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Formigli Uriel review

7 Feb 2017
Verdict:

An aluminium racer with Italian good looks ideal for a rider with buns of steel looking for fast days out

Price: 
£1,300 frameset (approx), £6,000 as tested (approx)

I’ve always had a soft spot for metal bikes. For many riders of a certain age, their baptism on two wheels was one of steel, but my life as a cyclist was forged in the bowels of some presumably monolithic Taiwanese aluminium smelting works, circa 2001.

I still ride that first aluminium road bike, although it’s ignobly hung with mudguards these days and its sandy-coloured paintwork is spattered in dirt. But it’s still doing me proud.

However, aside from ‘Old Yeller’, I can’t recall the last time I pedalled a proper aluminium race bike, let alone one that costs more than most carbon rides.

So when Formigli presented the Uriel for inspection I was more than a little intrigued. Was this merely a favourite old horse that the owner couldn’t bear sending to the knacker’s yard, or was there life in the old girl yet?  

Significant figures

They say things are only worth what people are willing to pay for them, which is generally true except for official iPhone charging cables and inner tubes at current prices, so for those baulking at the thought of £1,300 for a non-carbon fibre frameset, the only thing I can say is, well, that’s economics. That and a little bit of Italian framebuilding magic.

The Uriel is built in Florence by Renzo Formigli and is made to measure, and if the cycle industry has taught us anything it’s that this is a recipe for expense.

Plus, it’s not made from any ordinary tubeset. Just as all carbon fibres aren’t created equal, neither are aluminium alloys.

Notable among cheaper aluminium road bikes is 6061 or 7005 alloy, whereas Formigli says the Uriel is made from a ‘higher-grade’, stiffer 7003-T6 alloy, heat-treated for added resilience and custom drawn to Formigli’s specifications.

Could I tell you if that makes the blindest bit of difference? On one hand, no. The high-end aluminium market being what it is, I have little to compare it to.

But in the grand carbon fibre scheme of things the Uriel makes a compelling case, not only for itself and its pricetag, but also on behalf of its material.

This bike is stiff. Really stiff. In pretty much all directions.

There’s no fancy oversized bottom bracket, polygonal down tube or tapered head tube, but it rides like a bike that another manufacture would tell you has been through 16 billion different computer-modelled configurations before being tweaked based upon the feedback from every Tour winner since the Cold War.

That’s not to say the Uriel isn’t deficient in some areas, but in broad, strictly ‘rideability’ strokes I found little not to admire, and much to wonder about. 

Round one

From the off the Uriel was all punch. It wound up like a prize fighter’s fist to deliver blow after accelerative blow up the gears, rifling from one through 11 to a gratifying chunk-chunk-chunk soundtrack courtesy of the Super Record’s Ultrashift design: one thumb, one lever sweep and five sprockets are dispatched in rapid succession.

Throw in the hearty whampf of the Campagnolo Bora wheels scorching the air while the Challenge tubs fizz off the tarmac, and the sensation of brutal speed was like few bikes can muster. Brutal, however, is a word that’s appropriate in more ways than one. 

If you’re looking for pencil-thin seatstays you’ve come to the wrong section of the stationery aisle.

Keep going and look for the sign that says ‘marker pens’, because the Uriel’s seatstays are chunky, and one look at them and the integrated seatmast they butt up against told me this frame was going to be about as forgiving as Clint Eastwood after you’ve wandered onto his lawn. And in practice, they didn’t disappoint. 

With 22mm tubs pumped up to the correct Italian racing pressure of 900psi, and a full smorgasbord of rutted Kent lanes on the menu, not even the carbon Fizik Cyrano bars or San Marco Concor saddle – once described by an old bike-hand as the poltrona of saddles (that’s Italian for ‘armchair’) – could dampen my rattling teeth. 

That might seem entirely unfair – after all, who rides 22mm tubs at this time of year in this country?

But a subsequent ride on the same loop with a swap to some Fulcrum Racing Zero Carbons and 25mm Challenge clinchers run at 90psi bore similarly bruised fruit.

There was improvement, but it was more like putting extra cushions in a 1980s Ford Fiesta than sitting in a Rolls.

If this were another bike we might have parted ways there and then, but for all this bone-shaking madness I finished those first two rides, and many after, with a Cheshire grin. The reason, I think, is that the Uriel is just an honest bike.

Master of one

Take away the fancy-pants parts here – and goodness knows these are some of the fanciest of pants – and the Uriel is the very essence of a racing bicycle.

Bar the slightly crimped, curvy chainstays, its tubes are straight, its head tube only flares to accommodate the bearings, and the saddle is essentially stuck on the end of a pole you have to cut to the right length with a hacksaw (I did this with wracked nerves, but luckily the old ‘measure once, cut twice’ adage stood me in good stead).

It even has the requisite, slightly dated, Euro paint scheme plus too many logos and mismatched typefaces – although these are all changeable as this is a custom frameset. 

I felt it every time I flung the bike into a tight bend far too fast, or got my chin low over its diminutive head tube while squeezing out the last few watts of a sprint.

The Uriel has no frills yet is a highly accomplished race bike that rides and handles with both brawn and clarity. At another time of year it would be the perfect machine to smash around my local crit circuit, and being aluminium it wouldn’t cower at the thought of crashing (unlike me). 

In many ways the Uriel is a basic bike, and compared to many creations today it wouldn’t be unfair – or unkind – to say that.

But if it is basic it’s only because it fulfils a specific brief to the letter: to be a race bike that’s made
to measure, and that’s designed to deliver a rip-roaring, if teeth-chattering, ride.

Verdict: An aluminium racer with Italian good looks ideal for a rider with buns of steel looking for fast days out.

Spec

Formigli Uriel
Frame Formigli 7003-T6 aluminium, carbon forks
Groupset Campagnolo Super Record
Brakes Campagnolo Super Record
Chainset Campagnolo Super Record
Cassette Campagnolo Super Record
Bars Fizik Cyrano 00
Stem Fizik Cyrano 01
Seatpost Integrated
Wheels Campagnolo Bora Ultra 50 tubular
Saddle San Marco Light
Weight 7.11kg
Contact formigli.com

 

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