Flying a Volagi (part 2)
by Peter Gerrard at http://www.examiner.com/cycling-in-santa-ana/peter-gerrard
I stumbled across a Volagi brochure at a bike shop about the same time a friend wrote a puppy-love Facebook status update about Calfee’s disk-resplendent Adventure bike (mentioned in the first part of this story). He’s always reassessing his training and equipment. He and his wife are trying to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris, the Holy Grail for distance riders. I saw that the Volagi bikes sported disk brakes, so I dropped him a note. And I decided to find out more about the bike and the company.
After several conversations and emails with Volagi’s Susan Forsman, a test was arranged. In May I was able to wrangle a couple of bikes. One featured a SRAM Rival group; the other was a Shimano Ultegra-equipped model (but in a size larger than I ride). I threw my pedals on the Rival bike, aired up the tires, and headed toward the hills in Turtle Rock
First impression: On the flats, the disk brakes are not dramatically different from calipers in feel, but they do have their own sound.
I climbed Ridgeline, and began distilling the idea that the Volagi bike is more than a collection of carbon and components.
Second impression: the bike’s massive bottom bracket and tight rear end (can you get slapped for saying that out of context?) are very effective when you’re climbing.
But these observations evaporated once I crested Ridgeline, accelerating toward a descent of Starcrest in Turtle Rock…and wondering, belatedly, if I’d taken too great a leap of faith with the disk brakes.
(An observation aimed at me by a mechanic friend pops into mind: “When a new gadget comes out, why are you always first in line to drink the Kool-Aid?”)
If you don’t know the area, you can get a pretty good head of steam just coasting on Starcrest, and it doesn’t take much pedaling to get into the 40+ mph zone. The Volagi tracked very well, but I didn’t like the feel from the front wheel (The stock Rival wheels have 32 spokes, a shallower rim and weigh approx. 1,850 grams/pr). It was not as rock-steady and confidence inspiring as the rest of the bike, but I’d be willing to attribute that to it being a test model that may have seen its share of abuse.
There’s a point where I know that I need to start braking or I’ll run past the stop and into Turtle Rock Drive’s cross traffic. I hit that reference point, subconsciously established from riding bikes with very good caliper brakes, and pulled the levers. The disk brakes were easy to modulate, not grabby, and I found myself stopped a good hundred feet sooner than usual. So score one for the disk brakes. I took a swig from my bottle, and the Kool-Aid was good.
I rode home and borrowed the up-spec Ultegra bike’s front wheel. Both the Ultegra and DuraAce Liscio bikes have Volagi’s E7™ Ignite CL wheel, which has fewer spokes (24), a slightly deeper aero shape and weighs about 200 grams/pr. less than those on the Rival bike. Both wheelsets came with 25c Continental Ultra Race tires.
What a difference. Retracing the climb, this time the Volagi came more alive. The EL front wheel felt stiffer and more energetic. On the descent, whatever hesitation I had to let the bike rip was gone. The Volagi Web site and brochure mention that there will be a carbon-rimmed wheel available as an upgrade. Imagine that: a lighter, stiffer and damper wheel without a carbon braking surface.
One more thing: I almost forgot that Volagi has also designed a saddle for long-distance riding comfort. It has different rails and covers, depending on the bike. I can’t say that it was particularly good or bad. On the plus side, I really didn’t notice it, which is a complement coming from a persnickety saddle snob.
I ended up riding around 30 miles. On one long section of slightly worse-for-wear trail I realized that the Volagi was smoother and damper than I was used to. I had the impression that I was getting slightly less shock through the handlebars, but quite a bit less through the saddle. I was flying. Having a good ride, smiling. I think I’m becoming a fan of LongBow Flex™ stays. I’d like to ride this bike on a century.
That leads to the other interesting thing about Volagi. Yes, the bike is different, and it’s taking advantage of all the material knowledge and computer aided data crunching available to create what might be one of the best expressions of a do-everything road bike. Even if that wasn’t expressly the original goal.
But the Volagi company–and try to read this analytically instead of sentimentally– is also something different. It’s a throwback to a smaller and more focused type of entrepreneurship, one involving ideas, risk and actually manufacturing a product.
Robert Choi, and Barley and Susan Forsman, could have contracted with one of the myriad carbon frame producers and gotten close to what they wanted a Volagi bike to be. But they stuck to their ideals. They invested in the molds needed to produce the five frame sizes needed to build bikes with the performance attributes they expected…and then committed to a robust production run. It’s not the thousands of bikes a Trek, Specialized, Giant or Cannondale will produce, but it’s a lot more than a boutique custom builder will make in a year.
In ways, maybe Volagi also has some symbolic meaning aside from what’s in the name. With all the caution that businesses seem to be exercising in investment and hiring, it’s inspiring when someone is willing to take a risk on an idea. It will be an adventure. And, like the bike, I hope it’s a sweet ride.
Continue reading on Examiner.com Flying a Volagi, part 2 - Santa Ana Cycling | Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/cycling-in-santa-ana/flying-a-volagi-part-2-review#ixzz1QDjJVg4Q