There aren’t many brands in cycling that merit the overused term ‘iconic’, but Cinelli is one that surely does. There was a time when the bars and stem on every dream bike simply had to be Cinelli. So, to see the Cinelli name and super-sized logo (dart or arrow, with appropriate connotations) emblazoned on the Saetta’s frame adds a certain frisson when you climb aboard this 8.2kg machine.
On collecting the bike, all that was required was to level the saddle, pump 100psi in the Vittoria Rubino Pro tyres and twist the 31.6mm Cinelli-branded seatpost to the required height. After that, a quick ride to buy a packet of fig rolls verified that the brakes and gears were bedded-in, and then the Saetta was packed up for the Sportive Photo Southern Classic the following day. There’s no point messing about, is there?
The Saetta Veloce bike is built around a carbon monocoque frame assembled from Columbus-designed tubes which is convenient, since the (also legendary) Italian tubeset company has owned Cinelli since 1978. You would hope, under the circumstances, that the close relationship between the two brands would result in an outstanding frameset. And Lord knows Cinelli has been designing frames for long enough to know what works. In fact, Cinelli proudly boasts that it supplies bikes to the ‘most winning’ Gran Fondo team in Italy, which should make a 73-mile home counties sportive a mere trundle around some foothills.
This model Saetta has been built up with Campagnolo Veloce, Selle Italia and Miche components – although there are four build options available from the UK importer’s line to suit your income. The frame is, in every sense, the heart of this Saetta Veloce bike.
Assuming that you could ‘remove’ all other parts from your feelings and consideration of the bike, what needs to be focused on here is the frame. Aside from the wheelset and tyres, so much of the feel of any bike comes from the frame materials, construction and geometry. Face it, you when you’re sweeping down a descent, what you notice are the handling, balance and feel. When you’re rattling down a hill, it doesn’t matter what spec the cranks and gears are – though the brakes might give you pause for thought.
At a standstill, though, the Saetta is a lovely piece of work. Forget about Italy’s politics and held-together-by-Band-Aid economy, because the Italians have a flair for the ‘shapes and colours’ thing. The paint is thick, pearly and the red decals leap out of the clean design. Nobody is going to mistake this bike for anything other than a Cinelli.
But enough of the Italian style, what about the substance? What’s going on underneath the lustrous paint? The monocoque frame is, yes, a thing of beauty, its surprisingly thin and flattened top tube flowing around the seat tube before seamlessly transforming into seat stays.
By contrast, the head tube, down tube, bottom bracket and chainstays look intimidatingly solid, chunky even. Properly designed carbon framesets are, of course, superb at damping the teeth-rattling bumps on our wrecked roads, but the bulk on view around the bottom bracket and chainstays of the Saetta makes you worry about comfort.
Well, no need. While there are more compliant frames on the market, the Saetta delivered a surprisingly comfortable ride over the B-roads of Hampshire. Which leads you to suspect that the claims made for the ‘progressive flexion control’ and the ‘Skeletal Efficiency Philosophy’ in the frame might not be total marketing flim-flam.
The frame is the key to the comfort, but we can’t ignore the part the fork plays in the overall ride. The 1 1/8in fork is a lightweight (380g) Columbus Solida all-carbon design and fits into an impressively sculpted oversize head tube. It’s our job to be critical, though: the finish around the fork dropouts could have been neater, but that’s an aesthetic moan rather than a complaint about their functioning.
I was as relaxed as it’s possible to be doing 60kph down narrow Hampshire lanes I’d never seen before, surrounded by riders I’d never met before. In fact, the ride comfort was surprisingly high. I say ‘surprisingly’ because the geometry spec sheet and shortish (984mm) wheelbase suggested an lively bike, but the steering was more ‘controlled’ than ‘kamikaze’ and it held an unwavering line through corners, turning quickly enough without unnerving me with too-rapid steering. When it comes to balance and weight distribution, the Saetta has numbers that add up to a confidence-inspiring ride.
Although the frame is made in China, this Saetta has the soul of an Italian bike. Which is to say that every part and accessory has an Italian heritage, from the Selle Italia SL saddle through to the Miche Rapid 707 wheels and the Vittoria tyres. This being the case, how could the brakes and 10-speed gears be anything other than Campagnolo – in this case, Veloce? The bottom bracket, cassette and 50/34 chainset are all Miche, though; clearly a few euros needed to be saved.
On the stiff inclines on the sportive, the Saetta’s finishing kit proved up to the task, though in comparison to Campag’s more expensive gruppos, the upshifting was a tad agricultural and the brakes a bit on the grabby side. But, as mentioned, the heart of this bike is its frame, for which you’d forgive it just about anything.
Its handling is stable but responsive, it steers quickly but without giving you a nosebleed and the balance is spot-on. And the stem and bars? Yes, they’re Cinelli…