The Cycle Life
Looking for a new ride? Check out Gulley's most recent six-month tests on his favorite rides.
There are two camps when it comes to road bikes: Those who want a solid-performing, no-nonsense bike—and a price tag to match, and those who desire a bike that looks as good as it rides—and don’t mind paying more for it. The Fondriest TF 2 1.0, the second iteration of the company’s mid-range race bike, falls unapologetically into the latter category.
With shapely swells of carbon tubing, a distinctive reverse-bend fork, a high-zoot paint job, and plenty of exotic components, it’s definitely a looker. And though we hung our tester with only mid-grade components, it still tipped the scale at a respectable 16.5 pounds.
It’s a bike that strives to live up to the reputation of company owner Maurizio Fondriest, who devoted himself to producing finely crafted bicycles after retiring from professional racing in 1998 with wins at Milan-San Remo, La Flèche Wallonne, Tirreno Adriatico, and the World Championships. That’s quite a heritage.
As a mid-range bike, the TF2 is perhaps not aimed at such top-level races. But after a half-year blasting it around the rough winding roads of New Mexico and Arizona, we’re happy to report that, with a few component caveats and some consternation over the price, it’s a bike that will suit any level of competition—even the pro ranks.
The looks of the TF2 1.0 are polarizing. Some testers liked the blocky down tube, aero-shaped seat tube that wraps gently around the rear tire, chunky chain stays, and reverse-raked fork. Others thought it looked too affected and mod.
Aesthetics aside, it’s impossible to argue with the results, namely a lightweight frame (the company claims 950 grams frame weight and 345 grams for the fork) that’s both incredibly smooth on the road and admirably stiff under load. It’s significantly stiffer and more responsive than the TF3 we tried a few years back. We also found this to be some of the most durable carbon around, as we knocked the bike about and even had it fall over in the wind a couple of times and came away with zero nicks or damage to the frame.
There’s a tapered head tube for sharp, accurate steering and a massive bottom bracket shell that makes for excellent power transfer. The backward arching fork looks a bit odd, but the shape is apparently extremely stiff as the bike cornered and descended as confidently as any bike we’ve tried. The internal cable routings are clean and smart, too, and our tester was nicely plumbed and trimmed for electronics, including snug fitting rubber gaskets for each opening. We also appreciate the replaceable carbon dropouts out back.
Less compelling is the teardrop-shaped seat post, which attaches via a slick built-in clamp. We like the idea, but in practice it made for tricky height adjustments because the shaping means the seat tube doesn’t move up and down easily. (We dislike proprietary seat post shapes in general as any problems with your post can leave you without a bike to ride and at the mercy of the manufacturer.)
That niggle aside, the TF2 made a fine impression on the road. It’s a smooth and quiet frame, though it’s hardly relaxed or comfortable. This is a bike that is built for going fast. We found it best suited to flats and descents, where it zipped along and held its momentum well. It’s light but not extraordinarily so, and the extra weight makes it feel slightly sluggish when climbing, especially when standing hard out of the saddle. For the frame price, however, it climbs as well as can be expected.
Albabici, a purveyor of a range of Italian components, distributes Fondriest bikes in the U.S., and our TF2 1.0 reflected the company’s affiliations. The bike came hung with Campagnolo Athena EPS, the second tier of the Italian manufacturers electronic range. We were especially interested to try these components as the more we ride on electronic gear, the more we’re won over.
Athena didn’t disappoint, either, as the forms and performance were nearly indistinguishable from those of top-shelf Record EPS. The shifters are trim and beautifully contoured for the hand, and while we’re already fans of Campy thumb shifters, the ergonomics of the electronic version are even better than the mechanical ones because they require very little movement to shift and are easily reached from both the hoods and drops.
The derailleurs and battery are identical in shape to those of the Record group (unlike, say, the Ultegra Di2 bits, which are bulkier and blockier than Dura Ace Di2), the key difference being that these are built from alloy and steel instead of carbon and titanium. Athena EPS is 254 grams heavier than Record EPS (that’s little more than eight ounces), but costs more than $2,000 less, which for many consumers is a trade-off well worth making.
The only complaint we have with the Athena group is that it uses Campy’s Power Torque crank and bottom bracket assembly instead of the elegant Ultra Torque system on the more expensive groups. While the crank functions just fine and is perfectly stiff, it requires a series of specialty tools and a convoluted process to remove. We would love to see this one-off standard go away. We highly recommend considering upgrading to the more expensive crank if you have the choice.
Other standout bits included the Ursus Hybrida wheels, featuring trim 24mm aluminum rims, and a Selle SMP Lite 209 saddle. The wheels are smooth and relatively stiff, if not extremely light (at 1565 grams for the pair). They feel like a solid wheel for training and are a nice unconventional touch to match the TF2’s overall exotic demeanor, but they probably wouldn’t be our first choice given that you can buy similar performance for less in the bigger brands.
As for the saddle, Selle SMP’s might look like torture devices to some, but if they fit your hindquarters, they end up being some of the most comfortable saddles around. Too bad the company doesn’t have a better test program to let riders test out the goods.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The TF2 1.0 is a bike for the connoisseur. It rides great, comes with amazing and extravagant build options, and, in a world that’s dominated by Trek, Specialized, and Giant, will set you apart. That’s especially true given Fondriest’s myriad paint schemes, including 13 color options in all seven sizes. But at $6,700 as built ($3,380 for the frameset), the distinctiveness is pricey.
We initially balked at the cost, especially since this is just a “mid-range” bike with “second-tier” parts. But the fact is, the TF2 is built in Italy and is as refined and rides as impeccably as other higher end road bikes. It will hold its own in any peloton, be it a national level racing series or a local gran fondo outing. And while you might be able to get similar performance for a bit less cost from a bigger brand, you’d just be riding a bike that will blend in among all the others in the pack. Not so, the Fondriest TF2 1.0.