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Rolo custom review

9 Oct 2015
Verdict:

The Rolo is one of the most expensive bikes we've ever tested - but also one of the best.

Price: 
£6,500

Rolo Bikes hails from Luxembourg but takes its name from an all-conquering Norse Viking of the 10th century, Rollo. It’s certainly more fitting than naming it after chocolate-covered caramel sweets. When it comes to the fight for supremacy in the bike industry, the fledgling company, formed in 2011, has picked an arena in which only the most experienced dare to do battle. If you’re squeamish about five-figure pricetags you may want to look away now. At almost £13,000 for this complete build, the Rolo is reserved for those with cavernous pockets, and raises questions about how the company justifies the cost.

Made to measure

Rolo frame

Co-founder Adam Wais tells us the Rolo is about more than super-light weight or hitting specific stiffness levels. For him, the key point of difference is in the handling. Wais, who is a self-confessed geek when it comes to the subject of bicycle geometry, will happily explain the physics behind a phenomenon known as ‘front wheel flop’ and, while we won’t go into the details here (Rolo’s website does a good job of explaining it: Front wheel flop), it’s key to the bike’s pin-sharp handling. It’s also why, despite each Rolo being custom-built to the rider’s demands, there is no option on geometry.

Most brands that create fully custom carbon frames offer the rider a choice of both of lay-up and geometry – everything will be tweaked to suit the size and riding style of the customer. With Rolo, however, the geometry is fixed because Wais believes that when you fiddle with the geometry you significantly alter the way the bike behaves. He believes it’s better to maintain the integrity of the bike’s handling rather than design a frame to suit a rider’s dimensions. The bespoke part of the build comes with the way the carbon fibre is laid-up in the moulds, which Rolo calls ‘Ridertuned’.

Each Rolo frame is created individually for each customer according to their needs using what Wais claims is the highest-spec carbon fibre available. The frames are built entirely by hand in Würzburg, Germany, using ‘a one-piece homogenous monocoque’, which means there are no breaks or bonded junctions in the structure of the entire main frame – only the chainstays and seatstays are later bonded on. It’s an expensive way to build bikes because it necessitates a complete mould for each frame size, but Wais says it’s the best way to control the quality and precision of the finished product.

Rolo seat stays

Such a high level of influence over the weight and ride feel is exactly the edge over its competitors that a brand like Rolo seeks, and it claims to have honed the processes to such a degree of accuracy that it can be certain the frames will perform in the real world within a tiny margin of the CFD predictions.

Each frame is made to order and is painted according to customer requirements too. The design can be as bland or as lairy as you like, with no additional charge. The bike shown here was inspired by the paintjob of a ‘Colour Me Gone’ Dodge Charger drag racer from the 1960s. It received lots of approving and lingering looks while parked in the Cyclist office, but the real test of its appeal would be in how it rode. 

Impeccable performance

From the first pedal strokes the Rolo impressed me. The delivery of power through the lower half of the frame felt solid and completely dependable yet the bike still provided a sympathetic ride over pitted and cracked surfaces, even gravel roads.

Rolo claims its goal is always to be under 700g for its equivalent 56cm frame, creating frames as light as 620g in smaller sizes, and even its stiffest lay-ups in the largest size arrive at a claimed maximum of 760g. We weighed this bike on the office scales at an incredibly svelte 5.8kg. That’s a full kilo under the UCI race limit, so it’s hardly surprising my pedalling inputs were met with lively acceleration. The steering and front-end responsiveness felt light, but not in a twitchy, nervous way. I always felt fully in control on fast, sweeping descents or tight bends. Rolo’s claim of superior handling certainly seems to bear out on the road.

Rolo dropout

The handbuilt tubular carbon wheels from French builder Adrien Gontier of RAR Roues Artisanales are also extremely light and well suited to the build, bringing additional sprightliness to the bike. With the spokes tied at their crossings (something seldom seen these days) the wheel’s lateral stiffness is noticeable. The only limitation in its performance was the rim’s slightly inconsistent brake feel at times, which led to a few unexpected wheel lock-ups, but then this is a problem that can be leveled at a large number of carbon-rimmed wheels.

I spent a few rides aboard the Rolo simply allowing my Garmin to plot random routes through the Somerset lanes, and I regularly found myself turning a corner to find myself faced with a steep, daunting climb. The Rolo dispensed with a number of 20% gradients with an ease that would flatter anyone’s climbing ability. It made me want to tackle every hill at full tilt.

Rolo review

The lack of a replaceable rear mech hanger is potentially an oversight, especially given the cost of the frame, but Rolo says it would rather ensure the crispness and accuracy of gear changes from a solid mount than risk a potentially flexible alloy add-on. I can’t deny the shifting from the Dura-Ace Di2 was flawless, but equally I’ve not encountered issues on other test bikes with replaceable hangers. Rolo, however, remains confident in the strength of the design to the extent it says that, in the event the dropout did get broken, ‘we would simply replace the whole back end anyway’.

Not only would I put the Rolo among the best bikes I’ve ever ridden, it delivers everything in a way that subtly underpins its non-mainstream persona, which just makes it that bit more special. If I had the cash I would, without hesitation, buy myself a Rolo, and no amount of love for someone would persuade me to give it away.

Spec

Rolo £12,800 as tested
Frame Rolo
Groupset Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 9070
Bars Haero carbon
Stem Extralite
Seatpost AX-Lightness Daedalus
Wheels RAR Absolute, handbuilt carbon tubular
Saddle Fabic ALM
Contact rolobikes.com

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