Chinese company Falco first caught our eye last year at Interbike with its V Triathlon Bike. The V – a real feat of engineering – looks straight out of the movie Tron, but with its wide aerofoils and lack of seat tube it's not going to receive UCI approval anytime soon.
Falco is a relative newcomer committed to changing the image of the ‘Made in China’ label, and to trying to create some distance from the factories pumping out knock-offs of big brand frames. Instead, Falco aims to exploit China’s strength in manufacturing and composite technologies to create high-quality bicycles.
The namesake for all the brand's individual models are falcons with corresponding characteristics – the Eleonora falcon is known for its long distance flying abilities, and grace in the air. So does this bike live up to its namesake?
Ride and handling: compliant ride with an upright position
Falco claims the titanium-framed Eleonora is suited to ‘high performance’ riding – a similar marketing spiel is used to describe the firm's carbon race bike, the Peregrine (Kamm). Our testing revealed a steed that's not up to scratch for pure racing purposes, but – in keeping with the name –makes more sense as an endurance/gran fondo machine.
Over rough roads the Eleonora remains comfortable. Despite offering a stable pedalling platform, the Ti frame is compliant – it dampens more bone rattling hits and smooths many road irregularities. The Falco Spike fork and carbon Fouriers seatpost of our machine mopped up any remaining road buzz coming up through the contact points with ease.
Falco specs the Eleonora with the Spike Carbon fork
With a tall 140mm head tube on our 53cm sample, the twitchy handling characteristics of a race machine proved to be absent and, even after lowering the stem, the geometry still proved upright – those seeking a true 'performance ride' should look elsewhere.
Descending, the bike feels planted and holds its line, though it's slow to react to small corrections. Mash the pedals and the Eleonora’s response is different from what we've become accustomed to from many carbon frames – when pressure is applied, the bike doesn't jump out from under you like a scared cat, but reacts much more smoothly.
Falco says the Eleonora is one of the stiffest Ti frames available, a claim it attributes to a PF30 bottom bracket that caters for an oversize 45mm width down tube and large chainstays. Even when stomping on the pedals there's no discernible flex through the bottom bracket; the only movement we detected was while wrenching on the bars on a steep climb, but this was flex in the fork, not the frame.
The Fouriers carbon SP-S001 seatpost takes care of the road buzz coming up through the seat tube
Frame and equipment: room to improve
While the Eleanora only comes from Falco as a frameset (frame, fork, headset and seat clamp), our sample from the local distributor was built with a range of high-end Fouriers components, Falco Procella WRT wheels and Shimano Ultegra 6800.
With a claimed frame weight of 1450g (53cm), the Eleonora is never going to compete weight-wise with the latest carbon bikes or even the most boutique of its Ti peers. Despite the quality of that Fouriers build kit and the Falco Procella WRT wheels of our Australian sample, the complete build tipped the scales at a mediocre 7.81kg (without pedals).
There are six stock sizes available, and we were comfortable on our 53cm sample. Finding an exact fit may be a struggle for those at the extreme ends of the height spectrum, but custom geometry is available at a relatively low surcharge of just AU$500.
The bulk of the frame is made from 3Al/2.5V titanium tubing – the same recipe used by big name builders such as Moots and Seven Cycles – while the dropouts are made from slightly harder 6Al/4V titanium. Extremely clean welds combined with quality cable guides and dropouts show that Falco has taken the time to do things right. A brushed metal finish and minimalist branding ensure the Eleonora displays the timeless good looks expected of a quality titanium machine.
It's not easy to make cable guides like that
With such features as an integrated headset, tapered steerer tube and PF30 bottom bracket; Falco is pushing into the territory of what we expect from top-end builders. A variety of tube shapes are used throughout the frame, though the differences are subtle.
In the face of such exceptional details, a lack of rear tyre clearance left us scratching our heads. Our test rig came with 23c rubber mounted on 25mm rims (which were already a tight fit in the chainstays) and lightweight Fouriers skewers. When we mounted a 25c Michelin Pro4, light was barely able to shoot the gap.
There is not much extra room between the chainstays
This issue meant that when cranking out of the saddle, the wheel flexed enough to rub on the chainstay. While swapping to a more substantial skewer is a help, this is a serious oversight with potentially dire consequences. Falco Australia assures us that the updated Eleonora has much better clearance than our sample did.
Turning to the kit, the Falco Procella WRT wheels are a mid-depth 25mm carbon clincher. They're stiff and roll quite well, but they lack the slippery feel at high speed offered by many other wheels of the same depth. While you won’t need to grab your cowboy boots and bull rope when the crosswinds begin to blow, the WRTs require some extra concentration – especially given they're only 55mm deep.
The Falco Procella WRT wheels did not fare particularly well in crosswinds
As always the Shimano Ultegra 11-speed mechanical drivetrain is flawless, and shifting is precise and reliable under power. The semi-compact 52-36T crankset made even the steepest grades manageable.
The semi compact 52-36T Ultegra crankset provides adequate gearing for steep climbs and opening up on the flats
Ulitmately it's hard not to contrast the Eleonora with bikes from some of the better-known titanium builders. Even Falco’s website compares it to the Moots Vamoots, and on paper the Eleonora is competitive.
The price tag of our sample is a heavy one, but it's something to be expected with any Ti bike. It is still a low asking price for the unique ride quality offered by titanium and, although there's undeniably room for improvement from Falco, this is a pretty tasty machine.
Yet the experience the likes of Moots hold with titanium isn’t easily replicated. Falco is taking great strides towards improving the ‘Made in China’ label but, for the moment at least, ‘Made in Colorado’ still reads better – you wouldn’t have any tyre clearance issues with a Moots.