You would think that reviewing bicycles is a fairly easy thing to do. Well, it is, if you’ve spent more than 20 years in the cycle trade and lost count of the number of bikes you’ve owned, never mind ridden. However, when it comes to talking about your own bike – in this case my Handsling Bikes RR1 – one that you’ve bought with your own hard-earned, it’s not so easy…
If for instance if it’s a really bad ride how can you justify to yourself that you’ve spent large amounts of money on a bike that is no good, and conversely, how do you sound legitimate if you sing the praises of the bike highly, again because you need to justify to yourself the cost?
These thoughts have been running through my head for several months now. And that is how long it has taken me to get my thoughts together on my Handsling Bikes RR1. Normally, I have made my judgement on any bike within the first couple of rides, after that it is fine-tuning my feelings towards any given machine. However, gathering my thoughts together on this particular bike has not been helped by the ever-changing nature of the build as the frame and fork package has been used as a testbed for any components I’ve had in for review since May…
Obviously, this is the main part of this review because I bought the frame, fork and seat post as a complete package and that was how most people were buying their Handsling RR1s until recently when Handsling Bikes started offering Shimano build packages on its frames.
Sourced in the Far East, the frame and forks are both made using Toray T800 carbon fibre and, dependant on the finish you choose, the carbon lay-up can be clearly visible. This particular frame is finished in the Handsling Racing team graphics and so far the matt paint is proving very durable and I get to look at the bare naked carbon in places too.
As supplied there are some really nice touches with the frame. You get all the cable stops you could want for the internal cable routing options, whether going either traditional cable shifting or electronic. On that subject, it was a simple job to route all the internal cables, thanks to the removable ports on the frame. It was certainly a far easier job than I anticipated.
The finish is just as good on the all carbon tapered steerer fork as well and the dropouts aren’t showing any signs of wear yet, despite numerous wheel swaps.
Swinging back to the frame for a moment and at the bottom bracket shell you have the choice of a BB86 shell as standard, or the options of BB30, BB386 or BSA. I went with BB30 and so far it’s remained creak free, which can only be a good thing.
Talking about the build package on this particular bike, is a bit tricky as it’s in a constant state of flux because I’m in the fortunate position of writing for a number of cycling websites, and I often have parts for review, so the build spec of this bike keeps changing.
One point that is remaining fairly constant is the 11-speed, Campagnolo Athena groupset. I opted for the carbon finish, to match the frame, naturally. I know it’s purely a personal thing, but I happen to prefer Campag. It’s proving to be just as it always has been with nice smooth but positive shifts. There’s also an easily trimmed front mech and good, consistent and easily modulated braking. What’s not to like? Especially the carbon wrapped levers and carbon compact cranks. Going compact on what is essentially a race bike might seem like an illogical choice but invasive knee surgery as a teenager has now given way to arthritis, so I’m going to keep spinning small gears because it stops my knees complaining.
Finishing kit is mainly from Fizik; handlebars, stem and saddle. It was all chosen using the company’s online fit guide that takes into account rider flexibility and the comfort versus speed equation. While there’s little to say about the stem, apart from the highlight of titanium bolts, the Cyrano R3 ‘bars are proving very comfortable. They have an ergonomic curve and just enough flex to take the sting out of rough roads.
Because I like matching kit, I went with an Arione Versus saddle from Fizik too. It’s taken some time to get used to because it has such a flat top. However, the built-in flex along the sides makes it comfortable once you get used to being perched atop it.
The seat post it sits on top of was part of the frame package from Handsling Bikes and thanks to a good slather of carbon paste during the initial build it’s held true from the start.
The first build of my RR1 was done with a set of Campagnolo Khamsin wheels – keeping everything matching you see. I had a pair of Tufo C Elite Pulse 23c tubular clincher tyres handy so these went on too.
However, that package has now been swapped out for a pair of Pro Lite Bortola A21W wheels, wearing Rubena Phoenix 23c tyres. This change showed one of the benefits of going for an 11-speed groupset. The Pro Lite wheels were supplied with a Shimano freehub, but an 11-speed Shimano cassette works with the Campagnolo rear mech and shifter without any adjustment necessary. In fact, the only adjustment needed was to the brakes, to allow for the wider rim profile.
Initially, there would appear to be very little to choose between the two wheelsets but the ride tells a very different tale…
In its initial guise, with the Campag wheelset and Tufo tyres, the RR1 had the feel of an out and out race bike. It felt stiff, very stiff and so it should as a race frame. The thing was it was so stiff that at times it was uncomfortable. Unless the bike was ridden on perfectly smooth roads it would feel as if every ridge and bump in the tarmac was being transmitted through the frame. The stiffness and harsh ride was exemplified when I took a custom steel framed bike out on a familiar training route and barely noticed the terrible state of the road.
However, once the wheels had been changed for the Pro Lites the ride was transformed. Suddenly the vibrations were smoothed out. Now the Handsling Bikes RR1 no longer feels like a race only bike, but a bike I can go out and enjoy on long rides. Amazingly this stunning difference is down to the current trend for wider rims. Who would have thought 2mm could make such a difference?
Now that I’m no longer constantly watching the road to try and pick the smoothest line I’ve been able to settle down and reflect on the rest of the ride.
The RR1 turns quickly – quickly enough for it to feel nervous in the hands of a novice rider – but just right for experienced riders. It might get tiring if you’re out intent on doing a century but for fast training rides it rewards every input, whether that be a flick of the bars or a thrust through the pedals.
The oversized downtube and equally large bottom bracket area have so far resisted all my attempts to induce flex into the frame. Even with my near 90kg bulk stood up on the pedals, on an out of the saddle climb, there’s been no brake rub and nor have the cranks clipped the stays. Now that is a stiff frame, but with the right wheels and tyres that stiffness doesn’t equate to an unpleasant ride; simply a fast ride and that’s all you really want from a carbon race frame.
The only thing I’d change about it if I was to spend my money on another Handsling Bikes RR1 would be to go paint free; my inner geek likes the look of bare carbon fibre.
Handsling Bikes RR1 frame only £1099