Best Of PEZ’17: Sarto Veneto SL Review – Custom Italian Detail for Stock$
So here’s the gig… Take a look at a lot of Italy’s off the rack product… It’s VERY nice stuff despite the growing likelihood that, at best, only the paint is Italian (ah, and the price tag…).
Now imagine that for the same price as a stock geometry/stock paint Pinarello, you could pick your colors and add custom geometry to a frame that was fully hand made in Italy.
Oh, and you might have enough cash left to fly over from the US an pick it up here…
Let’s face it… We would all like to have multi-generational Italian craftsmen building us something custom.
Ah but alas, the Sarto Veneto SL you’re looking at isn’t fully custom…
Sure it’s a custom color, and yes it was made, one tube at a time, into the bike you see here by those same fantastic people that build Sarto’s “full” custom dream machines.
But the Veneto SL only cost $5,893 and you can’t Get a full custom Italian Carbon Frame for that right…?
Right… I mean how could it be custom when a few other top line Italian brand’s stock frames alone (some neither made in Italy nor in custom color choice) also cost @5-6 grand?
Now here’s the rub… $5893 is not the frame price.
$5893 is the SRP at time of writing including the frame, fork, pedals, bottle cages, full Campy build, wheels and one of the most expensive saddles you can buy.
And here’s why I am the stupidest person you’ll bother reading today…
I could have had the Veneto SL in CUSTOM GEOMETRY for just $250 more…
Sarto can make this happen when virtually everything is handled from fiber to finish in-house, by guys who are fully versed in both custom and stock run production.
Sarto began in 1950 with the Sarto Brothers (Antonio, Mario and Giovani) handling finishing work for Classic brands like Atala and Torpado. Eventually the brothers started living up to their family name (Sarto is Italian for “Tailor”) and began welding frames.
The tradition continues today as I walked through Sarto’s facility to catch Antonio working on a saddle prototype.
Just behind Antonio is the bright red bicycle of his grandson Ale who would be riding it in his very first race the next night.
The factory is full of people with a passion for both cycling itself and the creativity needed to build things that suit a purpose. Walking out of the room past Antonio, I turned around and noted even more detail.
You might note that the all carbon custom commuter has some slick shaped tubing, including a bit of rear suspension wiggle… But then you probably missed that Antonio also built himself some custom carbon suspension shoes!
I noted another bike sitting just across from Ale’s and it turned out to be father Enrico Sarto’s.
Both bikes are beautiful detail, right down to the custom, in-house made saddles, both large and small.
Sarto’s ability to think up, design, build and test product, is quite special for the company’s size and custom focus. It comes from a long history of building not only for themselves but for several other Italian brands. That responsibility to build quality product for other brands is a part of Sarto’s DNA.
Back to the Veneto SL, I wanted to see the build process for the frame and it turns out the stock builds go through a very similar process to the top line custom models.
These are the tubes and bits for a complete frame set, but getting the picture wasn’t as easy as grabbing a few tubes. When I asked if I could photo the raw parts for the Veneto SL, there was a “yes”, followed by a bit of a whisper and a small flurry of activity… As it turned out, they didn’t have any stays.
I would have been fine with Sarto saying “sorry, we don’t have a full set”, but their response is quintessential Sarto… They actually make things here. Just a few quiet words among themselves, with no fussing at all and in a matter of a few minutes carbon was laid up into molds, cooked and popped out.
Once properly formed up, Enrico Sarto handled a little finishing work.
And just like that, we had a full tube set ready for the picture.
Once the frame pieces are on hand, Sarto determine the geometry and cut the tubes to measure. From there, they’ll be bonded together using a jig that’s preset to hold the tubes at the correct angles (either stock or custom geometry).
Once bonded together, they’re inspected again.
And they then go to the first finishing step to smooth the bonding agent, leaving clean joints.
This leaves the frames ready for the structural carbon layers to be applied.
The fiber plies are all hand cut and applied.
The frames then go for pressure and curing of the structural carbon plies and then back in for round number 2 of finishing…
From there the frame goes back in for the final cosmetic carbon layer.
This one is done a bit more slowly as they’re paying attention not just to the coverage of the joint but to how the squares of the wrap will line up with the pattern of the frame itself. Much like a good tailor matches the stripes of the sleeves and body of a suit.
You can see above, what the frame looks like just ahead of final aesthetic cure and pressure (right) process. The frame on the left is fresh from the final cure and from here it goes to a 3rd hand finishing.
After the third surface detailing, the frames go for the final finishing process that, for Sarto, could be anything from stock logos on UV coated raw carbon to stock graphics and paint to full on custom painted designs.
Sarto have a fantastic graphics and paint department with great design sense and a high attention to detail…
The first bike I had from Sarto (The Energia Disc) was laid out so well that I didn’t want to change from their stock graphics…
My Veneto SL was built up with a goal of keeping the whole bike under $6000 fully ready to ride. To hit that price, the graphics here needed to be Sarto’s house pattern. But $6000 also meant that I could spec custom colors and I decided to go with something similar to the Campagnolo Factory test bikes that are made for Campy by Sarto…
Tip of the cap to the person that chose the color combination for Campy’s bikes as they wound up being conservative but something that stand out from the everyday…
The Veneto tube set aesthetic is pretty straight forward. Round top and down tubes and just a little slope.
Tapered head tube…
Square section chain stays.
Wishbone seat stays that are fairly flat toward the middle.
Metal reinforced carbon drop outs at the back…
Sarto’s own straight blade fork.
It all seems pretty simple, but the details give it a feel of something costing quite a bit more…
Campagnolo’s new Potenza group was a pretty easy choice for build. It would have been pretty difficult not using Potenza given Campy’s HQ sitting just up the road in Vicenza… In fact, my first stop on this trip was into Campagnolo for a look around.
And the first thing I saw on the factory floor were my 170 size Potenza arms being machined…
Of course they’ll put a finish on the kit (either silver or black) a little further down the production line…
The group set itself will have a review shortly, but I can say that Campagnolo have built a very good group that competes well with Shimano’s Ultegra and SRAM’s Force in function. It also sits at a price point that, much like it’s competition, gives you a LOT of performance for the dollars. It was an easy choice here and the “one trigger pull-one bullet” down shift it pretty well suited to the aggressive nature of the Veneto SL…
53-39 chain rings might not be all the rage with folks looking for their favorite of what seems to be 10 different versions of compact, but with Campagnolo’s new 11-32 cassette, there is no climbing scenario in Phoenix Arizona that begs for more than this…
53/39 – 11-32 suits the Veneto SL’s all round nature perfectly.
Vittoria’s new Corsa G+ tires also helped the all-rounder character of the Veneto…
Most folks reading this will have used Open Corsa tires of one form or another over the years and while tire competition has certainly increased over the past few years, this is Vittoria’s best tire to date. The casing is very good and the new rubber compound makes these tires the best combination of comfort and speed that I have used in the last 10 years. I’m not sure about durability, but I can say after 1500 miles they don’t seem to be wearing abnormally quickly… As far as puncture resistance, I have no comment, as I don’t have a tire puncturing test rig and I’m not stupid enough to suggest my not having a flat with these yet is anything beyond incidental…
I have a set of 25’s that I’ll use on another test set of wheels, but I’ve used the 28’s (which fit in the frame and fork with just a bit of room to spare) on Campagnolo’s Zonda Wheels…
I also use the Corsa G+ on Vittoria’s own Qurano wheels and a set of Zipp 202’s. I share these sets on 4 different bikes and the results are the same, great grip and comfort with no loss in speed to tires that don’t ride this well…
Given the cost sensitive nature of the build, there was one area where I went a little wonky on budget.
Astute Italia’s Skycarb VT Saddle is also made not to far from Sarto’s shop. Astute build these in the Veneto region sourcing the carbon, elastomers and saddle coverings and fab them by hand. And with that, these are not inexpensive at $499. Yes, I could have used one of a couple of metal rail versions of this saddle from Astute and cut the price by more than half, but just look at it!
Saddles are a bit like shoes in that different people will like different things, but Astute are offering a few shell shapes and padding options (as well as a fleet of materials options) that might suit you. The weights are also relatively low given the padding and vibe damping provided.
The last of the Italian bits are Deda’s Trentacinque (35) bar and stem in Alu…
At 35mm for the bar cross section and stem clamp, this is over-oversized and amounts to one of the stiffest setup’s available. The added stiffness of this bar stem set up gives a lot of confidence under hard effort. This size might not be the most comfortable for 23 section tires at higher pressures, but with a frame that seems to have a bit of compliance matched with the 28 section Vittoria tires the Trentacique set up is a good fit.
The Veneto SL is a very clean, straight forward design on the outside and Sarto have chosen a tube set combination and fiber layup that allows this frame to be an excellent all rounder. You can build this frame to be quite different depending on the optional geometry and the parts you select.
As built at this price point, with a very good set of wheels in Campy’s Zonda set, mated with 28 section Vittorias and you’ll have plenty of comfort for all day rides but you’ll also find very responsiveness. Small bumps and road buzz disappear with chubby rubber.
If I were not as dumb as I am, I would have dropped a couple hundred bucks for a bit shorter top tube and a bit taller head tube. But, had I done that, I might have missed the point that this tube set can be more performance oriented than “just” a Fast-Fondo set up.
Because the stock geometry on this frame is a little longer and lower than I normally ride, I learned that it also works very well as a performance focused rig.
I dropped the stem down a spacer, changed the saddle (and thereby the seating position) which gave me a small change in overall body position and center of gravity. And I also swapped the Campy wheels with a set of Vittoria’s Qurano Carbon Clinchers and laced them with 23, 25 and 28 section tires (along with the higher pressures at lower tire size).
The position change as well as a bit lighter wheel set (with a lower profile tire at higher pressure) meant that the platform had changed from a comfort focus to something a bit more responsive with better road feedback. A couple of tweaks and I was now on a race platform…
While Sarto make a stiffer frame than the Veneto (as well as frames more focused on weight or aero performance), I don’t find it wanting at all. In fact, I would hate to give up the vibe damping with the Veneto SL to go looking for any more stiffness, but Sarto have that if you’re looking…
Sarto built the Veneto to be the all rounder that it is.
They also put this together using pretty straight forward shapes to control the tube molding costs and those basic shapes go together more simply than the crazy shaped kits they use on other models.
The Veneto SL is a fantastic price point for the quality you’re getting at $3900. Add custom paint and geometry for a few hundred more and it’s even better. That the tube set is built for mid high torsional stiffness at the bottom bracket but with some overall compliance means that you can tune this with geometry and parts to be anything from a Crit Rocket to an all day Fondo sled.
My suggestion is find what your performance geometry is and your comfort geometry and build this to the middle of those specifications and use the left over money on a second stem and wheel set and you’ll have two fantastic bikes for a price better than you would expect to pay for just one Italian Custom bike.
Or do what I did and use the left over money to help pay for a week in Northern Italy.
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