Always proud to see our hometown hills get some respect.
This is quite possibly the lightest bike we’ve ever tested here at Bicycle Times at just under 17lbs.—but don’t call it a race bike. We’re fond of saying that what most of the bicycle industry calls a “road bike” is, in fact, a road racing bike. Such bikes typically have skinny tires (25mm wide or less), a fairly aggressive (read: uncomfortably bent-over) position, and a ridiculously light but stiff-as-a-board frame.
Meanwhile, most roads that we get to ride on are littered with such non-racing features as potholes, gravel, traffic lights—and don’t forget the traffic. Most “road” bikes, as defined by the industry, are as unsuited to riding on actual roads as a Ferrari is to driving to the grocery store.
>But the next step over from road racing on the bike spectrum is the relatively new category of “comfort” or “endurance” road bikes. These bikes may look at first glance like typical road racing machines, but they have key differences to make them more comfortable over long rides and rougher surfaces—or to help them be simply rideable for us mere mortals. You may sometimes see the term “racing” thrown in the descriptions, but think in terms of racing on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, not the butter-smooth, fresh asphalt of the Tour de France.Tweet Print
For three decades, Pittsburgh’s strongest (and craziest) riders have been racing up the steepest streets in a city where a “hill” doesn’t count unless it’s more than a 20% grade, and the steepest climbs a world-record 38%.
Can’t make it this year, or just don’t think you’re crazy enough? You can watch a live stream over at cyclingfusion.com.Tweet Print
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
By Adam Newman
No bike attracted quite as much attention—from our staff, anyway—at Interbike than the Volagi. Designed by two serious long-distance cyclists as the ultimate long-distance bike, the sweeping shape could only have been made from carbon fiber. Though the bike would be right at home in spirited club rides or even races, that’s not what it’s about. The disc brakes, the light weight, and the aerodynamic shape all contribute to putting away huge miles.
Volagi is a fairly new brand, founded by Robert Choi and Barley Forsman, who have a collective 35 years of bike industry experience. Forsman has completed the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris and holds a fixed-gear record in the 508-mile Furnace Creek 508, so yeah, I think they know what they’re doing.
The most obvious design feature of the Liscio is, of course, the disc brakes. Many an internet message board has filled up with the debate over their merits on the road, but I can tell you this: no one ever tries them and goes back to rim brakes. The Avid BB7s might not have an overwhelming stopping advantage over conventional brakes, but the lever feel is great, they will never fade or get soft, and there is no brake residue all over your rims—and hands.
Other key features are a taller headtube for a more “realistic” geometry for us mortals, clearance for 28c tires or 25c tires and fenders, and a unique split seatstay that wraps around the seattube, allowing it to flex and absorb road vibration. I gotta say, it really works too. It’s outstandingly comfortable to ride.
The Liscio is ffered in three trim levels: SRAM Rival, Shimano Ultegra, and Dura-Ace, as well as a frameset option. I put this Rival-equipped tester through its paces at the Dirty Dozen, a masochistic march up the 13 steepest streets in Pittsburgh. The 34×28 low gear came in handy on Canton Avenue’s 37 percent grade (ok, it actually came in handy on ALL the grades). Weighing in at 18.7 pounds (without pedals) didn’t hurt either.
I plan on putting as many miles as I can through the winter on the Liscio, and keep an eye out for the full review in Bicycle Times Issue #16, on newsstands soon.
The author tackles Canton Avenue’s 37 percent grade.
By Karen Brooks, photos by Jon Pratt
Somehow I have lived and cycled in this city for 20 years without participating in one of its more famous bike events: the Dirty Dozen. This is an underground race of sorts, put on by Danny Chew, local hyper bike guy celebrity and two-time Race Across America winner who likes to dish out punishment—er, invite others to join in his idea of fun, which involves ridiculous amounts of miles or silly feats of leg strength. In this case the idea is to climb a baker’s dozen of Pittsburgh’s steepest hills in an enduro-style format, doling out points for those who make it to the tops fastest.
Before those of you from Colorado or San Francisco snort in derision, know that Pittsburgh boasts possibly the steepest paved street in the world, Canton Avenue, a cobblestone monster with a 37 percent grade. (Some town in New Zealand claims they have one steeper than that, but since it would involve an expensive plane ticket to go find out, we’ll just go ahead and call Canton the steepest.) None of the hills in the Dozen are below 20 percent grade. Sycamore Avenue, a brutal climb made famous by the Thrift Drug Classic race that used to be held in Pittsburgh (once won by a certain Mr. Armstrong) is arguably the easiest of the hills.
Two-time Race Across America winner Danny Chew, above left, has been hosting the event since 1983.
So this year I finally decided that any excuses I might have thought up would bow down to the need to experience this ride. I’d been told that despite the brutality, it was lots of fun, a great rolling tour of the city with an atmosphere of camaraderie. Non-serious bikes and outfits were welcome. I hadn’t done any specific training at all… well, aside from the fact that coming home late from the bar on Thanksgiving Day, about 30 hours before the race, I decided to ride up one extraneous steep hill. So what—as Adam, the Bicycle Times web editor, and I told ourselves at the start, we were there simply to cover it for you dear readers, not necessarily to be competitive.
The turnout this year was much bigger than in previous editions—more than 300 in all—perhaps due to entertaining exposure of the 2010 edition by local public television documentarian Rick Sebak and his broadcast on WQED. The mild weather didn’t hurt, either. Adam and I found ourselves at the back of a very big group to start, and the first hill got underway before I realized it, with no fanfare or even markers to speak of. I passed a bunch of people, but the score keeper at the top had long since moved on by the time I got there. It seemed that some road racing skills would be needed to grab a better placement before the next hill—too bad I don’t do road racing.
Above left: The ride rolls across one of Pittsburgh’s countless iconic bridges. Above right: A local cyclist best known as "Stick" was one of five supermen who completed the ride on singlespeeds.
These hills really are brutal, though, and I didn’t want to burn out before the end. I had installed a mountain bike cassette with a 34-tooth big cog on my ‘cross commuter, for a 38×34 low gear—low enough, I hoped. I had also put on 32mm tires for some extra squish for the cobblestones, and a new chain for luck. I used that low sucker for every hill, despite the fact that I hadn’t tightened the B-tension screw enough and the derailleur pulley rubbed the big cog. I also had to remember not to shift into “big-big”—and forgot once, only to have a seasoned racer-type dude yell at me: “What are you DOING to your DERAILLEUR!”.
The equipment choices paid off. I gradually worked my way toward the front of the pack, and began to catch sight of the fast racer-type chicks that were obviously winning. I even passed one of them on a longer hill. People with high-end road racing bikes sporting big gears were speeding to the front, only to struggle once the real pitches kicked in, barely turning over the pedals, while I could spin (sort of) along and even sit for some bits. (Don’t get me wrong, though—the fast people at the front were mashing their way upward with big gears like the super-human machines they are.) A kind fellow racer began giving me a briefing before each stage. I finally caught sight of the score keeper at about the fifth hill, and apparently nabbed some points.
Very few riders made it up Canton Avenue on the first try.
Then the monster loomed large: Canton was the ninth hill. I made my assault on the wall of cobbles only to be turned back by another racer falling over in front of me, a common occurrence. I shouldered my bike back down the stairs that pass for a sidewalk here to make another attempt. This time I made it up in one effort, channeling mountain bike singlespeeding skills and buoyed by the shouts from the crowd pressing in around the course, le Tour-style. At the top, the score keeper not only remembered my name, she told me I got second place!
From then on, it was on, so to speak. I even won one of the stages, the next-to-last and seemingly the most offensive, a series of turns revealing pitch after pitch, each more hellishly upright than the last. I almost cried at the top. But then I caught my breath and tried to wipe my memory clean to maintain a positive attitude for the last push.
Karen, at left, and the women’s group race to the top of Rialto Street.
Somehow I ended up in the back of the pack again before the last stage… Adam said later that the fast guys in front set a blistering pace. My fellow riders and I were so happy to be nearly done we didn’t care. The last hill snuck up on us gradually, then the last ridiculous pitch smacked us in the face. I could see the score keeper and hear the cheering fans at the top… so close, but oh, my legs were turning to rubber… so far… when will it ever end… and then it was over.
The finish was not far from my house, and I was tempted to just coast back and go straight to bed. But the nice score keeper said that according to her preliminary calculations, I had gotten third place. If I could pedal back to the start, a few miles away, I would possibly collect the accolades of those hardy souls left, plus a cash prize. That convinced me to follow the pack remnants back.
I did indeed win third place. Now I’ll have to try it again next year, armed with experience, and perhaps go for the win. Worth noting is another dominating performance by local legend Stephen "Steevo" Cummings who recorded an incredible eighth consecutive win. But the best part for me was the ride back to my neighborhood with another local hyper bike guy celebrity, Stick, and none other than Danny Chew himself. He peppered us with rapid-fire questions and entertained us with his high-pitched, frenetic delivery. That guy is something else, and so is his race.