In praise of the Alpine A110 S's lightweight philosophy
The French don’t have much of a reputation for lightweight engineering, which is a bit daft when you look at some of the cars they’ve created over the years. We can put the A110S to one side and talk about everything from the Citroen AX GT hot hatch (745kg) to the current Renault Zoe (name us a lighter electric car than the 1,506kg supermini). We might bang on about Lotus and Caterham and motorsport, but the French have probably done more to put lightweight in the mainstream.
Which isn’t a particularly good segway, given the Alpine is anything but mainstream. But it is very light. 1,119kg they say, but I put ours on a weighbridge and it was 5kg below that with quarter of a tank of fuel. It’s as refined and comfy as a Cayman, but quarter of a tonne lighter.
I’m trying to get round, as you might have guessed, to talking about French push bikes, but weight matters to me, so I keep diverting myself. Anyway, I have a thing about bicycles. I love riding them, I enjoy working on them, they’re simple and elegant and the engineering is often fascinating. Look (yeah, that’s the brand name) created the first ever carbon road bike, the KG 86, back in 1986. That year it won the Tour de France pedalled by a chap called Greg Lemond. It was also the company that invented clip-in pedals (it had been building ski bindings and carried the concept into cycling).
Look has always thrived on innovation. Here’s an example. Most bike brands only manufacture the frames, everything from the drivetrain and brakes to the pedals and cranks is bought in. OK, the same is true of car companies and their suppliers, but in bikes the same components fit every frame, which makes them generic. Also easy to change and upgrade, which is kind of the point.
However, Look extended its expertise into other areas. My bike (the unsubtle white and red one) has an in-house seatpost, handlebar stem and the pedal arms (cranks) are a single piece of carbon that threads through the bottom of the frame. It’s cool, mad and a pain to work on, but when it’s all running perfectly…
It’s very French in other words, and the focus on weightsaving is absolute. Same with the Alpine. There are frustrations. The fitment of Carplay a couple of years back fixed many of them, but the poxy boot space regularly frustrates, you can’t access the under-console storage without tearing skin off your hand, the fingertip stereo controls remain mystifying and in crosswinds it gets blown about.
But I don’t care. Because if it had just kept pulling Renault components off the shelf, Alpine would never have got the weight down to 1,100kg. Like Look, the engineers saw where they could do better. On the A110 brackets and gromits were redesigned, just to save a few grams here and there. It was the first car to integrate the electric handbrake into the rear disc brake, rather than fitting a secondary caliper. That weight-saving was measured in kilos.
It all adds up and makes a difference. I’m 75kg. Ten bikes adds up to less than one of me, less than 15 of me make an A110. The frames of reference make sense at a human scale. By bike standards the Look 695 and 795 Blade are rocketships, but the differences are small when the rider weighs 10 times the machine. Any pro rider could get on a Boris bike and wallop me. But in cars driver weight is negated. I’d get a lot closer to Fernando Alonso (sorry, outdated reference, he’s now flogging Astons so we’ll go for Esteban Ocon) round a track than I would to Tadej Pogacar up a hill.
This car is agile, grippy, graceful and has a light touch in everything it does. Plus as I wrote in an earlier report it’s faster round Dunsfold than some serious supercars. Plus a Ford Mustang with nearly triple the horsepower.
What does this all tell us? Chiefly that French engineering shouldn’t be underestimated, that light things tend to be more engaging than heavy things, and not to go hurling cars around the countryside when you’ve got bikes on the roof.
Thanks to: Lookcycle.com
PS: I’m trying to make my bike the Frenchest it can possibly be. It’s got (Look-owned) Corima wheels and Michelin tyres. If you have any suggestions for further Frenchness without stooping to baguettes in the bottle holders, I’d love to hear them.