British-based company Flandria's CSS-1 is a mid-range aluminium/carbon machine, aimed at the sportive rider. We look at what it has to offer.
Wind the clock back to the 1970s and Rik Van Looy and Freddy Maertens were riding high on Flandria bikes in the pro peloton, but while the name is no longer synonymous with Belgian craftsmen, they are now produced in the same Taiwanese factory as the highly regarded Cervélo aluminium frames. The CSS-1 is their second-best aluminium frame in a range of five models that also includes a tourer and a carbon frame.
It follows the tried and trusted formula of a carbon seatstay wishbone bonded to an aluminium front triangle made out of Aluton 2 tubing - essentially a 7005 series grade of aluminium that, in terms of strength, falls somewhere beneath 7075 and between that of a 6061 and 6066 tubing. The tubing is ovalised and increases in diameter where it joins the bottom bracket, making for a reassuringly stiff-looking frame. The Large size we tested equates to a 56cm bike in metric terms.
The Flandria has an overtly stiff ride character that can cause discomfort to the contact points. A stiff frame like this requires careful component choice to soften, or conversely maintain the stiff overall feel of the ride, and we think that the equipment options on Flandria's Bike Builder could have addressed this better by offering a wider choice. For example, the ITM 330 handlebars' exceptional stiffness helps give the Flandria pin-point steering accuracy that is reassuring to a heavy, powerful rider, for not for rider's with smaller builds.
In terms of riding experience, the CSS-1 fails to thrill on the climbs, but makes up for it on the descents where its extra weight and stiffness give great stability for those brave enough to corner on the limit of their tyres' adhesion. The Flandria is aimed at the sportive rider but prefers to use several headset spacers to create an upright riding position.
This effectively makes it more versatile than the others here because spacers can be omitted to create a low riding position for time trialling. The range of sizes starts with a smaller frame than the others and the top-tubes are a shade shorter than average, making them better suited to anyone who wants a shorter reach to the handlebars - which would also be beneficial to many women.
If buying online, Flandria's website has a 'Bike Builder' section where you can choose from several groupset options, ranging from Campagnolo Xenon to Centaur and Shimano Ultegra as an alternative to the 105 kit fitted here. There are only two options on the seatpost and handlebar: an ITM Road Race or their mid-range Mantis kit.
The Bike Builder displays the total bike weight and price. If purchased separately the ITM Road Race kit would cost in the about £19 for the 330 handlebars and £15 for the R/R stem, plus around £30 for San Marco's Millennium gel-topped saddle.
The Flandria's Mavic Aksium wheels never fail to impress, by riding lighter than the weighing scales would have us believe. Contrary to popular belief, a wheel with straight-pull spokes is no less likely to break than one with a traditional spoke, but they do cut out the process of bending the spoke at the end and this makes the Aksiums look good.
Mavic hubs have legendary reliability and the cartridge bearings turn with very little drag from the seals. They are also easy to replace using the parts replacement service provided by Chicken. The Michelin Ironman tyres are around £25 each and are essentially the same as Michelin's top Carbon Comps. The sidewall is resistant to cuts, and although we have sometimes found that the tread wears more rapidly than some, they do have exemplary grip in the wet.
For those who feel they need stiffness above all other considerations the Flandria hits the spot. The choice of finishing kit is basic but the Mavic Aksium wheels and Michelin tyres make it an attractive package to the club racer for whom dependability is paramount.
Frame geometry: Aside from the usual frame angle figures and tube lengths, frame type is generally referred to as either 'compact' (sloping top-tube - downwards from front to back), semi compact (slightly sloping top-tube) and traditional geometry (level top-tube)
Gear hanger: Sacrificial bit of metal that attaches your rear mech to the frame. In an accident it will bend or break instead of your aluminium frame
Specialized Allez Elite £899
Giant TCR Zero £1,099
Focus Variado £599
BH L60 £1,279-£1,399
Specialized Allez Elite £899 The Elite 2007 is based on a full aluminium frame, Shimano 105 groupset together with FSA chainset, Mavic CXP22 rims and has a carbon/alu/ carbon fork commonly seen on bikes costing over a grand. Specialized - +44 (0)1159 775900 www.specialized.com
Giant TCR Zero £1,099 The TCR uses Giant's proprietary Aluxx aluminium tubing throughout and looks like sound value for money based on a full complement of Shimano Ultegra equipment, together with Giant-branded wheels and finishing kit. Giant - +44 (0)1159 775900 www.giant-bicycle.com
Focus Variado £599 Came a resounding 3rd in our 'Budget race bike of the year 2006' and is now probably the best value bike currently available for less than a grand. The Focus has a fully butted aluminium frame with semi- compact geometry, and the spec is based on 105 triple and Shimano's WH-R550 wheels. www.wiggle.co.uk
BH L60 £1,179 This took 1st place in the C 2006 awards (C 191), winning 2006 Race Bike of the Year. The Shimano 105-equipped BH L60 is a pound lighter than you would expect for this money and is currently discounted down to an incredible £1,179. BH - +44 (0)7977 157223 www.bhbikes.com