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Engineered Blits review

28 Sep 2016
Verdict:

Mixing carbon with steel is an unusual cocktail, but it has given the Engineered Blits some real fizz.

Price: 
£2,250 (frame & fork)

There’s a certain charm about a steel bike with heritage. A classic Colnago, Bianchi or Wilier will always tug at our nostalgic heart strings. Fixating on the past isn’t always healthy, though. Steel may be the historic material of the pro peloton, but many brands have set out to prove that steel can indeed be on the cutting edge, and Engineered has taken a particularly interesting approach.

‘We’re definitely not the first people to mix steel and carbon,’ says David Fong, founder of Engineered Bikes. The Blits, Engineered’s endurance racer, is just one of his frames that offers the option of a carbon seat tube through the centre of a steel frame. ‘People in the US have been doing it for a while, but it is far more common to mix carbon and titanium – there aren’t that many guys who do steel and carbon.’ 

By mixing materials, designers aim to utilise the finest attributes of different frame constituents to get the best of both worlds. In the case of the Blits, the carbon in the seat tube will be more adept than steel at achieving high levels of lateral stiffness while allowing vertical flex, and will most likely be lighter too.

The clever stuff isn’t all hidden away under the skin, though. The way the steel top tube wraps around the seat tube is another impressively elegant design feature, as is the Thecno saddle mount, which conveniently still allows for some height adjustment atop the integrated seat mast. 

Fong, a mechanical engineer by training, has gone to great lengths to create his vision of an ideal frame, but has stopped short of building it himself. ‘The story probably starts in 2009,’ he says. ‘I was living in London and couldn’t find the bike I wanted – a titanium disc brake super-commuter. I thought about doing it myself. I can weld and do all of that, but I thought to do it really well I’d seek out someone with a little more experience.’

Fong’s resesarch took him to the Far East, but he didn’t find the manufacturing match he had dreamed of. It was actually in the historic home of bike-building where Fong found his ideal partner: ‘I looked at the options in Europe and the best skills, especially for building metal bikes, are definitely based in Italy,’ he says. ‘So we build there and if there’s a need for more advanced engineering analysis for any design I do that locally.’

Fong takes that part of the process seriously. Far from simply firing off tube and generic geometry specs, he spent a long time developing his designs – even using FEA analysis to determine the best tube sizes and material combinations. That’s evident from the outset with the Blits, which looks like no ordinary steel bike.

Red dawn

The bike is an instant charmer. The pillar-box red paint scheme made me want to like the Blits before setting foot on a pedal. It’s the type of bike that juggles a high-performance sheen with a subtle modernity that meant
I was as happy riding 150km in a chaingang as I was rolling up to a cafe in my jeans, on a bike that revels almost as much in the city as it does on a serious ride.

While I was won over by the looks, that initial charm was fettered by a certain scepticism – mixing materials is never easy, and a young British brand patching carbon and steel together had me slightly suspicious that something about the ride would be slightly amiss.

A big fear of mine with any steel bike harbouring racy intentions is that it’s very difficult to balance rigidity and comfort. Some builders have designed around the problem – Dario Pegoretti uses his own custom-drawn oversize Columbus chainstays to excellent effect. Engineered has similarly opted for generally oversized tubing, and tried to use the introduction of carbon to balance out the comfort and stiffness issue that steel most struggles with.

I found the Blits to be impressively fast, efficiently converting all of my pedalling effort into speed. That was a real asset on long climbs where, despite the slight increase in weight compared to a full carbon frame, the bike’s stiffness kept me turning the cranks with enthusiasm. I would have been eager to take the bike to a crit circuit, and the slightly more robust nature of steel in an impact makes racing all the more appealing.

However, where Fong’s carbon-steel design paid most dividends was in the sublime way it handled. The high-end Columbus HSS Spirit tubeset – a chunky-looking collection of steel tubes that includes a hugely oversized 44mm diameter down tube, ensured the front end was rigid enough to corner decisively. At the same time, there was a certain balance and predictability to the bike that meant I found myself pedalling through corners on descents where normally I’d be feathering the brakes.

While I don’t doubt that the carbon seat tube adds lateral rigidity, it’s the difference in feedback between carbon and steel that for me brought the greatest benefit. The carbon seat tube manages to relay what’s going on between the road surface and the tyres, which I found to be a big advantage when judging traction in a corner. 

While the seat tube delivered in terms of feedback, it also had a noticeable effect on comfort too. It filtered out much of the higher-frequency road buzz, but serious bumps in the road did generate an undesirable jolt through the saddle.

Indeed, that was probably the only detracting point with the Blits. The general ride feel reminded me of the Pegoretti Marcelo, which remains the finest steel frame I’ve ever ridden, only let down by an inability to absorb the impacts of the road quite as effectively as I would have liked. 

As an overall package, Engineered has done a very good job of building a system that works together. The decisive and snappy Campagnolo shifts matched the racy inclinations of the frame – I’ve always found the multi-shift thumb lever offered by Record (as well as Chorus and Super Record) to be the most effective of any groupset for aiding a quick turn of speed. The Fulcrum Racing Zero wheelset thoroughly impressed, too – it uses the same bare carbon brake track as Campagnolo’s Bora range, which performs predictably in all but the very wettest conditions. 

I struggled to fault the Blits in any big way. The frame juggled comfort, speed and handling, while making the most of the striking looks that steel is so coveted for. And while fully customised geometry may add a little to the price, the option will definitely extend the appeal of the bike to those with specific fit issues.

The lasting impression is of a steel frame with the ability to beat around the race scene and hold its own at the sharp end of a gran fondo with all the vigour of the best carbon frames. For that, it’s a winner.

Spec

Engineered Blits
Frame Engineered Blits
Groupset Campagnolo Record
Deviations None
Bars Deda Superleggera
Stem Deda Superleggera
Seatpost Thecno S-Fix2-316 
Wheels Fulcrum Racing Zero, carbon clincher
Saddle Selle Italia Flite
Weight 7.83kg (M/L)
Contact engineeredbikes.co.uk

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