In the relatively short time it's been building bikes, British brand Enigma has earned a reputation for producing classy, capable machines in steel and titanium. The Etape is Enigma's mile-eating Audax oriented design, tested here in the mid-priced 1.2 build option that gets you bang-up-to-date hydraulic disc brakes.
The Etape is a classically understated beast, with simple logos adorning an otherwise plain brushed metallic finish – which shines luxuriously. Most titanium bikes look good, but this one is particularly nice and it's well appointed too, with a full complement of eyelets and bosses, and proper full mudguards (albeit without mudflaps) mounted as standard.
In design terms, the frame is quite conventional. There are no outlandish tube profiles, the cables run externally, and the head tube is a standard, un-tapered affair housing a full carbon fork with a straight steerer. It blends perfectly with the frame, as do the Shimano bottom bracket cups, which are the standard threaded units beloved of mechanics the world over.
Shimano 105 gear gets the Enigma shifting
The one feature that differentiates the Etape from many other titanium frames is the manner in which the rear brake caliper is mounted. Rather than piggybacking on the seat or chainstays, it's bolted directly to the oversized rear dropout, which Enigma claims reduces fatigue stresses on the stays. We do wonder if this places more stresses on the welds between stay and dropout, but it certainly looks far more elegant than some manufacturers' approaches and we trust the designers to have done their homework on this one.
Enigma hasn't been stingy with the spec. Shimano's RS685 hydraulic levers and the corresponding RS785 calipers (which we recently judged to be the best bang-per-buck road discs on the market) are accompanied by a full complement of 105 11-speed shifting kit, not to mention the natty four-arm crankset – there are no third party stand-ins here. The Mavic Aksium One Disc wheels are on the weighty side and ripe for upgrade, but they look more expensive than they are and are a solid choice for year-round riding (in UK-style conditions, at least), with a rim profile that's wider than the old-school standard to get more out of your tyres.
We're not too concerned about the weight anyway – right off the bat the Etape feels lively and engaging. While it offers neither the position nor the bleeding edge rawness of a racer, it quite happily holds its own if you push it.
This is one fine-looking and well appointed ride
Every category of bike comes with its own lexicon of review clichés, and titanium is invariably characterised as offering a 'magic carpet' ride quality, whatever that means.
There's nothing supernatural about the Etape's road behaviour, but it's performance is extremely well judged. Despite the substantial 31.6mm carbon seatpost, straight seatstays, and tough 25mm Continental Gatorskin rubber, the bike manages to be smooth and accommodating without ever feeling mushy. On climbs it doesn't fight you, and heading downhill its imperturbable persona inspires confidence.
The only fly in the ointment during testing was some rubbing of the front disc during out-of-the-saddle efforts. With a perfectly set up brake calliper and a firmly tightened skewer, we concluded that this was the result of flex in the comparatively thin blades of the fork. It's mildly annoying, but in real terms it has very little impact on an otherwise pleasant and rounded experience in the saddle.