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On Test: Fondriest TF2, January 8, 2009
Radical looks for radical stiffness
Maurizio Fondriest has been producing bikes since the mid-nineties, even providing them to the team he rode for at the end of his career. The TF2 is the current second-string frame, but as Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins discovers it could easily fit in at the top.
Fondriest places a clear emphasis on rigidity for its distinctively striking TF2 carbon road frame. Whereas the slightly more conventional looking TF1 flagship is made from separate tubes joined by carbon wrapping - and so can be made to measure - the TF2 is a modular monocoque made with monstrously oversized box-section tubes that make no illusions as to their intended purpose.
In spite of the conventional 1 1/8" non-tapered steerer tube on the full-carbon fork and claimed sub-1kg frame weight (our large-sized tester is likely slightly heavier), the TF2 is incredibly stiff out on the road, thus yielding the expected dividends in sprints and climbs. In keeping with its racing intent, the long and low position and aggressive geometry deliver an extremely responsive ride with little hint of flex whatsoever either at the rear end behind the bottom bracket or at the front at the fork or head tube.
This should come as no surprise, though, as the huge top and down tubes form such massive joints with the head tube that it's difficult to see any way that the front end would flex at all in any direction. Those enormous tubes carry their square profiles for their entire lengths with the down tube narrowing only slightly as it flows around the bottom bracket shell to form a pair of oversized chain stays.
Likewise, the top tube flows cleanly into a large mono stay, which again divides just in time to allow the rear wheel to pass through. Bisecting it all is a deep-section non-integrated carbon seat post secured by a neatly integrated clamp.
While the frame managed to stay stiff in the desired lateral plan - meaning that we could detect none of our energy wasted - we also found that the oversized tubes did very little in the way of vertical flex. We've generally found upwardly bowed top tubes to yield slightly more comfortable front triangles in the past but in the case of the TF2, there is little indication of any movement at all. The TF2 is certainly stiff, but it's unfortunately also stiff in terms of comfort and ride quality.
One might consider this a minus point - and it assuredly will be for some - but for others this rigidity and feedback from the road is a desirable feature. In the days of aluminium frames in the peloton, many riders opted against the new trend of carbon seat stays in order for the bike to keep its responsiveness. So, maybe the all-round rigidity might not make it the ideal companion for a Paris-Brest-Paris attempt but as an all-out race machine it fits the bill pretty well.
The TF2's styling may be radical and its ride backboard-stiff but its geometry is rather classic. Our large sized tester included a 565mm-long top tube and relatively short 165mm head tube mixed with 73/73.5 degree head and seat tube angles plus a 995mm wheelbase.
The combination made for a low stretched out racing position for this 1.79m (5' 10") tester along with surefooted and predictable handling that we've come to expect from Italian rigs with a long pedigree. While it was the frame's rigidity that helped us along as we climbed the hills of our usual training routes, it was the trueness of the steering that got us down the other side - and around every corner - as safely and surely as we could want.
Building on quality
Our test bike was built up with a complete Shimano Dura-Ace 7800 groupset, Mavic Ksyrium SL Premium aluminium clinchers shod with Vittoria Open Corsa Evo-CX tyres, and an assortment of Italy's finest for the finishing kit that included a Selle Italia Flite saddle, ITM Volo carbon fiber bar and stem, and two carbon bottle cages supplied by Fondriest's in-house 4US range.
The complete package, with the provided Look KeO Carbon pedals, came in at a legal-but-not-by-all-that-much 7.28kg (16.05lb).
As we expected, the Dura-Ace componentry package performed outstandingly in all departments with smooth shifting both front and rear plus reliably predictable braking. In face, it was so flawless to the point of raising a lot of question marks over whether there's any need for mere mortals to replace the outgoing 7800 series with the new 7900 groupset. Though the new set improves in a few areas - notably front shifting and braking - 7800 is still superbly capable and will undoubtedly offer excellent value as retailers make room for new stock.
The Ksyrium SL Premium wheels were a good match for the TF2's personality, offering up a responsive ride that was even firmer - though 130g heavier - than our Mavic R-SYS reference wheelset. Seeing as how the Vittoria tyres are the clincher version of the rubber that half the peloton races on, it was no surprise that these saw us happily through any number of kilometres in all kinds of road conditions.
A race ready conclusion
With its oversized tubes the Fondriest TF2 succeeds in combining competitively light weight with super stiffness along with a solid ride that rivals some other much heavier frames.
Though its responsiveness takes sprints and climbs in its stride and wastes a minimum of the energy in the process, the TF2 also sacrifices ride comfort in the process. This is the one real criticism of the package, but one that some riders may actually find appealing.
Sure, the size and shape of those tubes will not appeal to all, but those looking for a true race rig that is rigid and responsive in every direction will likely find much to like here.
Price: US$3,500 (frame, fork, headset and seatpost), $8,900 (complete
bike as tested)