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Test Lab: Masi Evoluzione Ultegra

Most of the bikes that we see about the traps these days have a pretty clear message to deliver, marketeers would call it the ‘story’ or something similar.  As much as most of us would like our partners to believe otherwise, cycling and cycling equipment are highly emotional conversations and we all love a good story now, don’t we? The Masi name has a truly wonderful story, it’s a similar story to a Colango or Pinarello. The name of a traditional and reveered Italian steel artisan builder that has stood the test of time, and emblazoned the down tubes of World Champion machines. Faliero Masi, like many of his peers, rode as a pro before making the transition to professional frame builder. Known as ‘The Tailor’, Masi made customized bikes for many of the top riders of the day. Names such as Coppi, Anquetil and Merckx rode frames born of Faliero’s torch. This was a while ago… 

Since the heady days of the 50’s a lot has changed. A well fitting and comfortable bike is as important as ever, but the business of cycling has evolved from small regional builders to full scale global brands (with global stories to match). Masi bikes haven’t been immune to the changes around them. The Masi family sold the trademark to the Masi brand for America to a small consortium in 1972. Italian frame builders fabricated the frames in America to the standard of the original Italian made bikes. More time passed and business ebbed and flowed. Staff and ownership changed. Frames were made in the USA and Italy in different combinations, and the lines of what was traditional Masi and what was not were blurred. 

Today the Masi brand is part of Haro Bikes. Haro are best known for their BMX bikes as well as some previous glory in mountain bikes (ironically, some of their winningest mountain bikes were re-badged Intense frames). Our Evoluzione frame carries a ‘Milano’  Masi emblem on the head tube, and the signature of Masi on the top tube. The story presented is of a bike steeped in history and Italian heritage. In fact this is a bike produced in Taiwan, designed by Americans and Taiwanese, and branded with an Italian trademark owned by an American company. This bike is about as Italian as a foot-long meatball sub. 

Whether this irks or concerns you is something that you must decide. For me, I found this interesting as it helps to know why a bike exists and how it came to be. A bike without any point is going to have a hard time in fully serving any purpose well. There are already plenty of bikes available out there so why another? Current Masi literature references Faliero and the inspiration that he provides the brand that still carries his name, and the Masi catalogue proudly proclaims that ‘It’s all about the RIDE!’. The Evoluzione is Masi’s top of tree carbon racing machine, and it carries over geometry that has been kept as close to Masi machines that came before it. Faliero never worked in carbon, but perhaps some of the Milano character still lives on in this multi-national machine? 

The Evoluzione debuted in product year 2011. My first (uninformed) instinct was that the Evoluzione frame would be an off the shelf Taiwanese or Chinese frame that had been painted and built up to Masi’s spec. In reality the Evoluzione frame was designed by Masi HQ in California with assistance from their Taiwanese manufacturing partner and is a totally original and propriety Masi design. The costs involved in design and tooling to make a carbon frame are not small, and Masi wisely set about designing a frame with plenty of modern features and a versatile use profile. 

The primary design features on the Evoluzione relate to making things big. The bottom bracket is a BB30 and the fork steerer a 1.125 to 1.5 inch tapered design. The fork blades are generous in size, as is the downtube. Masi call this the Total Overdrive System, and it’s a similar program of upsizing to most other makers. For 2013 Masi have made some running revisions to the 2011 design to keep the Evoluzione as up to date as possible. Larger chainstays have been added to enhance stiffness under power, and provision for electronic shifting is integrated into the frame. Masi have moulded battery-mounting holes into the non-drive chainstay as well as scalloped out a chunk of frame under the bottom bracket to enable easy routing of internal electronic cables. This hole is plugged by a mechanical cable guide on models that use mechanical drive trains, and removing this guide also helps to make installation of the mechanical cables an easier process. 

The Evoluzione features clean lines throughout and is somewhat conservative which correlates well with the heritage that the modern Masi brand refers to. In addition to the features noted above, the Evoluzione internally routes all cables and the use of internal guides will make mechanics very happy, as will the regular round 31.6mm diameter seatpost. The seat stays are relatively small in size and flattened slightly. Masi point out this design feature as intentional, with the intent of enhancing rider comfort when aboard the Evoluzione. This is important if your bike needs to do general duties riding outside of race day. 

The Ultegra spec Evoluzione (and models above) use a mix of ultra-high modulus carbon sheets whereas the frames on the 105 and Rival bikes and below use high modulus sheets. The lower end models also use an alloy fork steerer. The top end frames are lighter than the base model but all the frames share the same molds, so even the base models get the BB30 and nice internal cable routing.  By using the same frame geometry on the entry-level bikes it makes sense that Masi have tried to develop a frame that is stiff and also comfortable, and has geometry that can fit a wide range of riders. They’re banking on the Evoluzione being many bikes to many different people. 

Masi has been the bike sponsor for the Kenda Pro Cycling team in the USA for the last few years, and the Evoluzione has been raced on the busy US Pro-Continental circuit and collected plenty of wins along the way. Our 56cm sized test bike sits right in the middle of the market on race-bike sizing with a 565mm long effective top tube and 160mm tall headtube paired with conventional 410mm chainstays and a 68mm bottom bracket drop. It’s bread and butter road race geometry that’s been refined over the years and offers a lively ride that can still be controlled by regular enthusiast riders without needing three pre-ride ristrettos. That said, this is no gran fondo machine in terms of fit, so less flexible riders may be better suited on some other machines, such as Masi’s new 2013 model ‘Premiare’ series. 

Dressed in Ultegra, our Evoluzione is the workhorse in Masi’s high performance line-up. It seems that Masi have been realistic about how this particular model will be used by most people. It has been speced to balance the needs of day in and day out training miles with the urge to go fast on club rides and crit day. The Ultegra shifting and braking is ultra reliable and the ergonomics are good if unspectacular. The only break in the Ultegra group are the FSA SLK BB30 cranks, which seem to be the industry go-to for a nice but affordable BB30 specific crank. Masi have avoided the temptation to mollycoddle riders on the Ultegra bike: cranks are a traditional 39/53 chainring setup, and the cassette is an 11-25. Masi expect the rider to be fit, strong and aggressive. Interestingly, the Ultegra Di2 bike carries the same specs with the exception of a lower geared crank and wider range cassette. 

In this price point there is an overwhelming trend for brands to spec their own in-house components. For the biggest-volume brands this enables the parts to be tailored perfectly for each model and the economy of scale can allow a home brand component the equal or better of an aftermarket branded part for the same or less money. Smaller players like Masi often also go down the in-house brand route, and the results can be a mixed bag. Rather than devote time to developing their own parts Masi have opted to go with some of the biggest names in the aftermarket to fill the gaps between the Evoluzione frame and Shimano/FSA drivetrain. 

Ritchey Pro alloy components do the bar/stem/seatpost duties, and do it well. The ‘Evo Curve’ shape of the bar offers a compact drop with a flattened and swept top, and I use the same shape bar on my own bike: clearly I found this bar to my liking! The highlight of the spec is wheels and tires though. If there is anywhere to make a big contribution to the overall ride of a bike it’s in the wheels and tires and Masi have done a great job on the Evoluzione. The Reynolds Solitude wheels suit the bike perfectly. The rims are a 30mm aero profile and the sub 1600g weight makes them a viable option for the amauter racer. The hubs spin smoothly and the wheels find speed with little effort. The ride is taught without being unnecessarily harsh too. It’s rare to see a $600+ RRP wheelset come as standard issue on a bike in this price point, so hats off to Masi. So too with the Kenda Kountach tires. Kenda don’t factor highly in the aftermarket desire stakes for road tires, but as one of the biggest tire makers around they can punch out as good a tread as any. The Kountach has a supple 120tpi casing and feels fast on the flat. We never had a puncture over the test which was on gritty suburban Sydney roads, including some wet periods, and the tires barely showed a cut. We were impressed. 

This theme carries through the ride of the Evoluzione too. Given my assumptions of what this bike was I had some corresponding assumptions about what I should expect in the saddle before I turned a pedal. I expected a reasonably stiff bike that would ride competently but feel a bid dead. In use the Evoluzione is anything but! Within the first 10 minutes I knew I was wrong about this machine in the best possible way. It’s certainly stiff and solid in the right places but the ride is far more supple than you would expect. The NSW government’s reputation for infrastructure investment isn’t particularly positive, and any ride will take in a broad variety of road ‘surfaces’ in a relatively short distance. The Evoluzione doesn’t isolate the rider from pot holes or pronounced seams in the road like some ‘comfort’ bikes do, but it does a seriously fantastic job of smoothing out coarse and dead roads whilst remaining agile and feeling quick. 

The Evoluzione is really a tradesmans kind of bike. The frame is solid enough in the bottom bracket that climbing and sprinting won’t feel mushy, and the front end is plenty stout too. The middle of the road geometry keeps the wheelbase short and the Evoluzione is happy to dance and hussle around the road. It can take a tight line around the inside of a corner if you get trapped or like to ride on the limit. For a fit and fast rider, this is the kind of bike that you could ride all season long for just about anything. Big training rides out in the country are a remarkably comfy affair on the Evoluzione and it’s equally at ease backing up the next day for a quick blast amongst the city traffic. 

At the beginning I wondered ‘why?’. What is this machine? This is a bike for getting on and having a guaranteed good time when you can only justify owning one bike. There’s no pretence to this bike being the best at anything or changing the world, and that is nice. Masi have used their resources and put together a modest and honest machine that was a revelation to ride, but don’t for a second think that this is an Italian bike. 

Performance 

Bang on the money. This bike goes where you want it to and doesn’t trade off comfort in order to do so. It’s not the master of any one thing, but it’s never out of it’s depth. The wheel package and go-fast gear ratios work into this personality nicely. 

Quality 

The quality of attached parts is consistently good. There are no weak points in the Evoluzione’s specs and it’s a smartly put together package. The frame finish is a bit hit and miss. Paint lines around the headtube are not pin sharp and the Di2 cut out in the bottom bracket looks like it was made with a blunt butter knife (out of sight, out of mind?). The top clear coat also had a few chips on some of the raised edges. 

Value 

This is a hard one! Does the Masi name give this bike some heritage points to trade on? For some folks the answer will be yes, but it’s a tenuous proposition at best. There are plenty of bikes with similar frames and parts and many of these sell at a lower price. Still, the Masi has no generic parts on it at all and likely better wheels than it’s peers. There is nothing extra to spend on this bike so it’s good value when viewed from that angle. 

Overall 

The Evoluzione surprised me. This bike is a real gem to ride. Sure, it’s no flower sniffer, so look elsewhere if you want compact gears or an upright riding position. Despite this the Evoluzione is supremely comfortable for a performance oriented bike, and as such is a great ‘everything’ bike. I never expected that I’d say this, but the thought of the Evoluzione frame with a custom build spec instantly lifts my heart rate. I’d go there.

Specifications

Frame: MC7 Ultra high modulus carbon

Fork: Full Carbon taper

Stem: Ritchey Pro Alloy 40-Axis 44

Handlebars: Ritchey Pro Alloy Evo Curve

Saddle: Prologo Scratch Pro

Seat Post: Ritchey Pro Alloy

Shift Levers: Shimano Ultegra 6700

Brakes: Shimano Ultegra 6700

F Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra 6700

R Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra 6700

Cassette: Shimano Ultegra 6700 11-15

Chain: Shimano Ultegra 6700

Crank: FSA SLK Lite PF30 39/53

Bottom Bracket: PF30

Wheels: Reynolds Solitude

Tyres: Kenda Kountach 700×23, 120tpi folding

Pedals: N/A

Weight: 7.5kg

Price: $3,599

Distributor: www.masibikes.com

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