Volagi Liscio, Part II

Volagi Liscio, Part II

For part I, click here.

One of my favorite features about the Volagi Liscio was its handling. On descents and in corners the bike was predictable and left me relaxed and confident. In the especially tight twists of the canyon roads of Malibu I needed to give the bike a bit more English than some others, but I didn’t mind that because at higher speeds the bike kept that relaxed manner.

For a bike so calm in handling, it didn’t really have a lot of trail. Thanks to my 57cm review bike’s 72.75-degree head tube angle and 48mm of fork rake, the trail plotted out at 5.53cm, which was somewhat surprising given how calm the bike was. The actual, effective, top tube length of my review bike was 56.7cm. The bottom bracket was a rather surprising 68mm; that’s 2mm less drop than I would have guessed. Those numbers tell why the bike doesn’t turn like a school bus, but it still doesn’t help tell why it can inspire such confidence. The wheelbase is where that aspect of its personality comes through, which is especially long at 100.8cm—that’s longer than found on most bikes a centimeter or more larger. Similarly, because this isn’t meant to be a race bike, the head tube was refreshingly long at 19.2cm.

Volagi deserves some credit for cutting molds for six different sizes. It’s not uncommon to see new companies cut only four or five molds and then try to use a single rear triangle across the set. Each main triangle got its own mold and then the there are three sets of chainstays and seatstays (one set for every two sizes). The approach speaks of the company’s commitment to quality, and standing behind its design. The seat tube angle for my bike was 73.25 degrees which was a hair steeper than I expect to see on a bike of this size, and for me and my fit, it was a welcome switch. In absolute terms, the bike’s stack and reach were 59.8cm and 38.7cm respectively.

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The sizing run starts on the small end with a 48cm frame with a 50.5cm top tube. The 53 has a 51.6cm top tube. The 55 has a 54.9cm top tube. Then, on to the 56.7cm top tube of my 57 and ending with the 59.6cm top tube found on the 60cm frame. They manage to cover a pretty broad range for only six sizes. As a result, there are two notable holes in the sizing run, between the 53 and the 55 and then between the 57 and the 60. Anyone looking for a top tube in the 53 to 54cm range will have some trouble, as will anyone looking for a top tube in the 58 to 59cm range.

Honestly, while this bike fully qualifies as a grand touring design, I need to be clear that the handling on this bike, due to its modest amount of trail and higher-than-usual BB for this variety of bike, is a flavor of its own. Anyone seeking something slightly different than a Roubaix or a Cannondale Synapse, without going for a sport bike like the Tarmac or SuperSix EVO, would do well to at least try riding a Liscio.

In trading email with Robert Choi, I’ve learned that Volagi set its sights incredibly high for this bike, almost unreasonably so. Choi said they wanted a comfortable bike, hence the longbow stays, but they also wanted something that had the neutral handling of a race bike, even despite the long wheelbase, which explains the trail figures. What surprised me is how they also wanted to give the bike an aerodynamic edge; the top tube, down tube, seat tube and seatpost all carry an airfoil shape. The quickest way to reduce a bike’s comfort is to make it more aerodynamic. I don’t know of another bike on the market that tried to tackle the comfort issue and aerodynamics while simultaneously making a bike that offered responsive handling on unpaved surfaces. Ambitious much?

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The build
Volagi offers but one version of the Liscio frame. That means anyone who plunks down their cash for a Liscio gets the same high-modulus carbon fiber frame as the next guy, no matter what build you select. I stripped the bike down as much as I dared (internal cable routing) and concluded my 57cm frame weighed in the neighborhood of 1150g, which is pretty heavy by today’s standards; I can name a half dozen companies producing frames around that size that weigh 300g less. Volagi claims a frame weight of roughly 1100 grams (+/- 100g) for the frame and another 400g for the fork. I’ve noticed a fair amount of consumer confusion out there about carbon fiber bikes from some manufacturers. A lack of clarity in marketing materials can lead people to think that, for instance, all Madone frames are the same. (I’m not saying Trek does this; that’s merely an example.) While I doubt that this misperception is prevalent, there’s no doubt it happens, and on some occasions I think it could be more readily clarified by some marketing departments. But with Volagi, you can go for the least expensive of all the builds and you still get a very nice frame.

My bike was built up with a Shimano Ultegra 6700 10-speed group, TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes, FSA SL-K carbon fiber BB30 compact crank, an FSA Energy bar and FSA Gossamer stem. The seatpost and wheels both come from Volagi. The Volagi E7 Ignite wheels are proprietary in that they use a rim with no brake track. Unfortunately, that doesn’t result in a lighter wheel, due to the disc-brake hubs, though at 1850g, they aren’t total pigs. For reasons that I simply can’t fathom, the seatpost is made with an aero cross section. Marketing materials for the Liscio mention its aero design, but I have my doubts about just how aero this frame is and don’t really understand why a designer attempting to make a bike more comfortable would saddle it with the extra challenge of giving aero benefits. Were the seatpost round, I think this bike would probably offer even greater comfort.

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I’m not going to go into any great depth on the disc-brake question. My personal feeling is the mechanical discs aren’t a great way to advocate for disc brakes. It’s like trying to use the example of the Hummer as a model of vehicular efficiency. It may be against a Packard, but in an absolute sense, not a chance. What I can say is that the TRP Spyre brakes offered an incredible degree of modulation. However, initially, many riders interpret the longer lever travel as reduced braking force. My sense was that I didn’t need to pull the lever any harder to reach brake lock-up, I just needed to pull the lever further.

As built, my bike was 17.5 lbs. and retailed for $3500. As they no longer offer the 6700 I rode, the build using Ultegra 6800 adds another $100. Were you to build it up with a SRAM Red 22 group, carbon bar and stem and some high-zoot wheels, like a set of the disc-ready Enve 3.4s, I expect you could shave close to three pounds off this bike—and add another $4000 to the price tag. While it’s true that we’re reaching a point of diminishing returns on weight, moving from a 14-lb. bike to a 17.5-lb. one, you can’t help but notice the difference in acceleration. Jumping off a light is, for both better and worse, the place where a difference in weight is most apparent. The question becomes, how important is acceleration from a standing start? Were you racing this bike, it wouldn’t really be a big deal, but for a rider in more urban conditions, every bit of help making starts easier is going to be welcome. I speak from some familiarity on this. There is, however, another side to the weight issue. Sure, an 1100g frame isn’t exactly marketing gold, but in producing a bike meant to offer comfort while balancing the rigors of post-mount disc brakes, Choi takes some pride in reporting that Volagi has yet to see a single frame (out of more than 1000 on the market) that has cracked at the fork or stays due to braking forces. Surely, reliability is a selling point to a skeptical

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Distinctly different
Years ago, when I was working in a bike shop, any time I opened a bike box and pulled out the machine within, one of the first things I would do, aside from locating the seatpost so I could insert it and then clamp it into the Park workstand, was to look at the rear dropouts. The shops I worked at sold a fair number of road bikes in the $200 to $1500 range. In looking at the rear dropouts I could identify whether the bike was meant as a more casual ride thanks to eyelets, or if it was a true racing bike because it possessed no eyelets. Any time I didn’t see eyelets I got excited. However, every now and then I’d find myself building a true touring rig and then I’d find myself intrigued by the thought that went into all the various braze-ons.

The Liscio is one of a very few carbon fiber bikes I’ve seen that sports eyelets on the rear dropouts. It’s possible that they could support a rack, but I suspect their real intention is to help mount fenders, which brings up another curious detail about this bike. It has a surprising amount of tire clearance, enough to allow a rider to run 25mm tires and fenders. I managed to slip one of my ‘cross wheels in the dropouts just to see if a knobby 32mm tire would fit. It did, but I’d be wary of trying anything larger than a 35mm tire—knobby or smooth.

When I think about the bell curve of the roadie population, how most of us aren’t actually racing and if the surveys have anything right, most of us have had our 35th birthday and are now in a battle against Kronos to lose as little fitness, balance, flexibility and mental acuity as possible with each passing year, I keep concluding that the bike most people need isn’t the sport bike with 15cm of drop from the saddle to the bar. A bike like the Liscio recognizes the real gains that carbon fiber construction provides. Compared to most steel bikes I’ve ever ridden, the Liscio provides more torsional stiffness, greater steering precision and a higher degree of comfort on rough surfaces. Once you do away with the part of the ego that tells you your position on the bike should reflect what we see in the pages of Cycle Sport, we can get on with the business of providing people a fit based on their flexibility, not some arbitrary angle based on our ideas of what cool is. And why not make a bike with geometry for people who aren’t in the saddle for 30 hours each week? Volagi is a company with something worthwhile to contribute to the evolution of road bikes.

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1 comment

  1. Andrew

    Great review.

    I now ride a Moots Vamoots DR (disc road), with a very similar approach to this bike. It is without doubt the best matched bike to my riding style that I have ever ridden. I long gave up on the ‘bum in the air’ pro look in favour of every day performance and comfort, but the combination of slightly wider tyres, disc brakes (which even in mechanical form are an improvement over rim brakes despite your comments) and a slightly more upright, relaxed geometry have brought a new lease of life to my riding. People are often scared by the words ‘upright’ and ‘relaxed’, but a very small difference in geometry makes a huge difference in ride, without looking like something that your mum might ride to the shops. I can still mix it with the young racing whippets on the club run, and the bike gets admiring glances and comments.

    As a 20 year old, I used to see the old guys riding and promise myself that would be me. At 40 as time, work and family pressures conflict more with the time I have to ride, I now appreciate that the dedication it takes to keep riding throughout your life is actually more than the huge miles I used to put in in my earlier years when I could be more selfish.

    I now ride for pure enjoyment and fitness, and as you rightly say, if most people recognised their place on the bell curve, honestly it’s where we are mostly all at. In this respect, a pro-replica geometry makes no sense.

    I haven’t taken the law of diminshing returns approach to my particular build with ENVE wheels, SR EPS and bling finishing kit (another advantage of age and income!). It weighs less than 16lbs, rides like a dream, and is absolutely in the spirit of everything you said above.

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