A full complement of Pro fittings including ti railed saddle tops off the package.
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Test Lab: Stevens Xenon

Stevens Bikes was birthed in Hamburg Germany in 1991, the brainchild of brothers Werner and Wolfgang von Hacht. The boys themselves were born and raised in Hamburg and raced bikes in their younger days before opening a bike shop in the 1970s.

Their brand is little known in Australia; the bikes are scarce down under though you may spy the odd one now and then on the road or at an MTB race. However they have quite a substantial presence in Europe—Germany especially, where they rank in the top five brands for road racing and are regulars in the myriads of Germanic cycling magazines. The brand is also the market leader for cyclocross and the number one brand in trekking / light commuting bikes in Germany. 

Currently their factories produce around 100,000 bikes per year, the design and final assembly taking place in Hamburg while production of frames is carried out in Asia. In Australia you’ll find a modest selection of models from their massive range (Stevens’ euro website lists around 130 models) but the distributors here are happy to handle special orders if you like the look of something other than standard Australian fare. 

The Xenon on test here is available as a complete bike in Ultegra, Ultegra Di2 spec or as a custom build, as are many of their road and cyclocross framesets. 

Xenon has a broad stiff bottom bracket area with BB 86.

The colour scheme of our test bike is muted; the flat greys a perfect match for the dark metallic grey of the 11-speed Ultegra groupset and rims. The only real splash of colour apart from fine lined red accents is the bold ‘red bellied’ Stevens branding on the underside of the down tube; a muted suggestion of some animal passion within perhaps? Other colour schemes are available a black/blue/orange version and a white/lime/blue version too. 

At first glance frame design is typically German; utilitarian and functional. The head tube and bottom bracket dimensions are conservative and chainstays are not overly thick, nor are the seat stays minimally thin. You might say it’s clinical, verging on plain.  There are no massively oversized tubes, no bulging flared junctions or sweeping curves in the main members. It may even be perhaps a tad boring for extrovert or flamboyant riders out there. Nevertheless the fork blends well with the head tube for a seamless junction and overall the carbon frame maintains a level of classic style. 

Internal cabling is accessible through the bottom bracket.

In some respects this simplicity is beneficial when it comes to designing a strong carbon frame. Tube junctions at the bottom bracket and stays, for example, are an area where smooth carbon layup is critical. Folds or creases in the carbon add extra material and therefore increase weight and actually, though perhaps counter-intuitively, contribute to weak points in a build. So simpler tube junctions help to keep frame weight, build time and therefore cost down while easing quality control issues and minimising costs. 

The plain exterior conceals a hi-tech down tube with twin chambers internally to increase strength and minimise weight. The twin chamber concept has been used in the Stevens’ fork too; it’s also used by other manufacturers like Merida to similar effect. 

The frame and fork are exceptionally well finished.

A combination of high-modulus and normal carbon fibre is used to reach the target of a light and stiff frame. Claimed weight for the Xenon is 935g for a 56cm frame and 330g for the tapered steerer fork – the two combining for a miserly gain of only 125g on Stevens’ flagship model, the Comet. The addition of the Ultegra 6800 11-speed build resulted in our 58cm test bike tipping the scales at a modest 7.18kg for a 58cm frame. 

Not only a similar frame weight to the five-kilo featherweight flagship Comet, the Xenon and indeed all the other bikes in the Stevens range share almost identical geometry. Their all-rounder the Ventoux is a little taller in the front end and has a greater slope on the top tube as a result, but retains the same standover height as the Xenon. The more aerodynamic and super stiff SLR criterium specialist has a more aggressive front end, but standover height is slightly increased. The head tube angle, fork rake and seat tube angle remain constant for the respective frame sizes across all their different models and Stevens believe this formulaic approach to geometry quite simply works well. 

Stevens have developed molds for the stiff fork with twin internal chambers.

They seem to have it dialled as the Xenon is the bike of choice for the NRS team Seight Custom Cycling Wear, which has had some success recently with Luke Fetch winning stages six and eight of the NRS Tour of the Great South Coast in September 2013. On the world stage they’ve had good success too with Marianne Vos riding the brand to world championship victory in both track and cyclocross. 

The Xenon uses internal cable routing throughout and while it’s probably more of a production and inventory minimisation strategy than a customer service, the frame is ready to convert to either electronic or cable shifting. 

On the road the Xenon is solid and functional and returns power input in spades. Some rides took me over the rough roads around Galston Gorge and Bobbin Head in Sydney, where the pavement more resembled pave in places. The Xenon frame is stiff and the double box chamber fork is too, both handling those bumpy descents confidently, if not in velvety comfort. I’m a big guy and some rougher sections literally had my teeth chattering, so lighter riders may find the Xenon too stiff for their liking; others may revel in the efficient power transfer. Thankfully the payoff of a stiff bike comes when you begin to climb. 

On smoother roads the Xenon is a great fun bike to ride. I found myself pushing harder on downhill sections, keen to go around other riders in the bunch and see what this bike could do. Tight turns were carved smoothly while pushing the Schwalbe Ultremos’ limits of adhesion (I’m glad to say I didn’t get outside the envelope here). The bike goes where you point it, keeping the level of anxiety just in check. One smooth but unexpected left hander on a fast descent had me feathering the brakes—balancing on the edge of locking the back end, wondering if I’d stay this side of damage. The modulation and control the Ultegra levers and callipers deliver makes for an exciting ride if you want to run the ragged edge. 

A full complement of Pro fittings including ti railed saddle tops off the package.

The PRO alloy bars and stem fitted to the Xenon looked good and did the job as expected, as did the PRO post and saddle. I found the bend of the bars between the tops and hoods pressed into the palm of my hands and left my hands a little numb on longer rides, though this is as much a matter of hand positioning and glove padding as bar shape. I never quite sorted my differences with the PRO Turnix saddle though, and found myself trying to make peace with it at the start of every ride. It’s a personal thing. 

The Ultegra 6800 11-speed drivetrain was typically Shimano; smooth precise and got the job done with ease—even shifting under power while climbing was handled without complaint. The wheels too lived up to reputation, rolling straight and true throughout the ride, silently getting the job done. Paired up with the Ultegra wheels and Schwalbe’s Ultremos, the Xenon handled corners with ease. 

I racked up many memorable kilometres on the Stevens Xenon. It was a pleasure to ride, confidence inspiring and fun while descending and a capable climber. While it’s not the most rigorous empirical evidence, I was able to better many of my personal best times on local strava segments while riding the Xenon. I’ll call that a win. 

Summing up

Quality

Stevens’ reputation for quality bikes may not have preceded it into Australia, but they certainly brought it with them. The frame and fork have been well made and finished and the 11-speed Ultegra build kit complements the package nicely. 

Performance

The Xenon is a light and stiff frame, well finished and fitted with quality components resulting in an admirable contender for your dollars. This bike is a race-winning machine, proven at the hands of National Road Series team Seight Custom Cycling Wear and ready to toe the line with you as well. 

Value

The Xenon is a contender straight out of the box with no need to go looking for upgrades; at just over 400g above UCI limits you could spend a wad of cash for minimal gains. $4,400 will get Ultegra spec level bikes from several other manufacturers but they’ll struggle to match the Xenon for weight and performance and level of finish. 

Overall

The Xenon is an efficient and capable racing bike within reach of those on a limited budget. The light frame won’t hold you back in the hills, it’s stiff enough to transfer power efficiently and optimise your power input. Stevens is another great example of how east meets west with great results.

Specifications

Frame: Stevens HMF Carbon monocoque                           

Fork: Stevens HMF Carbon monocoque

Head Set: Ritchey Pro Logic Zero Drop-in

Stem: PRO PLT alloy

Handlebars: PRO PLT alloy

Saddle: PRO Turnix Ti Saddle

Seat Post: Pro alloy

Shift Levers: Shimano Ultegra 6800

Brakes: Shimano Ultegra 6800   

Front Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra 6800

Rear Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra 6800

Cassette: Shimano Ultegra 6800 12-27

Chain: Shimano Ultegra 6800

Crank: Shimano Ultegra 6800 53-39

Bottom Bracket: Press fit BB 86

Wheels: Shimano Ultegra 6800

Tyres: Schwalbe Ultremo

Pedals: n/a

Weight: 7.18kg, 58cm

Price: $4,385 as tested

Distributor: Arredorama

www.stevensbikes.com

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Brett Fenton

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Photo: Mark Gunter

National Road Series Special: Drapac