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On test: Storck Fenomalist, June 4, 2009
German carbon at its finest
Cyclingnews technical editor James Huang heads out on Storck's newest Fenomalist model and finds this 'mid-range' model to easily eclipse most companies' flagships.
The Storck Fenomalist epitomises everything we've come to expect from top-end German carbon road racers - it's very light, exceptionally rigid and yet still surprisingly comfortable.
In fact, front triangle and drivetrain stiffness are possibly the stiffest we've tested in spite of the relatively modest dimensions of the frame tubes and joints. Any unwanted flex is virtually imperceptible and the Fenomalist surges forward under power with an eagerness distinctly lacking in lesser rigs.
Stomp on the pedals and it jumps off the line. Rise up out of the saddle on the climb and you can feel the rear contact patch clawing into the pavement. Apply a bit more pressure while motoring on the flats and you accelerate faithfully with no waiting required. Short of an internal combustion engine it's the next best thing to a gas pedal.
The stout chassis pays dividends in handling, too. Though the Fenomalist's fairly relaxed 72.5-degree head tube angle, 37.5mm fork rake and sensibly low bottom bracket height yield comfortably balanced manners more befitting a multi-day stage racer than a frenetic crit bike, the rock-solid front triangle and fork still lend a distinct crispness that is confidently reassuring and utterly precise.
We regularly topped 80km/h (50mph) on sinuous mountain descents and easily carved through corners the whole way down with little to no braking required - just lean in, set your arc, and let the Fenomalist do the rest.
To make things even better, the Fenomalist is also a surprisingly smooth ride with plenty of liveliness built in. Though not as buttery as say a Cervélo R3-SL or Giant's latest TCR Advanced SL - riders in the snow belt will probably want something softer - the Storck is still markedly more comfortable than its large-diameter seat stays would suggest.
Road texture is nicely muted, expansion joints are competently absorbed, and even dirt roads are tackled with surprising adeptness. A Lexus it's not but just like a well-tuned BMW the Fenomalist won't beat you up too much after a long day - yet it's still fabulously communicative, sharp and athletic.
No gimmicks - just good engineering
As already mentioned, the Fenomalist's main tubes and chain stays aren't comically huge nor are the seat stays particularly spindly yet the performance and ride quality is exceptional across the board nonetheless.
Some of the credit likely goes to the rear end, which is wholly lifted from the top-end Fascenario line. Both the seat stays and chain stays noticeably flare in width and diameter through their midsection, thus lending more rigidity, but a careful fiber lay-up apparently still allows for a bit of movement to suck up small amplitude bumps and road buzz. Similar shaping is used for the Stiletto Aero fork.
The bladder-molded front triangle - borrowed from the lesser Absolutist range - uses an oversized and slightly flattened top tube and down tube coupled with an essentially round seat tube while the integrated head tube is barrel-shaped, again to put more material in the midsection. Conventional plug-and-play modular monocoque construction joins it all together and the wrapped seams at the top of the seat stays and front of the chain stays are visible but reasonably clean in appearance.
Admittedly, none of this will strike most readers as groundbreaking or revolutionary - there's no extra-wide bottom bracket shell, no tapered steerer tube, not even an integrated seat mast. But Storck's obviously careful design work makes it all work beautifully together so we're not about to complain. Actual frame weight for our 51cm tester is a light-but-not-too-light 1,000g (2.2lb) and the fork adds another 380g.
Gripes are few and far between. For one, the sizing isn't ideal: there are 4cm-wide jumps at either end of the range and even the smallest 47cm is still graced with a 52.4cm-long effective top tube. To be fair, Storck still manages to successfully outfit the all-female Vanderkitten road team whose rider heights range from 1.6m (5'2") to 1.78m (5'10") but their shortest riders are still forced to run puny 60mm or 70mm-long stems - not ideal.
Otherwise, the rear entry dropouts may be smaller and lighter but they're also slower and messier to use. Standard vertical drops, please.
A Japanese group, French wheels, German finishing kit
Our 6.56kg (14.46lb) test bike came built with Shimano's latest Dura-Ace 7900 group, Mavic's well-proven Ksyrium SL Premium clincher wheels, and cockpit components from Storck compatriot Syntace.
We've not much to add from our earlier long-term report on Dura-Ace 7900 - just as before, front shifts are astonishingly smooth and quick, braking power and modulation are quite possibly the best in the industry, the drivetrain is exceptionally quiet, and the crankset continues to exemplify how aluminum can go toe-to-toe with carbon.
But again, rear shifts are smooth but lever throw is disappointingly long and there are several oversights such as the dangerously exposed shifter internals and unsightly lever gaps when the reach is shortened.
The Ksyrium SL Premium wheels are again a known quantity with their solid feel and smooth roll and the Schwalbe Ultremo clinchers are a good pairing with their grippy and fast-rolling triple-density rubber compound and supple casing. Even with their woven Vectran belt we still suffered a puncture from a bit of metal on the road though.
Syntace's P6 Carbon seatpost is easily one of the unsung heroes of the segment. The two-bolt head's angled bolts are refreshingly easy to access - even with a folding multi-tool - and aluminum spherical nuts are self-aligning and have plenty of thread to prevent stripping. In addition, the extra-long reversible lower cradle provides tons of support for lightweight rail materials. Unless you have to have a Thomson, the P6 Carbon should definitely be on your short list.
Similar kudos go to the Force 119 stem with its stout oversized extension and shimmed steerer clamp, which distributes pressure over a greater surface area for more safety - and a more secure purchase - on carbon steerers.
The Racelite2 Carbon bars however didn't suit us. The rearward sweep up top goes against the natural bend of our wrists and annoyingly interferes with our forearms in sprints, the large-radius bend leaves little usable room on extended climbs, and the simian 100mm reach seems rather excessive, especially when paired with Shimano's newly expansive Dura-Ace hoods. In addition, the ovalised upper section feels too girthy even for our large-sized hands.
Yes, you should buy one
That Storck can offer such performance in their fourth-tier frame says a lot and unless you're one of those ten or twelve people in the world whose investment accounts are still doing well or a Middle Eastern sheik in an oil-rich nation, we certainly can't offer up much of a logical reason to throw down even more cash for one of the Fascenario models unless you absolutely have to have something lighter.
For the rest of us, this is just about as close to perfect as you can get. Yes, it's expensive (remember that saying from Keith Bontrager?) but junior will eventually forgive you for making him pay his own way through college and there are enough flavors of ramen noodles to keep you from getting bored. Now where's that credit card...
Price: US$3,800 (frame, fork, headset)
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Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com