Titanium isn’t the most common material for racing frames, but the Aquilo combines the pure race geometry of a 73.5-degree seat tube and 73-degree head tube with a 43mm offset fork. The 97.7cm wheelbase is spot-on for a thoroughbred race bike too, making a change from the current crop of sportive-focused machines.
The frame features larger diameter tubing than traditional titanium, and bang-up-to-date detailing with a press-fit bottom bracket and integrated headset. Built with Shimano Ultegra Di2 and FFWD’s 60mm carbon clinchers, the overall look is purposeful.
Get on board the Aquilo and it’s immediately apparent that this bike has been conceived for race day. The response to pedalling is immediate, the steering sharp, making it a bike that revels in twisty roads. The quite compact frame with lots of exposed (titanium) seatpost allows a good deal of flex – taking the sting out of rougher road surfaces without adversely affecting the bike’s superior handling.
The FFWD wheels certainly add to the Aquilo’s pace potential on the flat. You only notice the added weight over a standard wheelset on longer climbs, and we think the speed benefits elsewhere are worth the extra grams, especially as they run beautifully smoothly and are remarkably stiff. In high winds the front wheel can feel like it’s being pushed off-line; it’s never violent but we did find ourselves making the occasional correction.
We’ve spoken at length about the merits of Ultegra Di2, and all that stands here: slick shifts, even under load, and little or no maintenance beyond charging and keeping it clean. But what we particularly like here is how it's integrated into the frame.
The battery is mounted under the left chainstay as near to the bottom bracket as possible, which not only hides it out of the way but also keeps exposed cables to a minimum, making for exceptionally clean lines. For the Di2-specific model Van Nicholas have also removed any extraneous cable guides, so mechanical drivetrains aren't an option – but when Di2 is so good, why would you want to change?
Value isn’t something readily associated with superbikes, but the Aquilo has a beautifully thought out and exceptionally well realised frame and fork package which, when you add Ultegra Di2 and a set of carbon wheels that alone would set you back a grand, makes the price impressive. The VNT aluminium bar is a little rigid and the saddle isn’t a favourite – but these minor points are personal preferences and not real flaws.
Although titanium frames are renowned for having a springiness to them, the Aquilo is designed to utilise Ti’s other characteristic: toughness. Don’t think of the Aquilo as a titanium bike, just think of it as one of the truly great race bikes that just happens to be made of one of the most durable materials around.