Handsling A1R0evo Ride Review
by Rob Ditcham
I’ve always been a bit old school when it comes to cycling equipment. I prefer the tried and tested over the latest technological fad – Greg LeMond Drop In handlebars anyone? With my own steed looking worn round its non-aerodynamic edges and sporting an unruly nest of brake and gear cables, it was time to finally embrace the modern era of cycling innovation.
The machine given the job of converting me to electric gears, disc brakes and tubeless tyres was a customised Handsling A1R0evo. Designed to be stiff and aerodynamic, it certainly looked the part with sleek lines, integrated cables, deep section wheels and a paint job to die for.
Could I, a climber and proponent of nimble, lightweight frames and wheelsets, be convinced that the speed carried by an aero bike would offset the slight weight disadvantage? I was soon to find out.
But first, some Handsling history…
Handsling Bikes started up in 2014 when race team Handsling Racing needed new frames. Rather than seek a new bike sponsor, team owner, Simon Whiten, used his contacts in the Far East to manufacture new team frames. The team gave them the thumbs up and when other riders gave them admiring glances, a new bike brand was born.
A few years later, Simon relocated from London to a bigger workshop in Four Marks, Hampshire, allowing further expansion. This gave him the resources to design new frames in-house and acquire moulds for manufacture, rather than using ‘open mould’ designs.
And so the A1R0evo was born – an aerodynamic disc-braked frame designed to combine race-level performance with the toughness for everyday riding. As a former amateur racer turned weekend warrior and Ironman wannabe, it seemed like my ideal combination.
The set up
This was going to be a no-holds barred experience on a ride I’d planned from Hampshire to Bristol and back. In order to complete the ride as quickly as possible, I was to sample the stiffest, raciest set up Handsling could offer with plenty of mod cons and full stem slammage.
The size 56 frame was kitted out with Shimano Ultegra 8070 Di2 – 53/39 at the front, 11-30 at the back. Bars were Handsling’s ultra-stiff, carbon fibre, integrated Race handlebars, weighing about 300g for my 40cm bar/12cm stem. Saddle was a Prologo Dimension 143 with Tirox rails.
Wheels were Handsling’s handmade tubeless-ready 30mm-wide full carbon rims. Rims were 50mm deep at the front and 60mm at the rear – a combination weighing 1,640g. They were fitted with Shimano Ultegra rotors and paired with 28mm Continental GP5000 TLs.
What the lanes of Hampshire and Wiltshire boast in idyllic countryside views, they lack in road surface quality.
With an ultra stiff set up, I was anticipating a bumpy ride but fitted with 28mm tyres, the bike ploughed through the debris and minor potholes with assuredness. Run at 70-80psi, the tyres took the edge off much of the road vibration, giving the ideal combination of comfortable cruising and responsiveness when I needed it.
Disc brakes give added advantage. Where I’d been gradually killing speed on my old bike, I now had the confidence to maintain my momentum.
The 30mm rims maintain an aerodynamic profile with wider tyres and provided excellent cornering speed. For those who want to go wider, the A1R0evo frame has space to accommodate up to 32mm tyres – practically fat bike territory for a roadie like me.
Handsling says it prioritised robust frame quality over saving weight. This was due to its team riders previously experiencing reliability issues with thin, brittle carbon frames (no brands mentioned!).
EPS (expanded polystyrene) internal moulds provide a high degree of compaction of the Toray T800 carbon, resulting in a light, stiff frame that is claimed to easily withstand minor knocks and crashes. Fortunately, I didn’t put this to the test, but the frame did indeed feel solid.
The geometry was far racier than anything I’d ridden before, allowing to me to get fully tucked while blasting along the flats. I wasn’t able to maintain this position throughout all of my 100-miler from Hampshire to Bristol (obviously), and thankfully the position when sat up was comfortable, allowing sufficient recovery.
So to the weight vs aerodynamics debate. At 7.8kgs the A1R0evo is no featherweight, but current thinking suggests that a bike’s ability to carry speed outweighs its weight, so to speak. The A1R0evo’s truncated D-shaped tube profiles are designed to be aero in a wide variety of conditions no matter the yaw angle. I was undoubtedly carrying greater speed and slicing through headwinds far better with the Handsling than on my endurance road bike. And it felt great to look down at that integrated bar and know there were no cables disturbing the air flow.
But how would it fair on the hills, including some brutes in North Hampshire and the Wiltshire Downs?
Unsurprisingly, the answer was extremely well. My usual climbing style is to spin at about 90rpm sat down in a low gear. But with no power loss from the super stiff bottom bracket shell and HSCER press fit BB86 bottom bracket, I found myself able to turn a higher gear for longer, often standing up on the pedals and powering over climbs. Checking Starva later revealed multiple PBs on hilly segments – and I wasn’t even trying, honest!
Simply put, I absolutely loved it. The electronic gears were fast and accurate, the brakes smooth and responsive, and the frame effortlessly turned power into forward motion. The deep section wheels took a few knocks from crosswind gusts of about 20mph, but I always felt fast and in control.
After a 5hrs 30min ride, I arrived at my destination feeling understandably weary in the legs, but without any serious aches and pains in my neck, shoulders or lower back. The Prologo saddle was comfortable, though long-term I think I’d stick with my Selle SMP Stratos.
The A1R0evo is part of the growing trend of making stiff aero bikes more relaxed, rather than making relaxed bikes stiffer and more aero. It’s a race bike that can do a bit of everything – and in my experience it did everything very very well. At close to £4,500, its not cheap, but compared to a similar bike from bigger brands, it represents good value considering the A1R0evo has the spec, performance and looks of bikes almost double the price.
PS: What’s a Handsling?
The handsling is a feature of track cycling’s Madison and the Six Day races where riders help their teammates back into the fray by grabbing their hand and slinging them into the fray. A nice name, but perhaps not something to try out on a test ride…