By Adam Newman
As in the auto industry, most of the major innovations in cycling technology in the past century have stemmed from racing. Even the simple quick release was created after poor Tullio Campagnolo lost a race in 1927 when his frozen fingers couldn’t loosen a wingnut. So, when disc brake detractors point at their drawbacks on road bikes—they’re heavy, lack high-end refinement, or there are too few op- tions available—I point to their lack of racing pedigree as the reason they have never been adopted by the mainstream or why big component manufacturers have not developed them further. Until now.
In the summer of 2010, the UCI—pro cycling’s governing body—approved disc brakes for use in cyclocross racing, and the world took notice. With top-level pro racers slowly adopting disc brakes in competition, the brakes are taking an unusual “trickle-up” path in the market. They might be a love-it-or- hate-it component, but the former is quickly outpacing the latter.
The Volagi brand is the brainchild of two cycling industry veterans who wanted a clean slate to design a bike exactly for the type of riding they enjoy. As endurance cyclists—co- founder Barley Forsman even holds a record in the fixed-gear category of the Furnace Creek 508-mile race—they wanted a comfortable, aerodynamic, light bike that didn’t need to com- ply with any sanctioning body’s regulations. Forsman and co-founder Robert Choi went through all the possible braking options that fit their criteria, and ultimately decided only discs would do. “When you have a rulebook on your desk, it dictates how you do things,” Forsman said. “We threw out that book.”
In the first example widely available in the U.S., the Liscio merges modern carbon fiber shapes with disc brakes. But unlike its cyclocross cousins, this steed is strictly for paved roads. Its other novel features begin with the eye-catching frame shape, which includes a unique seatstay-to-top-tube junction in which the stays wrap around the seat tube and join the top tube a few inches ahead. This allows for a small amount of the much-beloved “vertical compliance” that keeps you feeling fresh after long days in the saddle. Volagi calls this the LongBow Flex stay and says it allows for 5.5mm of flex.
The seat tube itself is a proprietary airfoil shape, and the top and down tube feature similar svelte lines. The head tube is slightly taller than what you’d find on a racing bike, to put the rider in a more comfortable position in the long haul, and the fork’s steerer tube is tapered from 1-1/8” at the top to an unusual 1-3/8” at the bottom. The brake mounts are the post-mount style that thread directly into the frame, and if for some reason you wanted to mount traditional caliper brakes, there are holes for that, too. You’ll find room for 25 or 28mm tires, as well as mounts for fenders, be- cause those long rides shouldn’t stop when the skies turn gray.
The bike is available with a SRAM Rival kit as well as Shimano Ultegra and Dura-Ace builds, or as a frameset for $2,195. Installed on the complete bikes are Volagi’s own disc-specific wheelset with a 130mm axle spacing.
Because standard mountain bike hubs are 135mm, you won’t be able to use them if you want to build up a different wheelset. Forsman said he wanted to give owners options should they decide to switch to caliper brakes, and it allows for slightly more heel clearance.
You’re probably most curious about the brakes, and I have to say they are wonderful. The road version of the Avid BB7 brakes has a reputation for poor lever feel, but I completely disagree. Braking with the Rival levers is smooth, controlled, and responsive. Best of all, it never fades, is unaffected by the weather, and feels great in your hands. Despite the added control, the overall stopping power isn’t so overwhelming that you’ll need to recalibrate your brain to prevent locking up the wheels.
When going uphill rather than down, the SRAM Rival group is well-suited for the type of riding the bike was designed for. Pairing an FSA Gossamer compact crank- set with an 11-28-tooth cassette gave me enough low-end range to tackle the Dirty Dozen ride, a battle to climb the 13 steepest streets in Pittsburgh, topping out on the dizzying 38 percent grade of Canton Avenue.
When choosing which size Liscio to ride, my preferred measurements unfortunately fell between two of the offered sizes. The 3.2cm jump from the 57cm to the 60cm sizes (with a 56.7cm and 59.6cm effective top tube, respectively) left me scratching my head. I ultimately chose the smaller of the two sizes for a slightly sportier ride, and it ended up fitting me well, but because the seatpost was extended close to its maximum, I had some trouble keeping it from slipping. The clamp has since been redesigned with a two-bolt system that should alleviate the issue.
The easiest way to sum up the ride quality of the Liscio is to say that it rides a lot like a steel bike when going straight. Slight irregularities in road surfaces and high-frequency vibrations are muted and smoothed over. I guess that fancy seatstay works after all. With the included 25mm tires, it’s certainly one of the most comfortable bikes I’ve ever ridden. Forsman said they tried to tune the ride in the spirit of a German sports sedan rather than an American luxury yacht.
Unfortunately, that comfort comes at a price. Though it tracks smoothly and comfortably, it isn’t quite stiff enough for me. Pulling on the handlebars causes quite a bit of flex, not at the bottom bracket or fork, but between the front and rear ends, it seems. Descending bumpy streets—which is pretty much all the streets around Pittsburgh—results in a disconcerting amount of front-end flex; enough that it kept me from going fast enough to really push the brakes hard. I’m about as far from a structural engineer as anyone could be, but I’d bet the thin, aerodynamic shapes of the down tube and top tube don’t help the overall stiffness.
Braking with the Rival levers is smooth, controlled, and responsive. Best of all, it never fades, is unaffected by the weather, and feels great in your hands. Despite the added control, the overall stopping power isn’t so overwhelming that you’ll need to recalibrate your brain to prevent locking up the wheels.
I really want to love the Liscio, but I think there are a few details that need sorting out. Clearly the frame flex was an issue, but Forsman said I would have had better luck on the larger size, since each size has a different carbon layup. Certainly you need to try be- fore you buy, and if there isn’t a dealer nearby, you can give them a call and they’ll try to find a way to get you on a bike. Other factors worth considering include the 130mm spacing of the rear axle while the rest of the industry seems to be settling on 135mm. Also, with the looming introduction of hydraulic disc brakes (some adapter kits are already on the market, and SRAM has announced its Red group will include the option in fall 2012), routing the housing outside the frame will need to be addressed.
These issues aside, I applaud Volagi’s guts to introduce a revolutionary product as a small brand. This first iteration of the Liscio might be a solid base hit, but I’m hoping version 2.0 is a home run.
- Age: 31
- Height: 6’3”
- Weight: 175lbs.
- Inseam: 33”
- Country of origin: Taiwan
- Price: $2,895
- Weight: 18.7lbs.
- Sizes available: 50, 53, 55, 57 (tested), 60cm