Thursday, March 24, 2011

Enigma Elite review

British bespoke bike specialists Enigma have recently moved into making bikes in titanium and carbon, but originally cut their teeth handcrafting frames in steel. That's what the Elite is made from – and it’s made by hand, too.

There are still good reasons for buying steel bikes: seriously damage a carbon frame and it’s probably consigned to the scrapheap (okay, carbon recycling bin), but steel is a long-lasting material and one that’s comparatively easy to repair.

The Elite is made from Columbus Spirit Niobium triple-butted steel, and is available either fillet brazed or micro-TIG-welded. It’s £975 TIG-welded, £100 more if fillet brazed, and in addition to the five off-the-peg sizes you can have it custom made for £79.99 more. The quality of welding is faultless, and the paintwork equally immaculate.

Ours had the standard two-colour finish with Enigma decals, but custom finishes are also an option. At around 1,600g the Elite isn’t especially light, but that’s only 400-500g more than most similarly priced carbon frames, and the overall 8.5kg weight of our test model compares well with a full-carbon bike.

Also, as the final spec is up to you, if weight is crucial and your pockets are deep enough you could end up with a much lighter bike. We found the ride quality of the Elite slightly surprising, enigmatic even. It certainly offers the zing you’d expect from steel, but it isn’t quite as forgiving as we’d have expected over some of the rougher road surfaces.

It also favours being ridden seated; the head tube is slightly steep and seems to fight you when you’re riding hard out-of-the-saddle, but sit back with hands on the hoods and you can ride comfortably all day long, the 27.2mm carbon seatpost and Enigma-branded saddle helping to smooth out the ride.

If you’re going to have a classic-looking steel road bike you might as well go for Campagnolo kit – a natural match. Ours came with a beautifully smooth drivetrain that’s virtually silent. The transmission comes courtesy of Campag Centaur and Fulcrum’s Racing 5 wheels.

Centaur might be fifth in the Italian company’s groupset hierarchy, with ‘just’ 10 gears, but shifting is crisp, the hoods provide a natural shape for your hands, and braking is smooth, controlled and requires less effort than Shimano. The result is a bike that’s ideal for long-distance riding and sportives.

Credit: Road Bikes & Gear

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