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Calfee Luna Pro review

6 Sep 2017
Verdict:

This American framebuilder is famed for custom bikes, but this new stock offering is rather astonishing

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
Frameset £2,300; approx £4,675 as tested

There are few bigger milestones in bicycle manufacture than the discovery of Creslan 61. The name may sound like that of a galaxy far, far away, but in fact it’s a semi-crystalline organic polymer resin synthesised in 1930 by doctors Hans Fikentscher and Claus Heuck, and has become the building block for bikes as we know them.

Comprising processed fibres bundled into tows then woven into sheets and impregnated with epoxy resin, Creslan 61, or polyacrylonitrile, or PAN, is the very fabric our carbon fibre racing machines are made from.

The material took a while to catch on though, says Craig Calfee, the creator of the Luna Pro.

‘People would laugh at my “plastic” bikes, but I told them back in 1991 that eventually every bike in the Tour de France would be carbon fibre.’

Calfee wasn’t the first to dabble in the dark material arts. Companies such as Aegis, Kestrel, TVT and Look all produced bikes in the mid-80s made at least in part from carbon fibre, and Assos founder Tony Meier was instrumental in designing a carbon fibre track bike as far back as 1976.

However, it was Calfee who arguably delivered the breakthrough moment when his rebranded ‘Carbonframe’ was ridden to the yellow jersey in the 1991 Tour de France by Greg LeMond.

To the best of the history books’ knowledge, this was the first time an all-carbon bike had led the GC (albeit only briefly – LeMond would go on to finish seventh in what would be the last time he’d complete a Tour).

The bike garnered a lot of press, and while it would be over a decade before Calfee’s prediction came true, the carbon fibre wheels had been set in motion.

To cite Calfee as both carbon pioneer and master, then, is no stretch of the imagination, and so while a good reviewer should approach a subject impartially and without bias, I have to confess I had very high expectations of the Luna Pro long before it had even been delivered for testing.

Cast an eye over the Calfee range and you’ll notice a recurring theme – a kind of webbing between the tube junctions.

Outwardly it appears mainly aesthetic, but there’s functional method behind the appearance.

In Calfee’s early carbon days the webbing was a necessary upshot of the seam created during the moulding process where tubes were mitred and wrapped.

Calfee still uses this technique in the Tetra frame – the evolution of LeMond’s first bike and the longest-running carbon fibre frameset on the market – but over the years the webs have evolved into what Calfee refers to as gussets, and are designed to strengthen the joins and add rigidity to the frame.

The Luna construction might look similar, if chunkier, but in fact it’s born of tube and lug, where roll-wrapped tubes are bonded into Calfee-made carbon lugs.

(As an aside, roll-wrapped tubes are made from carbon fibre sheets wrapped and cured around a cylindrical mandrel, unlike filament-wound tubes, where fibres are wound around a mandrel like cotton round a bobbin.)

On the Luna Pro, the tubes have been beefed up to 44mm in the head and down tube to increase stiffness over the skinnier-tubed regular Luna.

The result is an interesting bag. On paper the frame is relatively heavy at 1.3kg (size 56cm), but in practice whether it’s the extra grams or extra reinforcement from the gussets, or indeed some other hidden masterstroke in materials or construction, the Luna has the most exceptional ride quality, and here’s why…

Strong and stable

The Luna offers one of the most planted rides I’ve ever come across. It is the very definition of solid, the epitome of robust and strong.

I suspect you could throw it off a cliff and it would just bounce and get back up, laughing. Yet despite this, it doesn’t feel overbuilt or slow. It feels agile.

Spec choices undoubtedly help here – the wheels and tyres in particular. The Rolf Prima Ares 4s are light at a claimed 1,365g for the pair, wide at 27mm and aero with a 42mm deep snub-nosed profile and just 16 spokes at the front and 20 at the rear.

On these wheels the 28mm Schwalbe One tyres came up closer to 30mm and rolled happily at 85psi, offering loads of grip thanks to the larger contact patch and lower pressure, and a smooth, cushioned passage across uneven surfaces.

Given all this, the Luna sprang into life with a nimbleness more befitting a lighter bike, and carried speed in a fashion more akin to an aero racer than a traditional round-tubed bicycle.

The rest of the components performed as they should: the Ultegra Di2 shifted crisply and loses out to Dura-Ace only in terms of looks and a few extra grams (but wins on price); the Calfee-designed finishing kit looked the part and functioned as well as any finishing kit realistically can.

That is, the bars didn’t fall off, the 27.2mm seatpost had a welcome touch of flex and the stem was black. No one needs logos on their stems.

Still, all this is immaterial without the right frame to bring it all together, and in this respect the Luna Pro doesn’t just shine, it positively radiates with all the intensity of the sun.

What this bike does that others don’t is to temper its stiffness with a shock-absorbing edge while providing an overarching layer of feedback and just a hint of spring.

It’s a bit like having the bass, mid and treble on a hi-fi set harmoniously so that the frequencies are at once apparent yet homogenous.

The Luna isn’t so stiff that it fails to track the road, nor so absorbent that it drowns feedback.

Lively but sure-footed

There’s life in it – the bike reacts to the road surface but doesn’t lose its footing on the descents, and thanks to its balance and torsional stiffness I could really steer it from the hips, rocking as opposed to wrestling the bike through corners as the frame reacted to the road almost like it had suspension.

To check it wasn’t just the tyres I pumped them up to 110psi, and lo, the Luna still handled impeccably.

It isn’t perfect, being a bit hefty up the climbs, and having leant it to a colleague who is the same height as me but 8kg lighter at 71kg, apparently it’s also somewhat uncomfortable.

I disagree in the main but admit the Luna’s robustness is perhaps more befitting the heavier rider (although tube stiffness can be rider-tuned, I can’t comment as to what difference that would make).

Yet these are minor bugbears in the midst of what is a class act in every other way. Those lugs will be polarising of course, but I can’t imagine a rider who wouldn’t instantly take to the Luna’s well-honed ride.

Spec

Calfee Luna Pro
Frame Carbon fibre
Groupset Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2
Brakes Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2
Chainset Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2
Cassette Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2
Bars Calfee Design carbon
Stem Calfee Design carbon
Seatpost Calfee Design carbon
Wheels Rolf Prima Ares4 ES
Saddle SQLab 612 Ergowave
Weight 7.36kg (56cm)
Contact calfeedesign.com

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