Aquila Equipe-R Review
Canada has seen a lot of great bike companies emerge over the past two decades, from small builders through to some of the best-known names in the sport. Add to this list the Aquila marquee, based out of Toronto. We took their brand-new Equipe-R for an extended riding and racing test, and found a bike that is light, responsive, and balanced.
The New Old Bike Company
As a relatively minor cycling country, Canada has been an outsized player in the bike business over the past couple of decades. With Canadian brands sponsoring pro teams from Continental through to World Tour levels, top quality bikes are flowing out of Canada like maple syrup.
Adding to that impressive list is the Toronto-based bike shop Racer Sportif with their line of Aquila bicycles. Readers from this region will know that Aquila is by no means a new marquee, as Racer Sportif has been selling bikes under this name for nearly three decades. However, 2014 marked a new step for Aquila, as the Equipe-R bike is their first bike designed in-house.
The Aquila story has also been one of steady and appropriate growth. They’ve focused on the shop and on taking the next step when it works best rather than accelerate its growth recklessly beyond their capacity. The same has been evident in the emergence of the in-house Aquila.
Designed in North America and built in the Far East (Taiwan), Aquila has taken their time until the cost of developing and building their own molds became an attainable reality. And rather than having a hard deadline for the Equipe-R’s debut, they have also taken their time developing prototypes, getting feedback from select athletes and customers, then working with their engineers to refine prototypes until a near-production model was ready.
I found it pretty impressive that Racer Sportif is tackling the big challenge of building a bike from scratch rather than just ordering a pre-built bike and slapping their own labels on it. I also liked their detail-oriented approach to do things the correct way right from the outset. Key amongst the details has been gaining UCI-certification before even going to market, meaning full potential for getting it into elite competition from the get-go. Indeed, the first version of the Equipe-R was debuted by Canadian junior team member Sean MacKinnon at the Florence 2013 World Championships, and the Equipe-R is also now the official ride of the Canadian track endurance team on the road.
Another philosophy I like is that Aquila has chosen to design the Equipe-R as a single all-around bike rather than specializing into the increasingly fragmented markets of an endurance/Gran Fondo bike, lightweight climbing bike, aero road bike, a crit machine, etc. In the mind of Frank Mizerski, who runs Racer Sportif along with his father Dennis and brother James, most riders have a single nice bike, and they want that bike to be versatile and able to tackle a range of terrain and riding conditions. While my endorsement may sound pretty hollow considering that I have three nice road bikes in my garage, I do fully see the philosophy that a good bike is a good bike, period, rather than a good bike for this or that use.
The Equipe-R is available in 8 sizes from 45 mm to 59 cm. Each tube’s shape and layup is analyzed and designed for the projected range of mass of rider that might be riding each frame size, along with tweaking the wheelbase, fork rake, and seat tube angle for each given size to maintain ride consistency across the large size range. Considering that many big-name frames may come in only 4 sizes or so, the variety of size offerings and the size-specific design for a new frame is very impressive.
The Build Process
The Equipe-R is constructed using a hybrid process combining both monocoque and tube to tube. Aquila’s initial attempt was building with tube to tube completely, but they found that it was too much of a thoroughbred, and its construction process didn’t allow them to further tune and balance the combination of ride characteristics. In turn, the hybrid construction was better suited to isolate and tune tube shapes and carbon blends, theoretically giving it the benefits of both monocoque and tube-to-tube approaches.
The two-step Strategic Layering Process first makes use of a solid piece removal jig where the different layers of carbon can be strategically laid up to provide the benefits of tube-to-tube. These tubes are then carefully butted by hand. From there, everything is then pressure-molded together in another jig simultaneously in one piece to reflect the weight and solidity advantages of monocoque construction.
In terms of carbon blends, Toray T1000G (the highest tensile fibre currently available) is utilized in the “transmission” parts of the frames, namely the bottom of the head tube, down tube, bottom bracket shell, and chainstays. T-800H and other carbon sets are then utilized elsewhere for more compliance.
The head tube accommodates a 1 1/8” top and 1 1/4” bottom diameter headset, a set of dimensions giving a nice mix of stiffness without being radically different between top and bottom. The head tube is also a good middle ground between super low or long. At 140 mm height, I got into my fairly aggressive position of 83 mm handlebar drop (top of saddle to top of handlebar) with a -6° stem and 20 mm of spacers remaining under the stem. So there’s still lots and lots of room left for a more extreme position.
On my tester, the down tube gradually tapers out from 48 mm wide at the head tube, expanding to 60 mm just prior to the junction at the bottom bracket.
The head tube is indeed critical in the Aquila’s fit and design philosophy, basing fit and frame sizing not just on the length of the top tube but more on identifying the rider’s range of stack (height of the handlebars above the front wheel) and reach (horizontal distance from the bottom bracket to the handlebar centre) for each frame size. After all, the same top tube length can sit you radically differently depending on seat angle, the slope of the tube, and a whole host of other variables.
The importance of this overall balancing and designing around where your centre-of-gravity is in relation to the bottom bracket and handlebars became quite evident to me with my pre- and post-bike fit ride perceptions. I rode the Aquila for a month in my “classic 80s” high and back saddle position, and then for 6 weeks with the saddle 10 mm lower and 30 mm farther forward as shown here. While not ridiculously sluggish by any means before the fit, the handling of the bike was noticeably livelier with more of my weight forward relative to the bottom bracket, and any hesitation in handling completely disappeared.
Ride the Bike!
The most important part of a bike review, in my mind, is how the technological details end up working out on the road. And because what’s desired in a bike can be as open to individual preferences and interpretation as saddle or shoe fit, an important criterion for discussing bike performance is what I use my bike for, and what kind of situations I’ve put it through. After all, a WorldTour racer likely has different requirements for a bike than most folks, even keen amateur racers.
For me, I lean towards the “keen amateur racer who also just loves to ride the bike” demographic. I race masters category sanctioned races, race our club’s Tuesday Worlds that are often harder and more hard-fought than the sanctioned races, long weekend club rides with fast paceline work, and solo long endurance rides or interval workouts. In my time with the Equipe-R, here’s an example of some situations or workouts I’ve done with it:
• Fast rotating pacelines, usually with lots of cross/head/tailwind, averaging >40-50 km/h and finishing with townline sprints.
• Repeated 3-min intervals up a 8-10% grade.
• Fast club races on rural roads, flat or fast swooping downhills, that are often chip and tar or loaded with random craters.
• Lots of close-quarter riding at speed chewing on my handlebars desperately hanging onto the wheel in front of me.
• “Stomps” intervals where I start near a standstill in a very big gear, then accelerate up to >90 rpm.
• Endurance rides of 4+ hours, either solo or with a group.
In these above situation, I was very impressed with the Equipe-R. Doing the hard intervals, there were no funny mannerisms to distract me or make me adjust to the bike rather than the other way around.
There were many times in our club races where I was just on the rivet, with my tongue slapping in the front spokes and my eyes doing their best to be tractor beams bringing the wheel in front back closer to me again. In those times, I could just thrash the bottom bracket without fighting the front end to keep going in a straight line.
There is no doubt that a bike handles differently at high (>40 km/h) speed than while going along at typical endurance pace of 30 km/h or so. This is especially accentuated in a fast paceline, where the bike needs to respond extremely rapidly to input to keep the paceline tight and maximize draft. At the same time, over-reacting is a cardinal sin in the close quarters of a fast-moving pack, so you don’t want a bike that responds to a tiny movement by steering clear across the road.
Finally, when I’m hammering for dear life to hang onto the wheel in front of me, the last thing I need is having to work to control my bike. So responsiveness and predictability in handling are very good things to have, while I’ll say no thanks to an over-twitchy bike that requires too much thought just to ride in a straight line.
While there are many flat roads in my Niagara area, we also have some really steep and windy rollers along the Niagara Escarpment. Some of the roads are great, others are more “roads in theory” and generously peppered with bumps and potholes. So we would be either carving into and down them at 60-70 km/h, or else grunting up them at 10-15 km/h standing and torqueing the bike. In keeping with my overall impressions, the Equipe-R just went where I needed it to when I needed it to, being neither too slow or taking lots of steering input, nor too fast and requiring re-correction of my movement or line.
When standing on these steep rollers, there’s no whippiness around the bottom bracket. There is also a nice sense of unity between the front and rear ends, indeed all the way through the bike. So you’re not having a bike where you have to stand or favour in a particular way in order to keep the bike balanced. Again, that leaves you to tend to the task at hands, laying down the watts through the pedals.
And on several occasions, I’ve been surprised and had to make instant adjustments. This happened a couple of times while already leaning hard into a corner, then at the last second seeing a big pothole directly in my path. This required laying off the weighting to ease up the turn, then diving back hard again to complete the turn safely. Each time, the Equipe-R took these commands without any feeling of front-end twisting or rear-end skidding. Rather, it was an instant response with no fuss or complaint.
To further the “forget it and ride it” way in which the Equipe-R just becomes part of you, the comfort of the bike just lets you ride without worrying about what type of surface you’re riding on. This is accomplished by the thin seatstays, and especially by the wider rims and 25 mm tires.
On a side note, this was the first time I’ve tried 25 mm tires (Michelin Pro 4 Service Course), and they were a real revelation. Rather than the 100/105 psi I typically run on 23 mm tires, I’ve gone down to 85/90 psi with these and the increase in comfort and road feel is very noticeable. Call me a convert to the wide-tire movement.
I was definitely thrilled with the ride of the Equipe-R, and I do agree with the assessment that it’s a bike for all seasons and reasons. The main sense and words I describe the ride as are responsive and unified. I’ve put it through > 2,500 km of hard and long riding, and honestly cannot come up with anything that has bugged me to the point of real notice or distraction in that time.
At 7.2 kg for the total bike (SRAM Red 22 speed, Zipp Service Course cockpit and Ritchey seatpost, Racer Sportif carbon clincher wheels, Speedplay Zero pedals), it’s also light enough that there’s no excuse to skip this bike when it’s a big climbing day or for your Gran Fondo. I rode it in the annual “Highlander” century in western New York, featuring rough roads and 3,200 m of climbing over 170 km, and it behaved great over the 6+ h.
Where to Get One
Currently, Aquila bikes are available exclusively at Racer Sportif. This again goes with their growth philosophy of building a good bike first, getting the word out, and then increasing availability and distribution at the right speed rather than just trying to distribute as broadly and quickly as possible. Over the coming year, look for dealers throughout Canada and the US. But in the meantime, check out their website or contact Frank Mizerski at [email protected] and drop by the shops in Oakville and Toronto, Canada to see them up close.
Note: If you have other experiences with gear, or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews, or a slap in the head if you feel the need!
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