Six-Month Test: Pinarello F8W
Absurdly priced, but also absurdly well engineered and fun to ride
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Long known for its tradition and heritage (read: conservatism), it was surprising when Pinarello became one of the first two manufacturers to offer access to SRAM eTap. (Specialized was the other.) But company primary Fausto Pinarello reportedly so loved the new wireless components that he insisted on building a bike around them. The result is arguably the most progressive, high-performance machine the Italian brand has created to date. As testament, Chris Froome will take up his Tour defense aboard the F8, though not the “W” wireless model, as Team Sky is sponsored by Shimano*, not SRAM. However, AG2R La Mondiale and Katusha will both ride eTap. Tour Champ Bradley Wiggins, on his eponymous team Wiggins, has also chosen the F8W.
The truth is the F8 is an incredible machine in and of itself, and the addition of eTap elevates the bike to new and even more noteworthy heights. It also tacks on yet still more cost, raising the price to an astonishing $11,500 for a complete bike. And unlike many manufacturers, Pinarello offers no inexpensive way into this ride. But then this bike—and every Pinarello, for that matter—is not about economy, but finery.
The Good: Point-and-shoot handling and almost paranormal power transfer mated to Audi-smooth road feel. Wireless optimization means extraneous holes in the frame for cable routings are capped for a cleaner, sleeker frame. SRAM eTap is the most intuitive shifting system on the market.
The Bad: The real benefit of SRAM eTap’s lack of wires is that you need fewer holes in the frame (brake cables only), and while that’s not commercially viable yet, a truly “wireless compatible” frame would plug them up instead of relying on streamlined covers. The bike could also be lighter. But really, the big issue is cost: 12 G's is most people’s idea of a nice car, not a bicycle.
The Verdict: Dogmas have always been jaw-dropping machines, but where the performance sometimes didn’t completely live up to the good looks, the F8 is the full package: as stunning to ride as it is to behold. It is stiff in all the right spots (bottom bracket, head tube) for incredible accuracy and aggressive handling, yet surprisingly comfortable for such a bracing ride. The parallels to Italian superbikes or sports cars are easy ones, both for the incredible refinement as well as the shocking prices. And like a Ferrari or a Ducati, the Dogma F8W isn’t for everyone (or many), but it does represent a pinnacle of engineering and design, especially as the first production bike built expressly around SRAM eTap.
- Price: $11,500
- Weight: 16 pounds
- Drivetrain: SRAM eTap
Pinarello has ditched the instantly recognizable wavy forms of past Dogmas in favor of muscular tubes with a Kamm Tail shaping (à la Trek Madone, Scott Foil, and many others), perfected in the wind tunnel alongside engineers from Jaguar. The geometry is still long and low, as you’d expect from a full-on race bike, but now there’s lots of nods to wind cheating, including the reverse curve of the fork to smooth air flow, and the slippery mono-stay that completely hides the rear brakes.
It’s still an angular and distinctive frame, befitting the Pinarello brand, as well as staunchly traditional in some ways, including the threaded Italian bottom bracket, which I love for its simplicity and quiet. Pinarello has also kept its trademark asymmetric design, with reinforced, oversized carbon on the drive side to counteract pedaling forces and add to overall frame stiffness. The massive, sculpted head tube and bottom bracket areas partly account for what the company claims is a 28-percent increase in stiffness over the Dogma 65.1. Meanwhile, the F8 is said to be nine-percent lighter than the previous edition—though it’s still no lightweight.
I’ve already written and entire review on SRAM eTap. But to recap, the component set is the first successful wireless group to market, with rechargeable batteries in the two derailleurs, watch batteries in all other parts, and a proprietary wireless protocol that protects against crossover with individually generated codes. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the system is simplicity of installation and tuning; no more laborious cable jobs. And eventually manufacturers will hopefully be able to eliminate ports and holes in bike frames for cabling completely. What I like most about the system is the new shifting mechanism: the right shifter moves the rear derailleur down, the left one moves it up, and both simultaneously toggle the front mech between big and little ring. It’s so intuitive that even months after shipping back this bike, I still find myself trying to operate other brands this way.
Testing SRAM eTap on the F8W
While eTap functioned extremely well during the test, it’s true that the action isn’t quite as crisp or refined feeling as Shimano. We were also forced to tweak alignment and shifting a few times, whereas Dura Ace almost never requires tuning. Still, the components are exceptionally clean and sharp, the engineering design is incontrovertible, and the new paradigm in shifting coupled with the ease of installation easily makes the group the most important development in road bikes of the past several years.
Thanks to the collaboration with SRAM on this bike, the rest of the parts came from that company and its subsidiaries, including a boxy, gorgeous, super stiff Zipp SL Sprint Stem and matching shallow-drop carbon bars. The Zipp 303 Firecrest clinchers were slippery in the wind and stable when it got blustery, but still light enough for climbing duty. They were mounted with the company’s 25mm Tangente Course tires, which proved grippy and much more supple of a ride than I expected given their diminutive width.
As we expected, the F8W was stiff and responsive and felt like it transferred every bit of our energy, from pedal stroke to slight weight shift in the corners, into action. The bike isn’t a featherweight—16 pounds flat for our size 54—but somehow it felt lighter on the road than that number suggested and nimbler than bikes a few pounds less. (To be certain, the F8 can be built lighter, as Froome and Wiggins definitely aren’t pedaling around more weight than the UCI minimum 14.99 pounds.) What’s more striking than the weight, however, is the bike’s balanced feel—solid and confident on steep, techy descents, powerful and certain in flats and rollers, yet still spirited and lively even when the gradients pushed to 15 percent and steeper. It’s an impossible attribute to quantify, but the F8W just manages to somehow feel steady and confident at every turn.
What we didn’t expect was just how supple a ride the F8W would provide. The previous edition of this bike was a pleasure to ride for its performance attributes but as harsh and unrelenting as an F1 race car. The brutality is gone here, leaving only a sharp, fast, ride that’s muted enough that you can sit in the saddle all day long.
As for the eTap, it took most riders just a few miles to adjust to the new shifting, after which pretty much everyone agreed that the system was hands down the most intuitive thing out there. I worried that the simultaneous button push for shifting the front derailleur would be tricky, but there’s enough margin built in that we never had any trouble. The buttons have a more tactile feel than the current iteration of Di2, so it’s clearer when you’ve shifted. On the downside, the action, while plenty quick and accurate, is a little harsher and clunkier than the silky feel of Dura Ace. It works fine; it’s just a much different sensation. SRAM’s design for satellite buttons, called Blips*, is much cleaner than Shimano’s, with nickel-size discs that can be mounted anywhere you like (though must be attached to the shifters by thin cables). Our bike had them wrapped into the tape on the underside of the bar tops for easy shifting while climbing but also such a sleek, hidden look that several testers didn’t even noticed them.
Research continues to point to aerodynamics as the ripest area for performance gains, and while some companies have turned to wild, TT-inspired machines, like the Specialized Venge Vias, many manufacturers have sought to graft aero gains onto standard race bike geometry. The two most pervasive examples are the new Trek Madone and the most recent generation of the Scott Foil, both of which use similar Kamm Tail tube shaping as the Dogma to achieve aerodynamic gains and are excellent choices, especially for those on a budget seeking price options. But these are mostly everyman’s bikes compared to the Pinarello, which wears its pedigree on its sleeve.
There’s also the Cervélo RCA, which beats the Dogma F8W in both weight and—astoundingly—price. That bike rides a little lighter and leans more toward the climbing side of the equation and shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re in this market. But like gelato and Mario Cippolini (the racer, not the bike brand), there’s something inexplicably inimitable about the Pinarello.
The F8W is the rare Pro Tour-worthy race bike that’s manageable enough for the everyday rider to pilot. It’s astoundingly sharp and fast, completely balanced no matter the terrain, and, in classic Italian style, beautiful to look at. The SRAM eTap components make it a next-level machine. And while it’s easy to point out the absurdity of bikes this costly—yes, you can get similar performance for much less money—there’s no debating what a joy the F8W is to ride.
*These names were corrected.