Condor Italia RC road bike frameset - review

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Condor Italia RC frameset – review

Beautiful aluminium race frame with fantastic handling, but heavier than the competition

It’s all too easy to be courted by carbon but this new Condor Italia RC has had us going all out for alloy. It’s a beautiful frame, with pinpoint handling, though it is a little on the heavy side.

Ten frames make up the Condor road range and each one is available as a frameset, allowing you to piece together your own build, or you can spec it as you want through Condor’s online bike builder. With that in mind, while our test bike came with Campagnolo’s new Potenza groupset (watch our for a separate review of that) and the Italian firm’s Zonda wheels, making this a suitably Italian-themed build, we’ll focus on the performance of the frameset here.

Part of the furniture

Since Monty Young opened the first Condor shop in London in 1948, a stone’s throw from the today’s premises on Gray’s Inn Road, names such as Tom Simpson, Sir Bradley Wiggins and more recently Tao Geoghegan Hart have been aboard Condor’s frames; the past, present and future of British cycling talent.

The family business is revered for its support of the domestic race scene, most visible through the sponsorship of the JLT Condor team, and the brand has something of an aura about it. It’s not just a bike shop, but a long-standing part of the culture of cycling here in the UK.

Condor have been building bike frames since Monty Young opened the firm’s first shop in London in 1948
  • Specification

  • Price: £749.99 (frameset inc. fork, headset, seat clamp) or as shown £2,034.89
  • Frame weight: 1,600g (claimed)
  • Complete bike weight: 8.2kg (as tested)
  • Sizes: 46, 49, 52, 55, 58, 61cm
  • Size tested: 55cm
  • Website: Condor Cycles

Aside from the carbon bikes beneath John Herety’s ‘Men in Black’ at Condor JLT, Condor are well known for their artisan steel frames – from the Fratello all-rounder to the Super Acciaio 2.0, the first UCI-approved steel frameset. The new Italia RC, however, is made from aluminium. While riders in 2016 understandably lust after carbon fibre, and steel continues to have its own unique aura, can aluminium ever be sexy? It can if it’s done right and the Italia RC is undeniably a beautiful frame, but aluminium has plenty going for it in performance terms, too.

Alloy had a short life at the top and the last major victory aboard an aluminium frame came from Marco Pantani, who rode a Bianchi Mega Pro XL at the 1998 Tour de France. The following year Lance Armstrong came along and won cycling’s greatest prize on a carbon frame and that was it. Everyone wanted carbon (and a yellow wristband).

Updated for 2016

The Italia RC is made in a small factory in Venice, where the rest of the Condor frames are produced and painted. The attention to detail is superb, from the stunning paintjob (which includes a smart Italian flag on the rear brake bridge), to the quality of the finish.

– What should your next bike be made from? Carbon vs steel vs aluminium vs titanium –

There’s also another Italia in the Condor range, but apart from it being a bike frame, the similarities end there. The Italia has mounts for mudguards and has a more gentile personality, whereas the Italia RC is built to hustle.

Aluminium may not have the lure of carbon or even steel, but this is a beautifully-finished frame

This model – the RC stands for Race Competition – is made from an up-to-date 7000-series aluminium tubeset which has been triple-butted to try and keep the weight down and the strength up. Triple-butting removes material away from the low-stress areas of the frame, such as the middle of the toptube, and the thinner tube walls naturally keep tabs on the frame, while key areas of the frame remain reinforced.

The Italia RC has been updated for 2016 and, as well as an updated tubeset, this latest version also has a tapered headtube, which broadens from 1-1/8″ at the top to 1-1/2″ at the bottom. Tapered headtubes are common place on performance road frames these days – carbon, alloy, steel or titanium – as the design improves rigidity at the front end.

The frame’s round tubes give it a understated aesthetic which complements the finish but the downtube has a subtle flattened profile which Condor say helps ensure the Italia RC achieves that much-vaunted holy grail for bike manufacturers:stiffness and comfort.

Condor Italia RC road bike/frameset - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Condor Italia RC road bike/frameset - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Condor Italia RC road bike/frameset - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

Superb handling

The best thing about the Condor Italia RC, quite simply, is its handling. At the front end, that tapered headtube, combined with the Deda Stream full carbon fork and the sorted geometry, delivers flawless handling. Tracking is spot on, which gives the bike a surefooted sensibility which inspires fast, confident riding. Handling is such an important part of the package – putting a bike together to cheat the wind is one thing, but making up ground in a straight line counts for nil if the rider is has to back it off in corners – and Condor have got it spot on here for a fast, aggressive race bike which still has a confidence-inspiring stability about it.

The Italia RC comes in at a claimed 1,600g for a 55cm painted frame and in this build our complete bike weighs 8.22kg – no heavyweight but it’s not particularly light, either. To be fair, Condor aren’t renowned for making especially svelte bikes, but if you want one of the lightest alloy frames on the market then the likes of the Canyon Ultimate AL SLX, Cannondale CAAD12 and Trek Emonda ALR are nudging down towards the 1,100-1,200g mark, though they don’t all necessarily state the size of the frame and whether it’s painted when weighed.

In terms of ride quality, Condor have countered the old adage that aluminium provides a rough ride – it’s surprisingly smooth. Comfort always used to be the sticking point with aluminium – it appeared to amplify the road noise like the Rolling Stones backline – but production of alloy has moved on significantly in that regard. The Italia RC is so well honed it figuratively puts in earplugs in to quiet the noisy chatter from the road. Condor have also ensured the frame can take up to a portly 28mm tyre, which is a sensible move.

As for stiffness, the reworked downtube and deep, flat-sided chainstays mean the Italia RC gives away little – the rigidity of the frame mean more of the rider’s effort is turned into speed, even if, as we’ve already covered, it’s not the lightest frame around.

What it gives away in weight, however, is made up for with its handling and the Italia RC can do a job in the pro peloton, too. Condor issued a prototype model of the Italia RC to team rider Conor Dunne, who stands 6’8” tall, at the hilly Tour of Taiwan. His frame was custom-sized – an option Condor offer on all of their bikes for an extra £150 (for a further £150 it can have a custom paint job, too) – and he rode his way into two breakaways and fifth on the general classification.

On sizing, the Italia RC comes in six standard sizes – 46cm, 49cm, 52cm, 55cm, 58cm and 61cm – and offer a free bike fit for anyone who buys the Italia RC as a complete bike. You can get it as a frameset only for £749.99, but you can build it up into a wide range of specs using Condor’s online bike builder.

The rear brake cable runs internally, but the gear cables are kept external

Conclusion

Let’s start with homage to aluminium. Its life in the pro ranks was cut short but in 2016 aluminium still has its merits. Lots of them. It’s affordable, generally lighter than steel, and still has a genuine performance edge which was good enough for Pantani in 1998, and for riders like Conor Dunne today. It’s for those reasons – and, crucially, that if you crash it an alloy frame is more durable than carbon – that aluminium is a sensible option for amateur racers.

Still, the Italia RC deserves more than being confined to the race track. It’s certainly not the lightest alloy frame out there – and that may be a sticking point – but the handling is spot on for a frame like this, it’s a stiff chassis, and sensibly priced alongside other high-end alloy frames. Oh, and it’s a right looker.

Pros

  • Pinpoint handling
  • Good value for a stunning frame
  • Ample scope for customization (spec/geometry/colour)

Cons

  • There’s no getting away from it; it’s a little heavier than other top-end alloy frames

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