When purchasing a handmade Italian bicycle you are not only exchanging your hard-earned for the machine itself, but buying into a philosophy.
In an age where bicycle manufacture has, by and large, moved east, the lure of an Italian machine remains as strong as ever for many riders. The Far East has become the industry centre for carbon fibre bicycle production – and for good reason – but there remains something special about a handmade bicycle, not least one made in Italy. Buying such a machine is as much an emotional investment as it is one guided by performance.
The Comtat Vertice is such a bike. It is, ridden ‘blind’, a superb bike – light, responsive and perfectly poised – but there are many machines of that ilk to have passed through the doors at RoadCyclingUK, many made thousands of miles away on a mass scale, so what sets the Vertice apart is the intimate relationship between rider and bike that can only be developed when buying a made-to-measure machine.
That, according to Comtat founder Adam Roberts, is the lure of a handmade bicycle. It is one made for the rider, down to the angle of the headtube and the length of the seattube, to the nearest degree and millimetre. Our test bike is a ‘stock’ machine, a demo machine for potential customers to fettle and one rolled off the company’s London shop floor that happens to fit this reviewer, and so perhaps is missing the key ingredient of a made-to-measure Comtat machine. Roberts, an owner of handmade bikes before he founded Comtat, believes once you have made that transition, and find a bike which truly ‘fits’, there is no going back.
What we can comment on is our time with the Vertice. It is, in short, a superbly composed machine, and one which is very easy on the eye. Light and eager to accelerate, but with the kind of predictable, stable handling that ensures it’s a fine companion regardless of the circumstances its placed in.
The Vertice is the top-of-the-range machine in a Comtat collection which also includes the Regale, which we saw at the London Bike Show back in February. The Vertice, made from 1k carbon fibre tubing, is light even by today’s super-light standards, with a claimed frame weight of approximately 820g.
It’s a beautifully understated machine, with classic round tubes and clean lines. It shouts ‘look at me’ for its beauty – more people, both cyclists and non-cyclists alike, have commented on the Vertice during its time at RoadCyclingUK than perhaps any other bike – rather than it’s radical tube profiles or garish colour.
The Vertice is a custom machine in that it’s made-to-measure. Each Comtat customer is given a comprehensive bike fit at the firm’s London HQ and those numbers form the basis of the frame. Comtat believe a frame that fits the rider to the nearest millimetre is going to give more of an advantage than any other technological advancement, whether that be aerodynamic tube profiles, a lighter frame or a new width of bottom bracket. As we said at the top, our machine was a ‘stock’ model, and so we can’t neccessarily comment on the virtues of a made-to-measure machine, but it’s a philosophy which, considering the importance of being comfortable on the bike above all else and the emphasis professional riders place on fit, holds water with us.
The frame itself is handmade in Italy at a deliberately unspecified location which also builds for a number of other companies so remains ‘top secret’. It’s a tube-to-tube construction, with each tube cut and wrapped. It’s not a fully custom frame, whereby the customer can tweak the carbon layup to define the ride quality (be it stiffness, weight or comfort), though the frame builder does take the rider’s weight into account when wrapping the joints, the thinking being that, the bottom bracket for example, needs to be wrapped fewer times for a lighter rider.
Aside from the geometry, the customisation also comes in the colour. Our frame is a stunning royal blue and is one of 11 finishes offered by Comtat. The customer can also specify their choice of bottom bracket, and whether they want an integrated or regular seatpost, as well as internal or external cable routing, which can be routed for electronic, mechanical or both.
Call us nostalgic, romantic or hopelessly sentimental, but there is something special about riding a handmade Italian bike. Even during our short time with the Vertice, each time we pulled it from the garage for a ride among an ever-changing cast of test bikes, it felt as though we were reaching for the ‘best bike’.
That, of course, is as much an emotional attachment as one borne out of performance, but fortunately, the Vertice rides very well, too. A machine this light – 6.64kg in our Campagnolo Record build – is always likely to fell, well, light when standing on the pedals and the Vertice delivers on that front. It’s not seat-of-your-pants stiff, like the Storck Aernario Basic or Canyon Ultimate CF SLX (two top-end, out-and-out race bikes to have passed through the gates of RCUK Towers), and doesn’t have the immediate zip of those machines, but it’s far from flexy, remains rigid when climbing out of the saddle of sprinting, and is rewarding of input on the pedals.
It’s a smooth ride, too. We’ve taken the Vertice over some fairly rough road surfaces on our local test loops and it does an excellent job at nullifying the worst tarmac. It’s not silky smooth – few bikes are – but it strikes a fine balance between the comfort required for long, rewarding days in the saddle and feedback from the road.
The Vertice best feature, however, is its handling: quick and sharp, with the flair you’d want from an Italian racing bike, but never anything less than stable and reassuringly predictable – that’s a hard balance to achieve. Of course, that’s our experience with the Vertice in this geometry and it may not be fully replicated once you start tweaking the numbers, but we’ve been nothing but impressed by our experience. This is a bike primed for long summer days, on rides under a blue sky and warm sunshine, when its responsiveness, comfort and handling combine to make it a fine companion for many hours in the saddle.
As you’d expect of a handmade bike, Comtat can build the Vertice up with any number of components, so we won’t dwell too long on those selected for our machine. While this reviewer wouldn’t necessarily choose Campagnolo for a personal build, it’s perhaps only fitting to have an Italian frame dressed in components from Italy’s pre-eminent component manufacturer. In fact, 95 per cent of Comtat bikes are said to be built up with Campagnolo so that’s a view shared by many.
In any case, Record provides sharp, accurate and flawless shifting with that unmistakable Campagnolo ‘clunk’, particularly when moving down the cassette block. The ergonomic shifter hoods are very comfortable, for this rider at least, and the one-button-one-shift functionality of Campagnolo will either appeal to you or not. Our machine used a ‘semi-compact’ 52-36t chainset (itself a beautiful piece of equipment) and that struck a good balance between top-end speed and a fair spread of gears, which is exactly what you’d expect from a ratio which sits right between ‘standard’ and ‘compact’.
The Mavic R-SYS SLR wheels are a good match for the frame. They’re far from aero but that’s not their calling card, instead they’re very light at a claimed 1,295g for the pair, stiff when climbing, sharp and accurate when cornering, and with exceptional braking thanks to the Exalith 2 coating. The rest of the build is equally impressive, with a Fizik Arione saddle colour-matched to the Fizik handlebar tape, a Deda SuperZero seatpost, and Deda SuperLeggero handlebar and stem.
The Vertice is a fine machine and one we reluctantly returned to Comtat. Does it ride significantly better than a high-end, mass produced machine? Unlikely. Ridden ‘blind’ it doesn’t have the out-and-out stiffness and razor-sharp handling of some race bikes, though it depends on what exactly you want from your machine. However, there’s something to be said for the personality and emotional attachment that comes with buying an Italian, made-to-measure bike. How appealing that is to you and how much value you place on that is another matter because it undoubtedly comes at a high cost. That said, while a £3,399.99 frameset can rarely be considered ‘good value for money’, value is relative and the Vertice stands up reasonably well against the competition of handmade, made-to-measure carbon fibre frames.
Price: from £3,399.99 (frameset only)