Fondriest has a talent for making bikes that stand out from the crowd. Some elements, such as the reverse sweep of the fork, have taken obvious influences from Pinarello’s Onda design. But the frames themselves introduce plenty of styling cues that could only hail from an Italian brand.
We couldn’t say whether the swooping lines, angular tube shapes and wrap-on single-piece seatstays offer any engineering benefits. They certainly, however, make the TF4 a bike that's likely to turn heads – and divide opinions.
The TF4 sits one level above Fondriest's entry-level R20 frameset, so we were surprised to see such diverse design points come in on what could (by this brand's standards) be such a lowly offering.
The biggest change from the rest of the range is the complete adoption of Shimano’s new direct mount standard brake. Yes we’ve seen the likes of Felt adopt the direct mount standard on the rear of the aero AR range, and Trek utilise the direct mount on higher model Madones. But Fondriest has not only used the under-BB position for the 105 direct mount brake; it's also used direct mount on the front fork crown.
The fork shape is super deep at the crown, with the brake inset and the blades sitting proud and arching forwards before sweeping back to the dropouts. The blades themselves are narrow from the front yet deep from the side. We’d have expected a fork this oversized and complex shaped to be somewhat weighty, so it’s surprising to find it only tipping the scales at an admirable 395g.
The frame has similar styling cues. The short tapered head-tube flares into a triangulated top tube that curves back towards its junction with the seat-tube. The down-tube is square, with chopped angled corner flats where the manufacturer has fixed the dual-fit internal cable routing. The bottom bracket flows from the deep down-tube into large, boxy chainstays that stay broad all the way to the dropouts. From here the one-piece seat stay kinks outwards to clear the drivetrain and sharply angles in, eventually meeting the seat-tube an inch underneath the top-tube junction. It’s here that the stay wraps around the seat tube continuing its path to the non-drive side drop out.
By shortening the effective stay length (a la BMC) Fondriest has effectively extended the amount of rear support to the seatpost, which allows for a little more flex here without sacrificing the stiffness of the rear triangle. It may be partly a stylistic affectation, but it certainly has an effect on the way in which the TF4 rides – and that impressed us.
We’ve tested other bikes in the Fondriest range and, while we’ve enjoyed their thoroughbred race nature, they could never really be described as comfort biased. The TF4 goes some way to address this.
It’s never going to be cloud comfy like a Roubaix or Defy; it’s very much the race machine that its short 165mm head-tube and 994mm wheelbase suggests. Push the TF4 hard on the pedals and it’s easy to maintain upwards of 20mph on the flat without putting your body into the red. It’s efficient: the front end is unmoving over bumps and hollows, and it blasts over coarse surfaces without fuss, drama or, more importantly, vibration. The bike doesn’t isolate you from the road, yet it offers great levels of defence from fatigue-giving buzz. The back end is similarly tough but forgiving.
Dynamically the TF4 scores highly, the way in which it responds to steering inputs and direction changes instantly bordering on the telepathic. It’ll slalom its way through back to back S-bends with perfect precision; hit the climbs and it’s like a Jack Russell at a fox hole, eager to get on with the job of getting up and away quickly.
It’s at its best on short, steep blasts where rising out of the saddle and attacking is the best strategy. On longer drags where you want to sit in, you're aided by the compact chainset and decent weight of 8.32kgs – of which under a kilo is within the frame. Yet even though it's light, the TF4 doesn’t feel as at home on grinding, in-the-saddle climbs in the same way a bike such as the Cannondale SuperSix Evo does. The Evo is more Grand Tour, the TF4 more one-day race with short sharp ascents.
The brakes were the biggest revelation for us. We're still undecided by under-BB mounted rear brakes – issues like dirt build up and brake rub can be issues. Thankfully the latter never became the problem it has been on some other bikes we've tested; cleaning is still a pain, but on the road the performance is all there.
Up front the added stiffness of the dual mount design has a fantastic impact. The solidity provided gives flutter-free braking even in full-on emergency, fists-full-of-lever situations, but those aren't the only occasions in which the difference is marked. All-round feel is improved, because the lack of any flex in the unit makes it easy to feed the front brake just the right amount of power – so modulating speed is improved. The brake design is the icing on what is a very fine cake and one seriously good debut bike for 2014.