A box arrived from Italy. The Custom Invoice stated a price, but how can you attach a value to a dream?
Wind back a year when this box and contents was just an idea and not even our idea. Having returned from a stint in Italy I was contacted by a brand proposing to make a custom carbon bike that, and I loosely quote, ' will be the best bike you've ever ridden'. This idea was surely absurd. We'd just spent time in the heart of the Dolomites riding on awe inspiring frames with frankly rather illustrious Italian Heritage. Who did this brand think they were?
Our curiosity was peaked. And so unfolded a growing relationship with Epoca Bikes, nurtured through social media.
Like many of the brands we hold, we learnt Epoca found its way into the market devoid of lavish advertising expenditure. Instead, this Company specialising in custom frames chose to wisely invest its energy in research and materials. Over weeks we learnt more through conversation with Epoca than what a website could offer, which meant we learnt more through the feel of the brand that this was a Company we could trust and deal with.
So rather than reiterate what you can learn from Epoca's website itself, lets begin my conversation with our latest R60 owner and very own Chainsmith Retail Buyer David Piacenti.
Conversation with David ....
Ali : Once you confirmed you'd order an Epoca frame, how did you come to choose the R60?
David : The procedure was direct. The basic difference in the models is the carbon layout and the tubing. Each design of bike is made for different goals. I knew I wanted something to race flats and undulations, really for criterium or road races but without mountain stages. I didn't need a climbing bike. And then the decision was clear. While the racing team Infinity Racing uses the Epoca RS99, I didn't need a bike that was half way in between. I wanted something extreme, specifically stiff where every pedal stroke translated power. I also wanted a bike lighter where a frame builder could reduce the weight exactly where is isn't needed. I have comfortable bikes, and endurance bikes. I didn't need to compromise so I chose the Epoca R60.
Ali : What did you expect from this bike on the first ride?
David : I expected something that performed well on flats and not a mountainous course. While it was being built I was looking at the chunky downtube and the seat tube, as well as short rear stays. I was thinking that together these would give instant power transfer and stiffness and stability.
Ali : And did Epoca provide these expectations?
David : This bike totally fulfils expectation. But it does more. The frame feels as a unit. The very first thing I noticed was how few adjustments the bike needed to make it perfect for me.
When the bike arrived it presented very beautiful. And it built very easily. Despite internal cable routing and my wanting to install Campagnolo EPS, (as we know is not the easiest to install), what drew my attention was the details of the semi integrated seatpost.
It has a customised internal battery holder and feels solid and its aero without compromising weight. Importantly its solid, it doesn’t slip like as many carbon seat posts. In fact all the mechanisms feel solid. The integrated clamp on the seat post is patented from Epoca and is very particular. It uses only one bolt - its very easy and it works. The build itself was uncomplicated, easy without issue because there were no small flaws or problems in design. Everything has ... flow.
Ali : How exactly is the frame different to others?
David : Apart from the build and look or the custom paint, the bike feels solid. I mean I have tested bikes in all different places. But this is different because usually you have one thing a bike does really well but in another area you think, yeh its just ok. But the R60 for my needs doesn’t have any weakness. Not one.
The first impression is that the R60 rides like, as we say in Italian, “Rotaia” (like its on rails). When you're performing a corner the slightly open head tube makes the front end feel as if it's extended like a racing motorbike. You don’t need to turn the handlebar, the entire bike swings like a pendulum. When you sit on it forward and cornering, you have full confidence that the entire bike will follow the corner, no twitchiness or hesitations.
I have to say that while I had in mind a bike for flats, the bike is light.
So the second thing I notice is the geometry which is made specific for me (custom). Despite a few changes from previous geometries given by other bike builders, the bike didn’t need me to install variety of components. For instance, I didn't need a longer stem. Epoca got it right. This was something I hadn’t expected because Epoca strongly suggested different measurements than what I am used to riding. I assumed I would be too comfortable and the performance would be compromised. So I really questioned this. But then the geometry wasn't like anything I had seen. Epoca promised it would be the best, and Id researched them pretty well and saw their experience so I thought ok I try it.
Ali : Once built, and test ridden on a regular flat route to La Perouse, what then did you notice when you actually used the bike for its intended purpose, racing?
David : When I raced, the transfer of power through the bike is so good you hardly need to stand up in the pedals. Even on switch backs and bad surface, the bike doesn’t lose traction. I feel I have perfect control thanks to both the geometry and the position it places me. This is even for a lightweight rider. If I were heavier or more powerful you would gain even more from this bike. The more power you put through, the more it gives you back.
The bike with a medium dished wheel picks up and holds speed in a way Ive not experienced with these results.
Ali : Speaking of which, what components did you decide on?
David : The bike is built with Campagnolo EPS, Ursus Miura C50 clinchers and Ursus Magnus integrated Bar and Stem.
Despite I'm not a fan of integrated bar and stem because it reduces choice or adjustment in angle and position of the bars, the Ursus Magnus has a shallow drop and reach. Add the good position of the hoods this bar makes riders even with smaller hands able to control gears and brakes comfortably, even on Campagnolo shifters. Because as I said the frame is custom, you don't need to change any length of stem, so the Magnus was perfectly sized and unless I want to test another in the future Im happy with this set up.
Ali : You mention a few times that the bike doesn't need adjustment. Can you explain this more?
"When someone invests in a professionally built custom frame you won’t see things like a saddle pushed all the way forward, or 5 spacers on a steerer tube".
David : The custom geometry allows the bike balance. Without any adjustments or components I can ride this custom frame in an aggressive position or even a slightly relaxed position, and the bike remains balanced. Nothing requires modification. When someone invests in a professionally built custom frame you won’t see things like a saddle pushed all the way forward, or 5 spacers on a steerer tube. You won’t see a 60mm stem or an angled stem on a road bike. The bike itself looks balanced - it flows both aesthetically and in feel.
Ali : Yep. That sets professional custom frame builders apart. They also use bike fitters in the process so its a more unified custom frame build. Getting back to aesthetics, for the graphics we chose a pretty unusual finish. Its not really something you'd see on a stock frame, and perhaps not something generic customers would choose.
David : Well we both wanted to test what Epoca could realise. So the design has technical details on purpose. The graphic reminds me of some details on Art Deco buildings you find around Sydney, and at the same time it shows the unique things about the frame. When you’re open to any colour or pattern I think its good to choose something different yeh?
Ali : Definitely. Having said that the design can be as traditional as you like too. Its up to the customer. So, who is your typical Epoca customer? Or rather, who would suit an Epoca frame?
David : Id recommend an Epoca for someone who wants a bike fitted to purpose. The geometry is not only built for you, but for how you want to ride. Climbing, speed, long rides - so you choose how you want to ride and then independently the model you choose is customised in its geometry according to your body. Id also recommend Epoca for someone wanting 100% Italian by a Company making bikes for 50 years (for athletes and pro riders). What adds extra value to your investment is that it's also unique and its specific.
"For a dollar you spend on this bike the return in performance is double"
The quality you receive in comparison to high end stock bikes, generally from American Companies that typically spend their money on marketing and sales, is really no comparison. For a dollar you spend on this bike the return in performance is double.
Would I choose this over a generic bike? Now that Ive ridden it, yes. The problem is, as a bike shop owner, when people come test a road bike they think they've discovered the difference between models or brands. Testing bikes for a few hours on one terrain doesn't give great information. Even less if the bike is the wrong size or incorrect set up. You've a better picture of a bikes capabilities if you understand or are told about the reasons behind geometric differences, or understanding why thickness of areas in the tubing changes, or the shape of tubing, or the layering or so many things in its construction. It doesn't work to lend my bike to someone even the same height. Their leg or torso is different and the bike doesn't match like it does to me. No-one will feel my bike the same as I can on a ride.
Ali : Ok. Thats actually a pretty good description of synchronicity between you and the bike. Have you got anything to add?
David : Yeh, Im definitely interested in their custom steel frames, which look beautiful. I've already got a beautiful Chesini (another custom frame in steel) from Verona thats my staple training bike. I even use it to race, so I don't need another. But Im always keen to try...
Lastly I quickly like to mention that, with an Epoca frame, you’re getting something no-one has. It fulfils an entire Italian artisan appeal for craftsmanship. This is a bike professionally made on you with absolutely no short cuts
Ali : Well thanks David, I think thats a wrap.
Special thanks to Davide from Italiatech for lending the recently releas SMP Vulkon for testing. This new saddle is an absolute amazement for unsettled cheekbones. And we don't mean the ones on your face.
Do you want to know more about Epoca at Chainsmith? Please contact us.
David Piacenti is our resident Retail Buyer. We specialise in Italian Cycling products and are renowned for our unique high-quality range as well as our exceptional servicing. Knowing the ins and outs of the Cycling World is how David keeps Chainsmith on the edge.
Its hard to define exactly what Ali does. She spends time on bikes, chats with people about bikes, takes photos of bikes and spends a remarkable time thinking and writing about bikes.