These days a carbon/alloy bike has to offer something a bit special to compete at the £1300 price point, even if it's from a marque as prestigious Cinelli. Why? Because it's about this point that full carbon frames become a realistic option. Yes, you can lay your hands on cheaper carbon bikes, but it's here where you can start demanding it - if that's what takes your fancy, of course.
Frame - not the lightest but matched to a tasty fork
The Cinelli does not have full carbon frame which might be considered a drawback at this price point where there plenty of full carbon alternatives. The Unica is built using triple butted 7000 series alloy tubing from Columbus, which is part of the same Milanese stable, TIG welded together with bonded carbon wishbone chainstays out back. The eye-catching octagonal top-tube slopes downwards towards the seat-tube junction, but not radically so the standover height isn't especially low, while the oversized, biovalised down-tube adds plenty of rigidity through the centre.
The Unica frame, isn't light, but it's far from a bloater, and while the frame might not be full carbon the Columbus Tusk fork is (if you don't count the forged drop-outs and lower steerer sleeve) and it's light too. The straight blades look distinctive but the rake and trail are normal and they don't add any quirkiness to the handling.
Equipment - good wheels, sorted groupset
The Cinelli Unica comes with Mavic's Ksyrium Equipes, which use the same cartridge bearings, same freewheel, same materials, and so on as Mavic's entry-level Aksiums. The Ksyriums do have a more attractive hub body, though, two fewer spokes up front, and they're a little lighter which would result in a more lively performance - except that with tyres, tubes, rim tape and cassette included, the Cinelli's all-up wheel weight is actually a tad heavier than the Aksiums on Bianchi's 928 C2C 105. Even so, they're still a better wheel.
The Cinelli comes fitted with Campagnolo's Veloce groupset which is a broadly similar level to Shimano's 105. In terms of shifting, the two systems are equally crisp, so it's really just a matter of whether you prefer Shimano's two lever STI set-up or Campag's lever and button Ergopower.
When it's time to drop the anchors, the Veloce callipers might not have the greatest all-out power but their graduation is superb so you stay in full control of your speed, even on damp and gravelly surfaces. When you have your sensible head on, this means you're always nice and safe, but when you don't, it gives you the confidence to go for it and rag it down the steep descents.
Cinelli's new 6061 alloy Vai Palm bar comes with a drop of only 140mm so the bend is tight and there's no anatomic shaping. One large-handed tester found it difficult to get a comfortable hold within reach of the levers but everyone used the drops far more than normal, tempted down by the less extreme position, which has to be good news, especially for your average speed. Like the bars, our Vai stem was noticeably stiffer than average despite its tiller-esque 135mm length.
Ride - feels lighter than it is
Hit the road aboard the Cinelli and it soon reveals itself to be a sound all-round performer. Although it's a touch heavier than all carbon rivals like the Bianchi 928 C2C or the Wilier Mortirolo, it rides a touch lighter than it actually is thanks to a lack of flex in either the frame or the cockpit. It does everything fine, climbing with pace, if not fleet-footed urgency, descending with assured, predictable cornering, and bowling along on the flat with the best of 'em. It wouldn't win any prizes for comfort but it's not harsh either.
So we have absolutely no complaints about the Cinelli's performance. It's just a bit... what's the word... vanilla. A bit like a lot of other bikes out there. Which is fine. You get no nasty surprises. It's just that for 1300 quid we'd like raspberry ripple. And maybe a flake.
We're not saying that alloy frames with carbon seatstays have had their day but the bar has been raised at the £1300 price point and any bike of this genre needs to come up with something special to compete. The Cinelli is a fi ne machine that does everything well but it doesn't quite grab you and demand your attention.