De Rosa’s R838 is the Italian marque’s entry-level carbon frame. For 2014 it’s been given a revamp with a new stealthy matt finish, and this model uses Shimano’s brilliant new Ultegra 11-speed Di2 drivetrain.
Like most top Italian brands, De Rosa does sportive bikes differently. Rather than the usual elongation of the wheelbase and relaxing of the steering geometry, it maintains classic racing dimensions and handling but introduces comfort into the frame through shaping of the tubing and the carbon layup.
Viewed from the side, it appears to be a semi-compact with chunky tubes throughout, but closer inspection reveals a mix of profiles. Seemingly at odds with the broad, flat-topped top tube, the slim teardrop shaped down tube isn’t as wide as the BB30 bottom bracket shell. These design cues suggest a nod to aerodynamics, and match the full teardrop-profile angular fork blades. We wouldn’t suggest the R838 is an aero machine, but a designer’s pen has obviously given it some aero influences. At the rear a round seat tube and standard seatpost are mated to oversized chainstays and multi-profile seatstays that, at first glance, look like they’ll ride hard. On the road, though, the back end feels smooth – not in the same league as a Cannondale Synapse or Giant Defy, but nevertheless aiding comfort.
Otherwise, our initial impressions largely hold true, with the R838 having a solid-feeling head tube and a bottom bracket area prone to some deflection. (It’s not poor or especially flexy – but it’s not intended to compete with super-rigid racers like De Rosa’s own 888 Superking.) It’s still quick too, and compliant over rough surfaces, where it seems willing to work with you rather than batter your nether regions.
A 14.5cm head tube with 55.5cm top tube keeps the front low
High-speed handling is very assured and predictable, feeling nimble through corners and giving you confidence on descents. This is helped in no small part by the lively Fulcrum Racing 5 wheels and supple, surefooted Vittoria Open Corsa CX tyres, which deliver superb grip all the time. The 2014 Racing 5s have lost weight, and have an asymmetric rear rim and efficient Mega Drive hub. They work with the Vittorias to bring great response to the party, improving acceleration and taking the sting out of climbing.
The wheels are matched by excellent performance from the 11-speed Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset. The latest Shimano hoods feel very well designed, as does the whole groupset with its hollow chainrings and superbly modulated brakes. The 50/34 compact chainset helps on steeper climbs, working with a not overly hill-friendly 25-tooth largest sprocket, and gives a less overtly racy build. Other gearing options are available, and with an 11-speed setup it might make sense for less competitive riders to fit a wider ratio cassette.
Finishing kit includes a 3T cockpit that combines quality and function. The Selle Italia SL saddle is great for long-distance riding, and the bike even comes with Shimano pedals and a De Rosa carbon cage – though you’ll probably want another for longer rides.