Dutch titanium specialists Van Nicholas have updated their top-end Astraeus road racer, retaining the hydroformed and diamond-profile top and down tubes but adding a newly integrated head tube and less heavily manipulated chainstays for 2011.
The integrated head tube – not to mention the new etched logo – makes for a cleaner front end but Van Nicholas founder Jan-Willem Sintnicolass says its larger diameter also provides more room for the top tube and down tube welds, thus improving front triangle torsional stiffness and overall handling precision.
Likewise, last year's pinched and squeezed chainstays have given way to rounder cross-sections at the bottom bracket end, reducing lateral flex and making for a more efficient drivetrain but without affecting the Astraeus's notable comfort, according to Sintnicolass.
Van Nicholas have taken even more of a comfort-oriented approach for their Zephyr road model, built with biaxially ovalised top and down tubes to keep front triangle torsional flex to reasonable levels but with frighteningly tiny seatstays – measuring just 17mm in diameter – that taper down even more at the seat tube.
The idea here is to yield as much vertical movement to the rear end as possible, which is further helped by the semi-compact frame configuration. Offsetting the seatstays and top tube helps the seat tube bend back slightly under impact and the longer, 27.2mm seatpost flexes more than a shorter, larger-diameter one.
Capping the 'comfortable long distance cruiser' theme is the longer head tube and slightly slackened angles for a more upright riding position and more stable handling.
Van Nicholas's Zephyr is purpose-built with comfort in mind
Over in the opposite corner of the Van Nicholas booth sat yet another example that 29in mountain bike wheels are finally beginning to grab hold in Europe: the Zion 29". While the big-wheeled hardtail isn't entirely new for 2011, it has undergone a few key revisions. The head tube has been shortened to allow a lower bar position – critical for shorter 29er riders – and the seat tube now sports a slight kink for greater tyre clearance.
Van Nicholas's Zion 29" gets a shorter head tube and bent seat tube for 2011
Van Nicholas will also add a full-suspension rig to their range called Valkyr. Aimed at the cross-country and marathon crowd, Valkyr will boast 100mm of travel at either end with a faux-bar rear end – fully crafted in titanium, of course. Oversized and hydroformed tubes will help bolster the front end against torsional flex and there's even a tapered head tube to fit the latest crop of suspension forks.
Van Nicholas will soon add a full-suspension bike to their impressive array of titanium machines
US readers should take note: Van Nicholas are making a push into the American market and have dropped their shipping costs there to zero, so if you've been considering buying one, now's a good time.