31/01/2013 | 3 comments
In an age where carbon fibre super bikes dominate the top end of the market, the Enigma Excel carves out its own spot as a titanium machine which delivers a superb balance of performance and ride quality.
Enigma have a developed a reputation as one of the UK’s foremost titanium frame builders and the Excel is their flagship frame, having been added to the range in 2010.
We began our acquaintance with the Excel last November, with this ‘first look‘ article. Having spent two months in the Excel’s company, we’re ready to report on its performance.
Most titanium frames are made from 3AL-2.5V tubing – the industry standard – but the Excel is made from 6Al-4V tubing. Grade five titanium, as 6Al-4V is also known, is a harder, less pure metal with a composition made up of six per cent aluminium, four per cent vanadium and 90 per cent pure titanium.
Enigma use 6Al-4V in the headtube of their Echo and Etape titanium models to improve stiffness but this is the first time they’ve created a full frame from it. Bike manufacturers love to attach a number to these things and Enigma say 6Al-4V titanium is 17 per cent stronger, eight per cent stiffer and ten per cent lighter than 3AL-2.5V.
Strength has never been a concern with titanium (it’s tough as nails) but the increased strength and stiffness of 6Al-4V means Enigma have been able to limit frame weight to 1,250g which, while not super-light compared to the increasing number of sub-kilo carbon fibre frames now available, is still very respectable. Overall weight for our Campagnolo Record EPS-equipped machine is 7.7kg.
Enigma run two production lines and while custom frames (Enigma offer a full custom build option, whereby frames are made to measure) are built at the company’s East Sussex HQ, with lead times of around four to five months, off-the-peg frames like our test model are manufactured in the Far East.
Don’t let that put you off; the craftsmanship is superb throughout and the Excel is a real head turner, with Enigma’s badge planted proudly on the CNC-machined headtube. Decals are limited to the Enigma logo on the toptube and downtube, which lets the ti do the talking, and the brushed finish also means you can buff out any scratches on the frame.
The Excel has a beautiful but understated look, with clean lines and simple tube profiles throughout. The downtube gently ovalises to where it meets the bottom bracket, while the seatstays are straight and pencil thin. Otherwise, the Enigma’s own 365g Electron full carbon fork slots into the frame.
The Excel’s geometry is the same as the Enigma Echo at its critical points, with a 51cm seattube, 56cm toptube, 16.5cm headtube, 40.9cm chainstays, and 73 degree headtube and seattube angle on our size 56cm machine.
That translates to a relatively relaxed position which is not traditionally racey, but neither is it overly upright. Instead, it occupies an middle ground between the two which still makes it efficient when wanting to push the pace on, but without having to get super-low.
What sets the Enigma Excel out is its balance of stiffness and smoothness. It arrived at RoadCyclingUK after a succession of carbon fibre machines but never felt as if it was giving up much to carbon when it came to performance. Of course, there are gains to me made from carbon fibre, and titanium has long disappeared from the pro peloton, but Ti brings with it qualities of its own.
The Excel quickly picks up speed and takes little encouragement to accelerate to cruising pace, from where it rolls along with ease, responding readily to extra pressure on the pedals. It’s a superb cruiser. It climbs with aplomb, too, even with the Mavic Cosmic Carbone SL deep-section wheels supplied as part of our build, but particularly when we swapped in a lighter set of hoops better suited to riding uphill.
Enigma concede the use of 6Al-4V tubing sacrifices some comfort over 3AL-2.5V but the difference is negligible. The ride is not soft by any means, but it retains the same silky ride sensation over imperfections in the road that I’ve come to expect from titanium, making it as comfortable as can be over the course of a long day in the saddle.
The Excel’s handling is very composed: sharp but never twitchy, with a planted front end which steers in whatever way you point it with no fuss. It’s composed and sure-footed, which in turn makes it infinitely chuckable. Throw the Excel into a corner and it’ll bring you out the other side at double-quick pace.
It’s a stunning bike to ride. In the Excel, Enigma have created a beautifully balanced frame which marries stiffness, with comfort and superb handling; characteristics that make it a true all-rounder which will thrive regardless of the situation you put it in, whether it be racing, a long sportive or just hammering around the lanes on the club run.
Enigma describe the Excel as “the ultimate titanium frame for those who simply must have the best” and our time with it has revealed a frame which is among the best we’ve tested.
It doesn’t come cheap, and the frame alone (without fork) costs £1,950 in any of the five stock sizes, or add £325 for a custom frame. If you are going to invest such a significant sum in a frame, you will want the build to be ‘just so’ and you can spec your bike using Enigma’s custom bike builder tool.
The choice of components is very good, with groupsets ranging from SRAM Apex to Campagnolo Super Record EPS, and wheels on offer from Fulcrum, Campagnolo and Mavic, alongside handbuilt hoops.
Our test machine was impressively specced, with a Campagnolo Record EPS electronic groupset, Enigma Electron full carbon fork, Mavic Cosmic Carbone SL 52mm deep-section wheels wrapped in Mavic Yksion Comp tyres, Enigma finishing kit (carbon handlebars and seatpost, aluminium stem), Enigma Ellipse saddle and two Engima carbon bottle cages for £6,350.
That, as ever, brings out the best in the frame, with Campagnolo Record EPS providing clean, accurate shifting every time while still retaining that unmistakable Campag feel, and the Mavic hoops, at the ‘entry level’ end of the deep-section spectrum, offer an affordable route into the aero wheel market, and are very stiff, handle well in crosswinds and the aluminium track provides reliable braking even through the wet British winter, although their 1,740g claimed weight means they take a little oomph to get up to speed.
But the frame is at the heart of the bike and, while undeniably expensive, the Excel is a beautiful machine which rides as well as it looks.