What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Tests: Volagi’s Liscio

About two years ago, new brand Volagi was one of the first to launch a bike designed specifically for fast and less fatiguing long distance riding – and one of the nicest looking frame designs to boot. I’ve had one on long term test, and their refinements for 2013 should make the bike even better than the quality ride they’ve already built.

And while we saw a few big brands launch their own ‘gran fondo’ styled rides at this year’s shows, Volagi was showing refinements to an already well designed bike.

Seeing as the big growth in road bike sales the last few years has come from a demographic of 40+ year old men and women, it’s no surprise that bike frames have evolved to fit this less flexible group of riders. It’s really the first time that many frame designers have acknowledged that their biggest group of customers no longer bend like we used to, and that our maturing egos will actually allow us to ride in a position that’s not all ‘deep drops and super-pro’.

The guys at Volagi, a small California-based company started by Robert Choi and Barley Forsman, have both been around the biz for many years, working for much larger brands. The love long rides and pushing themselves farther than most run-of-the-mill sane people would. Barley – as their website states: “finished the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris ride and was first in the fixed gear category of the Furnace Creek 508 mile race, earning the qualification to compete in Race Across America.” I’d say that qualifies him as a guy who knows what it’s like to be uncomfortable on a bike. It also qualifies him as someone who might know a thing or two about building bikes that don’t make you sore after an hour.

The swooping curves of the Liscio’s frame make it downright stylish.

This Bike IS Different
There’s no question that proper bike fit is the most important thing when it comes to a pain free & comfortable ride, but also ranking up there is frame design – and that’s where the Volagi is different than most bikes.

The LONGBOW FLEX™ STAY SUSPENSION places the seatstay/ toptube junction ahead of the seatube to help smooth the ride.

The bikes were first displayed at Interbike 2010 and caught attention with their swooping curves and unique open yoke-style top-tube design they call LONGBOW FLEX™ STAY SUSPENSION. Instead of joining the seat stays to the seat tube like traditional designs, the Liscio’s seat stays connect to the top tube a couple of inches in front of the seatube. This effectively lengthens the seat stays, and creates a top tube/ chainstay assembly that runs from headtube clear back to the rear axle – looking a lot like a Longbow-style of bow used in archery.

So what? The intention is to allow the frame to flex and pivot around the seat tube – allowing more road buzz to be absorbed by the frame, and less by the seat tube, thus smoothing out the ride. They’ve designed each of the frame sizes across the entire line to move up to 6 millimeters vertically at the seatpost as road buzz is absorbed.

But the bike is anything but noodley, flexy, or soft. The bottom of the frame is designed for efficient energy transfer, while the top allows for bump absorbing flex. The tubes’ shapes, carbon make-up and layup are all intended to maintain a ride quality that flexes in the vertical plane, while the horizontal stiffness remains high enough that most riders won’t even notice it. I didn’t, and in fact I found the ride surprisingly ‘stiffer’ that I expected.

This modern thinking is also reflected through the rest of the frame – there’s nary a straight section of tube to be found – even the chain- and seat-stays connect in a curved joint that’s designed to better allow road stresses to be distributed and absorbed over a greater portion of the frame than a hard angled joint allows.

The head tube houses a 1-1/8 top- and 1-3/8 bottom bearing to keep things stable.

The head-tube, down-tube, and chainstays are pretty large tubes, as we’ve come to expect on modern designs, and clearly built to stabilize power transfer from the bottom bracket and rear wheel, through to the front end where steering stability and predictability are a must. Even the seattube and saddle are stabilized to the point that movement here is barely (if at all) detectable.

The tube shapes themselves also enhance the overall flowing aesthetic, with
smooth edges and some tube profiles that have an aero look to them.

The seat stays are ovalized horizontally to allow for some up & down movement, while stabilizing sideways forces generated from pedaling to increase energy transfer to the rear wheel.

The oversized bottom bracket houses a BB30 crank axle, and the chainstays are almost 2 inches tall at the BB junction – adding to the frame’s overall low-end stiffness.

The seat tube has a cool teardrop shape, and houses a similarly shaped seatpost. The seatpost clamp has been redesigned for 2013 (that’s it below), to increase strength and grip.

The front saddle clamping bolt has been redone also, to allow for easier finger-actuated adjustment.

Not Ones To Rest on Their Laurels…
While my test model was a prototype 2011, and features some very nice custom work done by the meisters at Fairwheel Bikes to internally route hydraulic cables for the disc brakes, the guys at Volagi are eager to evolve the bike even more, and have introduced a few refinements for the 2013 model year. Bigger riders will like that the downtube and chainstays has been beefed up with a new carbon layup on larger frame sizes to reduce flex even more.

The shift to electronic shifting continues everywhere, and the Liscio frames are now setup with fully enclosed internal routing at the head tube and bottom bracket to accept both Shimano and Campy electric systems.

The rear axle has been widened from 130mm to 135mm to allow for a slightly wider flange spacing and more wheel options. This is also the standard for CX racers, and shows Volagi’s awareness of where their bikes can find more riders, and willingness to change for the sake of their customers (not something you see from many bigger brands).

And Something Else Different
The other really intriguing feature of the Liscio are the brakes – full disc brakes. Any of us who’ve ridden with full discs (most likely on an mtb) will attest to the amazing stopping power right at our finger tips. The road bike disc brake movement has been afoot for a few years now, and while cable operated discs are in use across the land (just check out your local ‘cross race), the fully hydraulic disc brakes for road remain in the land of r&d, and rumors.

One of the main issues to be solved is how to deal with the hydraulic fluid reservoir. MTB hydra discs integrate this cleanly into the brake lever, which typically sits as a separate unit from the shifters on the handlebars. But for road the current integrated style of brake & shift levers allows little room left to house enough brake fluid anywhere other than a separate reservoir.

We built this up with TRP’s Parabox system, which uses a remotely mounted reservoir and a combo of cable & hydraulic actuation to engage the brakes.

The Parabox hydraulic brake system was originally designed for cyclocross, but bolts seamlessly on to the road frame. The hydraulic fluid reservoir sits in a separate box (the Parabox), that mounts under the stem. Short wire cables connect the levers to the box, and actuate the hydraulic plungers that control brake fluid pressure, and the brakes. The hydraulic lines run from the Parabox to each of the front and rear brake mounts.

It’s not a fully hydraulic system like we’re used to on mountain bikes, and as such doesn’t operate the same way. When set up and functioning correctly, mine functioned on par with a properly tuned road caliper setup. It’s important to note here that TRP have subsequently released a couple of newly revised versions, and have even more upgrades in development that should hit the market in the coming months.

We’ll take a closer look at road discs when we have more to report on, but for now let’s get back to the bike.

For this 2011 Interbike show model, we ran with Ritchey Logic’s WCS260 stem and SuperLogic II handlebars.

The stem in particular showcases why Tom Ritchey has remained at the forefront of bicycle and component design for 40 years. Just when you think stem technology has topped out, Ritchey rethinks the whole thing and comes out with a new handlebar clamping design that wraps 260 degrees around the bar to more evenly distribute stresses across the entire bar/ stem/ faceplate/ hardware interface.

Cycling industry tech editors and anyone else constantly changing handlebars may be the only voices of discontent with the new design now that swapping bars requires partial untaping so that the thinner part of the handlebar will slide out of the stem’s front opening.

The body is 3D forged 7050 aluminum, then internally machined to reduce weight, and high grade CrMo steel bolts are a smaller M4 size that saves even more grams, with no loss of function or strength.

The steer tube clamp features three bolts that clamp along a curved slot to reduce clamp stress on the steer tube. The whole thing is weighs 103 grams, making it the lightest stem in their line-up, and as their website suggests – maybe the world

Fizik’s Antares saddle is both light and easy to sit on.

I bolted on a nice little cage from Octto components – they’re a small Canadian company making good stuff for good prices.

Ride It
Bike fit a ride quality go hand in hand. While ride quality can be built in and tuned by the manufacturer, it’s impossible to enjoy any ride quality to its fullest if the fit is off.
The Liscio is designed with a shorter cockpit and longer headtube to provide a more upright riding position than what most consider “race” position.

It eliminates the need for silly looking tall stack ‘o spacers to get the bars up to where a lot of non-pro riders like em, and just plain looks better, and is a great set up for riders who aren’t as flexible as they once were.

In spite of the taller headtube, and the space required to fit the Parabox reservoir under the stem, I set the handlebars to a height that although 1-2 cm taller than my other bikes, still felt aggressive enough to sooth my worried ego (ie: I still looked cool on the bike.) Most importantly though, is that the position felt very good.

The overall feel of the frameset / wheel combo is stiffer than I expected. The bike is solid, never mushy or flexy, which is well suited to riding it as aggressively as I dared. Just because they bill it as an “endurance” style bike, there’s nothing in there that says it ain’t meant to be ridden fast. And something else I’ve noticed over the years – the more comfortable I am on a bike – the faster I can ride it. Go figure.

The deep fork blades and large diameter head tube and headset bearing work well with the slightly slacker 72.5 degree headtube angle to do a great job of keeping the bike going where I aimed it. Controlling the bike feels tight and predictable, and was more responsive to the road than I expected – there’s plenty of feedback available, but without the jarring rigidity that comes with some bike billed as ‘race stiff’.

The other big surprise for me was how responsive the frameset is in power transfer. While the frame does move and flex slightly in the vertical plane (thanks to those longer seatstays), I never noticed it. The bottom end (headtube – downtube- chainstays) really does feel solid when transferring pedaling energy. Whether I was standing to climb or accelerate, there was never any detectable bouncing or flexing by the frame in any direction.

Above all this though, what really struck me, and continues to get my attention, is the smooth swooping lines of the frame shape – this really is a distinct looking bike – and in a cool way. This bike should appeal to a lot of riders – from anyone interested in the kind of ride quality Volagi has built in here, to riders more concerned with a high-performing bike that aesthetically stands out on the group ride.

The Volagi website shows a big range of builds and price points on offer to suit a big variety of tastes and budgets. They offer frame sizes of 47, 50, 53, 55, 57, 60 top tube length, and this tester will run in the $4,500+ range.

• See more at Volagi.com

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