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Cipollini N1K1 review

8 Sep 2017

Much like Super Mario himself, Cipollini’s NK1K is ostentatious, unapologetic and very fast

During the 1990s, Mario Cipollini was famed as much for his flamboyant character as he was for his blistering sprints.

The Italian lit up races with his outrageous behaviour and bagged 12 stage wins at the Tour de France and an incredible 42 at the Giro d’Italia.

For many, these credentials alone are enough to give the Cipollini brand credibility, however it doesn’t take long aboard the flagship NK1K to realise that Cipollini bikes are about more than just the name emblazoned on the down tube.

First, there is the provenance. When Cipollini says the NK1K is ‘made in Italy’, it really is.

Using autoclaves at Cipollini’s facility in Verona and three other Italian factories, the brand’s top-end frames are truly and verifiably Italian-made.

That alone would justify a hefty premium, but the NK1K has some rather impressive stats that also explain the pricetag.

Some parts of the frame are made using Toray M46J carbon fibre, a material that apparently costs thousands for just a square metre and boasts otherworldly stiffness.

It’s not often used in the bike industry, being more typically reserved for Formula 1, aerospace and military purposes.

We suspect that even in the NK1K it is used very sparsely, but its very inclusion is a reflection of the investment in the frame. 

The NK1K is Cipollini’s most aerodynamic offering to date. Although evidence of wind-tunnel testing or development is hard to come by, it borrows some lines from Cipollini’s aerodynamically proven Nuke TT bike.

It is also the clear racer of Cipo’s fleet, and a keen observer of geometry will note its aggressive lines from a distance.

The head tube, for example, measures only 152mm for a 560mm top tube, while many bikes of the same size would be 15-20mm taller.

This is a beast, plain and simple. At 7.5kg for the whole build, it’s a heavyweight one as well, coming in slightly heftier than the competition from a similar class and price range.

Much like on a boxer, though, extra weight on a bike is no problem as long as it packs the punch to justify it.

Lord of the plains

I’m sure Mario would want the NK1K to be judged partially on its appearance, and it’s certainly a unique-looking frame.

It juggles sleek and modern shapes with a finish that seems almost bespoke and individual. The naked multi-directional carbon finish of most of the frame is an aesthetic seen less and less often these days, but coupled with some of the custom paintjobs on offer (such as the gold decals), the effect borders on jewellery.

As impressive as it looks, it does also appear a little long in the tooth despite being only two years old.

For an aerodynamic bike it doesn’t offer the same level of integration and attention to detail as the newest breed of supremely aero bikes such as the Trek Madone, Specialized Venge ViAS or Scott Foil.

The cabling is exposed, the brakes are direct mount but not shrouded, and it doesn’t have a wheelset designed to work aerodynamically with the frame.

It manages to look simultaneously futuristic and outdated, like the Millennium Falcon of cycling. Much like Han Solo’s spaceship, though, the NK1K has undeniable charm.

There are many factors that contribute to a bike going quickly: aerodynamics, weight, stiffness and geometry, to name a few.

Suffice to say the NK1K clearly excels at a number of them, as this is a fiercely fast bike. It bounds along the road, rattling with a healthy buzz as the tarmac whizzes by beneath it.

I felt the constant impulse to jump on the pedals and squeeze out every last ounce of speed.

Despite its relative heft, the frame’s rigidity does compensate. It’s a big advantage when sprinting but also when climbing – whether settling into a rhythm on shallow ascents, or wrenching the frame fiercely from side to side on savage inclines.

This really struck home when my electronic shifting ran dry on the Mallorca 167 sportive (I foolishly forgot to recharge the Di2 beforehand).

Trapped in a single 36/16 gear, I was struck by how well the frame held up to a ridiculously low cadence and frame-bending force.

As I heaved the bike up a slope, there was plenty of creaking and straining, but virtually no discernible flex in the bottom half of the frame.

On the descent, the Cipollini compared favourably to even the best in its class. It had me pushing just as hard as when riding the likes of the Trek Émonda or S-Works Tarmac, but the extra weight offered a sort of grounded predictability those lighter frames don’t.

The deep section FFWD F6 wheels did a nice job of holding speed as I neared the 80kmh mark, and I was even pleasantly surprised when it came to braking.

Given how sure-footed this calliper-based version is, the NK1K’s disc alternative must be an exceptionally exciting bike to descend on.

The comfort zone

In truth, I’d say the NK1K is slightly less quick than the Madone and ViAS. That’s no surprise, as those bikes are the product of years of tuned aerodynamic development.

The feedback from the road, though, does make the bike feel faster. In some ways that is more satisfying than real speed, but it does come at a cost.

If I were to describe the NK1K in a single word, it would be ‘sharp’. Not only does it look like a blade, it also has a precision in terms of handling and responsiveness that is an equally big selling point.

The downside is that sharpness is equally present when it comes to comfort. It tends to rebound harshly off potholes and becomes a little jittery when the tarmac is rough.

A set of 25mm tubeless tyres would remove some of the sting, but this is never going to be a soft ride.

Overall, the NK1K is a rarity in that it has handmade European-made charm but is still a high-performing world-class racer.

The pricetag is substantial at £4,400 for the frameset alone, but you get a lot of excitement for your money.

Much like the man himself, the Cipollini NK1K has no trouble standing out from the crowd.


Cipollini N1K1
Frame Carbon fibre
Groupset Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2
Brakes Shimano Dura-Ace 9110 direct mount
Chainset Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2
Cassette Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2
Bars Ritchey WCS NeoClassic
Stem Ritchey WCS C260
Seatpost Cipollini Aero Carbon
Wheels FFWD F6R full carbon clincher 240s
Saddle Ritchey WCS Streem carbon
Weight 7.50kg (56cm)

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