The Shape to Come: Masi Vivo

The Shape to Come: Masi Vivo

As I entered the turn settled and cracked asphalt jostled me, throwing me ever so slightly off balance and sending me toward the edge of the road. I settled my weight over the front wheel, got hard on the brakes and was able to correct my line with inches to spare. That was but one lousy turn in a road that has gotten all the love of a child in an orphanage.

When I consider how that might have gone had I been on a traditional road bike with 23mm tires and rim caliper brakes, I shake my head. The outside of the road falls away into a shoulder-wide, knee-deep ditch—perfect for eating bike and rider. But I wasn’t on a bike of that sort. I was riding Masi’s vision of what a road bike ought to be in the 21st century. The Vivo is a technocrat’s bike. A carbon fiber frame with a head tube that is as long as an unsharpened pencil. The frame design features a number of horizontally flattened tube profiles to improve vertical flexion not to mention a layup predicated on maximizing comfort rather than forward motion. Considering how efficient a bike is, maybe it’s okay to make them fun again. The mechanical drivetrain operates flawlessly, if perhaps less immediately than an electronic one, but what it does to the cost of the bike ought to be celebrated like an “A” on a report card. None of that, though, is really all that different from some other bikes on the market.

The Vivo has a reasonably long heat tube for an easy fit plus clean internal cable routing.

What makes the Vivo different, if not rare, is how far into the realm of the rethought road bike this is. Masi ditched the rim brakes for discs, and the fork and rear triangle were opened up a bit so that the Vivo could run stock with 30mm tires. There’s room enough for 35s. The quick releases were swept aside for thru-axles as well.

It’s not a gravel bike, though it’s possible that with 35mm tires it would be possible to take in many dirt roads. This is what Masi’s product manager James Winchester simply thinks that a road bike ought to be for everyone who isn’t a racer. Which is, in fact, most of us.

The Vivo includes fender mounts on the fork and the rear stays for riding in the rain and the flat-mount brake doesn’t dominate the fork.

When I consider the bikes that could be considered competitors to the Vivo, I come up with the latest iteration of the Trek Domane, Specialized Roubaix and the Felt VR. Each of these bikes has tossed aside 25mm tires as their nod to comfort and moved on to 28s at least.

There’s a climb near me, one that local pro Pete Stetina knocks out in about as long as it takes me to watch an episode of Archer. I spend considerably more time on it, and not just because I really like the road. The thing is, on the way down the pitches vary; some of the pavement is questionable, and the combination of cracks and settling earth have made a few sections pretty wonky. It’s not yet what I’d call a “fun” descent—for me, anyway. What has made this particular road an acceptable training ground is descending it on bikes with a bit more trail, that is, more than 60mm.

The chain and seatstays come together in well-supported dropouts and the fender mounts offer great adjustability.

The Vivo is such a bike. The geo chart below betrays some of Winchester’s thinking.

Size XS S M M/L L XL
A. Top Tube (Effective) 515 530 545 560 580 600
B. Seat Tube (C-T) 43 46.5 50 53.5 55.5 58.5
C. Stack Height 530 554 572 591 610 626
D. Reach 363 371 370 379 382 397
E. Standover 729 758 788 815 830 853
F. Head Tube Length 125 145 165 185 205 225
G. Head Angle 71 72 72.5 72.5 72.5 72.5
H. Seat Angle 74 74 73 73 72 72
I. Wheel Base 992 993 995 1006 1014 1035
J. Chainstay 425 425 425 425 425 425
K. BB Drop 73 73 70 68 68 65
L. Fork Offset 50 45 45 40 40 40

Trail for the M, M/L, L and XL is 67mm, which is touring bike territory, which is precisely why my experience on asphalt that wasn’t consistently graded wasn’t utterly nerve-wracking. Trail for the XS is a nearly identical 66mm, while the S is still super-close at 65mm. Honestly, I rarely see trail numbers held so consistently through a size run as with this Masi.

The BB86 design gives the bottom bracket plenty of stiffness; the curves are smooth as milk. 

I rode the M/L bike and it was a pretty terrific fit out of the box. While my back is flexible enough to still get into a reasonably aerodynamic, flat-back position on the bike, my neck doesn’t like it at all, and on top of that I really can’t generate power in that position anymore. At least, not for climbing.

The slack head tube angle kicks the front wheel out enough so that even with a relatively low-rake fork, toe overlap is unlikely for most riders; I didn’t have any problem on the Vivo. The longer chainstays help keep weight distributed well between the front and rear wheels. The fact that the bike has only 68mm of BB drop is a surprise; when I was on the bike I was charmed by its calm demeanor. And that’s the trick on roads where the surface undulates; I don’t want the steering of the bike to be thrown off with each spot of settled asphalt or crack I hit, and the way to do that is to increase the trail.

The sizing run covers a range that is barn-broad. There are, however, two spots in the sizing run that are problematic. While the increases in top tube length are 1.5cm from the XS to the M/L and 2cm from the M/L through the XL, when you look at the reach, the story is a little different, and that’s because reach factors in seat tube angle in a way that top tube length doesn’t. Between the S and M there’s only a 1mm increase in reach; similarly, there’s a 3mm increase in reach from the M/L to the L. The reason for this is the whole-degree decrease in the seat tube angles in those two sizing jumps. However, a good fitter will be able to work around those similarities and should be able to fit people in that bell curve of stature of roughly 5′ 4″ to 6′ 2″.

The Masi name has always denoted a superlative bike; the layup is so good that only a clearcoat finishes much of the frame.

The Vivo Quattro I rode retails for $3199 and was equipped with Shimano Ultegra components for the most part. This is Shimano’s mechanical drivetrain with hydraulic disc brakes. The big departure from the Shimano parts pick was the Praxis Works Zayante subcompact crank with 48/32 chainrings. This was yet another genius move for this bike. Even though the big ring is only two teeth smaller than a standard 50, it makes a big enough difference that I spent far more time in the big ring than I would have with a standard compact. And I love having more gears to choose from. The extra low-end thanks to the 32 was as welcome as a glass of wine with dinner. Paired with an 11-32 cassette, that gave me a 1:1 gear for all the crazy 18 and 20 percent pitches you get around here.

The Vivo comes in three other configurations: the Tre at $2659, which is built with mostly Shimano 105 components). The Due is the least expensive and comes in a men’s version (Due) as well as a women’s version (Due Belissima); both go for $2229 and are built around mostly Shimano Tiagra parts.

What’s especially killer about the Vivo is that each of the different bikes are built with the same frame. That frame features Masi’s MC9 “comfort tuned” carbon, a 1.5-inch tapered head tube, BB86, flat-mount hydraulic discs, internal cable routing, a 12mm thru-axle and mounts for fenders. When I consider the Due, I’m aware that it’s hard to get a frame as nice as this for $2229; hell, it’s hard to find many manufacturers offering a frame this nice in a bike for $3199.

While this bike was in my possession I found myself taking it out whenever I did a hilly ride but also when I was doing easy recovery rides. It makes road riding relaxing in a way more bikes should. And yet any time I wanted to attack a descent, this bike wasn’t just precise in its handling, it turned in for radiused arcs with the smooth curves as if drawn by protractor. I first wrote of handling for the “brain dead” back in the 1990s. Here I am, 20 years later, being reminded of just how good relaxed handling feels.

Final thought: Road bikes are more fun than they used to be, and they have always been a lot of fun.

 


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5 comments

  1. Les.B

    “More fun” is good.
    What I get from this article is that road bikes are also safer than they used to be. Good too.
    Reading this article I can’t help think that you might have survived Tuna Canyon intact had you been on a bike such as this.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I’m inclined to say that road bikes today offer superior control, rather than calling them safer. That’s a broader, more encompassing view of them. As to my crash on Tuna back in 2012, that’s a fair observation. Not for the brakes, but a bigger tire run at lower pressure, I’d have had better traction and I don’t think I’d have broken the rear tire loose that day.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      True. I got a number of texts about that while I was up in Mendocino yesterday working on a feature. Lesson relearned (reminded?): Don’t rely on thumbnails, especially if you shot multiple bikes on a single day. Fixed now.

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