As elementary particles, photons spend their careers careening through time and space at absurd speeds, blazing true paths, and literally illuminating those who experience them. It would be fun to juxtapose the 2012 Guru Photon here and say that the bike is a different story, but alas, it is not. It’s a remarkable machine, handmade in Canada, that does essentially all of the above.
I had the privilege of spending a few weeks on Paul Levine’s brand new custom-built Photon, by way of my luck that Paul and I are virtually identical in size. The bike fit me almost perfectly off the bat, with minimal cockpit adjustment. Built with SRAM’s completely reengineered 2012 Red group and a set of Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher wheels, I knew the parts would do their respective jobs, and do them well, so I could focus on the frame’s characteristics.
Paul asked Guru to dial in a ride that prioritized stability over agility, and vertical compliance (smoothness) over feedback from the pavement. They clearly delivered. This Photon is among the silkiest bikes I’ve ever ridden, even over New York City’s pocked pavement, and even rolling on the 303s – a wheelset known more for extreme speed and handling prowess rather than a calm ride.
Guru aced the stability assignment, too. A longer-than-typical wheelbase, the rake and track of the front end, and the aforementioned ride smoothness combine into a bike whose ride was always composed, no matter the velocity. Top speed on big descents was limited to the capacity of my legs and lungs, not my confidence. It’s a very planted machine.
While a photon itself has no mass, Guru’s version does – but not much. In fact, when the Photon debuted only a handful of years ago, it was the lightest carbon frameset the world had seen, with most incarnations coming in at hairs above 700 grams. The model has since lost that title, as various rivals across the industry have summoned ever-advanced materials and engineering, but it’s still a featherweight piece.
Paul’s was no exception. The bike’s low weight (14.9lbs, as seen here minus Paul’s computers and sensors) made acceleration immediate and effortless, thanks in no small part to a laterally stiff bottom bracket that channeled all of my power into the pavement with minimal flex. Guru says the Photon could be built to be even more laterally stiff and responsive at the bottom bracket than this particular example (though Guru readily admits that their Evolo-R offers the stiffest BB in their road bike catalog, not the Photon), although this one was absolutely no noodle.
The Photon’s handling was true to Paul’s preferences, too. The trade-off for all that stability and poise is a bike that doesn’t dart and lean through turns the way some race-ready frames do. Instead, Paul’s Photon felt more at home – very at home – on high-speed sweepers, rather than the tight-and-twisties or whilst weaving rapidly through NYC traffic. On my first several rides, leaning into and out of hard turns was slow, although progressive, with the bike seeming more reluctant to dive sharply or change directions quickly.
However, after some adjustment to my approach – namely, shifting my weight more rearward, to both lighten the front and plant the rear a bit – I was able to push the bike through tight arcs and apexes almost as aggressively as on more race-oriented machines. That’s saying much less about my handling skill and much more about the skill of Guru: that they could build a frame to meet a customer’s demands for a calm and comfortable ride, yet still incorporate enough engineering to allude to the Photon’s potential as an intermediate-to-advanced level race bike.
By the end of several weeks of riding, I had come to enjoy the Photon’s serenity, predictability, and it’s extremely low weight. I feared no climb and no road aboard the Photon, and would gladly choose it for a century or something like the Rapha Gentleman’s Ride, where a bike like this could shine.
It’s worth reminding that a review of any custom-built frameset must be taken as such: this frame was built to Paul’s specifications, with geometry, stiffness, and ride quality characteristics chosen by him. My Photon would be different, and your Photon would be different. Arguably, then, this is a review less of the 2012 Guru Photon and more of how well Guru met Paul’s criteria for his ideal machine.
And if that were the case, then I’d say Guru answered the call perfectly.
Read Paul’s own review of his Photon here.