There was a time when steel had all but disappeared from modern bike manufacturing. It was considered too heavy, too prone to corrosion, obsolete in the face of aluminium and everyone was drooling over this new miracle material called carbon fibre.
A couple of decades down the line, steel is hot again. What’s more, thanks to new production techniques which have resulted in extra thin-walled but incredibly strong tubing, the steel frames of today are providing a credible alternative in serious race bikes, the manufacture of which remains largely in carbon.
This is why I have been riding a Condor Super Acciaio (pronounced Ack-eye-oh, it means steel in Italian). Steel is nothing new to Condor - the London-based company has been producing bikes in the material since it was founded in 1948.
The Super Acciaio is different. Steel might be making a comeback but it is a material that remains steeped in nostalgia and its use is still by and large restricted to bikes that aren’t used in competition. This, however is the result of years of testing from the Rapha Condor Sharp pro team and manufactured from super-light Columbus custom tubing. It is a thoroughbred race bike, has been used in races, and done very well. Dan Craven achieved a podium position (second) on a Super Acciaio in the Richmond GP and the whole team rode them for the 2013 Tour Series. The bike was actually borne out of a suggestion from Craven, who was looking for something that felt like the bikes he used to race as a youngster in Namibia.
The 2014 Super Acciaio is a tweaked version. Condor have listened to the team and fine-tuned what was already a totally capable machine. The result is a steel bike with some serious racing pedigree. It shares its frame geometry with Condor’s carbon Leggero, and also incorporates other features more commonly found with carbon such as the tapered head tube and an oversized bottom bracket shell, which allows for a press-fit bottom bracket.
Weight has been saved on the new version, too. This Columbus tubing is 150g lighter than the previous Dedacciai steel, and slim forks have shaved off another 50g.
For the weekend cyclist this boils down to one thing - a really solid, engaging ride. The Super Acciaio is incredibly light for steel, whilst possessing the responsiveness and comforting rigidity the material is renowned for. It’s never going to beat carbon in terms of weight, or lack of it, but that won’t bother you when you’ve done 70 miles (112.65 km for the purists) and you realise you could comfortably ride it all again. That comfort translates to the handling, too. Power transfer is so efficient that climbs become a pleasure, with the Super Acciaio as good as pulling you up them, while corners are nimble and sure-footed. And it accelerates like it was made in Italy.
This last point is salient because the Super Acciaio was made in Italy, where all Condor bikes are made, by hand, which is a departure from the more usual Far Eastern manufacturing base and will explain the use of Italian Columbus tubing.
Now if bikes had souls, which I am occasionally inclined to believe they do, it would follow that the Super Acciaio would be a little bit fiery and would answer to the name Luigi. There’s a hot red stripe detail on the otherwise gloss black (Condor logo aside) frame to facilitate this and to complete the Italian set-up, a Campagnolo Athena 11-speed groupset with Campag Shamal Ultra wheelset. Athena is mid-range, kind of a Shimano 105 equivalent, and it proved sharp at changing and reliably accurate. Anyone with any doubts as to the need for an 11-speed drivetrain should give it a go if they get the chance. That additional gear is like the last piece in the puzzle and smooths out the changes perfectly. The wheels were also extremely impressive. Carbon hubs with ceramic bearings, they were almost silent when freewheeling, and reassuringly stiff.
Would this bike have ridden as well with Shimano or Sram groupsets? Maybe, but then the Super Acciaio seems to suit the Campag so well, and that’s coming from a Shimano devotee. I would even go so far as to say the Super Acciaio softened my position on Campag.
This is mainly because I was having such a good time enjoying the solid but forgiving ride, the confidence inspiring handling and the entirely absorbing responsiveness. This is a bike that makes you want to go faster and makes you feel confident about doing it. That’s the English aspect of it - solid and dependable. The power is there if you need it but the sturdy build and sure-footedness are what really count.
This is a bike designed in England with an Italian soul and a race-proven pedigree. It is hard to believe it is steel until you get on it and then you realise.
Carbon would never ride this beautifully.
Summary: A solid, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable ride, and so light it’s hard to believe it is steel. English heritage and Italian build just add to the romance.
Frame: Condor Super Acciaio
Group set: Campagnolo Athena 11 speed
Wheels: Campagnolo Shamal
Tyres: Continental Grand Prix
Finishing kit: Fizik Cyrano R3
Saddle: Fizik Aliante
Weight: 1800g (52cm frame)
£1,299.99 (frameset only)
Buy it here