Monday, 21 January 2013

Condor Acciaio review

Until now, only three bikes have been permanent residents in my bike shed (though many more have passed through): a 2003 Specialized Allez; a Cotic Soul mountain bike; and a Condor Pista fixie. I've now bought a Condor Acciaio frame because, though stiff and responsive, the Specialized can be uncomfortable on longer rides. 

First impressions of the Acciaio are good. The frame seems well made, the paint’s beautiful, and the pre-sale prep by Condor is excellent. These guys do really care about making sure you’re happy with your bike. I chose to build the frame up myself, and it’s kitted out with mainly Ultegra from about 2008, Mavic Ksyrium SLs, and fairly ordinary bars/stem/pedals/saddle from the shed.

Contrary to Condor's reputation, the Acciaio seems good value. A hand-built frame made of triple-butted Deda Zero Replica steel, it costs £749.99 including full-carbon fork, headset, and (rather useless) seat clamp. Similar frames from builders such as Enigma, Duell, Pegoretti, Milani, or Zullo cost over £1000 once you include the forks; some of them, double that.

This is an early-days review: the bike’s only covered a few hundred kilometres since I bought/built it. That’s long enough, though, for the shining eyes of new ownership to dim, and the reality of day-to-day riding to come to the fore. So, how’s it doing so far?

• Ride quality
I’ve seen a couple of reviews suggesting that the ride’s a bit stiff on this frame, but for me, the balance between road feel and smoothness is very good. I built the Acciaio up with parts taken off my Specialized frame, which gave a near-direct comparison of the feel. It's certainly not as stiff, and feels a lot less chattery over rough surfaces, but the response to harder pedalling is still quick: it doesn't feel like a bike you have to wind up to speed. For me this frame has the same liveliness as my friend Hammy’s old steel Colnago, but with a much stiffer bottom bracket and modern geometry.
• Comfort/fit
This is excellent. I picked this frame because it has similar geometry to my Pista (and better materials), and I find that comfortable to ride for hours on end. Losing 15mm of spacers compared to the Pista (10mm for the taller head tube, 5mm for the lower bottom bracket) gives the same riding position, as the frame angles are the same.

• Handling
73.5ยบ parallel frame angles should equal zippy handling, and they do. The front end feels particularly sharp. Cornering is precise, with no oversteer or understeer, as are sudden changes of line, but the ride doesn’t feel twitchy. There’s no high-speed wobble to the bars going downhill. I'm currently riding with a 110mm stem: I think the frame would happily take 120mm or 100mm without the handling being affected.

• Weight
The Acciaio frame weighs a claimed 0.5 kg more than the E5 alloy frame it has replaced (I suspect that might not be the whole story, but I didn't weigh it before building it up). I can feel the extra weight when I pick the bike up, but not so on the road; I couldn’t honestly say the bike ever feels slower than an alloy or carbon one. Generally, weight in a frame hides itself far better than weight in the wheels and tyres. (The Ti frame I used to own, which was actually lighter, DID feel heavier on the road because it was so soft at the back.)
            Of course, physics demands that on a long climb, extra weight has to slow you down: in the Alps or Pyrenees, maybe I’d be less sanguine about that extra half a kilo. On the other hand, on descents the Acciaio feels more planted and quicker – and I’m not as good at going downhill as pedalling up.

So far, I’m really pleased with the Acciaio. For general road-bike riding it seems like an excellent choice, with the handling and ride feel particular highlights. The positive ride characteristics of the frame material, plus its durability and reliability, outweigh the theoretical negative of a full water-bottle's worth of extra weight. (True weight weenies probably won't have got this far with the review anyway, of course.)

One likely change: I may try a triple on it. It currently has a compact, but I feel there's a lot of duplication of ratios, and the rouleur character of this bike feels like a natural for a 39-tooth front ring – with a 30-tooth bailout option for safety.

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