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Azzuri Forza Pro Di2

Has Azzurri cut corners to sell a complete Di2 bike for $2600?

If there’s one piece of financial advice that’s stuck in my head from years of reinforcement, it’s that if something looks to good to be true, it usually is. And when you examine the specifications of Azzurri’s full carbon Forza Pro Ultegra Di2-eqipped bike, it’s almost too hard to believe that it can be had for less than $2600. How has the company managed it? So let’s try and put this bike into some perspective. Purchase Shimano’s new workaday electronic groupset by itself at retail, and you’d only have enough left for wheels, a stem, a set of bars and maybe some grip bar tape before the register rings up $2.6k. That still leaves you a frameset away from your next group ride. Can a bike that undercuts its most logical rivals by more than $3,000 in many instances really cut the mustard?

While it’s possible to pick this bike up at a bricks ‘n’ mortar store, the majority will be dispatched to their new owners in a large rectangular cardboard box. If you’re thinking of the direct option, make sure you do your sizing homework, because the dimensions of the semi-compact frameset can flatter to deceive. Needless to say, our advice is to try before you buy… Our Large sample ran out at a 57.5cm (actual) top tube and 53.5cm down the seat tube. A 16.8cm head tube keeps things tight up front, while a longish wheelbase of 99.4cm plays nicely with a sharp 73.5deg head angle, giving the Forza the basis of a fast, agile machine. Your tester stands at 182cm and rides a 57 or 58cm bike as a rule, and with the 120mm stem and 350mm seatpost, I found a good position on this bike pretty quickly.

The frame build itself checks the right boxes for a bike at this price point. The high-modulus 12k weave black carbon sheets are laid up in parent company Lear Sport’s small-run Taiwanese facility into a shapely, unique design that’s finished with simple, bold graphics under a clear coat. The top tube, in particular, sweeps up and around the seat tube before wrapping itself bulbously around the head tube, with the only downside being a visible seam that runs along the top. The rear triangle is stout and stylish, and pays no heed to the current fashion of whippet-thin seat stays. Alloy tips, including a replaceable one on the right side adorn the rear end, and conspicuous by their absence are gear cable stops, front or rear. It’s a one-way wired future for this frame…

          

Ah yes, the Shimano Ultegra Di2 drivetrain. You’d have read all about it in the last issue, but the Forza is our first chance to sample it on a production bike. Offered here with a standard crankset and a 11-125T rear cassette, the bulky front and rear mechs suit the aesthetic of the all-black bike – but they won’t look as integrated on a finer-boned machine.

Given that this is only early days for affordable electronic systems, I’m hoping that Shimano is busily working on a better moustetrap for frame makers to better integrate the stock 7.4v battery. The Forza Di2 is a frame designed to run only wired derailleurs, so the Shimano retrofit battery bracket on the downtube is a surprise and a disappointment. Cheap bike or not, I don’t expect a major part of the drivetrain to be mounted onto the frame with a zip tie. As well, bottle cage mounting is unnecessarily difficult, and you may even struggle to fit two bottle cages on smaller size frames. In essence, Azzurri has done what a number of manufacturers did when Dura-Ace Di2 came out, adapt a mechanical frame to fit it. Presumably with the sales success they are experiencing we could expect to see a dedicated frame in the future.

As an avowed STi man from way back, I half-expected the transition to Di2 to be accompanied by a herald of angels or, at the very least, a single stream of soft sunlight streaming down onto my shifting fingers. Sadly, neither happened. Once the gee-whiz factor of the high-pitched servo-motor whine relentlessly knocking off shift after numbingly accurate shift had subsided, though, I was left facing the reality that I’d have to retrain my shifting hands all over again.

Currently, mechanical STI shifters allow you to use two fingers to push against the resistance of the cable to affect a shift. On Di2, it’s possible – just – to fit two fingers on the up-shifter, but the action is merely a push of a button, not the swing of a fulcrum; there’s simply no need for two digits. This really did my head in for the first 100km until I recalibrated my personal shift program.

Di2 only needs a subtle touch to activate, and the action itself is quick, ruthless and exact. It does away with the need to finesse the lever for a smooth shift. Front shifting in particular will never be the same again – frankly, it’s astonishingly good, if very clinical and a little cold. There’s no doubt that Di2 is an incredibly accomplished system, backed by a company determined to see it succeed. Is it my cup of tea? The jury is still out, but I am due for a new bike soon and now I that I have my head around it, well…

 

The rest of the Azzurri’s spec is solid and sensible. A set of 1,640g Reynolds Solitude wheels are built with conventional DT spokes, making future maintenance a no-brainer, while the FSA finishing gear is functional, if not especially stylish. A point comes off, though, for the compact-bend 420mm bars that only measure 400mm across the hoods. In my opinion that’s far too narrow for this frame size.

Out on the road, the Forza feels accomplished, especially when you take into account just how under-abused your credit card was for this amount of bike. At a frag over 8.4kg ready to ride (pedals and cage installed), it’s certainly speedy enough on the flats, and the hard-man gearing reveals a robust climber with little give in the bottom bracket. The front end takes some figuring out, which I’ll put down to the narrow bars and not very feelsome Vittoria tyres. A fine touch on the bars works better than brute force to change direction, but downhill stability isn’t an issue. The ride isn’t cosseting, but given the robust build around the bottom bracket and chainstays, I expected it to be far worse. It does feel more damped and subdued than other carbon frames I’ve ridden recently, but it’s not dull or lifeless by any stretch.

Some may like the dark finish on the Ultegra cranks, but I’m not one of them, and after only 300km, the rings are revealing silver teeth. I’d also opt for a faster, lighter tyre than the stock items, though the grooved Zaffira 23s have a solid reputation as a training tyre.

As you’d expect, the Forza Di2s are selling like mad. If you buy online, you run the risk of buying a bike that’s not your size, but it’s your coin at the end of the day. We’re pleased to report that you won’t be doing your dough if you opt into an Azzuri-based electronic future.

Ratings
Quality 
The Azzuri Forza presents very well. Aside from a kludgy Di2 battery mounting compromise. We’ve been advised that future models will most likely have this sorted. Overall the package is well finished and well built.

Performance
Shimano’s entry-level electronic shifting group is amazing. Once you get used to the controls. Don’t stray too far from a  charger (right, ed?) and say goodbye to miss-tuned shifting. Forever. The Forza isn’t the finest frame on the market, but it’s far, far, far from the worst.

Value for Money
The value of this package is off the chart, given the full Ultegra Di2 groupset, full carbon build and decent wheelset. The FSA parts are solid but not exciting, but you’ll have so much change left in your pockets you can deck out the cockpit how you like..

Overall 
If you must have Ultegra Di2 on a carbon frame, you simply can’t do better. There’s truth in the old adage that you get what you pay for, though – there are more lively framesets out there, but again, there’s far worse as well.
 
RearSpecifications
Frame – High-modulus carbon fibre   
Fork – High-modulus carbon fibre, carbon steerer
Head Set – FSA integrated
Stem – FSA 3.0 Forged OS150
Handlebars – FSA Wing Compact
Shift Levers – Shimano Ultegra Di2
F Derailleur – Shimano Ultegra Di2
R Derailleur – Shimano Ultegra Di2
Cassette – Shimano Ultegra 6700 11-25
Chain – Shimano Ultegra 10sp
Crank – Shimano Ultegra 6700 53/39T
Bottom Bracket – Shimano Ultegra 6700
Pedals – N/A
Brakes – Shimano Ultegra 6700
Wheels – Reynolds Solitude

Tyres – Vittoria Rubino Pro 700x23c

Saddle – Pro Logo
Seatpost – FSA Team Issue
Weight – 7.5kg (w/o pedals)
Price – $2599 (source:
Distributor – Azzuri Bikes

www.azzuribikes.com

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