Test Lab, Road Test of the Azzurri Mezzo Pro Di2
Let me ask you a question. Imagine you’d always coveted a famous brand of Italian bicycles. Perhaps they’d had Tour de France winners and an unbroken race sponsorship. They’d previously been manufactured in Italy but in modern times were made in Taiwan and then shipped back to Italy for painting in their own factory. You’d still want one wouldn’t you? Particularly if they rode well and looked good. Well? The reason I ask, is that apart from the Italian heritage and Tour winners, I’ve just described Azzurri bikes.
Azzurri and their parent company Learsport have been in the bike business for nearly 25 years. They’ve made a huge number of frames in that time, which has gained them an enviable amount of experience when it comes to design and carbon layup. Bikes are created by Azzurri designers to their own specifications, manufactured in Taiwan and then shipped to the company’s own workshop, also in Taiwan, for painting. They then come to Australia.
Any discussion of Azzurri has to include the issue of buying direct. To many people, particularly bike shop owners, selling direct to the customer is an evil and should be stamped out. There’s no doubt that big overseas companies have made a dent into Australian distributors’ income. But is it such a problem if the direct supplier is an Australian company? I don’t know, but it is definitely something that is on the increase. Azzurri have an interesting business model which is somewhere in between the two. Yes they do sell direct through cyclingexpress.com, and incidentally currently employ 15 people in their Melbourne premises. However, they also have a network of bike stores around the country where you can collect your new bike, elect to get a professional fit or buy accessories. It seems a pretty fair way of doing things. Customers get cheaper bikes, shops get a profit and so do the distributors.
The Mezzo Pro on test here is a good indication of how the design process works. This model has been on the top of the Azzurri stable for some years. It is designed as a race bike, to be fast in a race and to add a bit of zing to an all-day ride. It has a monocoque, semi compact frame, with a short head tube. However the previous models were found to be a bit on the twitchy side when it came to cornering. Quite a bit actually, which is fine if you’re a full time crit racer and need to zip in and out of the pack, but less so for the rest of us, particularly on long, fast descents.
Azzurri tackled the problem and the result is the Mezzo Pro you see here. Similar to the previous model, this is a unidirectional monocoque frame with a different lay-up. More carbon has been added to the bottom bracket area to increase stiffness, and less in the seat stays and seat tube to add some more compliance for longer racers or for the rider who wants a fast bike to ride all day.
Extra carbon has also been added to the head tube to provide more stiffness and therefore, more steering control. It’s interesting to note that this bike has a 1 1/8 headset. Where other manufacturers have increased the stiffness by going down the oversize headset route, Azzurri have stayed traditional. Personally, I haven’t decided if this is the best way, or moving forward with new technology is better. Perhaps nether is ‘better’ if they achieve the same outcome. Additional stability has been added by slightly extending the fork rake and creating new moulds to give the frame a slightly longer wheelbase. It all makes for a bike which can tackle any corner or any downhill.