Some time ago I reported my impressions on Cliff Shrubb´s Reynolds 953 frame. Since then I have had the good fortune to ride another stainless steel frame, this time made with the Columbus XCR tubeset by Tiziano Zullo, the Italian craftsman who works in Castelnuovo del Garda, near Verona.
To sum up, I can say that the bike is a bullet.
To start with, the Zullo Vergine is a light bike: with reliable, everyday components it weighs 8.6kg, which is good enough for a steel bike (my Pegoretti Duende, also TIG-welded using Columbus Spirit, is about 1kg heavier and the Shrubb, with Reynolds 953, is about the same). Its oversized round tubes and chainstays are especially appealing for my liking, beefy and slightly bent outwards. Dropouts are a work of art. Tiziano supplied the frame with a Chris King headset and a carbon Columbus fork (which was included in the price). As a custom frame, dimensions were decided after a long discussion between Tiziano and myself, taking into account my existing frames. I chose a metallic blue paint with ivory panel on the seat tube and a polished rear end.
Riding this bike is a very enjoyable experience, even for somebody who left his racing days long behind. The bike keeps asking for more and the harder you push the pedals the more you enjoy it. It does not flex an inch, no chain rub whatsoever. I am using the big chainring (as I use compact it is a 50t) more than with other bikes as you can feel the stiffness and try to maintain speed on attacking hills. I have felt like a younger man on this bike.
The front end is perhaps the best I have tried, light, crisp and yet comfortable. And the rear end – with its beefy chainstays – is also comfy and terribly stiff. It is difficult to combine stiffness and lightness and at the same time keeping the lively and springy qualities of steel but Zullo has been able to square this circle. The frame does not feel in any way twitchy even at over 50+ kph speed. Its handling is very precise and responsive.
After riding the bike at my usual roads (hills and a couple of technical descents) I took it to what I call “the paracetamol test”: this is a 19km stretch of undulating road which is in a filthy condition, with hardly any Tarmac left. In some occasions I have ended up with a nice headache (that is why I call it the paracetamol test) due to the vibrations that you have to undergo. This time my heart rate monitor went mad at the very beginning and it did not work properly again until getting back to the “normal” road.
Moreover the road keeps going up and down with steep and short hills and fast descents, so the bike has to be very reliable in its handling as you have to keep constantly changing direction to avoid potholes. Luckily enough there were hardly any cars, just rabbits, storks and smaller birds as company. The Zullo behaved very well even though the front end was not as forgiving as that of the Shrubb; I could feel the bumps and cracks on the wrists and elbows more. But no headache at the end.
I built the bike with an old San Marco Regal saddle on top of a Campagnolo Record carbon seatpost (27.2mm), Ritchey Logic bars (good for somebody with small hands) and PZ stem and a mix of Campagnolo components (Chorus levers, Daytona brakes, Chorus carbon compact UT cranks and chainrings, Record front derailleur and Centaur rear) as well as an old pair of Look CX-7 pedals (pre-Keo).
And Tiziano built for me a pair of exotic wheels using Chris King hubs, Sapim DB spokes (32, three cross front and rear) and Ambrosio Excellence rims. I fitted a Shimano 105 cassette that worked flawlessly with the Campagnolo Record chain. Wheel building is another of Tiziano´s skills, learnt in his young days, even before than using the torch, working as an apprenticeship with an old frame builder who built frames for Fausto Coppi. After its first 1,000kms the front wheel is perfect and the rear has just needed a bit of truing (when I took the pics I was using another pair of wheels).
I paid Tiziano two visits to his workshop near Lake Garda (I took advantage of ordering the frame for my first visit to Italy). We had lunch together at a nearby trattoria after riding one of his frames, built into an astonishing sub-6.8kg steel framed machine built for a bike show with light components and Dedacciai tubes. He showed me the area and I took my time to take pics of the bikes and general cycling stuff he has at his place: old frames rode by pro cyclists in the Tour and Giro, lots of tubesets, Campagnolo and Shimano components and in general stuff you can enjoy to look at and talk about with somebody who knows so much about cycling as Tiziano. Quite an experience to have good memories of and to enjoy looking at the pics once you are at home.
It is difficult to do a comparison between the two frames as they have been built with different methods, Shrubb´s using lugs and Zullo´s TIG-welding. This has yielded two completely different bikes. If you are lucky enough to be able to afford both of them you will enjoy what they can deliver. Shrubb´s is a more relaxed and less demanding ride, Zullo´s a tremendously competitive and racing attitude but keeping the spirit of steel. They are both very comfortable and with a good handling, even though the Zullo excels at stiffness and the Shrubb at comfort and handling.
Perhaps to choose between them you will have to consider which is your (current) level of fitness and the purpose of the bike. I wish I were a younger man to get more advantage out of this frame. I am sure it could make a perfect racing bike for pro riders and it is a pity that young people do not enjoy these new steels and just know carbon (and aluminium now and then). The problem is to decide which of the two to use in this year´s Quebrantahuesos.
Zullo frames are available in the UK through www.mosquito-bikes.co.uk