One of the cheapest aero frame options around, the Pro-Lite Espresso is heavy and has some wheel and post fit issues. If you can work round that though, it proves that you don’t have to pay a fortune if you want a solid, surefooted machine for battering big gears along flat courses.
Ride & handling: Surefooted, aero and stiff in terms of power delivery
As a reasonably heavy bike, with particularly heavy and soft feeling Vicenza clincher wheels, getting the Pro-Lite going wasn’t the easiest task. To be blunt, it felt like we were about to rip the cleats out of our shoes whenever we tried to hurry its progress. Even with a decent fork and soft spoked wheels, the clunking and clanging of the alloy frame over potholes and other rough surfaces could still be clearly felt too.
The upside is that the stiffness of the frame meant that it still held its own alongside softer-feeling bikes on moderate upslopes and steady accelerations – often much to the other rider’s dismay. Once up to speed the Espresso translates the investment in overcoming inertia into impressive momentum. On flat or even gently rolling roads, it trucks on like a proper juggernaut. Apart from the inherent harshness, the responsive yet surefooted handling of the short wheelbase Pro-Lite is another speed-retention bonus.
The deep wheels still shoved it sideways across the road going past gate gaps or in blustery conditions, but it dropped firmly and quickly back into line without wobble or reverb. The braking was also sharp and trustworthy, which is a useful confidence-booster for the newbie riders who will be attracted by the low price. The screw adjusters and rear skewers need to be done up super-tight to stop rear wheel slippage and frame rub. Happily the Pro-Lite Sassari chainset (£189.99) is light but the scooped back arms aren’t the stiffest we’ve trodden on. Dependable Shimano Ultegra completes the stop/go package.
Frame: Stiffness means an unforgiving ride in the rough
As you might expect for the price, the Espresso frame is short on fancy features. The short flared-end head tube isn’t tapered but it gives smooth lines around the steering bearings and it’s low enough for a properly wind punching position. Gear cables disappear into blisters on the side of the teardrop downtube. Teardrop frame tubes provide a basic aero advantage with a half depth wheelhugger cut into the seat tube too. Despite a quick thumb and finger squeeze confirming these are seriously thin-walled tubes, weight is still close on 2kg for the bare frame though.
The carbon Aerobuster seatpost is clamped into place with a big forged alloy collar, but the fit is so tight we actually had to wedge the side bolts open and then wallop it with a mallet to fight the post in or out. It is marked for height and angle tilt though, which helps you remember set-up if you have to pull it apart for travel. There’s also the option to use a spacer system and a 27.2mm round shaft seatpost for a more comfortable ride. The front mech hanger can also be unbolted if you decide to use a minimalist single-ring set-up for flatter courses. However, there’s unfortunately only the one set of bottle cage bosses on the seat tube.
The seat stays are absolutely massive fin pieces which taper down to slotted diagonal dropouts with screw adjusters to manage tyre clearance against the wheelhugger. Round-to-oval chainstays keep the drive power locked between the back wheel and the conventional bottom bracket. As well as the gloss white/ silver colour here, there’s also a gloss black/white option and the frameset is super affordable at 1p under £350. One of the real attractions – besides price – is that there are no less than five closely spaced sizes in the Pro Lite range too, so finding an accurate fit should be easy.
The Pro-Lite Grande carbon forks (£229.99) get alloy dropout tips with muscular bulged centre carbon legs in a conventional, rather than distinctly aero, style. The carbon steerer means they’re impressively light though and their ride is softer than we expected too.
Equipment: Matching collar and cuffs isn’t always the best choice
The depth of the Pro-Lite kit catalogue is fully evidenced by the amount of branded gear on the rest of the bike, but it also proves that matching collar and cuffs isn’t always the best choice. The Pelmo stem (£34.99) and carbon Salemo Aero cockpit (£399.99) are stiff, secure and fully adjustable. Overbar extensions mean they sit tall in terms of position though.
The Vicenza clincher wheels look a bargain at £449.99 a set for alloy and carbon 90mm rims. They flex noticeably when cornering though and you can bounce the rims off the brake blocks without really trying whenever you’re out of the saddle. They also weigh an absolute tonne.