The Mistral’s skinny titanium tubes, semi-sloping geometry and long wheelbase set it out as a bike designed for big distances. Those skinny tubes are tied together with a standard head tube and bottom bracket, not the super-stiff oversize versions used on most modern carbon and alloy bikes. This allows the hallowed ‘spring’ of the titanium to filter through, giving the Van Nicholas an old-school feel that’s as unique as it is welcome.
Modern frame design is obsessed with stiffness throughout the lower half of the bike so the flex in the back end and bottom bracket area (but cleverly not the head tube) of the Mistral gives it a very different feel. It’s blessed with a supple smoothness that makes it a wonderful bike to ride over long distances, especially when the route includes some tough climbs.
It’s these sorts of ride that seem to have dictated the finishing kit on the Van Nic, too. A best-in-class set of wheels, in the shape of Mavic’s lightweight Ksyrium Elites, is combined with SRAM’s climbing-friendly Apex group, with an 11-32t rear cassette out back and compact chainset up front. If you’re not a dedicated racer, and sportives or big challenge rides are more your thing, then the Mistral could be the bike you’ve been looking for.
With a quality titanium frame matched to a brilliant Easton fork, we’d have expected plenty of compromises elsewhere on the Mistral. That’s really not the case. Apex, for example, is easily a match for Shimano 105, in both performance and weight, while the Mavic wheels are exceptional at this price, especially when shod with quality Schwalbe tyres. The VNT branded bar, stem and seatpost are basic in comparison to the frame but they don’t hamper the excellent ride.
The way the titanium isolates you from any major discomfort negates the need for any better or lighter kit – that is, of course, unless you really want to treat the frame to some upgrades – and the complete bike weight of 8.2kg (58cm) is very good. Reducing weight would be simple with a few judicious upgrades. What you won’t be able to improve on is the plushness of the Mistral’s cosseting ride.
This bike was tested as part of Cycling Plus magazine’s 2012 Bike Of The Year feature – read the full results in issue 260, on sale Friday 2 March.