Van Nicholas Zion Rohloff review£3,569.00

Ultimate hub-geared race bike

BikeRadar score3/5

With a supple titanium frame, racer’s wishlist kit and Rohloff rear hub, the Zion could be the ultimate filthy weather racer – if Van Nich can sort out the tyre clearance and grinding gearbox.

Ride & handling: Smooth and agile singletracker, but racers will find transmission drag irritating

Rohloff claim their Speedhub gears aren’t any heavier than derailleurs – but they'd have to be talking about a pretty cheap set of kit, rather than the sort of exotica you could buy for the hub price of £995.

All this weight at the far tip of the frame means that a lot of Rohloff bikes ride like you’re stood on their tail. As a result, we were expecting obviously reduced whip and lick, and a real thud on landing or hitting square edges – but the great news is that the Zion is actually a seriously smooth and agile singletracker. 

There’s a fairly big chainring to wring maximum speed out of the Rohloff ratios. Unfortunately that means you’ll spend more time in the lowest seven gears where the additional transfer cogs create a power- and morale-sapping coffee grinder sensation through the pedals.

There’s a disappointing lack of tyre clearance at the back too; even with 2.1in tyres it’s going to clog pretty quickly, which removes the major advantage of running a Rohloff on a race-style bike in the first place.

If you’re sold on the minimal maintenance, ultimate transmission lifespan advantages of the Speedhub and want to run one in the lightest, smoothest frame possible, the Zion is a peach.

Lack of mud clearance removes a major Speedhub advantage though and, while it hides the weight well, how fast this bike would have been with a 2x9 or even 1x9 gear setup was always at the back of our minds.

Speedhub gears meet a lightweight ti race frame in this intriguing hybrid: speedhub gears meet a lightweight ti race frame in this intriguing hybrid
Speedhub gears meet a lightweight ti race frame in this intriguing hybrid: speedhub gears meet a lightweight ti race frame in this intriguing hybrid

Frame: Beautifully detailed Rohloff-specific titanium chassis, but tyre clearance is limited

If you include their years trading as Airborne, Van Nicholas have a serious amount of titanium crafting experience. Their frames, produced in the Far East, are renowned for high quality at relatively low cost and the Zion is no exception.

From the titanium head badge on the externally butted head tube to the cut-out VN logo on the Rohloff specific dropouts, this is one slick chassis.

Down tube routing is curved for smooth lines, there’s a forward-facing seatpost slot under the titanium collar, carrier bosses on the rear and twin bottle cages.

The symmetrically curved A-frame rear uses slim ovalised and tapered chainstays and skinny 17mm tapered seatstays to remove rear end sting despite the heavy hub ballast. A rotating eccentric bottom bracket lets you adjust chain tension as well as bottom bracket height/ground clearance. 

Equipment: Full custom spec – we went for hub gears and frame-matching Ti trim

Van Nicholas offer a full custom spec service on the Zion so you can build the bike from a raft of options: geared, Rohloffed or even rigid.

Our Zion had full titanium finishing kit with post, stem and even headset spacers to complete the rust-less resumé. Flat bars with bar ends offered different hand positions to aid comfort.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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