For the past couple of decades steel has been facing some pretty stiff competition as aluminium, titanium and finally carbon have taken over as the choice of frame material amongst serious cyclists. Once upon a time steel [Ah, remember it well – ed.] was the number one choice for the manufacture of all bicycle frames, but its significant disadvantage in weight has pushed steel firmly from the front line of frame building.
But there is still a place for steel, and it’s one where you’ll find bikes destined for the long, lonely miles of winter riding, where the low price makes it an appealing and wallet-friendly option on a second bike. There’s more than just the price to justify its use though; steel frames can boast incredible comfort and smoothness, important considerations for a bike destined for long rides where comfort is an important consideration.
However, labelling the Fratello, and others like it, as just winter training bikes wouldn’t be fair. For Audax and touring rides, bikes such as this example are the prime choice thanks to their longer wheelbase, mounting eyelets for mudguards and racks and greater clearance for fitment of wider tyres. But, for the purposes of this test, we’re looking at a second bike to take the hit of winter weather and a spot of commuting.
Condor has been building bikes since 1948, and the Fratello is now the London-based shop’s best-selling model. It’s well priced, well specced and, to ensure the bike fits right, they’ll measure you up on their in-shop jig to get the best possible fit. You can also replace listed parts with upgrades, so a different saddle, stem or whatever it may be is only a request away.
For 2008 the only change to the bike is the addition of a new paint option, dark grey, as pictured. Subtler than the popular red and with a new decal package to add a touch of class, the Fratello looks inoffensively good. The price for owning a Fratello has dropped too; now starting at just £799 whether you choose Campagnolo Mirage or Shimano Sora. Move up the range to Campagnolo Record if you prefer, and the price finds its way under £2K.
Equipment levels are modest on our £1,149.99 test bike, coming as it does with Ultegra components, Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels, Dedacciai BlackRain carbon fork, Continental Ultra Gatorskin 23mm tyres, Deda stem and bars, a Condor branded San Marco saddle, Condor carbon seatpost and headset, and SKS Chromo Plastics mudguards. But then you could up-spec any of the parts should you prefer.
Holding all these components in their various places is a Dedacciai Sat 14.5 frame. Condor have been working closely with the Italian tube masters for several years, as the tube company has an enviable reputation for quality. Whilst the thin tubes look decidedly retro beside some of today’s carbon frames, build quality is excellent with smooth welds and a thick coat of paint that resists chips and scratches well.
On the road all the usual trademarks of a steel frame are immediately noticeable. All the jitters of a bumpy road are smothered, though still relaying enough feedback so as to feel in contact with the surface. Lean on it through corners and the steep geometry responds with a nimbleness that makes the Condor enjoyable to ride.
On longer jaunts it’s comfortable, with a refinement that will pay you back long after the shine has faded away. Everything falls into place, with the controls well placed for a good position on the bike. Our Ultegra bike didn’t emit much of a grumble when pointed at hills either – occasionally on the steeper hills the weight can be felt, but this is fine unless you must sprint up every hill in sight.
You could pay more and get a higher level of finishing kit and perhaps Dura-Ace, or Record if you have a Campagnolo preference, but the supplied test bike strikes a good balance of price and performance. The steel frame is good for a lifetime and, from the number of Fratellos spotted in service on a daily basis, will continue to look good for a long time to come.