While Mario Cipollini’s bicycle brand has been proving itself at the ProTour level of racing for a few years now, they’ve only recently taken aim at the US market by signing Florida-based Speedbrands LLC as the new US distributor – who offered us a ride on Team Nero Sottoli’s Francesco Chicchi’s personal 2013 race bike – the RB1000.
The RB1000 is Mario Cipollini’s flagship racer, and as you’d expect from modern cycling’s most prolific Giro stage winner, it’s built for speed. But to truly appreciate this bike, one must also appreciate the Italian art of ‘machismo’ – maybe it’s an equatorial latitudes thing, but while all latin cultures seem bestowed with a certain base sex-appeal, the Italian version of this is without equal, and for those of us on the outside… it’s what dreams are made of. The swagger, the confidence, the pure magnetism…
While we rode our tester a couple months back, the RB1000 was on display and on the roads of Ireland under the Neri Sottoli Yellow Fluo team at the 2014 Giro d’Italia. Our actual tester was last year’s ride for Francesco Chicchi…
The RB1000 is indeed an all round race bike – worthy of the ProTour, but also aimed at fast riders everywhere, well… fast and rich riders everywhere. At $10K+ for a full bike, you won’t see a lot of these on your club ride.
Waiting on Cipo
When I first heard that Cipollini was starting a frame company I was immediately cautious, dubious even. It seemed awfully easy to lend his name to the project; an enviable brand looking to capitalize on the fame wrought by “Super Mario” in a market place where innovation is more often a tag line than a mantra. Why not license the name, sit back and cash checks? So when I got the call to ride an RB1000 for mile after mile I was as excited for the trusting nod in my direction as for the bike itself.
While waiting for the bike to arrive I did a only modest amount of research, avoiding other reviews in an effort to be “unbiased” in my appraisal. I checked the website and thought my initial concerns had been born out, at least visually. Here was a bike with too many curves and too much carbon to be a “real” race bike. Sure, it looked stiff, but that’s a given for any bike competing at ProTour levels. Then I dug a bit deeper and came away enthused at the prospect of what was soon to arrive at my door.
To begin to understand this bike it is important to understand a little of the man himself. “Super Mario” changed cycling. Known for flamboyance, he was the first rider to wear a full yellow ensemble as leader of the 1997 Tour de France – Helmet, Jersey, Shorts, Glasses, Frame…the whole canola. He was the first to have a dedicated ‘train’ for sprint leadouts.
You probably already know of the various kits and stunts he pulled over the span of a 16-year career, and it would be easy to dismiss “The Lion King” as simply a showman for his grandiosity, except… he won a lot and was a consummate professional in his preparation and dedication. His record 42 stage wins at the Giro are well known, as are his 12 Tour de France stage wins and the 2002 World Championship & Milan San Remo victories. Yet, he also won the Italian National Championship in 1996, Gent Wevelgem three times, and a plethora of stage victories in smaller stage races like Paris Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Tour Mediterranean. One hundred ninety one trips to the top step of the podium certainly affords him the street credibility to make a race bike.
Keep It Italian
The RB1000 is a fully fashioned Italian machine. While most manufacturers turn to Asia for production of their carbon bikes, Cipollini opted to stay Italian from start to finish and the results are impressive. Design concept to engineering, molds, layup, build, painting and final assembly – are all sourced from a series of craftsmen and artisans across Northern Italy on a fairly limited production schedule. The frame & fork are made in Italy using Toray’s U.S. manufactured T1000M46J carbon, who say it’s “the Worlds highest tensile strength carbon fiber”- whose thinner fibres and higher tensile strength allow for a lighter, stiffer frame.
Layup of the tubes, dropouts, and integrated seat post takes place in Florence via molds made in Venice. Heat treatment, extraction from the mold, and finish work are also handled in Florence, while paint is applied in Pisa and final assembly is handled in Verona.
The result is a monocoque front triangle mated to the seat & chain stays that has a level of production quality routinely missing in mass produced assembly lines. This attention to detail created a purpose built race frame meant to excel across a wide range of terrain, but there is also an artistic element in the lines of the bike.
While the RB1000 is the flagship model, the other rides in the range also boast proprietary & different layup schedules. The molds are all Cipo’s 100 percent, so you won’t find some similar looking knock-off popping up on your next Ebay shopping trip.
Outta The Box
The box it arrived in was huge and sported a giant “Made in Italy” label that offered my first twinge of excitement as I stuffed it into the car. Here I had for my personal use the flagship RB1000 used by Francesco Chicchi, Vini Farnese (now Yellow Fluo) pro and double stage winner at the 2013 Tour de Langkawi, and I couldn’t wait to get out on the road.
Upon unpacking the first things that stood out were the fluoro graphics and bright fluoro saddle, making the bike look cool straight away and spot on with current trends. The bike is also available in at least nine different color schemes – something you just don’t see from the mainstream brands.
The medium sized frame weighs 1050 grams – no fly-weight by today’s measure, but what some might consider extra girth is same stuff that improves ride qualities and makes the frame more durable.
The headtube is a very compact 115mm housing a 1.5″ bottom headset bearing – short and stout to create a very solid front end. It’s connected to a traditional flat top tube instead of the sloping “fastback” model so popular now. For reference the “Large” has a similarly compact 127mm head tube, clearly an intentional design element of the bike and its nod to a more aggressive riding position.
The massive full-width box section downtube creates one of the stiffest bottom bracket junctions I’ve ever ridden – and it’s awesome! It matches volume with the large seat tube bottom and tall chainstay cross section to form a structure built to withstand as much torsional energy as you can throw at it. It works as this is one of the stiffest bottom end’s I have ever ridden.
The rear stays are a thing of beauty that fly in the face of the current trend of micro-thin comfort-ride seatstays. Cipo’s are deep section eye-catchers that look like they’re designed to eliminate rear wheel deflection so that not one single rider-produced watt is wasted.
The beauty of acquiring a bike at this level is that you can order virtually any spec you want. While most of the frames sold in the US are just that – frame set only, Joe Roth of Speedbrands confirmed they’ll build the bike with any gruppo, wheels, or components you want. This of course allows ample room in ride-tuning, where your choice of wheels (and tires), bars & stem, & saddles can make a huge difference.
Chicchi’s bike came adorned with components from the home country including Campagnolo Shamal Ultra wheels shod with Vittoria Open Corsa CX tires, a Selle Italia SLR saddle, and an Aluminum FSA SLK bar (44cm) and stem (120mm) combo, whole a Shimano Dura Ace Di2 drive train rounded out the bike. I presume Shimano carried the day due to team sponsorship last season, or maybe it was the killer sprint shifters…
Bike setup was as expected as well with the typical pro’s choice of bars ‘slammed’ and just 1cm of stack height left.
The first few pedal strokes brought an immediate smile. The bike begged me to step on the gas. Every stomp produces forward drive and picking up speed is a simple question of torque. The box section down tube, and similarly styled seat tube, both act to stiffen the bottom bracket and translate effort into speed.
There are LOADS of similarities between today’s top end bikes, but the geometry for The RB1000 is definitely not shared by many. That super short 115 head tube (with a token 1cm spacer) mated to a 73 degree head angle is just as uncommon for a “Medium” as the 74.5 seat angle.
Mate that geometry to a solid fork and you have handling that might best be described as “immediate”. Thankfully the frame’s stiffness, both front and rear are exactly what the doctor ordered as a weaker/ more flexible bike might tend to be overwhelmed by the forces you can generate with a steeper, more front loaded handling package.
Where this bike shines is cornering and descending. Though not a particularly short wheelbase at 990mm, the rear wheel tracks almost immediately to any lean input. Counter-steering is unnecessary. The chainstays are a fairly typical 405mm, so I think we can look at the 74.5 degree seat angle for clarification. Some people have likened the Cipollini to a time trial bike, and my guess is that the seat tube angle and small stature of the bike is why, but I find it to be much more crafty than a staid and boring TT rig. This bike zings, zips and carves with confidence and enviable agility.
What goes down had to go up first and the RB1000 is a pleasant surprise on climbs. Yes, the aforementioned low bar position had me standing with a slightly lower than normal body position but provided a comfortable and powerful stance. While seated, I rode it on a series of climbs ranging from 3-4 minutes all the way out to around 40 minutes and found this position nearly always afforded me quality return on my pedaling investment.
It’s a pro-level race bike and should be regarded appropriately – while this makes for an exhilarating ride, it can be fatiguing on a long jaunt for those not accustomed. For me the stiffness was not an issue, I rather liked it, but I might like to have a wider rim and tire combination on a personal bike to help soften the varied impacts that arise on a ride. This would not be my everyday bike if I were only doing endurance events.
The Final Verdict
Francesco Chicci and I are of similar stature, if not accomplishment. That glaring dissimilarity aside, I would argue that we both find the RB 1000 to be a perfect balance of fantasy and practicality. Envisioned as a pure race bike the Cipollini RB1000 is every bit the essence of what I expect from “Super Mario”. Low, quick, agile and stiff, the bike is perhaps too easily dismissed as a race specific steed by those who have read only passing reviews or heard the shop chatter. Dig a little deeper and you will find a bike that is a pleasure to ride on the varied terrain of our day to day. As at home on steep climbs and twisting fall lines as a four corner criterium, the RB1000 (US$6995 frame/fork) is built to thrill on whatever terrain you tackle and is the rightful showpiece for the Cipollini line.
Ever the savvy marketer, Cipollini knew that this bike would not be perfect for all, so he created a range of bikes, five models in all, to meet the varied needs of today’s rider. Ranging from the slightly longer head tube of the Bond, to the more laid back geometry of the Logos, and the super light “climbing” RB800, Cipollini has a model for most riders, including a gorgeous track bike for the true connoisseur. The bikes are not cheap, starting at $4,995 and rising to nearly $7,000 for a frame and fork, and while some buyers might find this price point out of reach, to others it’s a bargain for an Italian-made, hand finished work of high-performance art bearing the name of one of modern cycling’s legendary figures.
Learn more about the bike and brand in the US by visiting www.CIPOLLINIUSA.com.