The all-terrain-busting Factor Vista may have turned the N+1 principle on its head
- Incredibly fast on all kinds of terrain
- Sure-footed and agile
- Best-in-class ride quality
- Superb build quality and customer experience
- Could be lighter
- Polarising aesthetic
As a company that started out producing high-performance carbon road bikes capable of jousting at the highest level of the sport, the Vista represents a significant but necessary departure for Factor Bikes. Considering the ever-growing gravel curiosity of the modern cyclist - professionals included - it's a niche the company desperately needed to fill. Despite its off-road bias, however, Factor has purposely avoided labelling the Vista as gravel bike choosing to categorise it as an 'all-road' bike instead.
Company co-founder, John Bailey, believes there's a lot more to the Factor Vista than its drop-bar and off-road aesthetic suggest, and that its talents are plentiful and far outweigh that of a regular gravel bike. With that in mind, we set out on a quest to put the Vista's all-road claims to the test by riding it on as many surfaces as possible in all kinds of weather over a gruelling, two-week 400km test period - all in an effort to ascertain whether it truly is the bike for all occasions.
The X factor experience
Factor has recently made a big push to boost brand awareness and has invested heavily in a new Customer Experience Centre located in Hethel, Norfolk - an engineering-rich territory steeped in Formula 1 and motorsport history. In fact, the company started out as an offshoot of bf1systems in this very region before becoming Factor Bikes in 2007.
This dedicated one-stop-shop features everything from a Retül bike fitting studio and state-of-the-art workshop to a showroom display and bespoke bike customisation lounge not forgetting some of the finest coffee I've sampled. My visit to the Factor Bikes was to ensure my body measurements were accurately applied to the Vista using Retül metrics as well as experience the company's new facilities.
As far as customisation and the build process is concerned everything from the paintwork through to the choice of componentry is carried out in-house, in a manner very similar to what you'd expect from British luxury automakers, Bentley or Aston Martin - the entire experience is immersive and bespoke.
You can also test ride your Factor on a route that takes in a combination of terrain surfaces to ensure everything is running smoothly and your bike is in fine fettle. A mandatory Vista shakedown run with Rob Wicks, Factor UK workshop manager, reiterated the unique one-on-one set-up the team has on offer here at Hethel.
Design and geometry
The Vista's stone grey colourway adds to the bike's utilitarian properties and is naturally more functional than extravagant. However, if it's something more exclusive that you're after the company's Prisma Studio is your paint personalisation port of call - an optional extra that starts from £150.
Our test bike turned many heads during our two-week testing period, its unique hue was complimented on almost every ride. While not to everyone's taste I quite like the grey colour scheme and appreciate the strategic use of contrasting gloss-black panels and the half-tone motif across the toptube, all of which have dialled in an added layer of sophistication to the package.
In terms of geometry the Vista adopts a fairly unusual shape - take the aggressively dropped seatstays for instance which have been tuned to absorb trail buzz and high-frequency surface imperfections but more on that later. And then there's the OTIS AR external, bayonet-style fork that connects to a one-piece integrated bar and stem. Like Factor’s aero-specific ONE frameset and time-trial model, the OTIS-AR fork is said to enhance the sensitivity of the steering, improve shock absorption and front-end precision. It certainly looks the part and adds to the bike's allure and left-field ethos.
Other notable additions include rubberised bump stops located on each side of the frame to ensure there's no knocking during sharp cornering, neatly hidden fender mounts integrated into the frame and fork, and stealth-like Black Inc 30 carbon wheels.
Components and build
The Vista is available as a build or frameset, the latter of which includes frame, fork, integrated bar and stem, seatpost, Ceramic Speed bottom bracket and headset and accessories such as Black Inc bar tape and computer mount - this will set you back £3,800. A complete build like our test bike adds a further £2,550 premium to the package taking the grand total to £6, 330.
Part of the Factor experience is the opportunity to create a bespoke bike that panders to your specific needs. If I were shopping for a new bike and had the Vista on my radar I wouldn't change much in terms of this particular build, maybe just the tyres but that's a personal thing - the standard spec is brilliant. Added to the frameset is a full Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset with hydraulic disc brakes (160/140mm front/rear rotors), a Fizik Arione R1 saddle and Black Inc 30 carbon wheels.
The tubeless-compatible carbon wheels are superb value for money. Featuring a semi-aero 30mm profile, they are laced to Black Inc centerlock hubs via Aero butted spokes - 21 front, 24 rear. At 1,390g not only are they lightweight in functionality they're also wide enough (27mm internal width) to use larger-volume tyres, despite the frame's maximum tyre clearance of 35mm.
Ride, handling and performance
The Vista's class-leading ride quality belies the stiffness and rigidity of its carbon-fibre chassis. While this stems largely from D-shaped seatpost and dropped seatstays, a lot of this has been achieved through strategic carbon layering techniques - and orientating the fibres so as to supply the perfect combination of pliancy without affecting stiffness, especially around the bottom bracket area and headtube.
As a result power transfer is immediate with very little in the way of flex, which has created an urgent and willing machine on the flats as well as when attacking short, sharp climbs. While the Vista has a raised stack and short reach - which make for a somewhat upright riding position - the geometry is still fairly aggressive with a 72.4-degree head angle and short 408mm chainstays. This in partnership with the relatively low bottom bracket has created a rather agile-handling bike thanks to the lower centre of gravity.
In fact, the Vista never feels limited or hampered when it comes to technical off-road riding. Of course, the upright riding position doesn't conjure much confidence in a serpentine singletrack environment but all it takes is a deliberate grab of the drops to lower your riding position and re-establish control.
Despite the geometry being built around 30 to 35mm tyre sizes, the Vista never feels under-gunned in the traction department. The tight frame tolerances mean you can fit nothing wider than a 35mm tyre but that's all you need if truth be told. Our test bike's Black Inc 30 carbon wheels came wrapped in 35c Panaracer GravelKing rubber - not the lightest tyres around but grippy enough for the job at hand. Playing with tyre pressure means you're able to dial in an extra layer of pliancy but this all comes down to your weight and terrain preferences.
The Vista frameset allows for the use of a 1x drivetrain set-up but our Shimano Ultegra Di2-equipped model was more than up for the task, despite the road-bike gearing and paucity of a clutched derailleur. The 52/36, 11-30T drivetrain supplied an ideal spread of gearing - enough top end for all-out efforts but still lenient enough in the bottom gears to traverse steep off-road climbs. Of course, those looking to maximise on weight savings - this particular Vista tipped the scales at 8.53kg - could go the 1x Shimano GRX route but that would limit the experience so to speak, especially when fast-paced road rides are the order of the day.
The Factor Vista isn't a gravel bike. It's quite the contrary and labelling it as such would be to misunderstand the concept behind it completely. It's more a jack of all trades that manages to adequately dismiss all surfaces and condition types with aplomb.
The biggest standout feature is undoubtedly the Vista's segment-leading ride quality - pliant yet direct enough to be used in a crit or even cyclo-cross event. It's agile too, reactive to steering inputs, rich in feedback and feel, and delivers almost telepathic levels of assurance when negotiating tricky corners or steep, loose descents. Of course, it's not perfect but what it lacks in the outright climbing ability it more than makes up for in straight-line speed and comfort.
As a package, the Factor Vista represents a holistic solution for those who seek a bike capable of handling myriad terrain options, a bike for all occasions if you will. At the £6,330, it isn't cheap but it brings exclusivity and freedom to a segment that's yet to fully define itself.
So is the Factor Vista the one-bike solution? Well, it certainly comes close and has me pondering whether or not I need to sell my mountain bike and road bike, and buy a Vista instead - it's that good, especially with the type of riding I find myself regularly traversing here in the Surrey Hills.
- Temperature: 0-5 degrees
- Weather: Showers, windy
- Trail/road surface: Wet, muddy
- Route: Tarmac, singletrack, gravel roads
- Mileage: 395km (252km on gravel, 143km on tarmac)
Specifications: Factor Vista Ultegra Di2
- Price: £3,800 (frameset), £6,330 (Shimano Ultegra Di2 build)
- Frame: Carbon
- Size: 54cm, medium
- Weight: 8.53kg
- Groupset: Shimano Ultegra Di2 R8000 Series
- Crankset: Shimano Ultegra Di2 52/36, 11-30T cassette
- Pedals: Shimano XTR
- Wheels: Black Inc 30 Carbon
- Tyres: Panaracer GravelKing 35c
- Brakes: Shimano Ultegra hydraulic
- Bar/stem: Factor Otis Vista All-Road integrated
- Bottle cages: Black Inc Carbon
- Seatpost: Factor RBi Carbon All-Road. 15mm setback
- Saddle: Fizik Arione R1