Reviews - Fondriest SF2 and Mr. Tuffy Ultra Lite Tire Liners
By Darren Dencklau
Steel is real, and sometimes it is real Italian, as is the case with the Fondriest SF2 I recently had the opportunity of putting through the paces. This elegantly lugged frameset made of Columbus’ Spirit tubing beckons back to the old days when the majority of bikes were constructed of metal, and materials like carbon fiber were not even on the radar, at least as far as bicycles were concerned.
Maurizio Fondriest is a cycling icon in Italy and racked up an impressive list of race results from the late 1980s until 1999 when he was forced to retire from professional cycling due to a back injury. His past accomplishments include first place at the ‘91 and ‘93 World Cup events and a top podium spot at the Milan-San Remo and Fleche-Wallone in ‘92, to name a few. Still cycling today, he is very active in the racing community and offers his advice to young riders in addition to helping shape the Fondriest brand.
The SF2 frame and fork I tested was festooned with a full Campagnolo Athena groupo, Ursus Guara wheelset, Forza Cirrus Clincher tires (23c), Ritchey Classic seatpost, 3ttt quill stem and bars, and a Selle SMP Dynamic saddle. A very impressive outfit indeed, and almost all Italian.
Steel bikes are known for their suppleness, which makes for a smooth riding experience on both the asphalt and gravel. The SF2 is no different. What sets it apart from others is the attention to detail and its retro look and design. The polished chrome lugs are an eye catcher and the white paint with black decals add to its appeal. The only downside to the polished accents was found at the frame’s dropouts — on several occasions the rear wheel actually dropped out when I put a lot of torque on the pedals following a complete stop. Embarrassing, yes, but luckily no injuries resulted. This situation could be easily remedied by switching to more aggressively serrated acorns or by roughening the dropout area with sandpaper. Since it was not mine to do so, I chose to amply crank down the quick release and was always mindful to be in an easy gear when taking off from a dead stop.
I found the Athena groupset to be a workhorse and I wouldn’t hesitate to put it up against Shimano and Sram’s similar offerings. The 11-speed cassette’s spacing leaves little room for misalignment, so the rear derailleur needs to be adjusted well and often for optimal performance. The brakes were spot on and gave me ample confidence on the descents as well as when coming around blind corners. I particularly enjoyed the low-profile levers, as they were comfortable, easy to grip, and added to the classic appearance of the SF2 — plus they don’t look like a set of full-grown buck antlers like some of Campagnolo’s competitors.
Overall the SF2 handled extremely well and was an absolute blast to ride, so much so I found myself getting out of bed earlier than normal to set out for a spin and also took longer routes home during my commute. For a steel bike, it was snappy and quick to respond. The “feel of the quill” took a little getting used to, but once I began pedaling it was barely noticeable; it also enhances the bike’s retro chic appeal. It’s not the lightest bike, but if one wanted to, a swap of the wheelset and a carbon fork would make a noticeable difference. As the company states on their site, however, this is not a race bike but a touring bike (not the rack and pannier variety, but long one-day excursions). The SF2 is comfy and absorbs the road well while not taking away performance, making it a great choice for lighter riders like myself and those wanting something a little more discernible and unique as opposed to the myriad of carbon fiber bikes seen underneath many rear ends these days.
MSRP for the Fondriest SF2 frame and fork is $2,500. Visit albabici.com for information.
Mr. Tuffy Ultra Lite Tire Liners
Getting a flat tire is no fun, especially on a fully loaded and heavy touring bike. Before I set out to ride the Iron Horse Trail (IHT) on “The Four-day Getaway” — part two of the story is in this issue — I decided to try Mr. Tuffy Ultra Lite tire liners. The IHT consists of dirt, gravel and rocks and there are several detours that force riders to ride on the interstate. Not wanting to have any unnecessary mechanicals, especially while traveling solo, this trip was the perfect testing ground.
The liners are lightweight polyurethane strips that go inside the tires before installing the tubes. They are designed to protect against punctures by such things as nails, glass, thorns and anything else sharp. I installed them in a pair of Continental Top Contact 700 x 37c tires, which are already pretty bulletproof, as an extra barrier of protection.
They were easy to mount and the ribbed section that runs the length of the liners helped keep them in place as I seated the tubes. After pumping each wheel up to the recommended PSI, there wasn’t a significant difference in weight as far as I could tell. Rolling, the Ultra Lite liners weren’t even noticeable on my touring rig.
I never flatted on my trip, even after riding through some nasty sections of road debris on I-90’s shoulder. Since then, the city commute has not seen any punctures either. Much preferred over tire sealant, and more practical as they can go from bike to bike, I recommend Mr. Tuffy as an affordable, lightweight option to keep you riding and not repairing. www.mrtuffy.com