i have never glid this way before

chris king cielo

bicycles can reasonably lumped in with all sorts of machinery in that, when new, they can reasonably be expected to function in the approved of manner. when you click the gears, they should change, and when pressing down on the pedals, the bike should move in a forward direction. that, however, covers the componentry, approaching the importance of the frame, but despite luxury of replaceability, never quite equalling it; the frame is the frame, as richard sachs so eloquently put it.

it's the nature of the beast, so to speak, that bike tests/reviews occupy a very small portion of the bicycle's life. the process at thewashingmachinepost is generally a simple one: with luck, the machine stays on holidays here for two or three weeks, though i confess to having kept possession of a colnago for a whole two months last year. during this time, i have found, it is possible to gauge the mettle of most of the bicycles that come my way. some take a smidgeon longer than others to release any hidden features/secrets, but by and large, by the time we're into the second or third hundred kilometres and roughly the tenth round of cattle-grids, i have sufficient information to compose a realistic review, hopefully one that will inform and entertain.

however, that which must be borne in mind is that these are almost always brand new bicycles; at worst, perhaps a couple of folks have ridden the cycles before me, but having passed through the distributor's basecamp en-route, any minor tickle points will likely have been remedied prior to subsequent despatch. it has long been my ambition to keep a bicycle long enough to form a sustained impression; a bicycle i could think of as my own, for all practical purposes, and one that will be ridden incessantly, the way you would a favourite bicycle.

chris king cielo

the opportunity so to do arrived in december last year courtesy of chris king precision components in portland, oregon. having ridden a pre-production version of their new cielo sportive model during a visit to the city last year, the chance to conduct a somewhat more personal and local test over an extended period of time seemed rather too good to be true. the bicycle ridden in portland had been employed almost entirely for commuting purposes, with a rapha backpack permanently affixed to my softshell gilet, containing a reasonable array of my wordly possessions at that time. the only notable exception to this was a humiliating defeat on the lower (and upper) slopes of logie's trail by three of the current rapha continental squad, and team hupster, slate olson. i believe my excuses are on record somewhere.

however, riding a bicycle on islay is a different prospect than doing so in downtown portland, or along the road to germantown; the pacific northwest bears comparison to the scottish west coast in annual rainfall, but it most certainly has road surfaces that are billiard tables to our scale models of the himalayas. as scottish coastal dwellers we are subject to the ravages of gale force atlantic winds and an all-encompassing sea-salt atmosphere. it would be unwise to underestimate the effect the latter can have on bicycles and their components, and a steel bicycle at that, so a couple of weeks was always unlikely to test to the limit.

so here we are, six months after lifting the cielo frame from its unique cardboard packaging, so cleverly implemented, that all enclosed survived international freight handlers from portland to glasgow, and the subsequent tour of scotland before arriving in bowmore. as detailed extensively elsewhere, the cielo sportive came with a full complement of chris king componentry: headset, bottom bracket and at the time, a rather unique set of wheels built with the very latest r45 road hubs. the groupset is sram rival, with the brake calipers replaced by a pair of shimanos due to the need for a 57mm drop between bolt centre and wheel rims. this, coupled with the appropriate braze-ons on front and rear forks, allowed me to fit a pair of stunning full wood fenders. not only did these transform wet winter riding in a way i'm ashamed to be discovering at this late stage in life, but they complemented the black cielo frame beautifully. i have no intention of ever removing these from the bicycle.

chris king cielo

i believe i described my early ventures on the cielo as akin to gliding, a factor that not only paid tribute to the hubs, wheels and bottom bracket, but also to the smooth comfort of the frame. a previous steel frame on test proved to be substantially less comfortable than my carbon colnago, and while i was keen to pursue an extended review of this bicycle, i did have some misgivings over how different this was likely to be. it would have been distinctly unprofessional to have acceded to this undertaking, then back out if hands and bum doth protest too much.

that's something that has never happened. steel is not the all-encompassing panacea that it may have once been; some are better than others, but chris king and jay sycip got this so right first time, that my seven years of a high carbon fibre diet were swept away in fewer number of days. let me briefly reprise: this frame is 100% steel from the rear dropout axle stops to the steel fork's front droupots. it's a revelation that has shown no signs of diminishing in the intervening months. those dropouts are of polished stainless steel, engraved with the cielo name, along with the cap ends at the top of each seatstay. they are still pretty much as shiny as the day they left the box, despite a winter of snow and ice not normally experienced on islay.

if there is a demonstrable feature of the cielo that i feel should be brought to your attention it's the steering. chris king headsets are renowned throughout the world for their longevity and precision, and that reputation has been has been reinforced here. but i have found a tendency to understeer slightly on tight turns. this is not a criticism, for it is likely that this is a result of the frame's geometry and overall ride characteristics. of course, this depends on where you're coming from; having ridden a race ready frame for many a long year, pin-sharp precision from the steering has become the expected norm. a bit like driving a ferrari, i shouldn't wonder. that the cielo doesn't pull such a tight line out of corners has led to a relaxed confidence in this rider. the bike is not a racer, and most certainly neither is its pilot: i'm happy to think of this as a feature, not a bug; it is after all, a sportive defined frame.

chris king cielo

to be honest, the only bit of trouble i have had in six months has been with that r45 rear hub, and i should point out at the outset, that this has turned out to be entirely due to pilot error. as with my other pair of chris king wheels (cross hubs), after a few weeks of continuous riding, the bearings and grease settle in, and a small amount of lateral play develops; it's a fact of life with virtually every hub on the market. adjustment is effected by a lockring on the non-drive side, held in place by a very small allen bolt. this lockring is threaded on to the substantial axle and applies pre-load to all four cartridge bearings, thus removing any lateral play. however, at a later date i, for no discernible reason, decided that i may have overtightened this lockring (something, it is now apparent, well nigh impossible to do), and i backed it off a quarter turn. i now have an intimate understanding of the simplicity of this hub, but at the time was unaware that a lack of sideways pressure on the bearings could (and apparently did) allow the freehub to slip outwards and away from the internal ringdrive. this resulted in audible and physical slipping when resuming pedalling after freewheeling. this resulted in threatening behaviour if caught unawares.

the mechanic in me needed to solve this problem so, despite hurried e-mails to chris king's in portland, i stripped the hub to its essentials; a remarkably easy thing to do. by unlocking and removing the lockring, the axle can be pulled out from the drive side, allowing simple removal of the cassette freehub. having cleaned out the ring-drive teeth, re-lubed and re-fitted, it was easy to recognise that the freehub had not been inserted all the way into the hubshell. completely rebuilt and adjusted, i now have my glider back. and so is that trademarked freewheel buzz.

the finest hubs it has ever been my pleasure to ride.

the dt swiss rims are reputedly coated in helicopter rotor paint, which would account for the complete lack of any signs of degradation, though the rim decals announcing make and number are starting to peel off already. the continental four seasons tyres have worn reasonably; not as well as i'd have liked, but certainly no worse than any other rubber rolled on by myself or members of the local peloton. islay's roads are abrasive.

chris king cielo

i think i may have whimsically suggested that sram re-consider naming their groupsets other than double-tap, because simply double tapping only succeeds in dropping down even more gears. my incompetence in cabling the rear derailleur initially, didn't help too much, but like all who have succumbed to the charms of one lever to do everything, it has become second nature. granted, it is still impossible to shift down the block more than one gear at a time, but i'd respectfully suggest that few of us ever find that need. in six months, the rival gearset has worked impeccably, and i feel almost trendy to be writing that.

when studying for my a-level english literature, i enquired of the tutor as to whether it would make good sense to argue the contrary that i believed to be true, in a question regarding the metaphysical poetry of john donne. i was advised against it, but did so anyway, gaining a convincing pass in the process. so nice to prove someone wrong. in similar manner, this would have been a far more contentious and toothy article if i had had multiple moans and groans about the cielo, a fact that has had me closely monitoring each and every aspect of the ride to find flaws about which i could regale you with unstinted prose. but i have come up with nothing. absolutely nothing.

chris king cielo

sadly, i believe that these frames are still unavailable in the uk, though there's nothing stopping you ordering one direct from portland. germany fares rather better in this respect, and if you live in the continental usa, cielo frames are readily available from ck in portland; and i'd thoroughly recommend that if you're in the market for a new frame, it would be hard to surpass steel this good.

and just a note to cd: white bar tape gets dirty, even when you clean it regularly.

the test continues. | cielo cycles


posted tuesday 29 june 2010