Van Nicholas Chinook
Argh! I know my garage is a mess, and I sort of knew that I’d propped the Van Nicholas Chinook against the workbench a little haphazardly, but my heart still stopped a little when the bike teetered briefly, then toppled gently over onto the floor. How will I explain the scratches, I thought to myself in embarrassed panic? But after picking the bike up, there wasn’t a mark to be found … Thank your chosen deity for the small miracle of titanium tubing.
Van Nicholas is a Dutch company that does titanium and nothing else. Sourcing its frames from Taiwan, its range is wide and includes belt-drive single-speeders, track bikes and everything in between. The Chinook is positioned three down from the top of its road range, and can be successfully speced with anything from Shimano’s 105 group and upwards. It’s marketed as a road racer, and its basic specs seem to lend credence to the positioning.
A quick lesson in beginner’s metallurgy first. Titanium is a steel alloy that’s partly derived from a silica found abundantly on Australian beaches and while it isn’t at all rare, the process to make it uses a sod of a lot of energy – hence its expense. Before you pull out your Greenpeace flag, stop for a second and take into account that neither aluminium (smelting) or carbon fibre (autoclaving, which is essentially a giant oven) parts are especially carbon-neutral to make, and titanium will outlast both by a factor of several.
First developed for the US Air Force in the 1960s for use in aircraft fuel lines, titanium is stronger and lighter than regular chromoly, and is still extensively used throughout the aviation industry. UK company Raleigh is credited with building the first titanium road frames, welded by no less notable a company than Italian supercar and tractor maker Lamborghini.
Another unique selling point of titanium – which is technically a steel alloy, but let’s not get too deep – is its resistance to corrosion, scuffs and scratches. It doesn’t even need a clear coat to retain its just off-the-floor sharpness, and this is why the Chinook survived its ungainly fall in my wreck of a workshop that would have certainly have left a scar on any other lightweight racer.
Upon first inspection, the Chinook is a bit of a throwback to the days of LeMond, Kelly and Anderson. Clamp-on front derailleur? External headset? Square-dimension frame? External cable routing? Am I in some weird Back To The Future flashback? No. The Chinook rests easily on its retro-tech laurels without diving unnecessarily into nostalgia – though the chain hook brazed onto the right seat stay goes close.
A conventional 3.5Al/2.5AV tubeset is based around a slightly oversized down tube and same-diameter top and seat tubes. Stout chainstays curve purposely towards no-nonsense rear drop-outs, while slender seat stays run straight and true to intersect the seat tube slightly below the line of the almost perfectly horizontal top tube. Our brushed-finish 58cm tester is just that in both seat tube and top tube numbers, adding to its already retro glam looks. Geometry is straight from the crit racer roadbook, with a sharp 73.5-degree head angle offset by an upright 73-degree seat angle and 40.5cm chainstays giving a tight-ish wheelbase of 99.3cm. The traditional head tube has seen the inside of a CNC cabinet, though, with excess material removed from both inside and out.