What do you get if you are a woman with around £1500 looking for a performance bike with women-specific frame?
Probably something like the Condor Bellissima an aluminium frame with carbon fork and back end. The Bellissima is London-based Condor's first women-specific frame, but many in their vast men's range come in sizes down to 46cm too. With a personalised fitting as part of the package, Condor make a comfortable riding position a real priority.
Dedacciai supply the tubes and manufacturing prowess for the Condor's unique combination frame, which is handbuilt in Italy. The main triangle uses triple-butted and heat-treated aluminium pipes for weight saving, along with good strength and stiffness. Welds are filled, blending in unnoticeably under the cool, matt grey finish. The chainstays and bottom bracket are also aluminium, but the seatstays are Dedacciai carbon, bonded to the main triangle just above the wishbone and before the dropouts.
The forks are Dedacciai carbon too, with a carbon steerer, and the visible weave coordinates nicely with the rear stays.
The Bellissima is designed after the men's Italia with a shortened top-tube - on average 1cm less. A customised fitting session at the Condor shop in London takes you through from frame sizing to component selection. This is particularly useful as you are able to try various frames and see if a women's geometry works for you. Sizes run in a big range from 46-61cm, all using 700c wheels.
With the Bellissima, you have the choice to spec it any way you want. Condor provide a long list of kit and are not limited to Shimano. In fact, for just £750 you can get the same frame with an entry-level Campag Xenon groupset. We had it built up with Ultegra to meet the price range for this test and, to be honest, it's about as high a spec as you'd want. As expected, the whole groupset performs smoothly and reliably and it looks fantastic. Fitted with a 34/50t compact chainset and 12-25t spread of sprockets gives a gear range that will please roadies and suit European cyclosportives too.
Hilly locations might see you out of the saddle for the climbs but it's unlikely you'd run out of gears on the top-end for fast, flat sections. The Ultegra brakes feel great, with even stopping power and a lot of bite when you need it, but we'd have liked the levers to be shimmed in to reduce the reach - something that greatly improves control for small- handed riders.
Cranks are a proportional length, at 170mm, and can be changed if desired. The Fizik Pave sport saddle is not what I would have chosen and I swapped out the laid back seatpost for an inline one for testing. Deda Big Piega handlebars are a good 40cm width, with an average drop, but other bar options are available from 36cm to 46cm in width - likewise for stem lengths, seatposts and saddles.
The Bellissima's Fulcrum Racing 5s are unflashy but good looking wheels that are well suited to the bike and price point. They're just one rung up from the entry-level Racing 7s, which isn't a criticism because the 7s kick off the range with a high level of quality, and each successive wheelset is lighter and pricier. The rear wheel is the newer Evolution model that boasts a 90g loss of weight, fewer spokes and a refined hub body over the 2006 version. Both front and rear wheels have 24 spokes each and Fulcrum hubs with well sealed cartridge bearings. Rims are thoughtfully manufactured for a precise balance with two oversized spokes running opposite the join.
Hutchinson's Quartz 700x23c tyres are designed for high mileage riders. We found they rolled well and also felt grippy in the corners thanks to the slightly softer rubber compound on the shoulders. No punctures during testing either.
Judged against the characteristically smooth ride of a £1500 carbon bike, the Bellissima simply has a different ride quality, with the stiffer feel of aluminium - however it also has a women-specific frame, something you are not going to get in carbon for this sort of money.
Aluminium may not be top ot the tree in terms of frame materials any more but it has many positive points when it comes to ride quality - as the Bellissima demonstrates. The carbon seatstays and fork provide some road dampening and the attention to rider position should ensure that it's comfortable to ride. It also shows remarkable stability at speed, making it a great descender.
The predictable handling helps on longer rides, though a bit of extra attention might be needed for sharp turns. It felt responsive out of the saddle and accelerates well, thanks to the frame stiffness. There's a little toe overlap, but we quickly got used to it.
There's no doubt the Bellissima is a very desirable bike. Whether you go for it with a build at this price is largely dependent on how much you want to buy into the full carbon dream, as there are options available for £1,300 - with lesser packages. However, if you're happy with the slightly harsher ride of aluminium and want something that's arguably better for day-to-day use and more resistant to crash damage, the Bellissima is a custom-fitted, superbly finished option with a range of prices and builds to suit.