before the man made his world renowned headsets, chris king was a framebuilder: one of his original frames still sits next to jay sycip's desk in the nela st premises, so now that all is in flow at chris king precision components, he decided it would be a nice idea to start building frames again, since time is in slightly more generous supply. however, unlike the bulk of portland's builders, the chris king cielo bikes (cielo is italian for sky) are not made to measure. chris himself will build a very limited number of frames over the course of the year using lugged reynolds 953 stainless steel tubing. the production frames are tig welded from american true temper steel, available in a range of sizes, but definitely not custom, and these will be available in rather larger quantities, but not in the realms of treks or specializeds. differentiation is relatively easy: production frames bear the legend built by chris king. while chris's own frames state built by me chris king
because chris king's have a state of the art machining facility, churning out parts for even the production models is how you would say 'not a problem'; the embossed seatstay caps, the dropouts front and rear, and the fork crown are all cnc machined in-house and look fabulously clean and tidy in their raw state. while it's not something that will appear on the retail models, the head-tube badge on the test bike had also been cnc machined.
frame geometry is fairly relaxed on the road-going version (there will also be a cross version) most obviously in the rear triangle. on my colnago you'd be lucky to get a cigarette paper between the tyre and seat-tube, whereas on the cielo, you'd manage a whole packet. there will be two solid colours available each year, one being the trademark cielo blue that covered my test bike, and another yet to be decided; this secondary colour will vary each year. the logo transfers on the review model were supposed to be white, but had absorbed some of the paint colour and looked like the sort of decals that would glow in the dark (they didn't - i know, because we checked). transfers on the production versions have been changed to avoid this problem, but i thought it looked rather smooth.
when the cielos are available to the public - as far as i know, the only one outside captivitiy is in river city bicycles in portland - they will be sold as frame only, or frame kit, depending on customer preference. since my review model was supplied by chris king (the company, not the man) they had already applied a full set of componentry including a campag centaur gear set just to keep the visitor happy. this consisted of the older style ergo levers, a clamp-on front gear mech, and a carbon front plate rear mech. while i have an american classic shimano compatible campag pattern cassette on my own chris king wheels, in this case the king chaps had fitted a standard shimano cassette which worked perfectly well with the campag shifters. just goes to show.
bars were polished alloy noodles from nitto (whatever happened to polished alloy handlebars?) held in place by a plain aluminium stem; apparently chris king didn't like the logo on the original and had the graphics sandblasted off. the bars were finished with black fi:zik cork ribbon, even though chris distefano is of a mind that coloured tape is only for tennis rackets; chris would require mandatory white. the headset was a chris king titanium, no lighter than one of their aluminium versions but highly polished and without the etched logo.
the bottom bracket was, naturally enough, also from the chris king range through which the axle of an fsa carbon compact chainset spun. the seatpost, according to jay sycip, is one of the finest ever made - a plain and simple alloy ultegra with cradle and single adjust bolt, holding a fi:zik arione saddle. brake calipers were also from the shimano ultegra range intent on slowing a pair of chris king classic wheels running on 700x28c continental gp 4000 rubber. while this particular frame was bereft of mudguard (fender) bosses, there is clearance front and rear should you wish to fit raceguards. as i understand, production models will bear the necessary bosses. pedals were my own mavic race titanium.
generally, when i have the opportunity to test bicycles, they are subjected to islay's crappy roads on the sunday ride and every other opportunity i have to play at cycle racers. initially, that's exactly the same as happened to the cielo: only the morning after arriving in portland, the chaps from hup united, along with jeremy dunn and carey from rapha took me out on a 100k ride on a route which relied quite heavily on cycling upwards. while the cielo was more than willing, sadly my legs were empty, so ascending was a struggle, but this really had nothing to do with the bicycle. i've ridden carbon for about the last seven years, so shifting over to steel (including the forks) should have been akin to culture shock, and the biggest revelation was that it wasn't. in fact, the best compliment i could pay the cielo was that i just didn't notice.
the all-up weight of the cielo was at least four pounds greater than my colnago c40, but the climbing belied such excess baggage, even allowing for a pair of tyres that surely had greater rolling resistance than my ultremo 23s. handling both on ascents and descents was impeccable: david harmon told me that as you get older, you tend to be more aware of just what could happen while heading downhill at an increased rate of knots, should something go wrong. i have maintained this as the perfect excuse for an ageing cyclist as to why i'm a crap descender, more so when i've no idea what's just around the corner in a country where they drive on the wrong side of the road. and with reference to this latter feature, it took me half of those 100km to realise that the brakes were cabled up the opposite way round to that of old blighty. sort of explained the back wheel stepping out on a couple of occasions.
however, since my time in portland was concentrated principally on getting about, the cielo was required to act as commuting transport as well as playing at boy racers, and if there's one thing that america loves, it's a never ending frequency of traffic lights. therefore stability, manoeuverability and acceleration were the watchwords for at least three days of circumnavigating portland's road network. attempting the same on my colnago would have been fun, but a tad on the tiring side; no big surprise, since i doubt very much whether ernesto designed his once flagship carbon frame to run to the shops. the cielo handled all with ease, always in control and happy to meander at the lights waiting for them to turn green without throwing me off. whatever it is that chris king has imparted to the cielo frame, it works in everyone's favour. bear in mind that cycling in portland is never like cycling on islay, and that included three days of cycling with a rapha backpack filled to the zips with books, shoes and a laptop.
granted, you're unlikely ever to see cavendish sprinting for the line aboard a cielo, but then that's not the point. these unique blue bicycles are designed more for the sportive rider, one who likes to spend all day in the saddle, pedalling quickly, but not necessarily racing at weekends, then using its excellent handling characteristics to ride to work during the week. cielo pricing is more than generous: the basic frame retails at $1895 (£1200) with headset $2020 (£1280); with headset and bottom bracket installed $2150 (£1360); with headset, bb and hubset $2600 (£1650); and with headset, bb and chris king wheelset $2800 (£1775). smart pricing indeed. the cielo will eventually be available in europe including the uk, but that might be well be a wee while away. apparently the jay sycip designed box in which a frame and accoutrements arrives, is something to behold, and i look forward perhaps, to the opportunity for a longer time on one of these bicycles.
cielo really means smooth. a beautiful bicycle.
posted on friday 22 may 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................