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Simplon Pavo Granfondo Disc review

12 May 2017
Verdict:

A very capable all-rounder, but the Simplon Pavo Granfondo Disc is lacking in standout features

Price: 
£4,850

Simplon may seem like a brand that has popped spontaneously out of the woodwork, but it is in fact a veteran of the cycling world. It began life in Austria back in 1930, but it was not until 1961 that it acquired the name Simplon and began trading in bespoke high-end bicycles. 

Despite being an Austrian brand, the name comes from the Simplon Pass in Switzerland. During the 1950s the quality of Swiss engineering was becoming increasingly respected, and Simplon founder Josef Hämmerle resented the belief that Austrian bikes were not as good. He named the bike after the Simplon Pass to indicate that the build quality was just as good as anything the Swiss could offer, and within a few years he was also selling bikes in Switzerland and Germany. 

While much has changed in the years since, Simplon remains in the Hämmerle family and is still focused on the premium market. The Pavo Granfondo Disc sits in the middle of its range, aimed at the sportive or endurance rider, but like all of Simplon’s other bikes it’s totally customisable. Essentially, while Simplon no longer makes bespoke frames, it makes custom bike builds – the brand’s main selling point.

Simplon allows a customer to choose their gearing, component sizes and wheel spec. The bars and stem are mostly Simplon’s own brand, and can be chosen in all variety of length and shape, while the wheels can be chosen from any in DT Swiss’s line (although more wheel brands are available with rim brake options). 

‘It’s like a car showroom,’ says UK sales director Kevin Burton. ‘You choose what you want and have it delivered to the retailer.’ The brand still insists that the order is made through a standard retailer, and that the bike is delivered there rather than adopting a straight-to-consumer model. ‘We’re not going online. We’re all about bricks and mortar,’ says Burton.

The frame is made in the Far East, but has been designed and developed in Austria. Simplon has collaborated with local engineering companies, shares a wind-tunnel with the Sauber F1 team (although this bike wasn’t developed in it) and it sponsors a Pro Continental team – Team Baby Dump. The title sponsor is a website for buying baby supplies, and it has helped the team garner a considerable reputation – it was voted the ‘worst named pro team’ last year.

Picking and choosing

At first glance the Pavo Granfondo has a slightly generic form – it seems as though it could be a stock model from a Far Eastern factory. On closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that the bike is well finished. The paint job is a mix of deep and light blue that really stands out on a sunny day. The skinny fork and seatstays make for an understated look, aided by the hidden seatpost clamp and subtle internal hydraulic cabling. It almost gets away with a traditional feel despite the addition of discs. 

My first impressions on the road were that the bike had a light and responsive feel. I had to look down on my first ride to confirm this was actually a deep-section endurance disc build rather than a feathery rim brake racer. It picked up speed well with any small input of power, and felt as though it was floating on top of the road rather than being dragged over the tarmac. That stiffness translated to accurate handling too, and I was happy to push the limits of the tyre traction into corners.

At a claimed 870g, the Pavo Granfondo is light for a disc frame. On top of that, the frame boasts a very well balanced ride quality. While I noticed a healthy amount of feedback, and a rigid response to pedalling efforts, it filtered out the worst road imperfections. 

The frame did struggle a bit to respond to the strongest of pedalling efforts. When heading towards the 1,000 watt mark in sprints, or pulling myself up extremely steep ramps, I noticed a certain amount of flex in the Simplon’s rear end that caused a momentary delay between putting down a big effort and receiving a response in terms of acceleration. It wasn’t there at lower speeds or noticeable at threshold effort, though, confirming that this is a bike best suited to riders who look for speed and comfort rather than to flat-out racers.

Money, money, money

The wheelset played a big part in the bike’s overall performance, and I attributed much of the ride quality to DT Swiss’s lightweight carbon rims and the Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tyres. The downside is that this spec adds almost £1,000 to the overall build price compared to the ‘standard’ wheelset, taking the total price into a realm where I felt the Simplon didn’t represent particularly good value for money. 

Even the entry-level option, with a Shimano Ultegra mechanical groupset and DT Swiss R24 alloy wheels, comes in at nearly £4,000. The carbon rims pump the price up to £4,850. For that money I might expect a WorldTour-tested bike with Dura-Ace. It suggests that either the Simplon frame is very highly priced, or that Simplon is charging close to full retail price for the components. 

I applaud Simplon’s adherence to trading through a retailer – there are definite benefits to the customer in terms of build quality and after-sales care, plus we need to protect our grassroots bike trade – but in these days of cut-price components on the internet, a brand has to offer something truly remarkable to command top-end prices, and I’m not convinced the Pavo Granfondo is quite at that level.

It’s a very capable all-rounder with a ride quality similar to the likes of the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX, but it doesn’t excel in any one area. For the pure climbers among us, however, a look at the Simplon website reveals a Pavo 3 Ultra bike with a frame weight of just 750g. Now maybe there’s a bike to get excited about.

The spec

Model: Simplon Pavo Granfondo Disc

Groupset: Shimano Ultegra 6800

Deviations: Shimano BR-RS805 hydraulic disc brakes, Shimano RT-99 160mm/140mm IceTech rotors, Shimano ST-R685 shifters

Wheels: DT Swiss RC 38 Spline C db

Finishing kit: Simplon Erg Carbon bars and stem, Simplon Pavo seatpost, Selle Italia SLR Flow saddle

Weight: 7.45kg

Price: £4,850

Contact: simplon.com

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