Carbon swoon-factor like this usually comes with an eye-watering price tag but the Sensa Giulia has a surprisingly wallet-friendly price.
Distributed in the UK by Merlin Cycles, the Dutch brand Sensa has over 20 years of experience in many different cycling disciplines and offers the range-topping Giulia as an off-the-shelf complete bike, available either in a standard (and slightly confusingly named) ‘Special’ build which tops out at £1,469.99, or you can, as we did, opt for a custom creation.
Even with our purposely high-end custom-build, we struggled to get above £3,500, and even if we had gone with the top frame option – the Supremo (150g lighter) – and selected a set of lightweight wheels, we would have still struggled to hit the £4k mark, which despite being enough to buy a car, isn’t exceptionally expensive.
Equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace 11sp 9000, Ritchey Carbon Superlogic Evo bar, stem and seatpost, and own brand Supra RC58 wheelset, the Sensa’s value for money is genuinely striking.
The all-internal cabling and Di2-ready design helps give the Sensa a clean look that I found very appealing, while the option to upgrade to digital shifting (a choice in the custom-build range) and the larger tubing ensure racer appeal is present in this frame and certainly sets the Sensa Giulia apart from its similarly priced rivals.
A great price is all well and good, but if a bike is a bit of a dog, it still represents poor value. So the first thing to confirm is that the Sensa is no dog, despite being a lesser-known brand. If I was being picky and very critical, I’d point out that the frame is slightly heavier in its ride feel than some of the competition, but thanks to the Monocoque Generation5 construction, it’s imbued with a large down tube and bottom bracket, which means the stiffness is still right up there.
The large tubes do soak up road buzz, but when combined with the Supra RC58 deep-section carbon wheels, the Giulia started to wear me out, hitting every hole rather than gliding over them (but it only really became a problem after several hours in the saddle on Kent and Surrey’s poorly surfaced roads). The Supra RC58 wheels certainly look smart but they’re not really an everyday wheel. They’re a strong and fast option that does the job, but the deep-section rims catch the wind; more often than not, you want to settle down with slightly more cushion than you can get from a shallower rim.
Luckily, I got the chance to use a number of different wheels on the Giulia, most notably Shimano Dura-Ace C75, during the Elite London Nocturne. Apart from making the Sensa look pretty badass, they didn’t much change the characteristics of the ride, for which kudos to the frameset. Yes, they were even deeper-section than the RC58 and made for slower acceleration and better straight-line speed, but maintaining the same base-level performance suggests the Generation5 UD Carbon has been constructed well, even with its fairly ‘generic’ geometry.
But it’s the geometry that I also struggled with, from a racing perspective. While I got the position comfortable, I always felt the front end was a little too high. Seemingly in its appeal to all men, Sensa made a compromise between a full racer and a relaxed mile-muncher. A front end height reduction admittedly could be sorted with a negative sloping stem, although it’s not
With the custom build option, you’re sure to find something to suit your budget and quite possibly something you thought was just out of your reach price-wise. Swapping carbon finishing kit for aluminium alternatives certainly saves a chunk of money, which can be redirected towards a flashier set of wheels. For example, the Giulia Supremo frame, Deda bars/stem/seatpost, Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 C24 wheelset with Shimano Ultegra Di2 hits just shy of £3k, at £2,969.99.
Merlin Cycles seems to have got pretty close to hitting the nail on the head with the Sensa Giulia and the jaw-dropping prices offered on very good standard and custom builds, along with great finishing kit alternatives.But ignoring the extras, the heart the bike - the frameset itself - is a very good one. Even though I was not personally able to reach my ideal race set-up, I believe it's a reasonable compromise - with a few tweaks on the position - both for racing and as a fast training mate.Ultimately Sensa has ticked most boxes in terms of performance, style and, importantly, price. If you're still questioning the lack of household name, don't - Sensa isn't pulling the wool over your eyes; it's a great machine for your hard-earned cash.