In the Midi region of France they say the Mistral wind blows for days on end and drives people crazy; well, you’d have to be a little crazy not to take notice of this latest offering from Dutch titanium specialists Van Nicholas.
- Frame & fork: Outstanding design and execution. If this is the future of high performance with affordability, then bring it on (10/10)
- Handling: Impeccable manners and great balance and poise (9/10)
- Equipment: Good spread of pick’n’mix keeps a lid on expense while maximising performance. You’ve got to love the 27.2 seatpost (8/10)
- Wheels: Even spoke pattern and cartridge bearings mean these hoops will stay put and be trouble-free for thousands of miles (8/10)
Our test bike came built around an impeccable frame and fork that would be appropriate on a bike twice the price. Available separately, with a price in the mid-£800 range, the frame weighed in at a light 1,470g (3.2lb).
The 380g VNT Elements all-carbon fork is a good match, with an elegantly tapered radius, and 1 1/8in carbon steerer. The interface between frame and fork is mercifully conventional, using a standard FSA sealed cartridge headset with press-ﬁt alloy cups.
Round seatstays taper from 17mm at the top to a forgiving 15.5mm at the dropouts. Round is in fact the dominant shape of the perfectly sized tubing, other than ovalised chainstays at the bottom bracket shell. Anchoring the wheels at the rear were some pretty cool looking dropouts.
Once we got used to the limited skewer orientation possibilities, the Fulcrum Racing 7 wheelset, courtesy of Campagnolo, worked in perfect tandem with the mainly Shimano 105 and FSA-mix drivetrain; 105 black STI shifters are coupled with a matching rear mech and all-purpose compact gearing.
The mix and match approach continues with a decent but rudimentary FSA front derailleur; it performed correctly with a handsome FSA Gossamer forged crank on a stout ISIS Drive bottom bracket. You’d be hard pressed to detect any ﬂex under even the most intense of sprinting efforts.
As air descends from the mountains, it compresses and heats up. On the Mistral, going hot into a corner is a situation from which you can usually escape unscathed.
With nearly parallel frame angles that we measured at 73 head, 73.5 seat, it’s perfectly balanced and poised. Whether thrashing a sprint out of the saddle or dodging indecisive squirrels busy stashing their winter hoards along woodland lanes, the Mistral doesn’t mind being chucked about.
Our test circuit includes some small stretches of pre-war cobbles, mercifully untouched by overzealous council crews, and this is where we took the Van Nicholas to be subjected to the kind of abuse it was born to handle.
Upturned blocks, gaping potholes and rippling whoops caused by generations of horse carts and lorries were handled with quiet poise by the frame and fork, once speeds were cranked up to sufﬁcient levels.
Mercifully, the VNT Elements titanium-railed saddle, in a Fizik Arione inspired shape, worked exceptionally well in combination with the 27.2mm forged aluminium seatpost.
Unfortunately, the wheel and tyre combo was just that bit too unyielding to inspire total conﬁdence, in particular the hard rubbery compound of the narrow 23mm section Conti Ultra Sports. With an early morning mizzle leaving a slippery sheen on polished paving blocks, it was necessary to keep any input steady and gradual.
Titanium still has a place in the framebuilder’s repertoire, and seems to be in fact gaining back some ground, now that the overexcitement about carbon has waned a bit.
If you’re looking for a bike that can do it all, look no further than the Van Nicholas Mistral. Like its legendary namesake, it will blow you away – in this case, with its beauty, attention to detail, performance and value.