Test Lab, Road Test of the Van Nicholas Aquilo
Titanium has always held an almost mythical place in bicycle frame design. The seemingly indestructible alloy is said to have all the desirable properties of the more popular frame materials with none of the downsides. I have always admired titanium frames. Their clean lines, predominantly traditional tube shapes, a clinical and industrial look and of course the impeccable weld lines. However up until now I have not had the pleasure of owning or even riding a titanium frame. So I was excited to get my hands on the Van Nicholas Aquilo to see if titanium could live up to the hype.
The inherent strength of titanium alloy allows bike designers to do things that other materials won’t allow. The tubing, as thin as it is, is still able to be etched, allowing branding and logos to be engraved onto the frame which gives it a subtle and stylish look. From my perspective, painting a titanium frame is bordering on sacrilege and thankfully the Aquilo has been allowed to shine in all its glory. The brushed finish of the alloy is flawless and the welds are every bit as neat and tidy as I have come to expect from titanium frames. In keeping with the theme of precision is the use of Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 groupset, a choice that is becoming increasingly popular due to its reliability, function and increasing affordability.
Another thing I have noticed over the years with titanium bikes is that wheel choice can make or break the aesthetic of the bike. The Aquilo comes equipped with a race ready set of FFWD carbon/alloy clinchers, a smooth rolling pair of wheels that are swift enough to use in all but the hilliest of races, yet durable enough to use as your everyday wheelset, keeping your bike looking its best on a daily basis. The remaining components also finish off the ensemble nicely. The Easton EC90 SLX fork, despite being a relative lightweight, is stiff enough to not show any signs of flex, and keeps the Aquilos steering sharp and reliable. Van Nicholas’s own VNT Elements bars and stem take care of the steering duties. They are fairly standard range kit with the bars being a traditional bend. The saddle is a PRO Condor AF, with an anatomic shape and cut-out, not really a perfect fit for me but relatively comfortable nonetheless.
It is often difficult when testing a bike, to try to put the bike through its paces in all conditions that a prospective owner might encounter. However on one particular morning I was able to give it a pretty good shot. I had left home one showery Saturday morning on my way to the local races. It’s a 40-minute ride which takes in good quality roads, a section of bike path, a few short sharp hills, Sydney traffic, a quick criterium and then a dash to my daughter’s netball game. On the smooth hot-mix the Aquilo hummed along nicely, giving that silent, stealth-like ride that you hope your bike maintains throughout its entire life. Onto the bike path and the ‘steel like’ shock absorbing properties of titanium come to the fore. The traditional-looking frame and titanium seatpost proved to be an equal to purpose-built carbon classics frames, with large shocks dampened to a dull thud while still retaining bottom-end stiffness. Dodgy path joins and patchy bitumen are all handled with great aplomb and dental work intact. The Aquilo’s razor sharp, precise steering also kept me clear of iPod wearing walkers and errant dogs who seem to think bike riders shouldn’t be on bike paths. A few sharp hills just to warm the legs pre-race revealed a frame that was as stiff as you could want. The titanium frame seems better able to give the stiffness you require in the places you need it without sending shockwaves through the frame, and without the need for enormous bottom bracket clusters or wafer thin seat stays. With the package weighing in at 8.1kg there is a bit of a weight penalty over similarly priced bikes, but when you weigh that up against the durability of a titanium frame it can be a close thing.