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FiftyOne Disc review

16 Oct 2019
Verdict:

FiftyOne may be a new player in custom carbon frames, but its bikes are already amongst the most stunning and distinctive

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Stunning design • Versatile geometry and tyre clearance • Fundamentally exciting handling and ride quality
Against 
Dizzyingly expensive

There was a time when racing on a bike that wasn’t custom made simply wasn’t done. You went to your chosen framebuilder and they would determine the best tube lengths and angles to suit your body and riding requirements.

Of course, that was in the days of steel and aluminium. When carbon came along, custom geometry was all but sacrificed at the altar of lightness and stiffness.

There are some carbon brands, however – brands such as Dublin-based FiftyOne – where custom geometry is still considered a necessity. FiftyOne founder Aidan Duff says, ‘In the 1997 Tour de France, for instance, 100% of the peloton would have been on custom-built machines. The bikes were built specifically for them with every millimetre and angle there for a reason.’

Duff has a couple of serious international race results under his belt, so knows a thing or two about riding fast. He started FiftyOne in 2015, having already worked in the bike industry for more than 15 years, and claims that each frame he builds is a labour of love.

‘We only manage to produce about 100 bikes per year,’ he says. ‘It’s painfully labour-intensive and each frame takes about 10 days to make.’

The frames are made using mostly Enve tubing, measured and mitred by FiftyOne and then wrapped together using sheets of carbon fibre (for a full insight, check out our profile of the company).

While each frame is produced to the customer’s geometry, the signature of Duff’s approach is an agile and aggressive front end with a shorter trail than conventional endurance road geometry, coupled with a longer rear to increase comfort and stability.

To put that in perspective, our frame (which wasn’t produced bespoke for us) has a trail of 53mm and a set of 420mm chainstays. That’s 3mm less trail and 15mm longer chainstays than a Specialized Tarmac, which in geometry terms is fairly significant.

In practice, having less trail should make for a very responsive front end, but it relies on the skill of the designer in question to not sacrifice any confidence in its handling.

‘What we have found is that most of our customers are buying their first custom bike and trading up from, say, a Colnago or Pinarello,’ says Duff. ‘They may not really know or understand the implications of a head tube adjustment or a shallower trail, but they know what they want from the poise and stance of the frame, so we work together on giving them a geometry that suits them and offers them handling confidence.’

Handling the hype

Whenever I took the FiftyOne Disc out for a ride, it was very much a magnet for attention. If I left it outside a cafe during a coffee stop, I would emerge to find a small crowd gathered around it, such was the admiration it fostered. That was partly down to the clean lines and unique seatstay design, but primarily it was the incredible custom paint.

Photos don’t do it justice. The paint scheme is so well composed and neatly finished, it’s reminiscent of a Pegoretti custom steel frame. It’s as much a piece of personalised art as it is a custom bike. For FiftyOne the paint scheme is a hugely personal and deliberate project, informed by a long process of back-and-forth between the designer and customer.

On the road, the FiftyOne Disc felt very much the luxury bespoke carbon build. On flat terrain, I’d be hard pressed to split it from the Parlee Z-Zero Disc I tested last year. It has the same responsiveness, the same sense of feedback from the road coupled with an impressive degree of comfort at the rear.

It was when I rode into the mountains  – or more specifically when I was descending them – that the bike really set itself apart.

Descending is central to this bike’s character, and it’s a subject Duff feels passionately about. ‘FdJ have sent Thibaut Pinot to sports psychologists because of his [poor] descending, but have never questioned what changes they could make to his bike’s handling,’ he says. ‘We could have him descending like Alaphilippe.’

I was lucky enough to get a few weeks riding on the FiftyOne Disc in the Alps, and carving down 15% inclines was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. A bike that handles well will trace the line you’re going for with accuracy, predictability and minimal effort.

But if anything, the FiftyOne goes one better: it seems to see the line you want to take and goad you on to push a little harder.

Sharp bends felt like sweeping curves, such was its cornering prowess, and yet it also proved remarkably stable on long, straight descents, so that 80kmh felt like 50kmh.

Part of that is down to the 30mm tyres, which offer a huge amount of grip and confidence. The wide tyres felt just right (there is clearance for up to 32mm tyres) and they meant I was able to ride over gravel and scarred tracks without fear of punctures, and in relative comfort.

For me, the Goodyear Eagle All-Season tyres were a little wooden, and I’d be tempted to switch to something a little more supple, such as Schwalbe S-One tubeless 30mm tyres. Other than that, the only alteration I’d make to the bike would be a slightly stiffer rear end and bottom bracket.

Duff built this frame with comfort dialled into the rear, but if it had been built specifically for me I would have asked to sacrifice a little comfort and even some weight to have a more rigid rear for super-steep inclines or signpost sprints.

Sadly my pockets aren’t quite deep enough to afford a FiftyOne created to my own desires, but if my lottery numbers ever come up, then this framebuilder would certainly be on the list of custom bikes I would consider (some of the others being, in no specific order, Bastion, Moots and Parlee).

To put it simply, some people want a bike that tells a story about someone else – a Tour winner or an historic bikebuilder, perhaps. The FiftyOne sets out to tell its owner’s story, built to their needs and painted to their tastes. And it does that exceptionally well.

Spec

Frame FiftyOne Disc
Groupset Sram Red eTap AXS HRD
Brakes Sram Red eTap AXS HRD
Chainset Sram Red eTap AXS HRD
Cassette Sram Red eTap AXS HRD
Bars Enve SES Aero Road  
Stem Enve SES Aero Road
Seatpost Enve carbon
Saddle Fizik Arione R3 Open
Wheels Enve SES AR 3.4 Disc, Goodyear Eagle All-Season tubeless 30mm tyres
Weight 7.7kg (size 56)
Contact fiftyonebikes.com

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Price: 
£6,000 frameset (incl. custom paint & geometry), c.£12,000 complete build

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