Carbon fiber bikes have changed more in the last 10 years than steel bikes have in the last 50 years. I write that as a fan of steel and an owner of two steel bikes. While it’s hard to quantify just how much stiffer carbon bikes are now than they were when George W. Bush entered office, it’s easy to quantify the drop in weight. For most manufacturers, the weight loss on their top-of-the-line bikes is half a kilo, sometimes more, and on occasion, less.
Weight is but one method of judging a bike and were it our sole criteria, it would be a bad one. We’d end up with sub-kilo steel frames that are too small for chimps.
I’ve been interested in the calculus that goes on between large companies that do all their own engineering on their carbon fiber framesets and small outfits that work with some of the same manufacturing facilities and purchase frames that are produced in the manufacturer’s own molds. These frames are called “open mold” because literally anyone can buy these frames, provided they are willing to purchase enough of them.
The practice is really just a 21st-century version of how almost all American companies purchased steel frames from Italy and, later, steel and aluminum frames from Taiwan and China. If you’ve ever purchased Trader Joe’s-brand wine, then you’ve purchased a product sourced in exactly the same manner.
The Torelli Montefalco is sourced in much the same way Torelli has always sourced products: from smaller manufacturers selected for the quality of their work. While the Montefalco is not produced by the Mondonico family, but instead a smaller composites facility in Taiwan, the effect is the same. It’s a small operation focusing on quality work that isn’t producing for any of the big names out there.
Before throwing my leg over the Montefalco, I had a lot of questions: How would it fit? How stiff was it? How light was it? How did it handle?
Let’s dispense with the easiest of these answers: Following the conclusion of my riding, I dismantled the bike, removing everything save the derailleur hanger. Bear in mind most companies list their frame weight before paint. The painted Montefalco with derailleur hanger was 1010 grams in the large size (57cm top tube). I was impressed. I’m sure that derailleur hanger weighed more than 10g, so this qualifies as a sub-kilo frame by any standard. There aren’t a lot of sub-kilo frames out there; companies are increasingly resorting to eliminating that outer weave layer and paint. I’m willing to bet that the paint on this frame weighed at least 60g (about 2 ounces).
The elimination of the outer weave layer on some top-of-the-line frames is a true double-edged sword. On one hand, the look is fresh and stylish, and to produce a frame where the outer layer of unidirectional carbon looks good enough not to cover up with paint requires the utmost in care. There’s a problem, though. That weave layer, though it doesn’t contribute to the stiffness of the frame and adds weight, it serves an important function in protecting the carbon from any sorts of strikes. I’ve been asked repeatedly how much stiffer 3k weave is than 12k weave. There’s no difference. If a bike shop employee tells you that one weave is better than another, go talk to someone else. That layer is cosmetic and exists so that if you drop your bottle or a wrench on your top tube or a rock flies off your front tire and hits your down tube it doesn’t start a cancerous crack that will kill your frame.
And for the record, the Torelli site erroneously states that the Montefalco features 3k weave. It doesn’t; it features 12k weave—but the difference is 90 percent cosmetic, so the point is moot.
I’ve seen some crazy tube shapes lately, and on occasion, seemingly reasonable shapes used in odd ways. At the head tube of the Montefalco the top and down tubes have a rather triangular cross-section. To attain maximum stiffness in torsion, the best orientation of these shapes is for the triangles’ longest sides to be perpendicular to the head tube and as close to the ends of the head tube as possible, which is how they are oriented on the Montefalco.
The frame features a tapered head tube and fork steerer. What surprised me was when I pulled the fork out of the frame, the steerer was 1 1/8-inches in diameter until just a few centimeters before the crown, then it suddenly expanded to 1 1/2 inches. Though the increase in diameter was sudden, it was enough to do the trick.
Out on the road I’ve come to sense almost immediately the difference between a frameset with a tapered head tube and steerer and one without. I notice the difference most readily when I stand up to accelerate with my hands on the hoods. It’s a move I’ve made tens of thousands of times on different bikes and that bigger fork gives the rider the sense that the bike has an overall increase in stiffness. The days of me standing up and making the chain rub the front derailleur in the 53×19 are gone. Utterly gone and in the mid-‘90s I could make almost any steel or ti frame do that; I could even do it with most carbon bikes. Not any more.
The upshot is that judging stiffness increasingly means judging just how much you can sense twist between the handlebar and the bottom bracket. The only steel frame I ever rode that possessed this much stiffness was made from Columbus Max. There are builders out there still working with that tube set (notably Hampsten and Zanconato) and God love ‘em for doing it, but that tube set is a bit much for me. (I’m sure right now legions of Hampsten, Zanconato and Pegoretti fans are mailing me skirts.)
For my money, the Montefalco offers more than adequate stiffness while still yielding enough that I wasn’t uncomfortable on long rides. Notably, the smaller frames have some material eliminated to keep the flex pattern consistent. Think of it as today’s answer to making a 54cm frame from Columbus SL tubing while making the 58cm frame from Columbus’ heavier-gauge SP tubing.
The Montefalco comes in five sizes. The top tube lengths are 52.5, 54, 55.5, 57 and 59cm. That the sizes come in 1.5cm increments (except for the 2cm jump from the 57 to 59) means that it’s easy for most riders to find a frame that will fit. If you’re either Lilliputian or Gulliver, well, this might not be the bike for you.
Bottom bracket drop on the large is 6.75cm. My review bike was built around a 19cm head tube, parallel 73-degree head and seat tube angles and 40.8cm chainstays. Fork rake is 45mm, yielding 5.69cm of trail. The top tube, as is visible in the photo slopes slightly. Wheelbase is a fairly standard 100.8cm. It uses a 31.6mm seatpost. I’m not wild about this for two reasons: 1) it isn’t a terribly common size and 2) I like the flex that a 27.2mm seatpost gives when I hit bumps. It’s not much, but I notice the difference on these bigger seatposts.
Not much attention gets paid to handling geometry these days. Trail, bottom bracket drop (or height) and wheelbase determine a bike’s character and whether the bike reacts to you or you react to the bike.
As I’ve mentioned previously, my proving ground for a bike is a canyon road in Malibu called Decker. I made two different descents of Decker on the Montefalco. I ride this descent rather aggressively, but not to the point of risky. What I want from a bike is the ability to wait as late as possible when approaching a turn and then make a sharp turn-in. I also want it to remain calm and neutral feeling above 40 mph. I don’t get that from all bikes. The Montefalco was rock solid when I needed it to be but aggressive enough that I could dive into turns. It reminded me of the Specialized Tarmac in its handling. Butcher’s knife-sharp but with the manners of a debutante on leaving finishing school.
There are a number of little details about this bike I really like. The gear cables pass through the head tube, both guiding the housing and preventing the housing from wearing away paint, or worse, carbon (gasp). The rear brake cable is internally routed as well and its entry and exit points are really clean and attractive. The red/white/clear paint scheme looks really gorgeous in sunlight and benefits from just a few decals on the frame.
Suggested retail for the Montefalco is $1800. There are some less expensive framesets being made from carbon, but I’ve yet to ride anything with this much performance retailing for less.
Torelli is also offering a limited-edition version of this frame with a seat mast called the Perla.