the world of fashion troubles me so little that, despite cringing and occasionally sniggering at some of the creations depicted in my daily paper, i cannot recall the time of year when such folly fills many of its pages. that there is a fashion season is undeniable; its the relevance that i'd call into question. however, one fact i have managed to glean from occasional perusal, is that designers do not present a range of clothing, they present a collection.
thus it is with rapha; or at least on this occasion. though it is undeniably true that rapha's clothing can be divided into spring/summer and autumn/winter ranges, the four bicycles created by third parties last year, are now promoted as the rapha bicycle collection. the collection features a continental model from tony pereira and ira ryan, a more urban offering from beloved, a true european race-bike from cinelli and a unique version of the xs from independent fabrication. it is the latter that concerns this particular review.
the rapha indyfab comes with an ambiguous title; do they truly mean excess, by the appending of the letters xs to its name? in which case, is there an impartial standard of reality in place at new hampshire, and has it dawned on someone that the rapha bicycle exceeds this? there's an undoubted hint of sorts in the build of this particular frame: 3/2.5 aerospace grade titanium lugs and chainstays, with the gaps being filled with carbon tubes. thus, we have the top, down and seat tubes in black weave, accompanied by a pair of slightly concave seat-stays, all beautifully joined by ornate, sizeable titanium lugs featuring a stunningly attractive pearlescent white paint.
the headtube is also of titanium, fronted by a rapha specific badge, echoing the engine plate from the infamous 'h'-van. the rapha association is continued in subtle manner by way of an etched 'r' on the drive side of the seat tube lug, and a story label more commonly found on rapha clothing, adhering to the inside top of the left carbon fork leg. even if this bike travelled no further than my bikeshed door, it had already successfully pleaded its case.
though i have no digital scales to hand, and mrs washingmachinepost is loathe to find bicycle frames sitting atop the kitchen scales, this is a remarkably light example.
as a fourth of the rapha bicycle collection, you are invited, in this case, to purchase frame and forks, the build kit being subject to personal preference. reviewers are rarely given such options; i take what i get. however, the incentive to spec the indyfab xs with less than the cream of international componentry, is so unlikely as to be beyond rational consideration. you're unlikely to see one of these sporting shimano tiagra outside the coffee shop.
surely the second most important component of any bike build is in the wheels; here is no exception, featuring a pair of enve twenty-fives, with all carbon, tubular rims, dtswiss 240 hubs and steel spokes. these i have dealt with in a separate review, so i'll say no more at this point except to mention that they do not let the side down. the rims bore a pair of vittoria corsa cx tubs securely glued by someone more skilled than i.
gearing pretty much comes down to prejudice and favouritism, allied to how many wheels already in your collection that favour one of the big three. while i try desperately to be impartial, i believe i may have acquired an ability as a groupset whisperer owning the uncanny ability to apportion the most apt groupset to the frame du jour. of course, i could just be kidding myself. happily, someone else seems to have similar abilities, for if any frame were an ideal match for sram red, this is it. sram white lever hoods were a nice touch to maintain the bike's aesthetic qualities, as were the white cables.
the carbon chainset was of old-skool proportions, sporting a 53 outer and 39 inner, married to the sram red, all one piece 12-25 cassette at the back. mechs and brakes were also from the sram red box. it's sort of a shame that the bottom bracket was of standard sram fare, for though undoubtedly capable, it would have been nice to see a black chris king model echoing the choice of headset. however, if you buy one for yourself, you can fit what you want.
carbon bars and stem were selected from tecno tubo torino's (3t) ergosum range, the former of semi-anatomic design, and the latter a highly functional 110mm but ultimately less than pulchritudinous method of grasping carbon bars. headset duties are undertaken by a chris king no threadset, black to contrast with the white paintwork and match with all that carbon. 3t also supplied the twin-bolt carbon seatpost with enough length to require a stepladder if raised to its maximum height.
saddles are probably the one component where there are as many differing opinions as to comfort as there are saddles available on the market. in this case, a black and white fizik arione took on seating duties with graceful aplomb. pedals are also a matter of personal preference, and though not supplied with the indyfab, i fitted some rather weather-beaten mavic race sl titaniums.
though the photographs won't show it, surely it would rank as a treasonable offence to pedal through the islay countryside aboard a rapha bicycle, but not dressed in rapha kit. so you'll just need to take my word for it that body and soul were adorned with perren street's finest at pretty much every wheel turn.
though the mouthful that is independent fabrication has been briefly curtailed to indyfab, both by myself and others, it is the fab bit that has acquired the ambiguity. fab is one of the more ideal ways to describe this machine, but only if you have a desire for understatement. i have waxed lyrical regarding the all too infrequent sensation of riding on tubulars in the separate wheel review, but that would surely come to naught were the vittorias not cushioning such an exciting bicycle.
based on nothing but ride experience, i still figure tubes and lugs to be the finest method of constructing a cycle frame. perhaps i'm fooling myself, but a collection of glued separates seem to impart an unprecedented level of 'chuckability' that often seems more subdued in a monocoque frame. and i can't have been the only one to notice how much less material is required in the bottom bracket area when it's a lug that is providing the torsional stiffness.
it truly is of little matter, but doubtless of endless debate as to whether the comfort and joy of the xs is being imparted by the carbon or the titanium. point it eagerly in the direction of an upward gradient with a healthy dose of vim and vigour, and it seems both frame factors are employed in a fantastically quick and exhilarating ride to the top. there was no discernible flex from the bb, but i cannot claim to having a power output that might promote untoward movement in the first place.
and though well nigh impossible to describe in mere words, that indefinable follow through at the bottom of each pedal stroke when climbing under duress (almost always in my case) is not slow to make its existence known. i can't honestly say that this makes climbing any easier, but it does enhance the experience and suggests one might be ascending with less trouble than is likely the case.
what is not up for debate is the fact that whatever goes up almost invariably has to come down, and though some i know felt the xs to be a bit on the distracted side on the descent, my own experience was particularly comforting, given that i have never been noted for my control over gravitational drops. gravelly corners were executed with relative ease, and though adrenaline was my descending partner, confidence was its mediator.
despite this being a relatively modest 55cm model, cockpit room seemed greater than height would have promised, making it far easier to balance as a reaction to road conditions. while many of us with racing pretensions have had to live with comments regarding our choice of saddle, often comparing them to razor blades, the arione cheerfully belied this description, providing firm but comfortable passage over a variety of distances and road surfaces. no doubt its length contributed to the notion of liebensraum.
sram red i have on my cielo, so its simple, easy and lightweight changes are both welcome and well-known, and i still have great respect for such a forgiving attitude to my less than precise gear changes. front changing in particular was most impressive. carbon wheel rims rarely, if ever, match the braking performance of aluminium alloy, but it takes only a few rides to gauge just how much earlier the brake levers need to be squeezed, how hard and for how long. with such little rotating weight between front and rear forks, acceleration after braking was pleasantly lighter on effort than could conceivably the case with a less compliant wheelset.
i have long had difficulty appreciating the subtleties of the anatomic handlebar; i've never seen what was wrong with the classic style in the first place. the 3t ergosum bars are no real exception to this. although not of the flat drop section variety, the gentle curve away from the levers seems to cause more grief than it pretends to supplant. this mid-section pulls away from the levers by too great a degree, and if attempting to feather the brakes for whatever reason, there seems too much of a gap between bar and lever blade. i pity those possessed of shorter fingers.
it would be unfair to direct this purely at 3t, for many a competing manufacturer has adopted a similar style of bar. and since you'd surely be building this to your own exacting specifications, it's a dawdle to fit whichever set of bars takes your fancy.
i did try to persuade the folks at perren street that it would be a shame to separate the indyfab from its new adopted home; i was more than willing to leave the key in the bikeshed door should any of them wish to borrow it briefly. sadly, protocol dictates that it leave the wild and windy and head back to what they laughingly refer to as civilisation. you can almost see the tear in its lug.
the rapha contribution to this particular indyfab xs is entirely in the aesthetic department; it would have performed easily as well, were it painted a muddy brown. however, they are to be congratulated for not only offering a bicycle collection in the first place, but in their exemplary choice of velocipede. style quite obviously follows style, but in the saddle, the only concern is its poetry in motion; and there's no disappointment on that score.
the rapha independent fabrication starts at $6795+ shipping (approx £4250) for frame and forks
posted tuesday 19 july 2011