chris king cielo sportif - road test.

chris king cielo

the more regular bicycle review has one of two options: either i'm testing a complete bicycle, which will be the very same (colour excepted) as the one anyone can buy from the appropriate dealer, or i'm testing a frame which has been built up in suitable fashion by the distributor. in either case, i hope my test/review reflects the difference.

the cielo is different.

ostensibly, this is a frame review, replete with forks matched from the same builders, but matters are complicated or, as i prefer to see it, magnificently enhanced by the fact that chris king make the finest headsets in the world, arguably the finest bottom bracket, and a pair of hubs the like of which you have never glid before. all this can be yours too: chris king offer various modules, incorporating a part or all of the above, in any one of the ten colours regularly on offer from portland.

for 2009 the sportif frames were available in an off-white or trademark cielo blue. the one delivered to thewashingmachinepost was a sparkly black powdercoat only available on early demo models. but now the paint factory (spectrum powderworks in colorado) has exploded in a flurry of colour as can be seen by the accompanying colour chart announced at today's north american handbuilt show in richmond virginia.

the tubes are all true temper and dedacciai steel, tig welded by hand in the chris king plant at nw nela street, portland, oregon. art is most certainly in the details where, apart from stainless steel cielo monogrammed dropouts front and rear, the seatstays receive similar stainless treatment on their endcaps where they meet the seat-tube. the top of the latter and top and bottom of the head-tube feature beautifully lined collars. underlining one of the lost idiosyncracies of the all-steel frame, the seat bolt fits into an integral seat clamp; carbon and aluminium depend on detachable collars which somehow don't cut the mustard. the fork crown is cnc-machined in-house.

chris king cielo

the welds are all but invisible, allowing the mirror black powder coat to float smoothly across the joins at each tube end, and particularly the joining at the bottom bracket. in stark contrast to modern day carbon fibre, the bottom bracket shells of which wouldn't shame isaambard kingdom brunel, the cielo offers no visible prostration to the great god stiffness; just a straightforward, threaded bottom bracket shell that exceeds the width of the down tube and seat tube. since this is offered and named as a sportif bike, clearances are larger than on today's formula one bicycles.

the front forks and rear stays on the test bike bear mudguard eyes, accoutrements that i have every intention of employing in the affixing of a pair of 'full wood fenders' from river city bicycles in portland. the chainstay bridge is not only drilled for the retaining of the latter, but cossetted a bolt for the purpose. since modern day, dual-pivot calipers leave precious little room under which to slide mudguards of any material, the frame design of the cielo requires the fitting of 57mm drop brakes, easing the problem of fitting, but limiting the choice of available calipers.

the rear dropouts are of traditional, horizontal road type featuring spring loaded and threaded axle adjusters. the benefits of horizontal dropouts are lost on many, due to the preponderance of the vertical variety that are all over today's carbon. leaping ahead to the fixtures and fittings for a moment, this particular variety of dropout allows the ease of fitting different sized rubber without fouling the rear of the seat-tube or, in this case, the chainstay bridge. clearance between the chainstays is quite formidable, and while the test bike runs on 25mm tyres, i figure it possible to fit up to 32mm without serious compromise. mind, i haven't tried it. tyre clearance on the front forks is of similar proportions

chris king headset

quite frequently a good frame will laugh in the face of tawdry components, but it's quite an eye opener to find out just how good the whole package becomes when the frame-maker is also responsible for the elementary fittable parts: headset and bottom bracket. many of us are fans of apple computer (and that includes chris king) principally because they make both hardware and software. when you control both parts, the fit is always going to be as near perfect as it gets. the steerer is 1.125" steel sliding through a chris king no-threadset, while the crankset from pretty much anyone bar campagnolo will almost frictionlessly rotate in a standard, english thread, chris king bottom bracket.

man, however, cannot live by frame, headset and bottom bracket alone; there are other bits and bobs to consider, bits and bobs that will show the frameset in its true colours.

the wheels continue the quality and family heritage, built as they are using chris king's new r45 swift hubs. the rear is the most changed of the pair, information on which you can glean from my earlier review of these alone. a smaller ring-drive and titanium parts have quietened that trademark buzz, turning the rear into the quietest on planet earth. or darned near it. rims are a pair of r415 from dtswiss laced with wheelsmith double butteds, 28 front and rear; 2 cross front, 3 cross rear. the rims are appropriately covered with a pair of continental, four seasons 700x25c tyres; just right for the occasion. these are held in place by what i have been informed are the finest q/r skewers available: shimano dura-ace. i am in no position to argue, as they've done their job admirably up till now.

chris king bottom bracket

bars, stem and seatpost are from oval concepts' 700 range. the rear facing bar clamp bolts on the stem may either be cosmetic, gimmick, or clever design. they're a bit of a faff to fit without the appropriate length allen wrench, but once in place, there's no real need to touch them. and the bolts are stainless steel, all the better to fight islay's corrosive atmosphere. the r700 bars are of classic bend style, complementing the classic lines of the frame.

gearing used to be just about japan or italy, but the ability of sram to hit the ground running with three excellent groupsets has made that a three way stretch. supplied along with the cielo frame and ck wheels was a sram rival groupset, featuring a 50/34 compact chainset with adaptors to fit the chris king bottom bracket. the componentry arrived devoid of instructions, though i was supplied an e-mailed diagram of how the bottom bracket washers required to be installed for successful cycling. thus after cycling for several weeks, it was rather humbling to discover that i had routed the rear gear cable in front of the pinch bolt and clamp instead of behind. that's the trouble with self-made mechanics.

the double tap levers, even on the lowly rival groupset, feature carbon blades, and are surpisingly ergonomic in their grasp. using one flip lever for both up and down changing seems a bit weird at first, especially after years of campagnolo, but the system seems very forgiving of scottish ham-fistedness, both at the levers and incorrect cabling at the back.

standard sram calipers do not have the requisite drop to allow for the extra clearance afforded by the cielo frame, therefore a pair of shimano 57mm dual pivots were supplied. these work well with the sram calipers. the only other additions to the setup described above have been down to my own individuality: a brooks team pro saddle, a king cage steel bottle cage and a park tools frame-fit pump.

so how does it ride?

chris king cielo

this was sort of the moment of trepidation. i had ridden a very nice blue cielo when in portland last year but that was far more of a commute, complete with a rapha fixed backpack containing a macbook, several magazines, a copy of dirty pictures and a pair of normal shoes. hardly the sort of accoutrements that encourage a sprint up the access road to portland zoo. it is, therefore, a great privilege to ride a similar machine on home soil, or to be more accurate, home gravel and pot-holed roads. making the experience doubly different, the portland cielo was fitted with campagnolo chorus, a very nice chris king touch to make the scotsman feel even more at home in a strange land. now it is sram double-tap.

but now we are off the west coast of scotland, where the wind blows, the rain arrives at right angles and i cycle on the correct side of the road. as detailed elsewhere, the cielo arrived in two boxes, one of which was the carefully considered and ingeniously designed delivery box that is the brainchild of cielo product manager, jay sycip. perhaps one of the best ways to get to know your bicycle before climbing into the saddle and pedalling off into the sunset, is to assemble it from scratch, which is exactly what i did. right down to the white sram bar tape, because chris distefano wouldn't have it any other way.

if you've ever immersed yourself in the history of colnago bicycles, you will be aware that in the 1980s, ferrari engineers demonstrated that straight forks damped road undulations rather better than the curved variety. since then, all colnago forks have been straight, but chris king doesn't see it that way. the cielo forks have a gentle curve towards the hub axles, and having ridden the colnago way for the last eleven years, it was a wonder just how different, better or worse, curvy bits would be. of course, this was mostly me over intellectualising the whole process; despite what ferrari's engineers may have showing on their computer screens, there really is very little perceptible, if any difference at all. and there are so many other factors that can influence fork design, that it was so much better simply to sit back and ride.

chris king cielo

ever since the advent of carbon, aluminium and carbon framed bicycles have received a pair of carbon forks; on aluminium, ostensibly to dampen the road buzz that alu forks might inculcate to the hapless rider. remembering as far back as a steel forked bicycle was well outside my cognitive abilities, and on very uneven and rough roads, the hope was that steel would at least meet carbon half way. it cheers me no end that i was enjoying the pedalling too much to notice much difference. i figure that carbon has the edge as far as damping the jitters goes, but not by as much as you'd think.

similarly to colnagos, the cielo rides as if on rails: having descended a twisty turn north of knocklearach farm at a speed somewhat in excess of that intended, steering through gravelly bends in a state of unpreparedness, it was somewhat of a relief to be saved by the superior handling of the bike. getting to a height from which i could demonstrate my ineptitude (there was a genuine reason for this, related to free-range farm animals: let's just leave it at that), was even more impressive. given that even a modern, quality steel frame still gives away at least a couple of pounds to modern carbon, particularly since i had done absolutely nothing to mitigate not being a weight weenie, ascending couldn't have been easier. i'm no marco pantani or robert millar (that world only exists inside my head), but i can usually get up a hill without too much excessive puffing and panting; the cielo climbs far more smoothly and lightly than its weight would suggest. and despite the bottom bracket area consisting of simple, narrow, tig welded tubes, there was no undue movement in this area; attempting to incur the wrath of flex and chain rub, i adjusted the front mech ever too close to the chain for comfort, resulting in no scraping noises at all.

chris king cielo


at all.

and that part of the riding was the one that concerned me most. you can measure angles, discuss tube thicknesses, diameters and numerous other numbers that apply to a bicycle frame, but rarely does that tell the rider how good or bad the subsequent journey is going to be. my totally unscientific method of gauging the ride quality of a bicycle is whether it has that smile inducing, spring or follow-through when standing on the pedals climbing hard or sprinting for a passing place to avoid the pot-ale tanker on the high road. most of the carbon frames i have tested recently have it either in spades, or pay lip service to the notion. i was slightly concerned that steel (or this steel) might not exhibit the same characteristics. maybe it's only a carbon thing.

of course, my anticipation and degree of faith has been fully repaid: the cielo has the spring in its step that 753 had, though its modulation is different from carbon. however, as long as this causes an ear to ear grin at point of escape velocity, the modulation can sing for its supper as far as i'm concerned. i have previously described the ride quality of the cielo as 'gliding', recognisably a result of frame, wheels and bottom bracket all working in the same direction at exactly the same time. nothing at all during the time the bicycle has been on holiday on islay, has given even a hint of a need to rescind this description. whoever said 'steel is real' was right on the money.

chris king cielo

aside from having ridden carbon for the past seven or so years, i've also been guilty of keeping my tyre width down to 23mm, because that's what we classics specialists do. but the cielo arrived with 25mm continentals, which proffered a degree of worry as far as the street cred is concerned. well now the street cred is 25mm; despite an inexplicable prejudice against continental tyres based on not very much at all, the four seasons variety on those dt swiss rims have been an eye-opener. i suppose it depends on who you cycle with, but i can't say i've found myself weeping at the back of the peloton, and that extra smidgeon of comfort over the cattle grids has been most welcome. even better, despite several hundred kilometres, scrape off the dirt and the tyres look as if they were just fitted yesterday. and that's some achievement on the tactile road surfaces left behind after the snow, frost and slush.

the replacing of parts of the rear hub with titanium and a reduction in the number of teeth on the ring drive has all but silenced the characteristic, and almost trademarked buzz that enhances every other chris king rear hub. if you wear the buzz as a badge of honour, then these are not the hubs for you; otherwise the quickness of freehub engagement, the smoothness of the bearings and the overal quality of the wheels provides a new badge. freewheeling downhill, i regularly out gravitate the rest of the peloton, and i'm not a heavy guy. no longer does the mighty dave t have the advantage of his superior weight. the close rear brake test on the uphill wallop not only provides input as to the frame twist, but also just how much lateral strength a 28 spoke chris king rear wheel exhibits.

shimano calipers

still smiling.

over the weeks, my ability to grasp the required digitary force necessary to change gear on sram's double tap has notably improved. if used to campagnolo's two lever approach, getting the hang of one lever that goes up and down is somewhat different; changing down is quite easy, but just how far to push to change up has taken a bit of getting used to. it has certainly been fun trying. i cannot tell a fib, but changing has appreciably improved on correcting the rear cabling. and though the brakes are from the other big 's', stopping power has been impressive, with excellent modulation and no hint of locking. my rudimentary physics has me attributing this to the longer caliper arms, but either way the combination of levers and calipers is confidence inspiring.

hands and bum have both benefited from oval concepts: bars and stem are commendably stiff, on occasion perhaps just a tad too much so, but i put that down more to the deteriorating state of the roads and ageing bones. with all due respect to oval concepts, you should never really be aware of a seatpost, and that goes for the 700 on the cielo. of course, some of the attention has been diverted by the continuing fight between my backside and the brooks team pro. the former is winning, but it's still an ongoing battle. thank heaven for padded shorts.

chris king cielo

the cielo sportive is a particularly fine bicycle, perhaps being placed more in context by being the bicycle chosen by rapha's daisuke yano as his bike for the yonretto rides in japan. chris king's byline for the cielo series of bikes is ready made classics which, in the grand scheme of cycle marketing, is remarkably close to the truth. the bicycle bears comparison to the apple computer that inspired its packaging; it exhibits clean, clear lines, there's nothing there that doesn't need to be; it rides beautifully, and does so for hours on end, if you find yourself so disposed. we have all been bombarded with endless carbon for the past few years, to the extent that it almost seems as if no other material exists. make no mistake, carbon is an important part of modern day cycling, and if racing or status in the peloton is of primary concern, then a cielo is likely not for you. however, i think there are probably more of us who do not fit into that category than do. and that's the very market at which the cielo is targeted.

i may not epitomise the charging sprinter with my honey coloured brooks team pro and park tool frame fit pump, but i bet my smile is bigger than yours.

chris king have recently updated the cielo website, and try as i might, i cannot find a price listing for the frame, but if memory serves, cost is around $1900, and the headset, bottom bracket and wheel package that arrived along with the frame costs a further $905. groupset choice and finishing kit is entirely yours. currently the only way of acquiring one of these beautiful frames is either to order direct from chris king, or purchase from river city bicycles, portland, oregon. uk chris king importer, evolution imports, have indicated that they intend bringing the frames into the uk later this year, but i have no indication of uk pricing.

cielo bicycles | river city bicycles | chris king | evolution imports


posted friday 26 february 2010

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cielo by chris king