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Colby Pearce's 1995 Lotus Sport 110

The Lotus Sport once sat at the pinnacle of the aerodynamic arms race, until radical frame designs were finally outlawed by the UCI in 2000. Despite its age, the Lotus Sport still remains one of the undeniable kings of speed. Colby Pearce, a Boulder native and Olympian, set a new U.S. Hour Record in 1995 aboard his Lotus Sport 110, riding 50.191km. Much of the bike’s advantage comes from its sculpted Z-shaped frame, which increases efficiency as the bike only has to break through the air twice.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:year-1995

"I remember the first day I walked into The Pro’s Closet and I saw the Lotus Sport 110 hanging up near the front desk. It was the first bike that caught my eye and, for a few minutes, it was the only thing in the world that held my attention. The amount excitement and nostalgia I felt seeing a Lotus Sport in the flesh surprised me. I remember, as a kid, seeing what a real bike race was for the first time. It was in a friend's basement watching the 1994 Tour de France on a grainy VHS tape. My friend wanted to show me the wild, elbows out sprinting technique of Djamolidine Abdoujaparov and the violent crash at the end of the finish first stage.

But the thing that really ended up sticking with me that day was the image of Chris Boardman before the prologue, surrounded by cameras, sitting pensive and stiff in his Gan kit and Giro aero helmet. To my young eyes he looked like a hero from the future, and he had a bike to match: the Lotus Sport 110. It reminded me of the SR-71 Blackbird, my favorite plane, a machine built purely to be the fastest. Boardman rode perfectly that day. He pedaled like a metronome, caught and powered emphatically past his minute man, and in the end averaged 55.152 kph, riding the fastest tour stage in history (Rohan Dennis has since won the prologue in 2015 averaging 55.456 kph, pushing Boardman’s result to 2nd fastest). With that I was hooked. I went home dreaming of speed and knew I would be riding bikes and trying to go fast for the rest of my life.

There are few bikes out there that have left an impression on me like the Lotus Sport. The radical carbon “Z-shaped” frame was first developed by Mike Burrows, who understood the aerodynamic potential of sculpted monocoque frames. Lotus joined Burrows to help develop the bike after one of their test drivers, who happened to be an avid cyclist, stumbled upon the design when visiting Burrows’ shop. Thanks to their involvement in Formula 1, Lotus had extensive knowledge of aerodynamics and advanced composite technology and could provide facilities for state-of-the-art wind tunnel testing and carbon fiber molding. They acquired the rights to the project in 1992 and the result was the first Lotus Sport, the 108.

Boardman rode the Lotus Sport 108 to gold in the 4000m pursuit at the 1992 Olympics and set a world record. After Boardman’s success, Lotus saw the potential in marketing a production version, which then became the Lotus Sport 110. Lotus made a small batch but contracted out the rest of the production to a South African company, Aerodyne Space Technologies, which had manufacturing ties to Formula 1. The main difference between the 108 and the 110 is that the 110 doesn’t feature the radical “mono-blade” frame design of the 108. The 108 had a single fork leg and single chainstay on the right side to reduce the frontal area of the bike as much as possible. The 110 keeps the general Z-shape of the frame, but for production purposes Lotus opted to use chainstays and fork legs on both sides. Still, when you look at the bike head on it’s incredibly narrow, measuring under 2 inches across. The 110 also featured interchangeable rear dropouts, which allowed you to switch between track and road spacing, and added a rear derailleur hanger for road use. With brake mounts and internal cable routing, the frame was meant to be fully usable both on and off the track.

Boardman rode a version of the 110 to set the World Hour Record at a stratospheric 56.375 km before UCI rule changes essentially nullified the result. New frame designs, especially those aimed at timed pursuits like the hour record and road TTs were, in the eyes of the UCI, getting out of hand. It was open season and all sorts of wild body positions and frame shapes were being experimented with. The Lotus Sport sat at the pinnacle of this arms race. The only other bike of the time which came close to its level was the GT Superbike, but it enjoyed nowhere near the same notoriety. To try and put an end to all this, the UCI drafted the Lugano Charter in 1996, approving it in 2000. Radical aero designs like the Lotus Sport were outlawed as frame shapes and dimensions were bound by strict guidelines. Amazingly, the Lotus still compares very favorably to modern designs in terms of aerodynamics, which leads one to wonder where bikes would be today had regulations not stifled their progress. But nevertheless, the Lotus Sport remains iconic, and in the nineties it was the undeniable king of speed. To have one, you had to put down $2999.99 (in early nineties dollars) just for a frameset.

Colby Pearce, a Boulder native, a professional rider, and an Olympian, did just that. The Lotus Sport 110 now hanging at The Pro’s Closet was purchased at full retail in 1995. With it, Pearce set a new U.S. Hour Record in 1995, riding 50.191 km in an hour on an outdoor track in Colorado Springs. Seeing the bike now, in person, it’s still impressive. The carbon layup looks flawless, and the clearcoat is polished to a high gloss finish. Picking it up, the bike feels surprisingly solid and sturdy, not hollow or toyish like I had expected and at just over 18 pounds, it’s not the lightest, but it’s not heavy either. The chainstays are enormous to help make up for the Z-shaped frame’s absence of a downtube and seat stays. Without them it means that, in the simplest terms, the bike only has to break through the air twice, thus increasing its aerodynamic efficiency. The exposed bottom bracket shell is also shaped like a ship’s bow so that it can help smooth the air passing over the back half of the bike.

Installed in that bottom bracket is a classic Mavic 631 “starfish” crankset. Pearce had it painted black to match the frame and, if you look closely, you can see a slight bevel where material on the ends of the crankarms has been filed off. This is because the 175mm crankarms (most track bikes run around 165mm crank arms for clearance on banked track surfaces) don’t quite clear the massive chainstays. With the ends filed down, it provides just over a 1mm of clearance. It’s so little that if you push on the crank arm with a enough force you can actually make it touch the carbon. It probably wasn’t an issue when Pearce set the U.S. Hour Record as he actually used one of the earliest SRM power meter cranks for the attempt. It was wired, and Pearce reportedly spent 7 hours routing the wire through the internal front derailleur path to keep it looking clean. The frame has a braze on for mounting a front derailleur, but in the bike’s lifetime it’s been unused. Even when riding TTs on the road, Pearce chose to stick with a single front chainring.

The front wheel is a carbon HED 3 and the rear is a kevlar Russian disc. These Russian discs are popular with track riders and usually have “666” written on them in Cyrillic looking script. They are made using overlapping, tensioned sheets of kevlar instead of spokes. Because these sheets are stretched like a drum head the wheel is impressively loud when ridden, especially on the road as it amplifies shifting noises and road imperfections. The kevlar almost looks like dark wood grain as it ages but, like the crank, it has been spray painted black to match the bike. The hub hardware is all machined from titanium and the end result is a wheel that is extremely light. It is, however, quite flexy under high power so it’s much more suited to sustained, uniform efforts (like the hour record) rather than sprinting.

The integrated seatmast on the frame is surprisingly thin, less than 9mm thick, but still very stiff. An interesting design choice is the mechanism of the machined seatmast cap and saddle rail clamp. The cap has two bolts and to mount it to the frame holes actually had to be drilled directly into the seat mast. You can see that two holes have been slightly ovalized with a drill to provide a very small amount of saddle height adjustment. The seatmast cap is further secured to the frame with a pair of set screws that simply screw in until they contact the seatmast and hold everything stable with friction. The saddle rail clamp is milled from a solid block of aluminum and instead of a traditional style clamp it simply uses four bolts to wedge the saddle rails between the bolt heads and some tabs machined into the block.

The cockpit has custom Vision Tech one piece alloy aerobars that are very narrow, measuring only 38cm outside-to-outside. The adjustable Look Ergo stem allowed Pearce to get the bars low enough to run an ultra aero position where the bars sit almost in line with the top tube. On Boardman’s bike, the bars were attached directly to the fork crown, giving him a similarly low position, but for the production version, a more conventional threadless stem setup was preferable.

In talking to Colby Pearce, he remains fond of the bike that brought him his record. It simply epitomized speed, and it had some sort of special effect on the rider’s psyche. Pearce describes this effect well. “There aren’t many bikes I have an emotional attachment to. [A bike’s] a tool that I use,” he says. “But this one—it was a special time in my career, where I felt like I really rose to the best of my own abilities, and this bike helped me do that. [I don’t know] whether or not it was because I had a faster bike than a lot other guys, or whether that speed inspired the best out of me. Because you’re on this super fast bike, you don’t want to look like a jackass and get beat. In a way it really helped me dig deep as an athlete...that’s why I love cycling. It’s both machine and man meshed together.”

I looked at the bike constantly writing this. I touched its smooth finish, placed my arms in the aerobars, and felt instantly connected to the feats of its past. More than anything I wanted to just get on and pedal hard. To go as fast and far as I could. It has that power. It is a machine whose legacy, like the SR-71 Blackbird, has come to outlive its own relevance. It remains an artifact of a time long past, that gets forgotten more and more with each day. But the quest for speed is eternal. Though grounded, and kept on display, it will always have that aura of being, at least for a time, the fastest in the world."

-Bruce Lin