Four Brit bikes, four different materials, which one of the offerings from Dolan, Forme, Genesis or Condor come up best?
Did you know that aluminium frames have a harsh ride? Titanium frames are soft and whippy? Steel frames go soft with age but have a nicer ride quality? Queen Elizabeth is a kingpin of the international drug trade? All of the above statements are false?
These are the memorable words of bearded bespectacled bicycling oracle Sheldon Brown (RIP). Clearly, as an American, he trusted the royal family more than we Brits do, but before we’re all sent to the Tower, the point is that there are many preconceptions about the qualities of the various frame materials.
Brown, who died in 2008, didn’t live to see carbon’s dominance at the £1k price point as well as at the high end of the market, but if he had, his verdict on the material might have read: “carbon-fibre offers a unique combination of vertical compliance and lateral stiffness”.
So we’ve rounded up four bikes made from each of the four most popular frame materials (we had to draw the line at bamboo) and hope to take you on a myth-busting journey. We won’t try to tell you which is the best material for a road bike frame because, as we shall see, it’s not what it’s made of but what the frame designer or builder does with it.
Genesis Equilibrium 20, £1,299.99
The Equilibrium 20 could well be the steel horseshoe in the glove that delivers the knockout punch. It is made from Reynolds 725 tubing, which is designed to create a frame that, though not super-light by today’s standards, builds into a stiff, strong and reliable frame. Genesis designates this as an all-season bike and has worked in mudguard clearance and fitted long-reach calipers. The Equilibrium 20 also comes with a Shimano 105 groupset.
Forme Axe Edge 1.0, £1,399.99
The Axe Edge range comprises four bikes built around the same carbon-fibre frame that weighs just 950g. Not long ago, sub-kilo frames were available only to professional teams or very rich individuals, but the onward march of technology has now delivered them to the mid-range. However, the payback is that the spec isn’t quite as good as that of the Genesis. Shimano Tiagra is mixed in with the 105, with own-brand calipers on stopping duty.
Condor Italia RC, £1,550
The famous London marque, in business since 1948, offers this racy but competitively priced Italian-made aluminium frame for £599.99 and will build it up to the customer’s spec. We’ve gone for the all-Italian experience and have a Campag Athena build. RC stands for ‘road competition’ — it has the same geometry as Condor’s Leggero race bike. This frame is already a classic, featuring as it does a carbon rear wishbone that was all the rage 10 years ago.
Dolan Titanium ADX, £1,800
The ADX is considerably more expensive than the others on test here because, even though European companies such as Van Nicholas are bringing down the price of the so-called ‘wonder metal’, the fact is the raw material is still expensive and it’s still difficult to weld, as there are no shortcuts. We asked Dolan for a groupset that would keep the bike reasonably affordable without compromising the performance of the frame, and it specced the brand new SRAM Rival 22.
The very nature of this group test means we’re comparing apples to oranges, and putting pears and bananas into the brown paper bag of our group test too.
So the scores on the doors should be interpreted within that context; the main thing is that these four bikes are all separately very good at what they do, and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of them.
However, what’s clear when you’re comparing these different machines — just like when you’re squelching through a carpet of rotten veg at Surrey Street market in CA’s native Croydon — is that you pay different prices for different fruits, and your choice depends on your preference and your budget.
You could go for a less expensive (but still excellent) frame such as the aluminium Condor Italia RC, leaving you more spare cash for higher-level componentry such as Athena, or you could go for a more expensive frame like the titanium Dolan ADX and scrimp a little on the components by speccing Shimano Sora and pay the same.
The choice is yours
The Forme has an expensive and light carbon frame at its core, meaning that cheaper components are necessary to bring it in at sub-£1,500, but they end up making it weigh more than you’d expect.
However, it’s worth noting that the Axe Edge is available with Ultegra 11-speed and Mavic Ksyrium Equipe wheels (although the same FSA Omega chainset and Forme calipers as the 105 bike) for £1,799 — a penny cheaper than the Rival-specced Dolan here. As a point of reference, Rival is slightly more expensive than 105 but cheaper than Ultegra.
The Genesis is a brilliant all-rounder and perfect for the steel-is-real brigade looking for a modern take on the famous Reynolds-stickered frame. Genesis has delivered a bike with a great spec — including the original 105 chainset — for the lowest price here.
Condor shows that when aluminium spreads its wings it is still very much a force to be reckoned with. The Italia RC has a sublime ride, is the lightest bike on test, and if you can get over your carbon snobbery you could end up with a much better spec for your money. With its classic looks and grown-up paintjob, it’s hard not to love it.
Dolan’s Russian submarine welders have produced something that could pretty much sink all the competition. We weren’t quite convinced by Rival 22 but there are other options, cheaper ones, too.
The mudguard eyes and rack mounts are a great plus point; this really is a bike that can do it all. It’s a little bit more expensive compared to the other bikes on test, but compared to other titanium frames offered by UK companies, it’s better than ballpark.
There is one thing about titanium that Sheldon Brown would find difficult to shoot down: it really can create a bike that lasts for life. On the other hand, the old n+1 joke about the number of bikes a cyclist should own is equally valid. Just because you own a titanium bike, that ‘+1’ isn’t going to magically disappear.