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Cielo Road Racer Disc review

Cielo Road Racer disc frame
11 May 2015

If you thought Chris King just made high-grade hubs and headsets, think again. The Cielo Road Racer Disc is a class act.

There are few sweeter words in the bicycling vernacular than ‘Chris King hub’. And there are even fewer sweeter sounds than a King rear hub freewheeling. A curious mix of a primary school percussion instrument and an electronic gecko, its telltale whir gently whispers ‘quality’ to anyone within earshot and, to my mind at least, it remains one of the most coveted of bicycle jewels. So when the man himself announced he’d be dusting off his jigs to restart his framebuilding brand, Cielo, expectations were high.

‘Cielo was born in 1978 at the back of Henderson’s bike shop in Santa Barbara, where Chris worked,’ says Cielo’s design manager Jay Sycip. ‘But after four years and roughly 70 framesets, the plug got pulled in order to put additional energy into making components.

Cielo Road Racer disc seatstays

‘Chris King moved to Portland, then some 26 years later an antique steamer trunk surfaced in the building,’ Sycip continues. ‘I think people had eventually got tired of moving this thing around, but until then no one had opened it to see what was inside. I think everybody was scared. In it was all the Cielo framebuilding tools. The North American Handmade Bicycle Show was in Portland in 2008, so Chris decided to build a frameset like the originals, and that show – and that frameset – served as the trigger to resurrect Cielo bikes.’

Sycip was brought in from SyCip Bikes, a boutique framebuilding outfit he started with his brother Jeremy in 1992. Since then, Sycip has helped grow the Cielo steel portfolio to seven bikes: two racers, two cross bikes, a mountain bike, a tourer and this, the Road Racer Disc.

She’s a beaut'

I can’t remember the last time I saw a steel bike that didn’t look pretty damn gorgeous, and the Road Racer Disc is no exception. Finished in sky blue with minimal graphics, intricate dropout machining and elegant touches such as the ‘Cielo’ etched, polished seatstay bridge, the Road Racer Disc is a joy to behold. It’s made all the more resplendent thanks to the colour matched Cielo Racer stem and Chris King anodised components, including (of course) Chris King hubs. Be still my beating heart.

Cielo Road Racer disc ENVE fork

For those not keen on the colour, Cielo’s in-house painters have a rainbow palette to select from, and you can also choose between electronic groupset compatible framesets with internal cable routing, or mechanical compatible with external cable routing. Given that the hydraulic hoses for the discs are external, I’m glad this particular Road Racer Disc is the Di2 version, as I reckon too many external cables would spoil the look.

Don’t get me wrong, the external hydraulic hoses are as neat as they can be – I especially like the minimal hose bosses on the frame and the integrated clip on the Enve fork – but, nonetheless, if those hoses could disappear inside the down tube and through the chainstays it would look even classier in my opinion. It’s something that Sycip says Cielo would love to engineer in the future, but for the time being it isn’t viable.

The frame

Cielo Road Racer disc dropout

Like many a disc-braked road bike, the Road Racer Disc is ostensibly a disc option of an existing bike, the Cielo Road Racer. Yet that doesn’t mean Cielo has just welded on a couple of calliper mounts. It has had to re-engineer the rear end, CNCing custom rear dropouts – a work of art on their own – and tinkering with the chainstay spacing and length to accept the disc standard of 135mm wide hubs. The result is a bike with a long wheelbase – Cielo claims it is 1,000mm in length for a size 57cm frame, although I measured it at 1,002mm. With similar sized racers sporting wheelbases of around 990mm, that’s a big difference, and one that manifests itself from the off in a feeling of stability and control.

I would imagine that there are lengthy theses on the effect of wheelbase on vehicle handling, but I’m not educated in such scientific ways, so to make the point in a way that laymen like me can understand, the difference between riding a bike with a significantly shorter or longer wheelbase is like the difference between driving a Nissan Micra and a Volvo Estate: one swivels on a sixpence in supermarket car parks, the other carves great, languorous arcs around A-road roundabouts.

Cielo Road Racer disc bottom bracket

The Road Racer Disc certainly typifies the longer wheelbase experience. It’s gloriously stable at speed but struggles in the tighter turns, although it’s not fair to compare it to a Volvo. Rather, if it needs a car comparison, it would be the latest Jaguar XJ, an updated version of a beautiful classic, which given some oomph really takes off, and which never feels anything other than trustworthy and confident when cornering fast.

Yes, the heart of the Road Racer Disc is steel, and steel can only be so many things compared to carbon, yet somehow Cielo has managed to capture a decent level of stiffness in the Road Racer Disc without losing the blithe feel of steel or making it outlandishly heavy. Well, heavy feeling. At 9.01kg in this guise (don’t forget, these are sold as framsets), the Road Racer Disc is weighty on paper, yet it carries itself like a much lighter bike. And I’ve got a few ideas as to why.

Here’s the theory…

Cielo Road Racer disc review

First off, the Road Racer Disc is stiff, and that translates to pedalling efficiency: little of what goes in is lost. Second, Pacenti’s SL25 alloy rims weigh just 434g each, not too far off some of the lightest carbon rims, although as a wheelset on Chris King R45 Disc hubs they’re around 1,720g a pair. Again I’m no physicist, but I’d hazard lighter rims on heavier hubs are preferable to heavier rims on lighter hubs when it comes feeling fast. Decrease the mass at the rim and the pedalling force must also decrease to achieve the same acceleration.

Finally, this Road Racer Disc comes shod with 28c tyres which, when placed on the super-wide SL25 rims, with 20mm internal width and 25mm external (much of the industry still hovers around the 17mm/21mm mark), ran comfortably at around 85psi, with enough pressure to keep the bike feeling sprightly but a high level of cushioning to keep things rolling smoothly. And then there’s that last little thing: the discs.

If you can stop fast you can ride fast, and that, I think, is the main reason why at 9kg the Road Racer Disc still feels so dynamic. Either punching it out of the saddle then braking late into corners or whipping it down a long descent before scrubbing speed, the Road Racer Disc outperformed any rim-brake bike and felt a lot more stable than many carbon whippets. The extra weight did tell up the climbs, but not nearly as much as you might think. After all, if a bike/rider is, say, 7kg + 70kg and you up the bike by 2kg, you’re only upping the overall ante by 2.6%. And with the Road Racer Disc, that’s a percentage you’ll offset tenfold coming down the other side.


Cielo Road Road Disc (as tested)
Frame Cielo Road Racer Disc, ENVE disc fork
Groupset Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2
Brakes Shimano R785 Hydraulic
Bars Thomson Road carbon
Stem Cielo Racer
Seatpost Thomson Elite
Wheels Chris King / Pacenti SL23
Saddle Fizik Aliante Versus

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