Product Reviews June 7, 2010

Van Nicholas Bikes

I have never ridden a Van Nicholas bike, although I do aspire to own one one day. They (Van Nicholas), advertise every month on the back of Cycling Plus, and frankly there's never an edition that goes by when I don't consider buying one. Currently this would not be a good idea. With my wife on maternity leave I have to be sensible - which has never been a strong point of mine. Instead I have taken to stealthily improve my current bike my replacing various components over time - rendering the overall look of the bike the same, but really increasing it's overall value and decreasing it's weight. Again, this would have been an almost faultless plan where it not for the fact that my wife has already sussed what I'm doing! Where this leaves me is enhancing the Allez Elite until a few years down the line when I get to make a major upgrade.........but let's start at the beginning; Titanium bikes, what's that all about?

In my usual '9 to 5' capacity I work in the aerospace industry. Aerospace uses 6AL-V4 grade material to make fasteners. When you get on board an Airbus or a Boeing aircraft headed for your holiday destination, you can be safe in the knowledge that many of the nuts and bolts that hold those aeroplanes together are made from this very strong and light-weight material. It also happens that the folks at Van Nicholas use this grade of Titanium during the production of their bikes. If it's good enough for aircraft that fly 6 miles in the sky, then it's reasonable to assume that it's going to be good enough to make bike frames from. If you are interested in the properties of Titanium, then you might be interested in having a look at a forum that amongst other things discusses the application of said metal in the bike production process. 

So it's very strong (can help hold aeroplanes together), and it's very light. What else? The use of Titanium also means that it is also quite supple - allowing it to cushion the impact of the road on the cyclist - and their backside - thus making for an improved and comfortable ride. Their bikes are made to order so basically they will provide you a bike for life. I know that's not particularly special - if you pay most mainstream bike manufacturers enough money they will bespoke their bikes (see Trek's 'Project One' for example). Then consider the various smaller scale bike builders that will fashion a bike from your specific measurements and equip it to your precise specifications. However, at a time where carbon fibre is the industry standard material, maybe buying a bike which is highly corrosion resistant and can withstand the odd bump or too might be a better idea? 

I had first hand experience of the 'weakness' of carbon fibre frames a couple of years ago when on tour with Cycle Oregon. We were rising with a friend of ours that we'd met earlier in the week and after a momentarily lapse of concentration, 'Californian Craig' and Malc collided. (Absolutely no points for guessing where Craig came from). Somehow Malc got his handlebars lodged in Craig's rear wheel spars - and as a result both came off. Wgat we did not realise at the time was that Craig's frame had cracked due to the impact - and was not safe to ride. As it was trek had a mobile demo station so Craig picked up an even better bike and continued his Oregon Tour. All things considered though it was hardly the crash of the century - and his bike needed to be returned to Trek to be repaired. Later that day I saw a carbon Trek frame - in it's constituent parts. 4 pieces that are simply bonded together in an oven - and job done! My point is simply this; whilst carbon frames might be very light they are also prone to damage - and sometimes you might not even spot there's a problem. Given that I don't ride for a pro team where new bikes are a way of life, I have therefore come to the conclusion that owning a bike made from a strong metal is the way to go. 

A bit more about Van Nicholas.  

It's a family run business. Each bike that is ordered is hand-built at their factory in Holland. Their frames are guaranteed for life - therefore owning one of their bikes should be considered as an investment! As far as their road bikes go, there are major 3 types:- 

Mistral 105 - equipped with Titanium frame, carbon forks and Shimano105 groupset and Easton Vista SL wheels.

Astraeus - which comes in 10 variations but the same materials are used as the Mistral but the frame is hydroformed and the groupset varies between Shimano 105 and Ultegra, compact or triple with the same Easton Vista SL wheels

Zephyr - again hydroformed Titanium frame with either a compact or triple 105 groupset available.

The least expensive Van Nicholas bike will cost about £1600 (Mistral), 'ready-to-ride'. The most expensive is the Astraeus DA D12 - which will comfortably set you back about £6000. Cycling + reckoned the Mistral was "A good value bike designed with the British sportive rider in mind.....Great quality and value for a bike that should last a lifetime," CP June 2010 

They produce MTB's as well as racers - as well as a Touring Bikes, Single-Speeds and Hybrids. Through their quest for technological improvement, Van Nicholas have refined 'belt drive' as a means of transmission. In the past there have been car maufacturers that tried their hand at belt drive. I vaguely recall the DAF33 Varomatic being on of them. Check out the DAF Owners Club for more details, but basically they were powered by relatively small engines and worked as an automatic. They were very easy to drive by all accounts. DAF were eventually bought by Volvo and in 1991 the 'varomatic' powered cars ceased to be made.  Anyway, the problem with belt drive on a bike was mainly with the excessive weight of the geared hub and a belt that slipped under tension. After some refinement however, Van Nicholas have produced a belt transmission that requires zero maintenance, no lubrication is queiter and lighter than a standard chain and will last twice as long. Quite clever. You can see it at work on the model 'Amazon'.   

So there you have it - Titanuim bikes to die for made by Dutch engineers. If you are interested in learning more about Van Nicholas check out their website, And you never know - one day you might see photos of me riding one!

Registered No. 6993486

38 Salisbury Road
West Sussex
BN11 1RD