bike line-up. The 105 deserves more attention not only because it is the latest version from Shimano, it now comes with an 11-speed 11-28T cassette to allow for increased precision in pedalling cadence.
Improvements did not stop here. Several designing and manufacturing aspects of the 105 were handed down from Shimano’s Dura-Ace, the highest-end groupset from the Japanese giant. The first note-worthy adaptation is the FC-5800 four-arm HollowTech II crank design, which is similarly used on all Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupsets. Shimano attests that the four-arm crank design offers increased stiffness, which translates to increased shifting accuracy.
Just like the Dura-Ace, the link-arm of the 105’s front derailleur has been deliberately lengthened to allow the rider to perform shifting actions more easily. Another hand-down technology worth mentioning is the application of Shimano’s proprietary SIL-TEC coating on the shifters, cables and the inner links of the 105’s chain. This polymer-based surface coating is, in layman’s term, a friction-reducing varnish which is claimed to improve shifting speed and reduce overall riding effort. The coating is also touted to enable the chain to withhold its lubrication and shed any road grime more easily. This, in turn, prolongs the lifespan of the chain.
Lending credits to the C5’s superior performance is its pair of Shimano RS010 clincher wheelset. Whilst it is not a high-performance wheelset, the RS010’s semi-aerodynamic rims, stainless steel spokes and alloy hubs will give the rider more than what he or he can ask for. According to Shimano, the RS010 is built with straight-pulled spokes, which are technically lighter and stiffer than traditional J-bend spokes. The wheels are asymmetric, which means that they possess the added rigidity to perform under pressure. Many independent reviews spoke positively of the RS010’s ability to hold up well when encountering nasty potholes and road bumps. As an entry-level wheelset, the RS010 is considered a true contender in its own right.
The RS010 is complemented by the all-weather Schwalbe Lugano tyre, which is well-known for its cornering capability and puncture-resistant properties.
The C5’s cockpit, which comprises the drop-bar, stem, seat-post and saddle, is taken care of by Entity, a subsidiary of Polygon. Products from Entity are relatively unheard of. But, in any case, outfitting a mid-range bike like the C5 with Entity parts appears sound aesthetically and functionally.
Managing the C5’s sense of balance and direction falls under the purview of the FSA tapered headset. Although this particular model (No. 44 E/CF) is not the latest product from FSA, its compatibility with carbon and alloy head tubes, lightness and relatively low cost convinced several bike manufacturers that it has the qualities to complement any worthy road bike.
RIDING THE C5
In all honesty, the C5 does not qualify itself as a high-performance race rig. In a weight competition, the C5 will not be picked for the top three spots. In the looks department, it looks like any regular road bike. But strangely, “superb” is the word that came to mind when test-riding the C5.
General handling of the C5 was smooth. Despite the slight discomfort caused by the deep drop of the Entity bar, we were pleasantly surprised that the manoeuvring of the bike to the directions we wanted it to be was predictable and assuring. The test bike that we were provided with had a stem length of 90mm. Although Polygon offered three different dimensions (90mm, 100mm and 110mm), the 90mm stem is a fitting choice for riders of average Asian height. Unless the rider is exceptionally tall, using the 100mm or 110mm stem may cause the rider to experience pre-mature riding fatigue and shoulder aches.
The C5’s alloy frame should take credit for the bike’s overall stiffness, which allowed us to accelerate efficiently without any hint of sluggishness. Together with its inherent steep angles, the C5 is likely to be a serious contender against higher-end performance bikes in any uphill-dominated race.
For those who have no intention to bring the C5 to races, they will be happy to know that the C5 makes a good companion for all-day riding. During our test-ride, the Entity saddle was well-padded and noticeably comfortable and we felt fresh even after riding for two continuous hours. Ironically, some better-known saddles were not even able to match the same level of comfort to the one provided by the Entity saddle. Our objective advice: Unless you are a die-hard fan of a particular saddle, there is little reason for you to upgrade the saddle to one of a different make or brand.
Sweetening the ride on the C5 was added by the Shimano 105 groupset. Given its market position as a trusted reliable model for everyday training and long rides, the 105 has lived up to its reputation, quelling the grievances of many riders that Shimano’s previous higher-end groupsets were too costly and its lower-end models were not adequately designed and built for performance conditions.
Starting with the 105’s gearing, we were happy to report that every push of the rear gear lever elicited a precise and intuitive response from the real derailleur. Complementing the progressive up-and down-shifting of gears is the 11-speed 11-28T cassette. With its inherent close-ratio gearing, we were able to change gears rather smoothly without any abrupt cadence disruption. This is especially advantageous in long climbs, where the last thing that a rider wants is a sudden speed loss due to a large change in a single gear shift. The rear derailleur and the cassette are already listed on our favourite-components list.
The other pair of favourites are the front derailleur and the crankset. Offered in a 50 X 34T configuration, shiftings between the two chainrings were crisp and effortless. Because of its compactness, upshifting to the larger chainring at low speeds worked just as nice. If poor shifting occurs, a visit to a competent mechanic will most probably resolve the issue.
The 105’s braking system performed beyond our expectations. Stopping power was delivered with minimal lever pressure, thanks to the symmetrical dual brake pivot design. With the incorporation of the Shimano Linear Response (SLR) technology, a friction-reducing mechanism found in each brake calliper, we were thankful that we did not get to experience any wheel-locking caused by hard braking.
One of the vital components of the C5 – the Shimano RS010 clincher wheelset – is an icing on the cake. Whilst it is an unanimous agreement in the cycling fraternity that the RS010 is not a featherweight wheelset, it has won our respect with its stoutness. Throughout the test-ride, the RS010 was able to withstand several hard knocks and road bumps without any alignment issue. There was a reassuring feel that the RS010 can hold up well in the roughest conditions. We were also delighted to note that the RS010 is compatible with any of Shimano’s 8-, 9-, 10- or 11-speed cassette or any of SRAM’s 8-, 9- or 10-speed cassette.
The Schwalbe Lugano slicks took us by surprise with their strong grip and low rolling resistance. With a well-designed diamond tread pattern, the Lugano tyres fared with distinctions in fast cornering and wet riding. In our view, the puncture-resistant Lugano tyres performed beyond its designated role as training tyres and as a matter of fact, they work just as well as racing-specific tyres. For a moderately-priced tyre, the Lugano is one of the very few tyres that manage to balance performance with durability so finely.
Despite its position as a mid-range all-conditions comfort machine, it is clear to those who have ridden the C5 that it possesses the capacity as a performance bike.
Budget-conscious racers will find that C5 is outfitted with more-than-decent components to rival against potential adversaries. For the everyday road warrior, the lightness and comfort of the C5 will take him or her to the next level of riding, wherever it may be.
In the local context, where the majority of riders hold day jobs and racing is seen more as a recreation than as a profession, the C5’s versatility as a racing and everyday bike will, as a matter of time, impress upon the cycling fraternity as every rider’s ideal bike. A bike that can race, and yet, is fun to ride on.