Sensa Giulia Custom review£1,599.95

Dutch racer that’s packed with value

BikeRadar score4/5

Sensa bikes have only been in the UK for a couple of years, available online via Merlin Cycles. As they come direct from Sensa to Merlin with no distribution service in between, they can be priced pretty aggressively. The Giulia's spec sheet is a case in point: full Ultegra 11 speed is very much of a rarity on a considerably more expensive bike, and at this price point it’s very, very impressive.

Highs: Impressive spec for the money, swift handling and race ready

Lows: Tall gearing for big hills, firm ride

Sensa has been around for more than 20 years, and the brand designs and engineers its frames in house. The Giulia features a tapered to 1.5 inch head tube, full internal cable routing (and that’s dual-fit too for mechanical or electronic drivetrains). The frame blends angular flats with curved surfaces, making for a bike that looks truly stunning in the flesh.

The massive smooth cornered pyramid shaped down tube flows into a huge bottom bracket housing a Shimano standard Pressfit 86 bottom bracket; big chainstays continue the oversized theme underpinning the chassis. The top tube slims as it meets the seat tube, and kinked slim seat stays round out the bike.

The drivetrain of full new-for-2014 Ultegra 11 speed, coupled with Ultegra brakes, is quite simply as good as it gets. Shifting, braking and overall efficiency is as good as the flagship Dura-Ace, and the only reason you’d step up from Ultegra is for a few grams saved and possibly bragging rights.

The drivetrain matches the classic race bike shape, combining a 53-39 up front with a racy 11-25 at the rear. It’s a drivetrain that’s all about speed: if big hills are your thing, you may want to adjust the ratios a little to help you over long alpine passes (for most of us a bottom gear of 39-25 is a little tall for that).

Elsewhere it’s a combination of Deda Zero stem and RHM01 bar, which is a decent enough mid-price combo, and found on plenty of bikes at this price. The bar's plenty stiff enough but, when wrapped in very slim tape as it was for us, doesn’t do much to temper road noise from making it into your palms. The same is true at the rear of the bike: the big 31.6 alloy post does nothing to counter the firm ride of the Giulia’s frame.

The Sensa runs on a pair of Supra RA30 wheels: they're well put together on sealed cartridge hubs with 24 aero bladed spokes up front and 28 at the rear. Weight wise they tip the scales at an average 1890g a pair, which though not lightweight won’t scare the horses.

Our 58cm test bike has standard race bike geometry, parallel 73-degree angles and a wheelbase that just tips over the metre; the straight bladed fork with a 45mm offset completes the important numbers. It all adds up to a bike that feels familiar: it’s quick to turn without becoming twitchy, and stable at speed but not uninvolving to ride at pace. Through the corners it's rock solid and plenty precise at holding your chosen line.

We are overall impressed with the Giulia; it’s undoubtedly a quality bike at a great price. Though that has to be countered by the fact it does have a firm ride and plenty of vibration gets transmitted over coarse roads. Up front we reckon dumping the paperweight bar tape for something thicker and comfier would help. A switch at the back from the big alloy post to a comfy carbon post like Syntace's P6 Carbon Hiflex (£182) would temper things plenty.

This article forms part of Cycling Plus magazine's Bike of the Year 2014 Awards. Cycling Plus is available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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