i am sufficiently ill-informed for the name bivio to remain meaningless, at least in cyclocross terms. it may well be an obscure cycling moniker that you are currently laughing at me for being unaware of, but as far as i'm concerned, it's just the lettering on the top tube of this bicycle. in point of fact, this is the very bike that i think i'd love to hate. for no appreciable or explicable reason, i do not like aluminium frames, and though i have ridden a number up till now, i can't say i've found one that has had me seriously reconsider. as i say, there really is no good reason for this prejudice, as none of these alu frames have been truly awful, that i think it truly is one of those indefensible prejudices and little more.
however, simply to add to my impending woes, so to speak, the bicycle was equipped with cable actuated disc brakes, nominally another pet hate of mine. now there is no blame attached to condor cycles for this situation, for i did specifically request what is their entry-level cross frame and with discs instead of cantilever brakes because i thought it perhaps more relevant to current demand. it would be naive of me to think that these reviews are for my benefit rather than that of the purveyors, and i think it likely this is the way the cycling world is headed. if i may, therefore, offer a precis of the situation, i'm about to review a bicycle composed of a frame material i have no declared love for, brought to a halt by a form of stopping power that i think has no place on a bicycle.
adversity, thy name is prejudicial.
featuring a rather finely curved top tube complementing an angular cross-sectioned down tube, the bivio x sits at the bottom of condor's two-tier cyclocross offering. the heat-treated, triple-butted aluminium is from the cupboards of italy's dedacciai. that curvy top tube is oval in cross-section becoming flatter and slightly narrower as it approaches the seat tube. despite the curve, it marries with seatstays that appear straight in profile, but are pleasantly squiggly in their route from top to bottom. it seems more than likely that this deviation from the straight and narrow is intended to ameliorate the stiffness inherent in an aluminium frame, particularly at this part of the equation. i think it likely at one time i would have described the triangular sectioned down tube as massive, but in the light of recent carbon monocoques, the bivio's seems just the right side of anorexic. as it travels from head tube to bottom bracket, it narrows just a tad, altering its profile from vertical to horizontal. to quote from star wars episode iv "move along, nothing to see here. these are not the droids you're looking for".
in true henry ford fashion, the bivio x is available in any colour you like as long as it's black (with white flashes on the substantial rear dropouts.)
the head-tube is of sufficient girth to accommodate an integrated condor branded headset holding onto a condor full carbon fork. this particular item features, perhaps rather obviously, the appropriate bracket for mounting the disc brake, along with mounts for cantilevers should that be the desired option. though offered as a cyclocross bike, pragmatism is closer to its heart; there is facility for fitting mudguards and a rear rack, while that carbon fork has mounts for a low-rider front rack. touring could feasibly be an option.
though condor effectively offer this as frame and fork only, build options come as a desirable opportunity. in this case, the disc brakes are the popular avid bb5 cable operated versions, the cable for the rear being internally routed through that curved top tube. the bb5 discs offer a relatively simple method for adjustment when the inevitable screeching and wailing transpires on the road or track. the two allen bolts keeping the caliper in place need only be loosened slightly while pressing on the brake lever, then re-tightened and (hopefully) irritating noise be gone.
at the risk of stating the steadfastly obvious, those disc rotors have to be attached to appropriate wheels to have the whole kit and caboodle work as designed. as claire at condor said in an e-mail "We've stuck some Mavic Cross MAx SLR wheels on there, traditionally a MTB wheelset but they make it in 29er size, thus suitable for 'cross. They are a bit pricey for the build and perhaps more suitable more for a race bike.". thus my entry level condor cyclocross bike arrived with a very impressive set of mavics, shod with specialized terra 700x33c mud tyres, the ideal solution for what was about to befall the bivio.
condor kitted out the review model with sram rival ten speed, coupled to a cassette offering a 28 tooth large sprocket. the sram gxp chainset wasn't badged as from the rival groupset, but offered cross specific 46x36 rings. interestingly, in light of cyclocross demands, the gear cabling was routed beneath the condor decaled down tube and under the bottom bracket. bars and stem were also sourced from the dedacciai range. the saddle bolted atop the condor was a fizik aliante, while pedals are generally left to the discretion of the rider; in this case, crank brothers eggbeater iii.
though the frame is built for 700c wheels and tyres, a pair of mavic 29er crossmax wheels are so close in dimension, paricularly when in this case, there are no rim brakes to align, that everything was just ginger peachy to go play in bridgend woods. there are a couple of reasons for heading off in this direction on a cross bike; when the weather is particularly inclement, hiding in the trees allows for a more enjoyable saturday morning experience, and in the case of the current steed, made life a few degrees more bearable when stopping every few minutes to set up the video camera to record the short film appended below. aside from that, there is an ideal variety of surfaces on which to test the mettle of a machine that offers its services as a cyclocross bike: mud, hardpack, gravel, wooden bridges; you get the idea. add to that, there are a couple of sections where climbing in the saddle is never an option (at least not for me), so inevitably clambering off and carrying the bike jeremy powers style can be undertaken without pretension. the variety of terrain might make me look a bit inept on camera, but surely the ideal manner in which to assess the bicycle's aptitude for its natural environment.
enquiring after the efficacy and desirability of disc brakes on a 'cross bike, i had previously asked richard sachs as to whether he, as an experienced 'cross rider, could see the value in this 'enhanced' form of stopping. he replied "stopping a rim is not the issue in 'cross anyway... no matter how efficient the method, it's really the tire tread and the unpredictable surface it's on." to me that seemed rather sage advice, experience i have assimilated in the absence of as much personal experience as mr sachs. that said, i'd be very hard pushed to say anything untoward about the avids fitted to the bivio x. though they had a less than endearing habit to squeal when wet and subsequently squeaked and rubbed at low speeds, their stopping power seemed unaffected. though probably a very minor factor in my own travails off-road, any amount of rubbing and squealing noises when the brakes were not being applied, must surely induce a certain amount of drag.
the discs were not a surprise. my inherent luddite tendencies seem conditioned to leap in criticism at anything upsetting the standard lines of the road bicycle and its variations thereof. in this, i should probably identify myself with the uci, for no doubt, left to my own devices, i too would have everyone riding merckx replicas. in truth, the brakes were excellent. they never locked up, and the modulation was better than expected, no matter the state of the surface over which i trundled.
the bivio frame was a surprise. after stating that i have an inherent and unjustified dislike of aluminium frames, i'd find it very hard to offer any salient criticism of the bike's behaviour. that curved top tube ought perhaps to have offered a degree more comfort when carrying the bike, and it's certainly not the lightest bicycle i have ever hefted on my shoulder, but entry level bikes are not renowned for their featherweight tendencies. that said, at least a portion of the weight blame has to be shouldered (sorry) by the brakes. there really is no way a set of disc calipers and rotors can slide in under the all-up weight of even a budget set of cantilevers. i find aluminium slightly less forgiving than either steel or carbon, but it does have characteristics that the other two do not have; its manoeuverability i just didn't see coming.
i'm a bt of a wimp when it comes to offroading in the mud, especially when the ground descends, but i don't mind admitting that in such situations, the bike seemed to have my best interests at heart. it doesn't accelerate straight from the gun, but it can undoubtedly shift when required, rarely losing momentum even when squirreling around puddles and other undesirable obstacles. the steering is slow in the sense that a race bike isn't; it often verged on slight understeer, but in terms of stability on less than flat ground, it would be hard to find fault. running the cables under the bottom bracket as opposed to along the top tube seemed to make no appreciable difference. despite a constant diet of gloop, the gears never once failed in their duties.
i think it possible that the mavics erred on the side of overkill. though the bivio is not of slender proportions, it may have fared better in cyclocross mode with less bulky hubs and hoops. however, if we accept that the bivio x has a life other than sven nys emulation, both crossmaxes and the specialized terra tyres offered both excellent traction and rigidity for a more leisurely perambulation of the estates. though the carbon forks, with canti stumps still in place, were hardly the most svelte and attractive, their chunkiness almost certainly added to this stability (in a good way).
the deddaciai bars were less favourable to my machinations, occupying the middle ground between fully anatomic and classic. yet again, that curve takes the fingers further away from the sram rival brake levers than is truly comfortable when on the drops, but since many bicycles feature these nowadays from a variety of manufacturers, i think it possible it is i who is out of step with the world. (just don't say you agree).
during pre-delivery discussions, i was asked if there was any make or model of saddle that i would prefer fitted, but happily, my bum seems to be pretty much saddle agnostic. in all the years i've been reviewing bicycles, only one saddle has been adjudged too uncomfortable for acceptable riding (and unfortunately, i elected to ride it on the ride of the falling rain's 100 miles). the fizik aliante deserves that ultimate of accolades; i never really noticed it was there. though the bivio features bottle cage mounts on the down tube and seat tube, an appendage such as a bottle and cage would have meant an unacceptable compromise when trying to shoulder the bike. having those aboard undoubtedly extends the scope of the bike, particularly if touring is one of those options.
i do find it very hard to account for the bivio x as a so-called entry-level frame. i admit to a lack of observation when requesting this frame for review; i had not realised at the time either the price or the purpose for which condor intended its use. either that, or what passes for entry-level has been upgraded past the point of no return. doubtless a dyed-in-the-wool 'cross professional would have something to say, but the bivio is not pointing in that direction. i think it likely the law of diminishing returns would bring a comparison similar to that between photoshop elements and the full enchilada. the former does at least 80% of the latter for a lot less money.
i've not necessarily changed my mind about those disc brakes. they do work very well, but i think them unnecessary on either road or 'cross bikes. riding the bivio for a few weeks failed to change that opinion. the aluminium frame looks both stylish and practical, but its worth is greater than the sum of its parts. it's exciting, it's fun, it's hardy and it's as fast as it needs to be. it did everything that was asked of it and did it remarkably well. the price is simply a bonus. it would be nice to see other colour options, a feature that i think would be unlikely to affect the bottom line, but that aside, condor would appear to have leveraged their substantial experience to produce an affordable way to ride 'cross and hit the ground running (sorry again).
the condor bivio x frame and fork set retails at £625. the bike as reviewed would cost around £2350 with mavic's crossmax 29er disc wheels and sram rival gearing.
saturday 24th november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................