What's Cool In Road Cycling

PRINCIPIA ELLIPSE SX Test: Nice Bulge, Big Boy!

Principia make no bones about it, they make Aluminum race bikes. And looking at the Pro Peloton, it’s pretty plain to see that aluminum is the ticket for the guys who want a tool that helps them earn a paycheck.

While some might say “but they don’t have a Division One presence”, think again. There are more than a few of these frames painted with other folks’ logos, one of a former Italian champ (not Bettini or Nardello), and it’s because Principia know how to put the metal to the pedal.

Principia have been around the block a few times and have been the Aluminum frame “to have” in Europe and especially the UK. I remembered getting a Rex Pro a while back and, on top of weight under 17 pounds loaded (and that’s PEZ-loaded, with pedals cages, computer etc…) it was a decent ride. Principia crank out about 6000 frames a year and every bit gets knocked out by company hands. The frames start life as basic 7020 aluminum tubing that is manipulated into shape, butted, welded, polished, surface-treated and heat-treated. Principia frames are not just off the rack tubing welded together like a lot of the Aluminum on the market. And as I said, the frame manufacturing process is in the hands of Principia from start to finish.

Something different about the Frame welding process is Principia’s “Tube Insert Welding” process. It is what it sounds like. Rather than just pushing tubes together and welding them, Principia take the time to cut a hole where the tube goes.

This makes for a very tight tolerance giving the welder an extremely clean and tight surface, allowing for stronger welds with less material (saving weight). It also might add a little something to the ride quality, but we’ll get to that later.

Principia also use elliptical shapes in a few key areas. Another secret to having a ride not generally associated with oversized aluminum lies in shaped tubing in the right areas. Forces flow continuously through a frame and Elliptical shaped tubes channel these forces so they do not find a place to gather. This technology was felt in the first pedal stroke while on board the frame, as it also aids in stiffness by creating larger contact points. For 2004, the Ellipse technology consists of 3 main areas: head tube, bottom bracket and dropouts.

Taking a look at the Bottom Bracket, it’s pretty plain to see the elliptical shape. Take note too, of the extremely clean bottom bracket inside and machining. The finish detail on the bike was very good, with none of the slop and garbage that you find in some other “high end” aluminum frames.

You’ll also notice that the down tube is, well, not small. In fact, I had the bike set up with Elite’s Bajiji Bottles (the skinny, easy to grab kind) and the down tube was almost the same size. I actually grabbed the down tube reaching for a drink the first time…

Next on the elliptical end is the Head tube. Also easy to see the shape here with the addition of a straight line (green) added to show the bulge. The top tube also tapers as it reaches the seat tube and, again there’s that big down tube.

Locked into the head tube is another cool fork (like the Kuota Kredo has) with a reinforced, oversized bottom end (requiring a larger bottom bearing) for the hidden headset. I like when folks toss more material at areas that need it (instead of giving in to the weight weenies, and Principia were pioneers with these big bottom forks. Also note that the Fork is no heavy weight on either the Principia or the Kuota…

Last on the funky shape bandwagon are the rear dropouts. Kind of a smooshed ellipse (hell yes “smoosh” is a technical term).

The chain stays are, as expected, large and the seat stays are (unexpectedly) straight as a ruler. They also get a kind of wedge shape (shown below). The tire snuggles up close to the seat tube which is oversized and takes a plump seat post (FSA’s very nice K force) to match.

The guys at Ochsner really went Full Monty with the build kit. The Record group was nice enough, but the FSA gear (Team Cranks, K Force bars and Post) really put a great touch on things.

Perhaps the best surprise came in the form of FSA’s new RD-400 wheels. Because Wheels can make a huge difference in ride qualities of a bike, we also ran the test on the house standard American Classics 420’s and a set of Carbon Zipp tubulars. That said, I loved the RD-400’s! These things had very good stiffness, look very cool, weigh less than a set of Ksyrium SL’s and retail in the low-mid 400 buck range! (yeah, that’s half the cost of others in this weight and stiffness cat…)

I had visions of other all aluminum bikes dance in my head when I pulled this from the crate (blurred visions…). I like as much Carbon between my ass and the rear axle as possible, and the stays didn’t even have a curvy bend! All that big, straight metal had the family jewels pretty worried, and my ass was requesting that I tape a pillow to the saddle (fit be damned), but Brad at Ochsner told me not to worry. And while I trust the jewels to no man (except that one time in prison…), I went ahead and trusted my ass to Brad.

erm… well, yeah, I did.

Good call. The bike actually rides as well as some of the plushest carbon rear ended scooters available. No Curved stays, no Carbon, no low tire pressures (no pillow) on the Ellipse. This bike rode nicely.

Lots to consider here though, including the FSA Carbon post (with large exposure and setback curve) and bars and a nice smooth set of Veloflex tires, as well as my all time favorite long named bike part, the Sella-Italia-Prolink-Trans-am-gel-Flow. But I can (-nondale) name a few all-aluminum bikes that I have also ridden with full carbon bits and pieces that didn’t ride as nicely. I can also say that the Principia rides as well as another bike with an extremely similar but shorter name (and a Carbon rear end…).

Handling on the Ellipse is off the charts. I ride motorcycles (too quickly…) on occasion, and this bike had me thinking about trying to get a knee down (watch a MotoGP race and you’ll get it) in fast corners. I felt in complete control even when the corners had a little chatter to them. That planted feel is something you don’t get enough of from today’s super light rigs. The Ellipse is not as light as Principia’s flagship model Revolution, but I wouldn’t want to change much, as it felt so well planted (I would happily trade a few grams for more control and longer frame life). The Fork works very well with this frame too, and stayed very stable through anything tossed at it (nice job by the FSA bars too).

I got home after the first ride with an understanding why there are lots of pro’s that still go for Aluminum. At speed, in corners, there is nothing like a secure feeling, zero-flex bike. There are bikes that are stiff relative to their weight, and then there are stiff bikes relative to, well, a train track. This thing is Choo Choo.

Comfort bike? Not purely, but relatively so even compared to other combo material bikes, which makes this bike the most comfortable all Aluminum bike I have ever been on, bar none. (Scam er Scanduim inlcuded)

Quick Bike? Yep. Toss on a set of Zipp 202’s in short steep hills for a huge treat, but leave it with the RD 400’s and you’ll be very-very happy.

Great handler? Big, fat, fireworks-going-off-in-the-background, yes. There is a time and place for everything. With this bike, the time is the last lap of your local Crit, and the place is at the front, sandwiched between a few buddies screaming toward the next to last corner.

Frame: Principia Ellipse SX, Isaac Carbon Fork (a little over $2k and paint options change that)

Parts: Campy and FSA everything, Elite cages, Speedplay Peds and a Sella Italia cushion. Veloflex Tires didn’t hurt the ride either, guaranteed…

Ochsner International are taking dealer inquiries, and the contact there is Brad Menna. You can reach Brad at [email protected]. You can also visit Principia by clicking HERE

Ochsner USA is also the distributor of Assos clothing and Tacx trainers, so you can visit the site for more info on those products…

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