Staying on the Lookout

Staying on the Lookout

For those of you who are devoted RKP readers, you may have noticed a drop in the number of reviews of road bikes and an increase in reviews of adventure and mountain bikes. I’ve been pretty up front about this. Of late, adventure and gravel bikes have been more interesting, more diverse, more surprising than road bikes have been. That’s not an absolute, but in the grand scheme, road bikes have mostly had only two features to make them interesting: aerodynamics or disc brakes. That’s an oversimplification, like all overly broad statements (okay, like most overly broad statements), but I’ve found the road bike market to be short on fresh ideas.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been bikes worth picking up, but because my ethos is to try to find bikes that serve to fan the flames of stoke, I’ve had to look around more.

When I first looked at the Masi Evoluzione, or Evo for short, I was intrigued by it because it came built with Dura-Ace and deep section Mercury wheels for less than many bikes were including aluminum wheels. At $5979 retail, I’ve run across plenty of Ultegra bikes in this price range.

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I assumed when I looked the bike over that because the bike was equipped with Dura-Ace, and even spec’d with Dura-Ace direct-mount calipers front and rear, plus the Mercury carbon clinchers, and a Ritchey cockpit, this was a bike that had probably given something up on the frame in order to bring the spec in below $6k. Truly, no stone had been left unturned in an effort to make the bike exceptional without making it expensive. The dual-row bearing Enduro BB is an argument for longevity. The 25mm Clement LGG clinchers are fantastic tires that will make any bike ride better. And with a Fi’zi:k Antares saddle with a panel matched to the paint of the bike, it had at once both an attractive accent and a saddle comfortable enough I knew I’d never need to swap it out.

Impressive points all, but invariably a bike this well spec’d that doesn’t go for $8k or $10k has made a sacrifice in the frame. That sacrifice is usually in the form of a lower quality of carbon fiber, and the factory has to use more of it to make a sufficiently stiff bike. The upshot (there’s always an upshot) is the frame dampens vibration to an excessive degree. Those frames just don’t feel all that lively. Many riders have ridden so few different carbon fiber road frames they are unaware of just how good a carbon frame can feel. At a certain level, that’s probably a good thing. Dissatisfaction with your current bike is tough to live with.

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With that setup, you can imagine what happened when I rolled out for my first ride on this bike. I took ownership of one large McSurprise. The Evo was a much livelier bike than I had expected. Let me clarify: I didn’t go for a ride and gradually come to appreciate that this bike had a nice lively feel as I rolled over broken pavement and across rough roads. My epiphany was sudden, immediate. I didn’t even have my second foot clipped in when I noticed just how sensitive the bike was. On occasions when I go in with a blank slate, a truly open mind, a great frame will simply make me smile. I’d underestimated what the Evo might offer and as a result it was the most surprising first ride I’ve had in the last five (?) … seven (?) years. Maybe longer.

When I got on the phone with James Winchester, the Masi brand manager, after I’d had a chance to really digest the bike, he pointed out something I’d missed due to the flashy paint job. The Evo Dura-Ace is wrapped in TeXtreme, a carbon fiber weave that provides impact damage as well as incredible structural strength. Felt was the first company to use the material in bicycle frames, and now that their exclusive contract has run out, Masi has begun to use it. That narrows the choice of factories to a very short list and whichever among them it is, they are doing fantastic work for some very impressive brands. In short, this frame is much too nice to have come out of Merida or somewhere like that.

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TeXtreme is notable because it allows the factory to use one layer of that material in place of two layers of standard unidirectional carbon. It comes in a variety of weaves, some oriented at 90 degrees, others at 45, just the sorts of material orientation choices you would ordinarily make. Every time a brand makes a choice to use higher quality material so that there is less fiber in the frame the end result is a frame that has superior road feel.

The Evo comes in six sizes, 47 (52cm top tube and 37.6cm reach), 51 (53cm TT, 38cm reach), 54 (54.5 TT, 38.9cm reach), 56 (56.5cm TT, 39.8cm reach), 58 (58.5cm TT, 41.3cm reach) and 61 (60cm TT, 42.2cm reach). It’s a superb size run when you consider that with one exception the increase in reach from one size to the next is 9mm. BB drop is 68mm for a calm demeanor. Trail starts on the slow side in the smallest size (47: 6.31cm), and increases in the 51 (6.0cm) and 54 (5.69cm) and then with the 56, 58 and 61, they all share the same trail (5.69cm), which gives the Evo enough agility to turn in easily without changing direction each time you shift in the saddle.

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The decision to go with the direct-mount Dura-Ace calipers was an excellent way to offer better braking without resorting to discs, which would have driven up the cost on the bike. The direct mount brakes look really sharp, but to be honest, they’d do an even better job of stopping if the Mercury wheels had some sort of treatment to the brake track like Zipp and some others do.

One little detail that is difficult to convey in these photos is that the folks at Masi are aware that riders want to run bigger tires for more comfort, so while the Evo comes with 25mm clinchers, the bike has clearance enough to run 28mm tires. There are very few carbon bikes in this class of frame quality that offer that much clearance.

The Evo comes in a variety of price points, all the way down to $2169. But it is the Ultegra Di2 bike, at $4459 that is likely the hero of this model. To my knowledge, it is the only complete bike under $5k that features a frame constructed with TeXtreme fiber. TeXtreme isn’t insurance or a guarantee. I’m sure it could be used poorly. But the folks at TeXtreme know their reputation is on the line each time they elect to sell the material to someone, so they are pretty selective.

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It’s hard to stress how good this bike rides, how you can put this frame up against scores of bikes in this price range and not get a bike with the same ride quality. I could regale you with tech info about the BB86, the stiffness of the bike out of the saddle, the handsome lines of the top tube, but this bike’s greatest feature is the one that will be most readily experienced, just rolling down the road and how alive the bike feels. It is befitting the Masi name.

Final thought: If this were a guitar, it would be a Martin.

 


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13 comments

  1. Bear

    Not wishing to disagree with your review of the bike, but I think the bike “sounds” more like a Taylor guitar; innovative, a touch of new modern thinking and a high quality product!


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Great point. I picked Martin for reasons of heritage and ongoing respect, which Masi certainly shares.

  2. Les.B.

    I know this has to be a ballpark guestimate, but what would be the cost increase if this bike (for example) were outfitted with cable discs?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      No idea. The way costs play out at the product manager level really don’t have any relationship to what you pay at retail. So there’s the difference in what they would pay for the two different brakes, plus the engineering for the disc mounts on the fork and chainstay, and then the extra materials cost and labor of actually making the frame. Off the top of my head, I’d guess several hundred dollars, but I have zero clue whether it might be $300 or $900.

    2. James@Masi

      Les, keep your eyes peeled at Sea Otter for some announcements in that vein. We’ll make sure Patrick has the scoop…


    1. Author
      Padraig

      It was okay with the 25mm Clements, which are an above-average tire. It would have been more to my liking with 28mm tires, which as I mentioned, will fit.

    1. James@Masi

      It’s just the angle of the shot, there’s plenty of room. It’s hard to say every combo will fit, but I have run 28mm Vittoria Corsa G+ tires on mine with no issues, in fact it’s about my favorite setup. It comes down to the actual tire and rim combo, some mount “bigger” than they show on the sidewall, i.e. a “28c” might measure 29.6mm when mounted and inflated, depending on rim inner dimensions, etc.

  3. Dan P

    Thanks for posting this review. It simultaneously stoked my interest in a new bike and also reminded me that I need to start reading your blog more often again!

  4. Thierry

    Thanks for your review, very educative, you shoudl make sure you reach also European audience because they would love your learnings.
    Also thanks for educating us about how important it is to have a good carbon quality, never realise it could impact so much a frame; naively thought they were more or less equivalent! Will take this into consideration in my next bike purchase 😉

  5. Pingback: Open to Interpretation | RKP

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