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De Rosa Protos review

De Rosa Protos frame
14 May 2015
Verdict:

With the biggest down tube we've ever seen, it's certain the new Protos will be a stiff, fast ride

I can only speculate as to how the meeting must have gone at De Rosa’s Milan headquarters when Cristiano, son of company founder Ugo, put forth his concept for the latest Protos frame. In my head it went something like this… ‘Just imagine, for a second, what we could achieve in terms of frame stiffness if we doubled – no wait, tripled – the size of the down tube.’ And it would appear the notion got passed.

De Rosa Protos handlebars

De Rosa himself freely admits the Protos is the most ambitious project the family has ever attempted. It’s certainly far removed from the designs Ugo would have worked on with the likes of Eddy Merckx and his Molteni team back in the 1970s when he was making an indelible mark in the cycling industry. Merckx and his teammates won nearly all the major European races, including the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Milan-San Remo and the World Championships, on board De Rosa’s frames. The octogenarian remains involved with the business today, and was actually influential in the design of the Protos. ‘He is still young at heart and he has an elastic mind. He embraced the oversize,’ Cristiano tells us.

As De Rosa’s top-of-the-line frame, the Protos is made in the Milan factory rather than in Asia, with its Italian craftsmanship reflected in its £5k pricetag. Cristiano says the template for the bike was performance-orientated above all else. His goal was to build the best race bike possible, with maximum rigidity.

View from above

De Rosa Protos downtube

Certainly, when riding the Protos and peering down, your eyes are met with the most gargantuan lump of carbon you’re ever likely to see sandwiched between two crank arms. There really is no other frame like it. Hardly surprisingly, De Rosa makes no claims about any aero data. It would be difficult to believe the huge box-section down tube would be overly slick in a wind-tunnel, although the way the fork intersects with the head tube does look pretty sleek. Whatever your thoughts on the look of the frame, Cristiano states, ‘No bike should be made too beautiful to ride. We make all our bikes first and foremost to ride. Beautiful comes second.’

De Rosa Protos headtube

Three types of carbon are used in the lay-up of the frame, and despite its bulky appearance, the claimed weight is around 900g, which actually puts the Protos at the lighter end of the market and points to a stiffness-to-weight ratio that should be off the chart. The complete bike, equipped with Campagnolo Super Record and Fulcrum Racing Speed wheels, tips the scales at just under the UCI 6.8kg limit even with pedals, bottle cages and a Garmin attached.

So the question I couldn’t wait to answer, by getting to grips with it out on the road, was would it be all Italian flare and flamboyance, or is there real substance at the heart of this monster? Would it ride as aggressively as it looks?

Solid response

De Rosa Protos wheels

Quite simply, yes. It delivers precisely as expected. The Protos has the solidity of a shire horse but with the speed and agility of a Grand National winner. Give it a kick and it will take off like it’s been jabbed with a cattle prod. But perhaps also in line with riding a racehorse, you shouldn’t expect a cushioned ride from the Protos.

Riding around my favourite test routes I noticed something strange. Every ride unintentionally became something of an interval session. Without being especially conscious of it, my speed would creep up and up, until eventually I’d suddenly be alerted (by my heavy breathing and screaming leg muscles) that I was riding practically flat out. So I’d sit up for a while, take a breather and then settle back into tempo riding once more. And then the same thing would happen again. The Protos seems to entice fast-paced riding. And with absolutely zero chance of my 68kg body producing the slightest hint of flex in the frame (believe me I tried) it’s fun to be so generously rewarded with speed.

De Rosa Protos seat stays

The Protos is not without its compromises, though. There were times when my facial expression couldn’t quite choose between grinning, from the thrill of its assured handling on high speed descents, or grimacing, from feeling every crease in the road surface. The latter was only really an issue for rides in excess of three hours, where my hands felt sore by the end, despite the ergonomically sculpted 3T Aeronova Team bars feeling comfortable for the most part. And at times I would feel the rear wheel skipping around during explosive bursts, particularly on what I would describe as ‘punchy’ climbs.

De Rosa Protos review

The fit is as aggressive as the feel. The head tube is short by current trends at just 13cm, which limits its scope for a more ‘everyday’ riding position, but then this is no everyday bike. The Fulcrum Racing Speed wheels, while still light and fast, have a dated look and feel about them, especially shod with 22mm tubulars. The rim profile is a basic V-shape, which is some way behind the aerodynamic curves of modern top-end wheels, and the braking surface too was uninspiring, prone to squealing in the dry and with unimpressive performance in the wet.

What cannot be disputed is that Cristiano De Rosa has delivered on his promise of maximum rigidity. It’s the stiffest road bike I’ve ever tested. But looking the way it does, I would have been shocked (and a little disappointed) if it wasn’t. Would I choose to take the Protos around a 200km sportive? It wouldn’t be my first choice. But in a short, punchy event such as a criterium or circuit race, this bike will deliver every ounce of your power into propulsion. It is a beast. And despite a few comfort issues, the Protos was a totally engaging ride. Oh, and one more thing, be prepared to get a lot of admiring glances. Or were they looks of disbelief? I can’t quite decide.

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