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Cicli Barco XCR review

21 Nov 2019
Verdict:

Can't compete with the top carbon rigs on performance, but with its ride quality and sheer beauty that doesn’t matter. Totally captivating

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Absolutely stunning • Meticulous artisanship • Sublime steel feel • Dream build kit
Against 
It is what it is, so don’t expect superbike performance

‘No sooner had I got astride the bike for a test tour than I found that the frame is admirably laid out to give the most comfortable riding position possible, whilst, at the same time, full power can be applied to the pedals. This enabled me to cover long distances without feeling undue fatigue.

‘The gear-change itself was delightfully easy to operate, quick, and foolproof. The new leather top saddle was a delight to use. We all know that there is nothing like leather.

‘I set a lot of store by good brakes and I found the callipers really powerful, yet their retarding effect came on smoothly and evenly, as well as quickly. The bike is beautifully sweet running and easy to propel. As regards the quality of workmanship, material and finish, I can say no more than the product bears the family name.’

Sadly I didn’t write the rather wonderful prose above. Rather, it was lifted verbatim from The Cyclist magazine, issue 1, February 19th 1936, and concerned a review of a BSA Gold Vase bike. Yet, a full 83 years later and I could not have written a better summary of the Barco XCR. It is, as was noted of the BSA, a bike of ‘irresistible appeal’.

The Cyclist came courtesy of ‘A well wisher’, who found it ‘when cleaning out the house of two keen cycling brothers (Wal and Bill Wintersgill of Newton-le-Willows, North Yorkshire)’ and who kindly posted it in ‘for your archives’.

 

If he or she is reading this, I’m sorry to report that Cyclist is not related to The Cyclist, which is a shame as it’s a cracking read, with such articles as ‘Modern oiling methods’, tips on how to keep your matches dry in rain* and adverts for harmonicas to ‘liven up your outings’.

The Cyclist also serves to prove that in many respects the lament is true: there is nothing new under the sun. There are articles on eliminating the pedalling dead spot (oval chainrings are discussed), bike fit, new gear systems and why hub-based brakes are the future, plus a staggering number of references to cyclists ‘not getting a square deal’ on the roads.

All of which got me thinking about the Barco XCR… 

Family matters

The Barco family has been making bikes in northern Italy since 1947. Founded by Mario Barco, today his sons Alberto and Maurizio share the welding (Alberto does the TIG-ing and Maurizio the brazing); Alberto’s wife, Fabiola, does the cutting and mitring, and their son, Gianluca, is the full-time company face and part-time fabricator.

While the Barco name might not be household, it’s likely you’ll have seen a Barco-built bike before, because the company is a contract builder for some 20 high-end bike brands, and rightly so.

I visited Barco a few years ago and I would go as far to say I have never seen steel frames made to a higher standard – the precision and deftness with which the family works is incredible, and the results are stunning. It’s therefore little surprise that the Barco XCR is perfection to behold.

 

For more information on the Cicli Barco XCr, click here.

As per its name the frame is Columbus XCr stainless steel, painstakingly polished to a high lustre. The top of the seatstays are fillet brazed but otherwise the frame is TIG welded, only with such accuracy and fine finishing that the joints appear near-smooth like brazing, as opposed to having the ‘stack o’ dimes’ of TIG.

The dropout cowls and bottom bracket shell are hand engraved with the company name, a tiny enamelled Italian flag is silver brazed to the top tube (you can get your name in there too, as all the XCRs are custom built) and the seat-binder bolt integrates into the top of the seatstays in a ‘fastback’ design. But my favourite element doesn’t concern the frame at all, but the fork.

Reminiscent of the straight-bladed Precisa fork Colnago introduced in the 1980s, Barco’s Viva fork is classical in appearance but modern in process. It is stainless steel and not chromed, but moreover has a carbon steerer tube, reducing weight from around 750g to 550g (steerer length dependent).

It’s therefore mightily impressive that this bike weighs less than 8kg given that it’s nearly all metal, and while you could go lighter with a full carbon fork, I can’t see why you would want to. The metallic spring inherent in this Columbus steel is, I think, what makes the XCR feel lighter than it really is.

This is not a bike to win sprints on – it’s a bit too beautiful to risk crashing, for one thing – but it is possessed of enough stiffness to feel spry and responsive, be it when cornering or putting in big-energy efforts. It also has sufficient flex to feel like it’s pinging off the road surface and returning energy like a spring when put under load.

That spring effect is likely negligible, and at any rate a springy frame is not an efficient one because you never get back the energy you put in. But in a world of don’t-budge-a-millimetre carbon fibre, and for a rider looking for a beautifully smooth bike that provides an enjoyable ride every time, you’d be hard pressed to find anything as good as the XCR. It is, for want of a less tritely anthropomorphic word, a bike that feels alive.

 

Great expectations

All this comes at a damn sight more than the £6 2s 6d asking price of the BSA Gold Vase (£1,083 in today’s money, calculated on goods in relation to average incomes of 1936). At £10,000 in this build, the XCR is more on par with a bells-and-whistles carbon bike, yet as The Cyclist reminded me, price is not really where a bike’s true value lies.

While over time the solutions to the problems cyclists face have improved – our hub-based brakes are hydraulically operated callipers, not mechanically deployed drum brakes – I can’t help but feel the questions we’re asking of our bicycles remain the same.

We want a bike that we feel meets our expectations, whether that’s for wind-tunnel-refined speed or for the artisan touch of a master builder to make it beautiful. But mostly we want the bike we choose to make us love riding it. And I guarantee you will love riding the Barco XCR.

(*Keep your matches dry by putting the wooden ends in a wine cork and shoving the cork up the end of your seatpost.)

 

Spec

Frame Cicli Barco XCR
Groupset Campagnolo Super Record EPS 12-speed
Brakes Campagnolo Super Record EPS 12-speed
Chainset Campagnolo Super Record EPS 12-speed
Cassette Campagnolo Super Record EPS 12-speed
Bars WR Compositi RM08  
Stem ST1
Seatpost WRC
Saddle Maranello Carbon
Wheels Campagnolo Bora Ultra 35, Pirelli P-Zero 28mm tyres
Weight 7.98kg
Contact lifecycleuk.com

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Price: 
£2,499/£430 (frame/fork), £3,065 (frameset including Chris King headset), approx £10,000 as tested

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