Condor Super Acciaio

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.

Condor have listened to the team and fine-tuned what was already a totally capable machine

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)

5/5

Buy it here

www.condorcycles.com

Mason builds a bike brand to be proud of

The bond between a man and his bicycle can be an emotional one. Dominic Mason is well aware of this, and that is why he has gone out of his way to create a bike brand that people will fall in love with. It seems to be working. 

Whatever emotions Mason bikes stir within the customers themselves will pale in comparison to those Dominic has for the brand himself, however. 

“One of the major events that kicked me into taking action and following my dream was the death of my Dad. It seriously jolted me and made me think about where I was with things and where I wanted to take my life, so I left my secure well paid job and ploughed my entire inheritance into starting Mason Cycles.” 

It was a leap of faith that appears to be paying off. Mason hit the ground running when it launched in March 2015: “We have been running on pre-orders since we started trading.” This is thanks a lot to some inspired brand cultivation. Glimpses of frames and the sort of details that a non-cyclist would struggle to make sense of were teased out over months. It was evident that a lot of thought had gone into every aspect of Mason bikes, something Dominic says he also has his dad to thank for. 

“My Dad was a lecturer in art and architectural design, and was a real details man so I’m pretty sure he would be really proud of where we are and the brand that he helped to inspire,” Dominic continues. 

Mason Cycles are what Dominic refers to as a “semi-custom” product but without the six or eight month lead time that usually comes with a custom build. “If we have the suitable frameset in stock then we promise to deliver the finished bicycle within four weeks from final payment.” 

Mason offers stock frames to suit most dimensions of rider, made in small Italian workshops, something that helps instill a romance in the brand, even if it has presented challenges of its own: “The Italians have a certain way of working and it can be difficult sometimes. I began to realise why more people don’t go to Italy to have their frames built.” 

Nevertheless, Dominic considers the quality of craftsmanship worth the effort, and discussions with factory owners were nothing new to him. He had previously worked at Sussex-based Kinesis bikes before deciding to launch his own brand. “I put a lot into Kinesis - but I didn’t own it.” 

Mason Cycles offer a number of unique features which have been winning over the affections of customers

Mason Cycles offer a number of unique features which have been winning over the affections of customers, such as the particular shade of navy blue - “we had a lot of help from Oli Pepper from Morvelo [cycle clothing] with that” - and the sharp graphics which are all positioned on the frame so as to be invisible from the front and entirely visible from the rear. Then there is the internal cable routing, which enters and exits the frame via ports which are switchable should you decide on graduating up to electronic gears at a later date (most bikes are built to accommodate one or t’other). These are elements you would be hard pushed to find from a bike company with years under its belt rather than one which is less than a year old. The same might be thought of the decision to make the frames out of Italian Columbus steel - an inspired move but not an obvious one. Even the carbon forks were built from scratch because Dominic was unable to find any he deemed suitable so designed his own. Hunt wheels and disc brakes are standard across the range. 

“The framesets have some unique features and are designed for modern and progressive riding styles,” Dominic says. 

This is a feature he will carry through to the next phase of the brand’s development - he is producing three new models, working with Josh Ibbet, who won the 2015 4,000km Transcontinental race on a Mason bike, on testing and development. 

Dominic plans to offer five models in the Mason lineup by the middle of 2016, building up to eight by the time the business is five years old. 

Ambitious plans for a startup, but Dominic is confident he can pull it off: “It’s all been a big scary experiment so far, but we’ve had a great reception for the brand from public and press with some killer reviews all round.” 

Mason is progressing so well that he has recently taken on his first employee to help free him up for design and development of the new bikes. 

Even with the relatively short lead time, Dominic’s waiting list continues to grow. Evidence that he knows how to stir the emotions when it comes to bikes. You get the feeling his dad would be very proud indeed. 

RIDING THE RESOLUTION

You’ve only got to set eyes on a Mason to appreciate the passion behind the brand. The sharp graphics, that particular shade of navy (black is also available), the build quality, all suggest a bike company with a history stretching far beyond its years. 

Not bad going for a startup which this time last year was not much more than an ambitious idea and some very cool-looking images. 

The Mason range comprises two models; the steel Resolution and the aluminium Definition. It is the Definition which carried Josh Ibbett to victory on the 4,000km Transcontinental race in the summer of 2015. He was a whole day and 400km ahead of his closest competitor. 

Josh said his choice of the Definition over the Resolution boiled quite simply down to a question of weight. When you’re racing across central Europe every gram counts and those few extra comfort pounds that come with a steel bike were deemed a luxury too far. 

There is an underlying theme to Mason’s bikes, and that is to provide year-round use. Instead of road cyclists using a “dull, uninspiring” winter bike for the cold months and keeping their best bike for summer, Dominic Mason wanted to offer something that would provide year-round satisfaction. “Not a lifeless ‘do it all’ machine but a spirited ‘multi-discipline’ bicycle,” he explains. The four-seasons bike, in other words. 

If you feel one bike is all you need, then the resolution would indeed fit the bill. It is comfortable enough, with its relaxed riding position, while the Columbus steel frame when run with the bombproof Hunt wheels and Fabric saddle will smooth out all but the worst road hum. For added cushioning the Resolution will accommodate anything up to 32mm tyre widths, although we found the Continental Grandsport 28mm perfectly suitable. 

Given that the Resolution Ultegra Hydro isn’t really built for racing, it’s all the more surprising when you put your foot down. There’s no denying its nimbleness when you need to pick up the pace. This helps explain Mason’s assertion that the bikes are “designed to be ridden fast.” That said, the long wheel base does make the steering a little sluggish. Something that could be remedied to a degree by a longer stem but ultimately it’s the price you pay for that additional bit of comfort. 

As Josh Ibbett has already proven, Mason bikes are the perfect vehicle for the longer ride. There is the feeling, when you mount a Mason, that the world is out there to be explored, that the mini adventure is yours for the taking and you might not be back in time for supper. The choice of Shimano groupsets offers the reassurance that you could obtain a spare part with minimal fuss should you need to, and the disc brakes provide solid, confident stopping regardless of the weather. For winter Dominic will also fit a couple of SKS full mudguards, the kind that prevent the full complement of road crap from coming anywhere near you or for that matter, the rest of the bike. 
It would be a very special machine indeed that could persuade the cycling devotee to stop his endless quest for “just one more bike,” but when it comes to a Mason you might instead find yourself looking to get in just one more ride instead. A triumph in cycle manufacturing. 

Summary: It would be difficult to find a better year-round bike. Reassuringly stable even in extreme weather, with plenty of oomph should you need it and jaw-dropping good looks. The ride position and steering is perhaps not sporty enough for some, but comfort is amazing, and that’s what you’ll be thinking about after 100 miles in the saddle. 

4.8 / 5
Mason Resolution Ultegra Hydro £3,195

Available here

Hot and not yellow: The Mustard

The handmade bicycle might well be considered something of a rarity these days, but there are thankfully still enough framebuilders around to have kept the industry alive.

One of those is Mark Reilly. Previously a co-founder of Enigma cycles, Reilly has since set up in a little workshop on a Newhaven industrial park. Here he builds frames under his Nerve bikes brand and also the little-known Mustard.

This is a brand owned by Stephen Roche of Prestige cycles and until recently focused on Titanium builds. Stephen learnt his trade as a fitter at Mosquito bikes in London before he became a bit fed up with the commute and established Prestige in Hove.

The Mustard range now includes steel frames - the classic, lugged, timeless variety that you could quite realistically ride for the rest of your life. Where Mustard differs from other makers of handmade frames is the price point - a starting price of £900 will get you a custom-built frame. This is a price that comes in a good few hundred pounds below what might be considered a standard price. It is also a price that Stephen Roche considers reasonable: “That price includes a decent margin,” he says. “I don’t know how you can justify a higher price.”

Roche calls Mustard an affordable entry-level into handmade bikes, but that’s not really doing the brand or the bikes justice. Mark Reilly builds these frames with the same passion and precision he would any other and there will not be even a fraction of a second when you would consider yourself to have gone for the cheaper option.

On Your Bike’s frame was built using Reynolds 853 lugged tubing, carbon forks and a Shimano 105 11-speed groupset. The ability of the steel to dissipate road buzz and take the edge off jarring imperfections in the nation’s atrocious roads all feeds through to provide a highly comfortable, engaging ride. It will never compete with carbon in terms of weight, but then you would never consider steel of any kind if you were the type who thought a saved ounce would do you any favours.

This is a bike for the lover of the ride rather than the speed freak - Strava louts seriously need not apply. This mere fact alone sets Mustard in a bracket far removed from your average bike.

It is also a bike that will turn heads, especially given that you do have the opportunity to make it completely unique by requesting particular frame geometries and paint schemes. The On Your Bike Mustard was built with a horizontal top tube and a more aggressive geometry, then finished in a mid grey with red lugs to complement the logo. It is worth noting that the paintwork is also done in Brighton and all lettering and logos are actually part of the paint process rather than added afterwards.

This is the sort of attention to detail that you would find on the highest-end of handmade bikes and which sets the tiny Mustard brand apart even in its own small industry niche.

Summary: Quite extraordinary value for money for a handmade frame, finished to perfection with an entirely made-in-England construction that would usually set you back an awful lot more. Get one before the waiting list gets too big.

From £900 (frame only)

For the full story of the fit and build consultation visit here.

Full specs below:

Frame: Mustard Classic custom build by Mark Reilly from Nerve Bikes

Forks: Columbus carbon

Groupset: Shimano 11-speed

Bars: 3T Ergonova

Stem: 3T

Seatpost: Thomson Elite

Seat: Prologo

Wheels: Fulcrum Seven

TyresContinental Grand Sport

To discover more about the Mustard brand, visit:http://www.prestige-cycles.co.uk/

Eastway CX 1

I was about ten minutes into the ride when I first thought about packing it all in and turning around. This was around the time I had my third out-of-control experience, when I had to let the bike take me through the half-a-foot-deep mud, because I was unable to steer, into a freshly planted field. This is where it stopped abruptly and ejected me like a wayward bullock would rid itself of a cowboy. I wouldn’t have been quite as bothered if the dog walkers weren’t there. They had witnessed the first crash as I tried to pass them, and the second, when I attempted a different path on the opposite side of some bushes which resulted in a low-speed face plant into bramble. Now, as I picked myself up from the field and tried to set off, I had a dog walker running alongside me shouting encouragement and offering medical assistance. At least it encouraged me to stay upright.

It should be said at this point that I am not blaming the bike for this fiasco. In fact there is nothing I would rather have been riding than the Eastway CX1 because at least it looks good. I blame mother nature, frankly, for dumping so much rain down over the past few months that even a couple of dry weeks had done nothing to drain out the ground. The field upon the edge of which I was riding was quite simply a quagmire - a Land Rover would have struggled to keep a straight line.

I had initially planned to give the CX1 a good thrashing in a proper cyclocross race but the season ended so I decided on the next best thing - Hadleigh Castle Country Park in Essex. Scene of much mountain bike action during the Olympics, the legacy of which was a whole network of purpose-built tracks threading through the woods, dry and lumpy. Ideal for a cyclocross bike, with its knobbly tyres and construction unhindered by complicated suspension. The trouble was, I had to negotiate the field to get to it.

This was second stage of the CX1’s trial. We’d been on the road together on a couple of decent-length rides, even managing to hold the pace of the group, albeit requiring a little more effort than usual due to those off-road tyres and the higher cross-specific gearing. The bike had received many an admiring glance, thanks to its standout turquoise and black colourway and the super effective disc brakes that I had heard so many horror stories about did an amicable job in not causing a pileup. In fact, road riding was quite pleasurable. If I had changed out the tyres it would have been a delight.

We made it to the other end of the field without much further incident, but also with zero velocity. So I had to shoulder the CX1 and sprint, like a proper cyclocrosser, up the 250ft hill to Hadleigh Castle. This allowed me to appreciate the flattened-out top tube and the routing of the brake cable above it. It also helped me to realise that a carbon cross-bike was more than a Flash Harry statement. With its added heft and about a ton of mud clinging to it, this was never going to compare to a road machine in terms of weight, but it was certainly light enough to carry up a hill.

And then I was off, dropping down over more sodden fields and through deceptively green and solid looking cow pat-pocked landscape. There was a stye with what turned out be about a foot of liquid mud around it. That was the second time I almost went home. The only thing that stopped me was the sight, on the other side, of the very track that had been built as part of the Olympic ‘legacy.’ The grey shingle proved more of a draw than the yellow brick road did to Dorothy.

On that track, as I headed towards the kissing gate, I was reminded how cross bikes make great trail bikes. Seriously, if you’re torn between a hybrid and a road bike, a cross bike provides the perfect solution. You have the added strength and clearance to deal with the muddy tracks, and the race-leaning geometry for the road. It really is the best of both worlds.

In the cross bike sector, the CX 1 is positioned among the big boys, thanks largely to its carbon frame and forks. This has been strengthened to accommodate the extra stresses which disc brakes put on it, resulting in a hefty looking beast which is more than capable of taking a bit of hard work. The gears are mid-range Sram Rival - a brand necessitated by the Avid brakes. You can’t have one without the other. Both worked admirably, even when caked in thick mud. The clips that secure the cables to the frame, however, did not. They have a habit of pinging off, to be lost forever. Cable ties facilitate a suitable, if less attractive, replacement.

Finishing kit is all own-brand, which on a bike at this price point does beg the question of which manufacturer is actually behind it. This fact remains a mystery, although parts all appear to be perfectly adequate - the own-brand handlebars offer a typically cross-friendly shallow drop and with the soft Eastway tape, a comfortable grip. For true racing and to save a bit of weight a serious cyclo-cross rider would consider changing out the alloy finishing kit for carbon, perhaps. This would not be such an easy job with the own-brand wheels. Changing out wheels with disc brakes is a far more complicated task than with rim brakes and options are strictly limited.

So you’re going to have to get used to your CX 1 as it is, which is not half bad. This is a great bike. It is comfortable, responsive and capable of taking you over many surfaces in most conditions. What’s more, it looks stunning. I think I found its limits in calf-deep mud, but not much would have got through that.

I’m pleased I persevered.

Summary: Stunning looks and carbon construction put it in the first division of cyclocross bikes, with handling and comfort to match. Own-brand finishing kit will raise eyebrows and disc brakes limit wheel options but as it comes this is the perfect all-rounder even if you don’t want to race.

£1,999

Get it here