19 October 2010 Words Nick Rearden Photos Simon Keitch
When a manufacturer focuses its whole attention on one frame-building material and technique, it had better be good at it.
The Silk Road, at £1,099, is titanium-only Sabbath’s best-selling frame and aimed fair and square at the burgeoning road sportive market where riders are looking for the lightness and responsiveness of a full-on racing frame but with the reach and height of the handlebars a touch more comfortably positioned. Our newly-arrived Silk Road Alp is a lighter variant on that theme, costing £400 more but weighing 200g less.
In medium size, its Monday’s Child and Silk Road Pro models — intended for criterium and road race use respectively — have effective head tube lengths of 10.5 and 12.5cm and share a top tube length of 56cm, where the Silk Road — and indeed the new Alp — has a 15cm head tube and a 55cm top tube.
The top tubes on the race models also slope a little more as the seat tubes are 2.5cm shorter. Nevertheless, subtlety is the word we’re going with here and if it wasn’t for some lurid stick-on graphics — at odds with the otherwise exquisite workmanship — this new geometrically-identical ‘Alp’ version of the Silk Road would be so subtle as to be invisible among a pack of modern carbon-fibre competitors. Surely that’s a dangerous stance in a top-end market dominated by brightly painted carbon-fibre?
There’s no doubt that paring 200g from the weight of the Silk Road by employing double-butted main tubes and thinner-walled seatstays was largely motivated by enough potential customers pointing out that equivalently-priced carbon competitors can weigh in the range of 1.1-1.2kg vs Silk Road’s 1.5kg. So taking the Silk Road Alp down to 1.3kg certainly helps, but the question then is how does it ride? Do the thinner tube walls result in that noodly feel that titanium frames have been criticised for?
It didn’t take long to determine that such a concern is unfounded when the diameters and shapes of the tubes have been thoroughly thought through. Maybe a powerful pro racer like Jens Voigt expending 500 watts through his chainstays would be better qualified to nit-pick here, but the kind of cheeky little bumps that tempt you to forego a downshift, necessitating a jump out of the saddle and a burst of effort, result in a satisfying willingness to work very much with you.
Sure, it’s not the ‘slab of rock’ lateral response of the best carbon, but then on the way down the other side of the hill you do get the characteristic plush forgiveness of real metal over imperfect paving. And let’s not forget that titanium also has a reputation for longevity.
There was absolutely nothing we could criticise in the componentry, with exactly the package of parts that we would have hoped for. Well, for £3,000, we would have hoped for a more apparently ‘aero’ pair of wheels with deeper rims for the authentic racey look, but within this budget they would probably add weight while losing marginal drag, so it’s swings and roundabouts. In our opinion, Sabbath was wise to err on the side of nimbleness and we’re confident your bike shop would fit whatever wheels you preferred if it was a deal-breaker.
We like SRAM components, especially this Rival group, perfect for the bike’s sportive aspirations. With the opposing camps of Shimano vs Campagnolo battling out their prejudices, we think the SRAM ‘double tap’ shifters are an ideal compromise between the silky smoothness and perfect ergonomics of Shimano’s STI shifters and Campagnolo’s positive and firm Ergopower levers, but we’ll probably never resolve that particular battle. Especially as there is such a choice of price levels and the three rivals keep refining the details; it’s what keeps trying different bicycles so interesting.
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