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Moots Vamoots RSL review

4 Sep 2015
Verdict:

With its latest titanium bike, Moots is out to prove that carbon isn't the only way to go quickly.

Price: 
£3,995

There’s no mistaking a true American bike brand. Moots, like many US framebuilders, set up shop in the Rocky Mountains to build all-American bikes with all-American materials to be ridden on the gravel, tarmac and dirt roads that the Rockies have in abundance. And while the brand is tied to titanium, Moots is determined to prove the material can be every bit as racy as the best of carbon fibre.

The Moots story began with steel in 1981, in sunny Steamboat Springs. A decade later the brand launched its first titanium bike, and it now works exclusively with the material. During its steel phase, Moots developed some innovative designs – one of which was the YBB system. YBB, meaning Why Be Beat, was a suspension system mounted on the junction between seat tube and seatstays that has been copied multiple times, most recently by Pinarello with its K8-S cobbles bike (read more here: Pinarello K8-S).

Moots Vamoots RSL headtube

The Moots story could extend over many pages, but it culminates in the company’s current position as a top-tier titanium framebuilder. And while the Vamoots’ pricetag may seem high, the bike has been on quite a journey to justify it.

‘With the RSL we start with a straight-gauge US-made tubeset, which has a uniform wall thickness throughout the whole tube,’ says Jon Cariveau of Moots. ‘We then box it up and ship it to Reynolds in the UK, and they go in and internally butt it to our specification. They’ll thin it out in the centre and leave it a bit thicker on the end, so we lose some weight and maintain the same stiffness.’ The tubes are returned to Colorado, where Moots implements its expertise in mitring and TIG-welding to create the smooth joins visible on the bike. Each bike is made to order, and although there are stock geometries, Moots also gives the option of a completely custom build.

Moots Vamoots RSL dropout

Some metal aficionados may argue that straight-gauge titanium tubing is stiffer than its butted alternative, while carbon fans might say that titanium will never be as stiff or light as the black stuff. Seeing as Moots has been busy refining the art of titanium building for 25 years, we were intrigued to see how that experience has been put into practice out on the road.

First shimmer

Having made the journey from the US to the UK, back to the US, and then trans-Atlantic once again to the Cyclist office, the Vamoots had been on a long journey already, and we were duly excited to unpack it. Titanium frames can be an acquired taste, but a close look at this one should be enough to convert most sceptics. The welds are stunningly neat, a consequence of Moots’ meticulous TIG-welding, and the smooth, naked titanium finish is complemented by the understated Moots branding. It was a frame that attracted  an abundance of respectful nods while I rode it. I only wish we had opted for the titanium headset spacers to complete the handsome finish. While titanium bikes can attain the status of cycling jewellery, the Vamoots RSL proves capable of a great deal more.

From the outset, the Vamoots RSL was a thoroughly pleasant ride. At low speeds on rough surfaces it seemed to glide. Carbon, despite all its merits, often fails to offer that pleasing resonance with the road at low speeds. My concern was that this ride quality at a gentle pace would render the frame too soft to really ignite at high speed, something I’ve experienced with titanium frames before. Moots went to some effort in design to avoid just this. 

Moots Vamoots RSL bottom bracket

‘We made this a bike of two halves. You can draw a line from the middle of the head tube to the middle of the seatstays, and from that line down we want this bike to be extremely stiff and responsive, and from that point upwards we still want it compliant,’ says Cariveau. Moots pursued that goal with the butting of the tubes, but also by tapering the chainstays from the bottom bracket to the dropout. That’s aided by an extremely skinny seatstay construction, which paradoxically uses stiffer ‘6-4’ titanium but which can be built with thinner walls and a narrower section to offer more structural flex. 

Those design principles have paid dividends, and my impression of the Vamoots simply got better over time. At first the frame’s stiffness wasn’t overly obvious – it didn’t create otherworldly comfort over rough ground, nor did it feel the stiffest under pressure. Yet every ride on the bike revealed a perfect balance in the frame. That gentle resonance with the road was combined with decisive handling and an ability to dampen heavy impacts, yet it still delivered on all of my hardest inputs, sacrificing only a tiny amount to flex.

Testing metal

Moots Vamoots RSL fork

After a few casual rides, I decided to put the bike to a serious test – a nine-person road bike TT at Silverstone. After punching around the course at 44kmh for 11 miles, and consistently being able to change pace when I needed to, I was ever grateful to the Vamoots RSL. It never faltered, and was as capable as any racer I’ve ridden.

Of course it does lack some of the attributes of a race bike. It promises no aero advantage, and while the bottom bracket area is surprisingly stiff, it does lose out a little to the sturdiest carbon frames on the market. It carries some extra weight too, with the frame coming in at 1.2kg – again, very light for titanium but half a kilo heavier than the lightest carbon. But those marginal losses seemed to evaporate, even to a data obsessive like me, when it came to the overall harmony of the bike.

With the benefit of Campagnolo’s light and smooth Bora clincher wheelset, the Vamoots RSL was willing and able on all manner of rides. I found myself constantly tagging an extra 10km loop onto my regular routes, searching out extra climbs and descents. This was largely thanks to the frame’s ability to smooth out Surrey’s cracked tarmac, although it must be noted that the frame dealt much better with the gentle imperfections than potholes, where some carbon frames I’ve ridden were able to absorb more of the impact. 

Moots Vamoots RSL ride

It’s my longstanding belief that comfort and stability can contribute to overall speed. On the Vamoots RSL the smooth and predictable ride quality allowed my upper body to remain as relaxed as possible. Putting it to the test on some of my favoured local routes, it was consistently as quick as I’ve gone on the stiffest carbon frames, very much because its pristine ride quality urged me to push harder.

I’m hard pushed to pick any fault with the Vamoots RSL, save for the fact that it doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally. There are faster bikes, more comfortable bikes, and sharper-handling bikes, but very few that offer all at once in combination with stunning aesthetics and ride quality. And while the pricetag is considerable, in contrast to the more fragile nature of carbon, this really is a frame for life. Purchasing a Vamoots RSL could be compared with a matrimonial commitment, where the only reservation is that unnerving prospect that it could well be the last bike you ever ride.

Spec

Moots Vamoots RSL
Frame Moots Vamoots RSL
Groupset Campagnolo Chorus EPS
Bars 3T Ergosum Ltd.
Stem Moots RSL
Seatpost Moots Cinch
Wheels Campagnolo Bora Ultra 35 clincher
Saddle Fabric Scoop
Contact moots.com

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