Volagi Liscio, Part I

Volagi Liscio, Part I

One of my favorite features of the bike industry is its low threshold to entry. If you want to manufacture something in the bike industry, depending on just what you want produce, the fixed costs to launch your company can be relatively low. On the downside, it means we get some undercapitalized operations that wink out of existence even before most people are aware of their existence, crushed by the weight of their own promise. Asphalt, anyone? On the upside, surprising talents can launch reputations from a garage, Witness Chris Bishop.

For those with more industry savvy, relationships that span the globe and an actual credit line, you can launch a brand-new bike company. Volagi has been around for three years now and if the name of the company seems more familiar than the bike itself, it probably has to do with the lawsuit the fledgling brand found itself embroiled in with Specialized. Our man Charles Pelkey covered it in one of his Explainer columns. Technically, Specialized won one piece of the case and lost a few others, while the pricipals at Volagi claimed victory because they won the PR verdict with the public. Given all the money that went to “guys in pinstriped Italian suits,” as Charles put it, he was right in assessing there were no winners for the case.

Had Specialized limited their suit to the alleged Volagi owners Robert Choi’s and Barley Forsman’s alleged breach of their employment contracts—the jury did find that Choi violated the therms of his contract—this might have played out differently and less expensively for everyone involved. However, Specialized chose to sue Choi and Forsman for the Liscio’s patented “longbow” design. This might also have played differently had Choi and Forsman not chosen to patent their design; you have to figure that really got the attention of some folks in Morgan Hill. Specialized’s contention was that Volagi’s decision to join the seatstays to the top tube, rather than at the more typical location of the seat cluster, was an idea they’d lifted from the Roubaix. On this point, Specialized lost.

Volagi Liscio drawingOne drawing of the Liscio “longbow” design from the company’s patent application.

I don’t wish to retry the case here, but I knew there was a need to address the event that has resulted in the majority of the media coverage Volagi has received since its launch. Having ridden both bikes, including every iteration of the Roubaix, I can report that while the two bikes both belong to that class of grand touring bikes, they ride quite differently. I’ll get into the specifics of the ride of the Liscio a bit later in this review.

Animal or vegetable?
So just what is the Liscio? it deserves to be defined on its own merits, on the designers’ intent, rather than in relation to another bicycle. The company’s tag line reveals some of the bike’s purpose: “By endurance, we discover.” It’s an elegant line, one that I wouldn’t mind seeing in Latin on the seat tube or head tube. It also lays out a purpose too broad to be just another racing bike. And I’ll admit, the line contains enough regard for wonder that I felt an immediate soft spot for it when I read it.

If the lines of the longbow frame didn’t immediately betray the bike’s aim, then two other features about the bike should help establish the objectives open to the rider. First is the immediately apparent use of disc brakes. I can’t think of another component that can be spec’d on a road bike that will more immediately announce that you’re looking at a bike of a different feather than disc brakes. The appearance of two discs says nothing so much as, “This ain’t your buddy’s racing bike.” In addition to the disc brakes are the 25mm-wide tires. Now, a cynical product manager can use a wide tire to cover for a harsh-riding bike, but to do that with a frame design you’re trying to convince people is more comfortable—not less so—would really undercut the bike’s sales pitch unless your larger statement is that the Liscio is a go-anywhere road bike.

It is, and I really put that aspect of its design to the test. I’ll get to that in a bit.

For all the talk that gravel-grinder rides have been getting in the last year, there’s been surprisingly little talk of bikes designed specifically for those with an adventurous spirit. Some of that lack of talk is due to lots of riders just using ‘cross bikes, while others have used it as a chance to advocate for custom steel. Nothing wrong with either of those options, right? But what of producing a top-shelf road bike from carbon fiber just for the go-anywhere-with-drop-bars set?

IMG_7805

This bike was, if I may, ahead of its time by just a couple of years. Volagi launched with this bike in 2010, but the idea of gravel grinders didn’t really start to catch on until 2012. Now, before any of you go to the comments section to tell us just how long you’ve been doing these rides, my purpose isn’t to argue about how far back any of you were cool. I’m simply talking about when enough of us were doing this sort of thing that it began to get the industry’s attention in a serious way. It’s fair to suggest that Volagi had their ear to the ground far sooner than most of the industry. The downside to this is that this bike might have enoyed greater acclaim had it been introduced last year.

So why a carbon fiber gravel grinder bike? For all the frustrations that carbon fiber has presented us—let’s see, there’s easily broken frames, expensive repairs, even more expensive frames and components and the general anxiety caused by the threat of damage any time you want to travel with your carbon fiber bike—the material has also given us some irrefutable advances. Road bikes have never been more diverse in appearance, fit range and ride quality. Those are all selling points. Quite simply, if you want to build the ideal gravel grinder, you’d do it from carbon fiber for the simple reason that you have the opportunity to start with the broadest palette.

Pigeonholed?
Having just made the case that this is a gravel grinder par excellence, I want to put the brakes on that perception and say that this bike is a plain-old, straight-up road bike. I’ve done a fair number of group rides on this bike. There’s nothing in its handling, fit or layup that handicaps it for everyday use. This is a road bike that simply isn’t limited by road surface. That’s an important distinction. Where I live, I have to ride for at least a half hour to get to any dirt roads, and to get to the interesting ones I have to ride for more than an hour. For the groups I ride with, just what bike you choose for our dirtier excursions becomes a real point of conversation. It may not be of the order of conversation of whether you choose a ‘cross bike or a mountain bike for The Crushar in the Tushar, but rolling a knobby 32mm tire pumped to 60psi while other guys are pushing the pace on 23mm slicks pumped to 110psi (and destined to get flats later) can leave you suffering all the way to the start of the dirt.

I rode the Liscio on several asphalt/dirt combo rides this winter and it was the perfect bike for those days. Due to, uh, personal limitations, I wasn’t the first to the top of any of the climbs, but I was able to descend every bit as well as anyone on a ‘cross bike.

What I’m noticing in moving between different bikes is that some of them simply don’t impart as much shock when I hit bumps. I’ve had engineers talk to me about just how little movement is taking place when the frame is loaded. The numbers are so small any reasonable person would conclude that frame flex is a figment of our collective imagination. However, in the last month I’ve ridden five different road bikes and even when I’ve made an effort to minimize variables I’ve come to an inescapable conclusion. Those tiny amounts of flex matter. The Volagi Liscio, courtesy of its patented longbow design, simply doesn’t jar me as much when I hit bumps.

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14 comments

  1. Chris

    I am taking delivery this week of what I hope will be a near perfect ‘go anywhere’ bike. It’s a Ti bike that is said to accommodate 28km tires under normal Ultegra caliper brakes. Wide Placenta rims should add to the comfort. This bike will see tarmac and gravel on Sunday mornings, and the odd crit on weekday nights. It has longish chainsaws and heartburn but not as long as my cross bike or a true grinder.

    Fingers crossed that its everything I hope it will be.

  2. tinytim

    You left out all the goodie info! The volagi frames have fender and rack islets. And can fit tires up to 44mm. I was once dropped by a guy on a volagi on the lake sonoma course. though in my defense, I was riding a tall geared rigid 26″ mtb. Try riding a roubaix on tech single track.

  3. Andrew

    I liked the placenta rims, and they were basically already thru axle compliant. Can’t use ‘em up north, though- wolves.

    I’m still not sure if a breakable frame is right for rough roads. I’m pretty happy with my ti bike for this.

  4. Dustin

    @Andrew – by breakable, I assume you mean carbon fiber. You know people ride carbon fiber mountain bikes, which see WAY more abuse than this road bike ever will, and those MTBs hold up, right?

    Of course everything can break if the design is bad. Even ti.

  5. Andrew

    Dustin- of course carbon is very strong, no question. But there is the potential for cracking and shattering on impact, more than other materials. I’m sure we’ve all seen cracked carbon frames. I don’t baby my carbon bike at all- it’s just that I find riding a metal bike a little piece of mind off paved roads.

  6. Dustin

    Yeah, but again, everything has the potential to break. I’ve seen some broken carbon frames as well (always cracked, never seen one shatter) and I’ve seen lots of broken aluminum and steel frames as well. I’ve see a unicrown steel fork leg break clean off at the steerer, a top tube break clean off the seat tube, and several chainstays that broke into two seperate pieces. Everyone likes to say ‘metal bends, not breaks’ and sometimes that’s the case, but it breaks and cracks too.

    Proper design and manufacturing are what matter most, not the material. Any of the materials can be made into great, durable, bikes/components. Any of them can be make into crappy ones too.

    That said, all my bikes are metal. Cause I’m cheap :D

  7. T. Guy

    I’ve been riding a Liscio since 2010. The fattest tire that will fit through the chainstays behind the BB is 30c and they are quite close and require a perfectly true rear wheel. Fenders? Then 28c is as fat as you can go. They seem to prefer the 25c tire width at Volagi HQ for use on the Liscio. That’s not really “gravel grinder” size tires and that’s why the carbon fiber Liscio is not the “do it all” bike some on this comment list may be wishing for. The steel Volagi model called Viaje, will accommodate fatter CX type tires for some more versatility at the expense of a heavier bike.

    That said, the Liscio has opened up winter and rough road riding for me such that now I am riding as much from late Fall through early Spring as I always have from late Spring through Fall, effectively doubling my annual mileage.
    The bottom line is that I enjoy riding this bike so much that I see opportunities to ride where before it was too cold or too wet or too trashy. I have fewer excuses to not go out or to come home early. In fact, I think of reasons to stay out for extra miles.

    If my ride is longer than a century or involves significant stretches of unimproved road, or the weather demands fenders, Liscio is what I ride because it is so comfortable. I do not baby this bike, and have dropped it several times by now, without damage. My alternative ride is custom Ti, widely regarded as a rather plush bike, and while it is faster, it is not nearly as comfortable over 5 hours in the saddle.

    I am using Hutchinson Secteur 28 tires, tubeless, on Volagi carbon rims with 25mm outer width for general purpose winter use as low as 65psi under my 165# rider weight.

    I swapped the Avid BB-7′s for TRP HY/RD cable actuated hydraulic brakes, and though the BB-7s were excellent, HY/RD disc is the best braking I’ve ever had on a road bike bar none.

    I look forward to Part 2, Padraig.

  8. jorgensen

    When this bike arrived, I was tempted. I thought the 130 mm rear wheel width was going to be a longer term issue and I think that has been addressed moving to the 135 mm standard. As the bike room is full, I have to decide which one would have to depart before adding one. That has been the bigger decision now. That and I would like the head tube just a bit shorter… oh well one cannot have everything.

  9. Peter Lin

    I ride a giant and have no issues with carbon’s impact resistance. In fact, I’ve accidentally chipped it twice down to the carbon. When that happened, I had my LBS take a look and the carbon was still good. To prevent further damage, I used clear nail polish. It’s held up for 2 years and the bike is fine. I weigh around 145-150 off season, 140 mid season. Maybe the earlier carbon frame and resins were less impact resistant, but these days they seem pretty good to me.

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