First impression after getting the frame out of the box was how light it was; compared with the steel 456 it replaced it’s incredible. Lacquer finish etc was ‘ok’ but for the price you can’t complain. I bought 2 sets of bolt on dropouts – one for gears and one for singlespeed – I’ve used some thread lock on the bolts attaching these and had no problems. The various inserts seem to be aligned well – I quite like the idea of the BB being inside a threaded aluminium sleeve – any water that does find it’s way into the frame isn’t able to get to the BB bearings.
Originally I had planned to be running it with gears but, following a frame failure and a complex parts swap across three bikes it turned out to be a singlespeed in the end. I built it with some 130mm Pace RC41’s but have subsequently fitted some 140mm Marzocchi 44 Micro Ti forks with a QR15 axle. Other parts are Easton low rise carbon bars, 90mm stem and carbon seatpost, Magura Louise brakes, XTR cranks, Salsa cog/ring and Hope Pro2/DtSwiss wheelset. Complete with the 44’s it weighs about 22lbs.I rode it for about 3 months with the Pace forks and was never entirely happy with it – the front end just didn’t seem to allow me to ride the woods at Stanmer the way that the back end seem to be indicating it could. After the fork change the whole bike seemed to come together – the solid front end now tracks really well, deals with roots and obstacles cleanly and the back end (helped no doubt by weighing next to nothing) obediently follows wherever it’s led. I do sometimes miss the ability to lock down (rather than out) the forks but even with a 140mm forks I don’t seem to suffer from wandering climbs – probably as much a result of the bikes geometry as the fact I’ll be stood up pulling faces on anything with a significant gradient due to the lack of gear choices. I know this is a frame review but these Marzocchi forks are great – I’m so impressed I’ve got a set at 120mm on my steel Kinesis Decade Versa.
As well as pinging off and over logs and roots around Stanmer I’ve taken the bike out on a 31 mile Wiggle organised ride on the North Downs (route here – http://connect.garmin.com/activity/83177769) and whilst this was by no means a technical ride it did show me that the bike is far more comfortable over a reasonable distance at good pace than the steel bike it replaced. It’s a solid feeling bike (more so than the steel in some respects) but it has an ability to not transmit ‘chatter’ off the trail that leads to a much more relaxed ride feel.
So, is it worth a couple of hundred quid more than the steel 456? At the moment I’d say yes – it seems to flatter my somewhat mincing approach to obstacles more but at the same time not leave my lower back asking for a rest after 15 miles. This is my first carbon frame and whilst I’ve no reason to doubt its’ longevity there is always a slight worry about crash damage and overall lifespan. I’ve heli-taped the whole down tube and various other places where cables may rub. A good chain stay protector is a must – the stays are so deep I get chain slap occasionally, even running singlespeed with a well tensioned chain.
Things that bother me about this frame – mainly transmitted noise – the slightest squeak from a component (and I’ve not got that many running it SS) seems to be amplified through the frame to the point that you think it’s about to fail – a ‘failing BB’ turned out to be a chain that needed a bit of lube after one very wet ride. It can sound like a Tupperware box full of marbles being shaken on fast descents with loose stones on them as various bits of high speed geology hit the frame. I had some problems getting a disk calliper to fit – they run inside the rear triangle and with the slidey dropouts there was no room for a Magura Marta calliper. On-one do a different non-drive side dropout for geared use that runs the calliper above the seat stay but this won’t work with a SS setup. The only other issue I’ve had is with the On-One headset I use to run a 1 & 1/8th steerer in a tapered frame – it’s been difficult to get it to run consistently tight enough without being ‘too tight’ – the bottom bearing also needs cleaning out and re-greasing far more frequently than I’d expect on a £40 headset.
So, overall as an upgrade from a steel 456 what have I gained? Well, I’ve not lost the geometry and dimensions that made the steel frame into such a nice ride, which was critical for me. I’ve now got a lighter frame that seems to do everything the steel bike did but it does it all with just a bit more panache.
Oh, and it’s not pink.