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De Rosa SK Pininfarina review

14 Jun 2016
Verdict:

The De Rosa SK is most certainly stylish, but it is at the expense of substance?

Price: 
£3,000 (frameset)

What do a tractor, an infinite pencil and the Eurostar have in common? They were all designed by Pininfarina. The Italian design house has been a cornerstone of flashy creations since 1930, and although the Czech-made Zetor tractor, the Forever Cambiano pencil (the nib of which is made from an alloy that oxidises paper) and the Eurostar E320 train are undoubtedly objects of class and beauty, it is probably Pininfarina’s long-standing relationship with the automotive industry that has garnered the most praise – and rightly so. Without it we would have no Ferrari Testarossa, no Alfa Romeo Spider and, most worryingly of all, no Fiat 600 Multipla (the 1956 boat-like vehicle that could accommodate up to 15 children in the back, sans seatbelts).

Bicycles have not featured too often in the Pininfarina portfolio. There was a £7,000 e-bike collaboration with 43 Milano, a company that will clad your seat tube and top tube in crocodile hide for a mere €2,000, but beyond that, pedal-powered machines have been left well alone. Until the De Rosa SK.

Symbiotic relationship

Car companies collaborating with bicycle companies invariably raises as many questions as it does eyebrows. Are the bikes just borrowing the marque to aid sales, or is there a genuine partnership between the design teams? While I can’t speak for the likes of Colnago’s partnership with Ferrari, Specialized’s with McLaren, or Pinarello’s with Jaguar (to name but three), I did ask Cristiano De Rosa, son of company founder Ugo De Rosa, about the SK’s credentials.

De Rosa SK Pininfarina rear brake

‘I presented my project to Pininfarina and we studied to develop a speed aero bike,’ he says. ‘There was no “blank page” for Pininfarina, but instead I offered my idea and we worked on it together. I can confirm it has been tested in a wind-tunnel.’

It’s not the most revealing answer, but things become a little clearer when speaking to Pininfarina’s head of communications, Francesco Fiordelisi: ‘The SK is a mix of the expertise of the two companies – it’s a “four hands” result. Sportiness and essentiality, the trademarks of our design, have been shaped on the bike, developing all the details in collaboration with De Rosa’s technicians with a particular attention to reducing drag to the very minimum.’

Based on that, and two other crucial pieces of evidence, I think the SK could only have been the product of genuine collaboration. Firstly, Pininfarina does own its own wind-tunnel, and secondly, the SK has an undeniably gorgeous, supercar look.

De Rosa SK Pininfarina fork

While I’m not saying a bicycle company can’t design such beautiful objects on its own, the sleek elegance of the SK to me suggests design input from further afield, particularly when compared to many bikes today. It’s quite simply a cut above the rest. However, the SK seeks to be more than just a pretty face, and as such it’s UCI certified and is currently being raced by ProContinental outfit Nippo-Vini Fantini at the Giro d’Italia. 

In terms of its aerodynamic profile, everything seems to be in the right place. The down tube is like a smoothed-off Toblerone; the head tube sweeps back like a blow-dried Elvis and the seat tube cradles the rear wheel like a Villeroy & Boch eggcup. If that sounds flowery, it’s simply following De Rosa’s own lead: the company describes the SK as being for ‘those who want to racing [sic], for those who want to do triathlon, for those who are pretentious’. 

I suspect something has been lost in translation, but in a strange way the pretentious label is almost right. The SK’s aero style points do add up to a bike that feels faster than average, but for a machine designed specifically for speed, it lacks any real punch, and when pushed Cristiano De Rosa wasn’t able to release wind-tunnel data ‘because we will present the results on the next project’. 

De Rosa SK Pininfarina EPS

Put simply, the SK is just not stiff enough for powerful, all-out sprints, and in some respects feels like a pretender to an aggressive race bike throne. Yet judge the SK on its overall ride feel and none of those stiffness limitations detract – in fact, they probably help.

Knowing when to be firm

Stiffness is as subjective as it is objective, concerning as much the rider and conditions as it does measureable variables. Put two bike frames on a testing jig and the numbers that come back will tell you which one is stiffer – data that some companies will declare makes their bike better. But not everyone wants a bike that’s super-stiff; you might be a lighter rider, for instance, or want something to ride for extended distances. Or you might just prefer a livelier feel. Whatever the reason, stiffness isn’t a byword for best, and you’ll only know if a bike is stiff enough for you by going out and riding it.

De Rosa SK Pininfarina bottom bracket

With my 80kg sprinter’s hat on, the SK wasn’t stiff enough. Get out of the saddle and start wrenching on the bars and there’s a tangible flex through the frame. The fork seems to hold up well enough, as does the bottom bracket cluster, but the top tube and down tube less so. However, this amount of give – which seems almost progressive and controlled, like stretching an elastic band – works well on the flats and through the corners. The SK tracks the road beautifully, diving into turns with a nimble confidence often lacking in ultra-stiff race bikes, which can have a tendency to skip unnervingly.

Changing into my ‘I just love cycling’ hat (which as you can imagine is a jaunty stovepipe number), the SK is all the bike I could ever want. It’s light enough to produce a decent level of zeal when climbing, surging forward with each pedal stroke, and its handling makes it an adept descender. But the main reason it’s so wonderful to ride is down to how well it combines comfort and speed.

De Rosa SK Pininfarina review

The SK is a fast bike, but it tempers this by also being a sublime ride. Not in the armchair sense – there’s no languid wallowing like you get with some comfort-oriented bikes – but there is a speedy smoothness to the SK’s ride that more than makes up for its mid-range stiffness. In that, I’d compare it to a steel bike, only better. 

The SK has a carbon edge to it – a feeling of sharpness that steel racers mostly lack, or obtain by trading in comfort and spring – yet it retains the liveliness and character steel is known for but carbon fibre often finds itself lacking. Plus – and I think for a bike of this price this is one of the key points – the SK has individuality. It exudes a class that elevates it above its station, and with both the form and the prestige of its Pininfarina styling, I think the SK will go down as an iconic bicycle, up there with the likes of Bianchi’s C-4, the Cinelli Laser and the Colnago Master. And what would you rather have: a bike that can sprint or a bike that will go the distance?

Spec

De Rosa SK Pininfarina £7,500 as tested
Frame De Rosa SK Pininfarina
Groupset Campagnolo Super Record EPS
Brakes De Rosa (by TRP)
Bars 3T Ergonova 
Stem 3T Arx II Pro
Seatpost De Rosa carbon
Wheels Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon
Saddle Prologo Nago Evo CPC
Weight 7.35kg
Contact i-ride.co.uk

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