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Zullo Inqubo review

3 Nov 2016

The Zullo Inqubo is said to be a nightmare to make, but is it a dream to ride?

Looks incredible, Feels stiff and planted
Slightly heavier than other race-orientated bikes

There are many Italian framebuilders and nearly all of them claim to have made frames that were ridden by professionals at the Tour de France – all rebadged and sworn to secrecy, of course. In that respect Tiziano Zullo is no different, but in his case the frames in question did display his name, and proudly too. 

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s the entire TVM pro squad rode Zullo bikes, including Phil Anderson, who came second at the Tour of Flanders and won the Tour of Romandie aboard his. 

In fact you can still purchase the Tour ’91 today, built exactly as it was 25 years ago, although Tiziano admits he’s not sure for how much longer as the stock of Columbus SL tubing is steadily diminishing. In the meantime, Zullo has modernised its operation and at one point even made custom carbon frames, but has now reverted back to making just a hundred or so steel frames a year, with the Inqubo as the flagship.

Pandering to the pros

Like most of Zullo’s early racing frames, it was the needs of the professionals that spurred the Inqubo’s development.

‘The idea for building this frame came from the Spanish track rider Joan Llaneras, who had one of my Macario frames,’ says Zullo. 

‘Joan asked for a very strong and stiff frame for track racing. We worked this out for him with Dedacciai, and he won the Track World Championships in Manchester in 1996 and later the 2000 Olympics in Athens. Afterwards, I decided to produce a road-going version,’ he adds.

Easy-peasy, you may think: a bit of butting here, some bi-ovalisation there and you’re done. But turning what was a hardcore track racer into a comfortable road-goer was far from a quick process.

‘It was not easy and many tests were done for both the main triangle and rear stays. During the process I cried out “questo é un incubo” [this is a nightmare] and the name just stuck.’ 

Of course the finished product is anything but a nightmare – in fact it’s rather dreamy. The Inqubo is constructed from Dedacciai Eom 16.5 steel and it’s these tubes that are the stars of the show. The top tube is teardrop-shaped, the down tube is bi-ovalised (almost oval), the chainstays square off where they meet the bottom bracket and everything bar the BB is vastly oversized. There’s barely a rounded tube in sight. 

Despite the bike’s racing background, Zullo says most of the Inqubo frames he produces are not destined for competition. Due to its stiffness, the frame has become very popular with touring cyclists and can be easily adapted for more comfort.

Zullo also says that the frame is very popular among those who have lost faith in carbon and with customers who are on the slightly larger side, as the stock frame can comfortably handle riders up to 120kg. I had plenty more questions, but Zullo informed me that I should ride the bike and I would find the answers to all my questions on the road. 

The weld in my eyes

My first thought as I gazed at the frame was how beautiful it was. Tiziano Zullo is a hugely experienced framebuilder and you can see it in the finish of the frame. The welds are immaculate, and the polished stainless steel dropouts and headset seats at either end of the head tube are sublime. Hell, even the bottle cage braze-ons are beautiful. The wondrous paint is the work of a Japanese artist, rather than the framebuilder himself, but you can’t be good at everything.

The second impression I got from looking at the frame was, ‘This is going to be really stiff.’ The oversized chainstays and chunky, hooded dropouts didn’t look to have so much as an ounce of give in them but it would take a good ride to find out exactly how stiff we were talking about, as the patented Cyclist Bottom Bracket Stiffness Test (putting a foot on the crank and giving it a good shove) proved inconclusive. 

As it happens, the Inqubo is incredibly stiff, but mercifully it isn’t quite as harsh as you might imagine. The beefy chainstays may be as unyielding as Margaret Thatcher but the whole bike manages a surprising sideline in compassion. 

It’s hard to pinpoint precisely where the comfort comes from – the Fizik saddle is so well padded that I had to raise my saddle height by 5mm to account for the sag, and the 25mm tyres will have contributed too – but the overall ride feel, while firm, left my numerous fillings in situ.  

With some steel bikes, stiffness never converts into pure speed. You may feel like you’re going quickly but a glance at your speedo proves otherwise. The Inqubo is almost the opposite. The overall weight means it doesn’t spring away from a standing start but the speed builds and keeps building.

The DT Swiss wheels do it some favours in this regard, but there were many times when I felt like I was just cruising only to look down and see the speed gentling climbing through the 40s. 

As the road descends, and the speed climbs, the Inqubo remains resolute and does a fine job of dispatching meandering tarmac. I’d actually say the Inqubo feels the most planted of any bike I’ve ridden in some time, which is perhaps the ‘faith’ that Zullo feels carbon bikes have lost.

The Deda Black Fin fork does a fine job in the handling stakes too, while also smoothing out an acceptable amount of bumps. It’s certainly not a plush ride for the palms, but it’s a price worth paying for the level of steering precision and control that makes its way through the gargantuan head tube.

That said, it is inescapable that this bike is a racing bike and, despite Zullo’s suggestion that it would make a good tourer, I think a very long day in the saddle would leave me somewhat fatigued.

Having ridden this bike on some fairly fast-paced rides with some friends on featherlight carbon bikes, the Inqubo does give a little away with its weight, but nowhere else. I feel that had carbon and all the rest not come about, and steel was the only option, the Zullo name would still be part of the Tour de France today and the Inqubo would be the bike they would use.

The spec

Model Zullo Inqubo
Groupset Campagnolo Super Record
Deviations None
Wheels DT Swiss RRC65 clincher
Finishing kit Fizik R1 handlebar, stem and seatpost, Fizik Arione VXS braided saddle
Weight 8.15kg (53cm, as built)
Price £2,295 frameset, approx £7,100 as tested
£2,295 (frameset)

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