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Vaaru V:8 Di2 review

8 Apr 2016
Verdict:

Vaaru is a homegrown British brand, and a new player on the titanium scene, but how does the V:8 measure up?

Price: 
£1,699 (frame & fork)

Titanium is a tough metal. It’s tough to break, but it’s also tough to work with, and it’s tough to make a mark on the competition. The titanium brands at the top of the market tend to blend decades of heritage with skilled artisan welders and cutting edge knowhow. So Vaaru, as a newcomer, has a lot to prove to be considered on par with the old guard.

Launched in 2015 by James Beresford, the brand began with a lineage of framebuilders and a dream. ‘I’ve had steel framebuilders in my family since back in the early 1900s – it’s in my blood,’ Beresford says. ‘For three years before starting Vaaru I was working in the cycling industry [not framebuilding] but designed my own titanium frames on the side. It was a personal project where cost wasn’t an issue as I wasn’t worried about selling them.’ He got the hang of it, and so fulfilled every frame fantasists dream and set up shop with Vaaru.

Vaaru V:8 bottom bracket

Before you conjure an idyllic image of a one-man welding operation in a rustic shed somewhere in the English countryside, Beresford is quick to point out that his manufacturing is done in Taiwan. 

‘I’m not afraid to say my frames are made in Taiwan, actually the opposite – they’re masters of the trade,’ he says. ‘I’d like to produce in the UK but there’s no factory here with the same level of machinery, cutting and test equipment.’ Beresford still does much of the finishing (he offers bespoke bead blasting, anodising, polishing and painting) himself in the UK.

Vaaru is very much a modern titanium brand, avoiding any nostalgic features such as external bearings or skinny tubes. This V:8 is made specifically for Di2 or EPS electronic groupsets. The bike has oversized tubes, and follows the trend for wider 44mm tapered head tubes to improve handling and front end stiffness. 

A tough ride

Vaaru V:8 disc brake

From a distance, you might mistake the V:8 for a tourer or gravel bike, but Vaaru is keen to stress that this is an out-and-out racer. The V:8 sits in the middle of Vaaru’s line, below the only (currently) race-legal Octane, and above the similarly priced but touring-minded MPA Titanium Distance road bike. While I was skeptical of how ‘racy’ the V:8 could be given its relaxed geometry, relatively low cost and bulky 8.5kg total weight, it proved to be a zinger.

On paper, titanium is only about half as stiff as steel. Construction plays a much bigger part in the stiffness of an overall frame system than the material alone, and the class leaders can design titanium to perform as well as any material out there. If done badly, though, titanium can be a soft and sometimes ‘whippy’ metal. Coming in at a lower price point, I partly expected the V:8 to fall into the latter category, so I was surprised to find it sat in the same league as the best titanium frames I’ve ridden.

Vaaru uses 3/2.5 titanium tubing (a mix of 3% aluminium, 2.5% vanadium and 94.5% pure titanium). It sits just below 6/4 titanium in terms of stiffness and mechanical properties but is generally far more common in bikes on account of cost, plus the observed benefits in construction and eventual ride quality. It’s an impressive spec to build with, and the double-butted tubes employed by Vaaru are similar to the top spec offered by Reynolds, but come from the Far East. It’s the construction, though, that makes all the difference.

Vaaru V:8 fork

The V:8 was able to stand up to heavy, out-of-the-saddle efforts and deliver a spritely sprint with much less flex than I anticipated. Beresford credits this to chunky chainstays preserving rear-end stiffness. Similarly, the front end was torsionally rigid as a result of the wide head tube, meaning that handling was precise and gave me confidence when tackling soaking wet descents. The stiffness also did a lot for the power transfer when climbing, but it was during climbs that one major setback of the V:8 presented itself – weight.

Sometimes weight need not be a big penalty. On flat stretches I’d go as far as to say it can be reassuring. Being lulled into a couple of impromptu long sprints on my usual routes, I was very encouraged by the Vaaru’s responsiveness and ability to hold speed. On a local 20% incline, though, I was considerably less happy about
the extra couple of kilos I was carrying compared to a top-end carbon bike. A big part of that I put down to the disc brake set-up that adds a lot of mass to the overall system. The brand new Edco Pillion DB wheels were excellent in feel and aerodynamics but they too are a few hundred grams heftier than their rim-brake cousins.

Slowing down

I’m divided on the merits of disc brakes on a titanium frame. On one hand it’s a perfect match, as a frame for life deserves rims that won’t be worn down by braking, yet on the other hand it seems short-sighted to restrict the user to disc-equipped wheelsets and a specific standard (in this case quick release rather than thru-axle). I’m also a little frustrated with the finer points of Shimano’s hydraulic groupset. For instance, the limitations on the brake lever travel, which is nowhere near as flexible as a calliper set-up. 

Vaaru V:8 wheel

As for disc rub, there’s nothing more demoralising than the constant shrieking of pad on rotor, and it took me a while to adjust them to run silently. That said, the far superior braking was a bonus, and on some miserable winter rides in torrential rain I was glad to have them. It was probably those rides in foul weather that endeared me most to the bike, where the steady and reliable rumble of titanium assured me this was a bike that would be a worthy companion in all seasons and conditions.

As well as being robust, I also found the V:8 versatile. I was as comfortable racing it along flat stretches as I was climbing on undulating terrain, and it was equally suited to just cruising around town in a pair of jeans. Conversely, the bike doesn’t excel in any one area. It isn’t quite as quick as a top carbon racer or as comfortable as the best steel or titanium frames I’ve ridden. That said, Vaaru does offer bespoke geometry, so there’s every possibility that the ride could be dialled slightly closer to my own preferences. 

Vaaru V:8 review

At half the price of some rivals, it’s no wonder that the V:8 doesn’t feel quite as complete. Mass production will always struggle to measure up to the precision and passion that a hand-built brand can offer.

And that was my parting thought with the V:8 – it lacks the smooth and artistic welds of the very top tier, while also coming in a little heavier than one might expect of a Moots Vamoots RSL or Passoni Top Force. The ride also lacks that finesse that titanium can achieve, sitting on the harsher side of the spectrum. There’s no question, though, that Vaaru is punching well above its weight as a brand, and the V:8 is twice the bike you might expect at this price.

Spec

Vaaru V:8 Di2
Frame Vaaru V:8 Di2
Groupset Shimano Ultegra Di2
Deviations Shimano R785 brakes, Shimano R785 shifters, Shimano RT99 rotors
Bars Pro LT
Stem USE 
Seatpost Vaaru
Wheels Edco Pillion 35mm DB carbon clichers
Saddle Fizik Antares VS
Weight 8.53kg
Contact vaarucycles.com

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