If you're after a top quality race bike that won't break the bank, then the Sensa Calabria Matt is a great option. With a super-stiff frame and an Ultegra Di2 groupset for two grand it's a good value package, although the ride is pretty harsh over rough British roads
Lots of aero features
Seriously stiff bottom bracket
So-so finishing kit
By Paul Norman
Sensa is a Dutch cycle manufacturer that produces an extensive range of road and mountain bikes. Its bikes are sold in the UK by Merlin Cycles who import representatives of its carbon and alloy road ranges, as well as track, time trial and cyclocross bikes. The Sensa Calabria is an aero carbon framed bike and comes equipped with Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifting. At £2000 it’s great value too.
In fact the value is so good, that we gave the Sensa Calabria the runner up spot in the best value bike category in the 2016 Cycling Weekly Bike of the Year awards.
The Sensa Calabria’s frame features aero section tube profiles. There’s an aero seat tube with a cut-out for the rear wheel. The head tube is overbuilt, aero and had a chunky junction with the aero all-carbon fork. All cables are routed internally, entering the frame at the top of the down tube and top tube and there are full carbon dropouts.
The down tube is also aero profiled and quite substantial, meeting the seat tube at a substantial PF86 bottom bracket shell. The seatstays are aero section too, meeting the top tube some distance below the top of the seat tube. The whole bike is finished in a classy-looking matt black and white colour scheme.
How much faster is an aero bike?
The Sensa Calabria comes equipped with a full Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset, with the battery enclosed in the frame. The chainset is a compact 50/34 and this is paired with an 11-25 cassette, to give quite performance-focused gearing. The Calabria’s use of Ultegra brakes is welcome for their good stopping power.
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Wheels are Sensa own-brand. They have quite a shallow profile and narrow section, particularly for a bike targeting aero performance. They carry Schwalbe Lugano tyres in 25mm width, which is now common for a bit more compliance and better rolling qualities.
The rest of the finishing kit is also Sensa own brand, including the aero section alloy bars and aero carbon seat post. The saddle is a San Marco Regale, which I found to be a bit narrow and underpadded for my taste.
The Sensa Calabria feels fast out of the gate and the chunky bottom bracket shell helps ensure that you can propel the bike forward with some urgency, helped by the fast-rolling Schwalbe Lugano tyres and a short wheelbase at 98.2cm for a 53cm frame.
With all the bottom bracket stiffness and a relatively light 8.14kg weight, the bike climbs well too despite the 34-25 lowest gear yielding a ratio which is quite high by modern standards. The substantial build also means that the Calabria tracks well through corners and on descents.
The down-side of the frame’s stiffness though is quite a harsh ride on typical UK roads. There’s a lot of vibration passed through to the bars from typical surface dressed back roads and the bangs from larger holes are passed through to you when you hit them.
This effect is even more pronounced at the rear, where the aero seatpost and narrow saddle provide little comfort from the buffeting. Although bearable for shorter rides, this made any longer excursions on the Calabria an uncomfortable experience. When I found sections of smoother tarmac the Sensa was a lot more comfortable, suggesting that it would be fine to ride further on better surfaced roads.
The price tag of £2000 for a bike equipped with Ultegra Di2 is compelling and the Calabria’s aero frame certainly makes it look purposeful. It’s a bike which stands out from the crowd with its design and colourscheme too.
It does feel as if compromises have been made elsewhere though to meet the £2000 price tag, with the own-brand components not really looking as if they match up to the quality of the groupset. And although the harsh ride would probably not be too noticeable on the smoother tarmac of its native Holland, it doesn’t make this a good bike for longer rides on UK roads.
For more details visit the Merlin Cycles website.
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