A riding mate of mine asked me the other day how many bikes I’ve ridden. No idea. It’s a few, but not as many as some, I’m sure. The bikes I have owned have varied in material and specification too, always changing stuff and tinkering… Then the conversation drifted onto what is the ‘benchmark bike’ we had both ridden, in each bicycle manufacturing material. These are the bikes that you test the rest against, or at least that’s the theory. These bikes change and shift with time and it wasn’t easy to decide, but we came up with a list. They aren’t the ‘best bikes we’ve ridden’ but they are the ones that stood out for ride qualities and ground breaking improvements over what had come before. It’ll change again, I’m sure.
So our benchmarks in the road cycling past are as follows:
Steel – Eddy Merckx SLX or Bianchi’s Boron Steel
Aluminium – Pinarello Gallileo or a Eddy Merckx Team SC
Titanium – Merlin Extralight (pre-2000) or a Litespeed Vortex (c. 2001 or 2002, can’t remember exactly)
Carbon – Colnago C40 (the C50 was not quite as groundbreaking) or a Trek OCLV (no particular year, probably the first version)
Mixture of any of the above – Serotta Ottrot
But our cycling aspirations shift and change too. Once upon a time races and training rides were all we asked of a road bike. Now a road bike may be used for a tour, an Etape, some commuting and even a triathlon although I’m not sure why anyone would want to run…
However what’s really obvious is that most riders these days want a bike with options and steel has always been the most versatile material. Steel bikes were all but gone and forgotten at the turn of the century, aluminium took over when they realised that the weight and price saving could be considerable, however builders are turning back to steel and tubing is developing at an alarming rate – so perhaps aluminium is now the tubing of yesteryear?
As we’ve already said in the preview, Scapin are one of the leading Italian steel bike builders. We previewed the bikes at the EICMA show in Milan a few months back and were very impressed with the 2006 range.
The new Spirit R8 is a more “traditional” high end frame from Scapin. Made from custom drawn Columbus Spirit, the tubes are all hand welded in the Scapin factory. Look a little closer and you’ll notice that the seat clamp bolt fixing and the gear adjuster mounts are just the start of the fine details that Scapin employ, they clearly have some inventive designers and engineers at their factory and this frame has plenty of added extras. The rear drop outs have a reverse socket on the lever side that helps the wheel fall out when the QR lever is undone, simple but very clever and shows that Scapin go the extra mile.
The steel is then ceramic bead blasted to strengthen the welds and prime the
surface for the WPT weather proofing treatment. This involves an electrolosis
process to coat the surface with Zinc salts, inside and out, resulting in a
frame that will withstand anything the weather can throw at it. This addresses the longevity issues sometimes (wrongly) thrown at steel frames, they insure that their frames will last and the paint finish (applied in house) is certainly hard to chip.
So long distance riding requires a more holistic approach and like all Scapin bikes, the difference in ride feel was immediate, it’s in the handling, with stability a priority. The “built-in” comfort of the highest grade steel available, it certainly is a bike that can be ridden all day.
The rear stays are obviously where the seated comfort comes from and they are very elegantly curved to add some seated comfort. This bike makes no apology for where it’s aimed (directly at the Sportive rider). Geometry choices are optional, a very radical approach for an Italian builder. Generally Italian bikes tend to be upright and boxy matching seat tube length with top tube, Scapin offer compact or standard geometry which means you can make an aesthetic choice as well as a engineering one. This one was in standard geometry and it only adds a little weight.
Out of the saddle the Spirit has no tendancy to flop and rock like an old lugged steel frame would, their tubing is selected to keep things straight. It is also solid, which is a big step on, as previous lightweight steel bikes that Scapin have made had a tendancy to have very thin tubing that was vulnerable and delicate.
The components on the Spirit are pretty well sorted too. A Mizuno FK-SL carbon fork and
FSA headset up front matches the look and handling of the frame. Mizuno are one of the original carbon fork manufacturers and have always produced excellent products, the full carbon blades and steerer are also matched into the Scapin’s paint, which is a nice touch. The bars and stem are also from FSA and they add nicely into the complete black/red look that the builders have chosen.
Shimano’s Ultegra 10 is mixed in with an FSA compact crank (with FSA front derailleur) and Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels. Nothing at all wrong with the Mavic wheels but we’d opt for a slightly more responsive set of wheels to match the frame, especially for racing. The bike was expertly assembled and neat build finishes are what you want to see when paying this much money, Veloce bikes certainly offer more than the average “out of the box” complete bike. It all worked well especially the gear shift with the FSA compact specific front gear mechanism, a lot better than trying to make a standard mech work with smaller chainrings. It’s a respectable weight, but there’s no doubt that it could be lighter, spend a bit more on wheels and groupset and you’d have a climbing, racing rocketship.