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Litespeed Ghisallo reviewed

Frame – Litespeed Ghisallo
Seatpost – Easton EC70
Fork – Reynolds Ouzo Pro
Headset – Chris King
Wheels – Campagnolo Bora

Groupset – Campagnolo Record
Tubulars – Veloflex Criterium
Handlebars and stem – Deda Newton O/S
Saddle – Selle Italia SLR
Contact: Litespeed.com

Litespeed’s Ghisallo: click for a bigger pic

A fantasy comes true

All road cyclists have their fantasy bicycle. For all but a lucky few this sadly remains an idle daydream. I used to dream of the Colnago C40 – stiff, light, carbon; responsive enough to win countless Tour stages, yet strong enough to withstand the punishment of Paris-Roubaix.

The arrival of the Litespeed Ghisallo in 2002 burst this bubble, and like a seed, the idea of riding one grew inside me. Advertised with an image of a feather, this featherweight titanium beauty captured my imagination, and here I am, fortunate enough to test one out longterm.

The Ghisallo is the compact framed, cold-worked titanium jewel in the Litespeed crown. Literally, the lightest of frames, mine weighed in at 1.98lb (complete with certificate to prove it). In combination with a lively geometry – a 73o head-angle and 96.6cm wheelbase, the Ghisallo promises a direct and responsive ride. Partnered with Campagnolo’s Record groupset, and Bora wheels, my mouth positively watered as this dream came true – and here thanks go to Paul at Rick Green Cycles of South Manchester for equipping the bicycle.

That was fourteen months ago. In-between times I’ve put plenty of hours on on the bike with the Pennines proving the best testing ground.


Fast, fast, fast….

It goes without saying that the Record groupset is perfection. Gear shifting is quiet, smooth and elegantly understated, the carbon complementing the brushed glow of titanium. One can argue the merits, both technical and financial of Shimano and Campagnolo components, but the Record groupset remains the Queen of all. Very elegant, very simple and very expensive.

It is the Ghisallo frame itself, however, that makes this bicycle both special, and fast. There is no question in my mind that this bike will make you go faster. Uphill, downhill, on the flat, it doesn’t matter. This frame, in this set-up, is remarkably quick. On the flat, the frame acts as you would expect – responsive with strong power transfer. And with a carbon seatpost and hourglass rear-stays, the ride is comfortable enough for even long days in the saddle, however narrow said saddle might be. The Bora wheels just eat the wind, and strike a great balance of stiffness and compliance.

But it is in the hills that this bike comes alive. It simply loves gravity, and gravity loves it. As the road begins to climb, it is as if the Madonna del Ghisallo herself, the patron saint of cyclists, cradles you in her hand, or more accurately shoves you firmly from the rear, up the hill. Rising from the saddle drives the bike forward, and you almost need to work to keep up with this bike. The lightweight set-up flatters enormously and the transmission is so direct it feels that power seems to flow through lungs, into the legs and onto the road.

Downhill, the effect is also direct. Responsive geometry, aerodynamic wheels and huge acceleration lets you go faster into every corner, with greater confidence. I take a breath, relax and resist the eyeball-popping desire to brake hard. The Record brakeset is awesomely powerful, and the carbon levers give a reassuringly wide and warm grip. Out of the saddle to accelerate out of the hairpin and the only sound is the wind in my hair and the carbon wheels cutting air, and a wow that escapes involuntarily from my lungs. The lively ride is just right, responsive without becoming twitchy. You can go faster and deeper into those corners, and the Madonna looks after you.

The Ghisallo is a thoroughbred; lively and responsive and, when asked, it responds beautifully, even before you know you are asking. This feeling will be familiar to riders, like me, who started their careers with expensive Italian steel. The frame talks to you, encourages you out of the saddle and up the hill. On the Ghisallo, you never want for a training partner – this frame communicates with you.

But it is in this communication that I awoke from the daydream. The Ghisallo really needs to be powered up – slowly winding your way home, or riding ‘passagiata’ the voice from the frame goes deathly quiet, and the ride is comparatively unengaging. It is as if all the drive of the frame is latent, waiting for power and cadence, and that in its absence, the Madonna sulks off to find a more deserving cause.

So this frame is all about the top-end. Put the work in, and you will have a constant companion, a voice from your bicycle with every pedal stroke, but back off for just one moment, and you are all alone, stranded on 5 grands worth of shiny American import.

Be careful what you wish for…

So this is a remarkable bicycle: unquestionably fast, direct and nimble, but does it correctly occupy my fantasy top-slot? The answer, I’m afraid, is no. For those fast, furious days in the hills, for criterium racing, or as part of a professional team’s armoury, unhesitatingly I would say this is an incredible bicycle.
As an amateur rider, without a stable of bicycles though, this bicycle is simply too specialised to be ideal.

On those days when you want to enjoy being on the road, soaking in sunshine, or crossing Alpine passes, other frames may offer a more balanced ride – albeit at the expense of the top-end drive. Litespeed’s more conventional frames fill this mark well, so a Classic or Tuscany may offer the best of both worlds.

Dreams coming true ? Be careful what you wish for. Now if only Colnago could send me that C50 for a test!

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