But let’s get one thing straight. When it comes to ‘new’ bike designs I am slightly cynical. Why? well you need to bear in mind that at the turn of the last century you could study bicycle design and engineering at University – a reflection of the significance of the invention and the industry. The rules for the diamond pattern frame have been around ever since, such is the nature of its design and it has changed very little in 100 years – so it’s perfect – As Picasso once said the Bicycle is ‘the most beautiful sculpture in the history of art’. Who are we to argue?
So why mess about with it? The bicycle has been pushed constantly to open up new markets and keep things fresh. OK so a bike’s seat and head angles have steepened as the roads have improved – and there was little carbon fibre available when Raleigh started production of their ‘All Steel’ road bikes in the early part of the last century. So, apart from the odd Obree bike, you are stuck with a standard diamond pattern and two wheels as the defining parts (and shape) of the modern bicycle.
What’s gone wrong? Well for starters the compact frame design has limited the size of the bike and with it compromised small people onto large frames and vice versa. But when you realise that the majority of riders have come to ride their current bikes basing their approach on looking at the pro rider’s bikes and positions, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that there are some inappropriate riding positions for the majority of the non-elite and variously shaped cycling population. Ben Serotta realised this and has made it his life’s work.
Who are Serotta? Ben Serotta is a marvellous craftsman. He learnt his craft from a small South London bike builder (I kid you not) and master frame-builder Andy Witcombe, who was (and still is) one of the UK’s leading builders during the 60’s and 70’s. Ben began building bikes as a teenager back in the US he set up in a workshop next to his family’s store. Serotta as a brand was born in 1972, you know this ‘cos it’s written on the Aheadset’s topcap. He has an artisan approach yet uses the finest engineers and materials available – everyone at Serotta has a part to play which Ben is keen to point out. They also mainly custom build through outlets around the world and he trains Serotta bicycle fitters in-house so they understand exactly how to make a Serotta, starting with you, the customer. The bikes range from the ‘budget’ Fierte at around £1000 to this the ‘Ottrott’. It is named after the town of the same name in France – Ben had a life-defining ride in the rain there. So could the Ottrott offer a cynical ‘old skool’ roadie a mind altering ride too?
On closer inspection you can see that Ben Serotta has programmed-in some added height into the headtube and has shortened the position by adding shorter-than-usual top tube and (usually) suggesting to use a much shorter stem. This all makes sense when you ride the bike even though it looks a little odd at first.
Look back a few years to before the Aheadset. bikes in the 1980s had quill stems which meant that the handlebars had a certain amount of extra height than they do now, as we said in the ‘Serotta influenced’ Specialized Roubaix test:
The current road bike trend for rider fit tends to be; cut the steerer down, keep the spacers to a minimum and your bike looks like it would sit perfectly under any Tour de France rider. You end up with a arse-up-head-down (AUHD) position that’ll have you shouting ‘lumbago’ after half an hour… So have the pros got it wrong? Well not really they are a lot more flexible than us for starters and they also are a certain shape/height/build (usually smaller than you’d think). So generally speaking they can get away with a medium to small sized frame and getting low at the front. Yet some riders are now riding with a 6 inch drop between the saddle and the bars and this cannot be comfortable. Look at how many of them have their controls jacked way back on the bars, just so they can reach them.
But Serotta’s complex rider orientated design philosophy makes sense – it also takes into account previous injury history, feet position and ‘aspirations’. The last one is important as if you are planning to ride crits and road races your fit will be different to a person wanting to ride Audax and Etapes. This process is done in the UK by Cyclefit, and it’s fair to say I gave them a long list of problems. I have had custom footbeds fitted, a leg length discrepency diagnosed and my stretching routine analysed. I’m a mess. It’s official.
The build of the Ottrott is complex and involved. The Carbon tubes are bonded into titanium lugs and the seat tube. Then the ST rear wishbone is supported with a pair of titanium bearings at the dropouts which allows a certain amount of ‘travel’ in the rear end, controlled by the titanium chainstays. The pre-preg hand made carbon tubes alone cost more than most carbon frames do, and there are three types of weight. This bike had an intermediate set which are swaged by conically shaping them along their length, the result is a stiffer fat end at the appropriate place (BB or head tube). The titanium sections are also ‘dialled’ to suit the rider and whether you are a 8 stone climber of a 16 stone gear masher there is a Serotta tube for you.
Reynolds composites are recognised as the world leaders in fork design. The Ouzo Pro design is perhaps the finest example I have ever tried. Next to Look’s HSC forks they are the best riding and most responsive avaiulable. But seeing as Ben Serotta is never happy, he has improved the Reynolds design and added titanium ends and in the latest fork has even added similar ‘weights’ of carbon for different rider styles.
The F2 Fork is a standard Aheadset style set up rather than an integrated headtube. There is no obvious weakness in either system, however I prefer the standard headtube as fitting a Chris King aheadset and the performance benifits they offer is hard to ignore. Also in many titanium headtubes the Integrated style has proved problematic. Having said that this Ottrott came with a very King-looking FSA unit, however if (only) it was to be my Ottrott, I’d have a King fitted. The latest F3 fork has longer titanium ends and can cope with much heavier riders.
Out on the road – The Ride
Descending and cruising are equally effortless and the fit means I could spend all day with no neck ache and fluid pedalling no matter how far I’d been – this bike is as good as they say. They being US Bicycling magazine who named it Bike of the year in 2003 and PezCycling.com who also had a Cyclefit
Stella Azzurra also provide the bar tape and it’s really nice to touch. The grippy and quality feel had everyone squeezing it and the white contrast stitching adds a touch of class to the cockpit. I also requested a Selle Italia Turbomatic 4 and this was the genuine Gel version. I have heard rumours that the Italian saddle makers are discontinuing this saddle!? I have started a petition.
Campagnolo’s Chorus theme is interupted in the crank department (partly due to a last minute rush to find some 172.5mm cranks) But it made me wonder when spending this much on a bike why not just opt for the full Record group and a Chris King Aheadset. So that’ll be getting up towards the £7k mark. Ouch.
It’s not all good. Bicycles are an aesthetic statement. I have always disliked Serotta’s angular italic mess of a logo, it’s such a let down for such a well designed bike it hasn’t changed much over the years and the dated 80’s look seems to have little to do with such a ‘revolutionary’ modern bicycle. Many Serottas are a bit plain too, but a visit to Cyclefit and a look at Warrick Spence’s Team Issue Flame paint job is enough to satisfy those after a little more ‘Bling’. I also didn’t like the gear adjuster position and perhaps the brake cable stops could be a little more ‘pleasing’ to the eye.
But the big news for bike buyers is that Serotta’s can be tweaked and personalised so if you want a change here and there then that’s OK. Ben makes sure you get a completely unique bike – so just like Greg Lemond you can be the only one to know you’re riding a Serotta.
Add-in exceptional build quality, some lovely Stella Azzurra parts and a very competent Campagnolo Chorus groupset and you have an exquisite bike. Possibly the best I’ve ridden? Yes, OK, why not – it’s wonderful, you’d just better start saving.
Good: Ride, ride and ride.
Bad: Not much – but you’ll need to invest in a new cycling philosophy
Freewheel: Campagnolo Chorus 10 speed 13-27
Saddle: Turbomatic Genuine Gel
Contact: Cyclefit – 0207 430 0083
• Or e-mail cyclefit here