Van Nicholas Zion Rohloff 29er review

Space-age materials meet traditional design, with the odd casualty

Our rating 
2.5 out of 5 star rating 2.5
GBP £3,550.00 RRP

Our review

Potentially lovely, but tolerance issues and nervous handling take the edge off
Skip to view product specifications

Van Nicholas is a Dutch company that works exclusively in titanium, and the Zion 29er is available in several guises. We went for the Rohloff-geared, belt-driven, carbon-forked rigid version as the ultimate representation of simple, low-maintenance riding.

Advertisement
  • Highs: Super-light frame looks absolutely gorgeous
  • Lows: Manufacturing tolerances caused issues
  • Buy if: ‘They don’t make ‘em like they used to’ sounds bad to you

Frame and equipment: high-grade setup with disappointing quality control issues

It certainly looks the part. The hand-brushed, aircraft-grade titanium frame is guaranteed for life, and the lack of need for paint – it won’t corrode – is another reason this bike is so light. Even with the heavy, 14-ratio Rohloff Speedhub in the back, it weighs just 11.24kg (24.8lb).

You can spec a suspension fork, but Van Nicholas’ own VNT carbon rigid fork is a good choice. It combines with the natural twang of the front triangle to create a comfy ride that’s impressively damped against small vibrations.

1432055353511-1rp67kctt9a8v-1000-90-9e9174c
The carbon drive belt, made by gates, is lighter, stronger and quieter than a chain:

The carbon drive belt, made by Gates, is lighter, stronger and quieter than a chain

Unfortunately, either the steerer on ours was marginally too thick, or the spacers under the stem were a tad too small. They were wedged so tight we couldn’t actually get them off.

We settled for an overly high front end instead of risking damage. Annoyingly there were problems at the other end, too. The seat tube was too large internally, probably by less than 1mm but enough for obvious play.

The beautifully made bolted seat collar (irritatingly fitted with a T25 Torx instead of a more common hex, just to make adjustment still harder) simply couldn’t cope, no matter how scarily tensioned it was. The saddle slowly sank as we rode. There’s also no internal stop to prevent the seatpost pushing into the curved part of the tube and wedging.

Van Nicholas says it would quickly replace anything with similar sizing issues, though there’s no stop by design.

Ride and handling: twitchy handling means more spills than thrills

Under way, the Zion is comfortable. It’s not noticeably any more compliant at the rear than, for instance, the Shand Bahookie we tested it alongside though.

There’s a little lateral flex across the front triangle, which adds a slightly wound-up-spring feel to the steep (71-degree) steering that takes some getting used to. The lengthy 100mm stem and narrow 700mm bars don’t help, and on the descents it wasn’t exactly confidence inspiring. Happily, SRAM’s Guide RS brakes are fantastic, with great power and truly impressive feel and control.

Our 17.5in was pretty tight at 590mm in the top tube and 1078mm for the wheelbase. Even a 19in only has a shortish 615mm top tube.

1432055353511-4u3842b1x52v-1000-90-3bb1aa7
The van nicholas may have a carbon fork, but it’s pretty old-school underneath, and not just in the short ‘n’ steep geometry. there’s no room in the frame for the new wave of wide rims and big, 29+ tyres that work so well on rigid bikes:

Geometry is short ‘n’ steep and there’s no room for the wide rims and big, 29+ treads that work well on rigid bikes

This and the light front end mean manuals are incredibly easy, but it climbs well with little front lift. The large bulk of weight in the hub does make lifting the rear end over obstacles hard work. Rear wheel slips tend to result in sudden stabbing direction changes too.

Those slips are common thanks to disappointing hard compound Schwalbe Racing Ralph treads. There’s no room in the rear for anything wider than these 2.25in items, either.

Advertisement

The Rohloff twist-shifter takes noticeable effort to move, but shifts are mostly smooth and quick. While the carbon drive belt is an obvious talking point, in use you simply don’t notice it. It needs no oiling or cleaning, and is the perfect accompaniment for the Speedhub gears if you plan to avoid all maintenance. Very simple then, but would you really neglect a bike at this price?

Product Specifications

Product

Name Zion Rohloff 29er (15)
Brand Van Nicholas

Available Sizes 15.5in 17.5in 19in 21in
Seatpost VNT, 30.9mm
Wheelbase (in) 42.44
Top Tube (in) 23.23
Standover Height (in) 31.1
Seat Tube (in) 18.11
Chainstays (in) 17.2
Bottom Bracket Height (in) 12
Weight (lb) 24.8
Wheelset VNT hub, Stan's ZTR Crest rim
Weight (kg) 11.25
Stem VNT 100mm, 7-degree rise
Shifters Rohloff
Seat Angle 73.5
Bottom Bracket SRAM
Saddle VNT leather, chromoly rails
Rear Tyre Schwalbe Racing Ralph, 2.25in
Headset Type FSA Gravity DX Pro
Head Angle 71
Handlebar VNT riser, 700mm
Grips/Tape VNT lock-on
Front Tyre Schwalbe Racing Ralph, 2.25in
Frame Material 3AL/2.5V hand-brushed titanium
Fork VNT carbon rigid
Cranks Truvativ Stylo
Chain Gates carbon drive belt
Brakes SRAM Guide RS
Frame size tested 17.5in