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Rondo HVRT CF Zero review

18 Nov 2019
Verdict:

Rondo's HVRT is a rare step in innovation, fully exploiting the potential of the latest technology in bike design. Plus it's thoroughly fun

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£5,599
For 
Fast, fun, extremely versatile and heaping with innovation
Against 
The adjustable geometry is innovative but likely to be a one-time switch

The Rondo HVRT is a confusing bike. At either end it looks like a gravel bike with its dropped chainstay and wide fork legs that allow for extra tyre clearance. Yet the middle firmly resembles an aero road bike, with sharp aerodynamic tube shapes. So is this an aero gravel bike?

‘Nope, it’s a road bike,’ says Tomasz Cybula, brand manager of Rondo. ‘A unique one, but still a road bike. It can take big tyres and occasionally ride gravel road segments, but it’s not a gravel bike or any other kind of off-road bike.’

Cybula’s comment seems a bit odd, considering HVRT stands for ‘High Velocity, Rough Terrain’ and that the bike can take 650b wheels with up to 47mm tyres. But it makes more sense when you consider that Rondo also makes the far more off-road-oriented Rondo Ruut, and has plans to release an even more rugged adventure bike.

Perhaps the HVRT is best described as a versatile bike, and its chameleon-like ability to adapt to its environment is best demonstrated when it reveals its party trick: variable geometry.

The HVRT’s fork is called TwinTip, and it has an insert at the dropout that can be flipped to change the length and rake of the fork. This also changes the length of the wheelbase and trail, as well as the effective angles of the head tube and seat tube.

It was a bold design when first unveiled last year and won the bike the Gold Winner award at the Eurobike international trade fair.

When the insert is in the ‘hi’ position, the bike is in its more racy mode, with a steeper head tube and lower stack making for a more aggressive setup. In the ‘lo’ position, the stack is higher and the angles slacker for a more relaxed riding style that’s better suited to rougher terrain.

Buy the Rondo HVRT CF Zero road bike from Chain Reaction for £5,999

All for one

With so many possible permutations, testing the Rondo HVRT was more like testing four bikes than just one. For my first rides I decided on fitting 650b rims with 47mm tyres and put the TwinTip insert into the ‘lo’ position. This being the more relaxed of the two geometry options, I expected the bike to be slightly sluggish. To my surprise, it was rapid.

Some of my most fun rides of the summer were on the HVRT in this very setup. With 50psi in the tyres it was quick enough – just – to keep up with a pacy road group, and then I could release a little pressure out of the tyres and veer into the unknown, exploring bridleways, woodland paths and singletrack along the way.

I found the HVRT tall enough at the front and stable enough that off-road trails were within its comfort zone, despite Cybula’s assertion that ‘I do not recommend this bike for gravel’.

True enough, the HVRT is not a gravel bike. With its 72.8° head tube (‘lo’ position) and short 408mm chainstays, the geometry isn’t in the same range as a true gravel bike, and I could feel the limitations when descending steep, root-filled trails or negotiating rocky ground.

It couldn’t handle very technical terrain as competently as something like the Open Wi.DE, which I was testing around the same time, but it still proved to be fast and fun on gravel paths, and that was enough for me.

For most road riders looking to make the transition to rougher routes, the HVRT would be more than capable enough, and I’d put it in the same league as bikes such as the 3T Exploro or GT Grade.

Flipping out

While still in the ‘lo’ position, I then swapped the 650b rims for 700c wheels. This did see the bike pick up speed, and it felt a little more rigid with the narrower tyres, however the character was largely the same. It still had a pleasant mix of relaxed geometry with sprightly acceleration.

The bike also seemed to hold speed reasonably well on the flat, which could be attributable to the aerodynamic tube shapes. I say ‘could be’ because the HVRT isn’t a fully-fledged aero bike – it hasn’t seen the inside of a wind-tunnel – but Rondo has used computer modelling to create a frame that cuts through the air fairly efficiently.

I would put the HVRT alongside a second tier of aero road bikes such as the Ribble Aero 883 or Orro Venturi. In this guise, it’s fast but not blisteringly fast.

Then it came time to flip the TwinTip fork from its relaxed ‘lo’ position to racy ‘hi’ position. As an aside, switching the TwinTip is a bit of a faff. While it takes zero mechanical skill to flip the dropout itself, the brakes must then be realigned to fit the new rotor position.

Rondo provides a special spacer to get the calliper in position, but I still found it teeth-grindingly frustrating to get it properly aligned. Still, once it was done, everything changed.

Having tested bikes for years, it never ceases to amaze me how big a change even the tiniest alteration to geometry can make. With the TwinTip in ‘hi’ mode, the HVRT became a different bike.

It now had the feel of a pure-bred racer. With a steeper head tube (73.5° on a 56cm frame) and shorter wheelbase, it was aggressive when sprinting and snappy in its handling.

That suited me just fine, and the ‘hi’ position became my favoured setup, but it was still good to know that I had the option to switch to a more relaxed geometry and wider tyres if the weather turned bad or I wanted to head off-road.

While reviewing the HVRT I had a flurry of interest from other riders and observers on social media. Many were just intrigued by the look of the bike. Others wanted to know whether its versatility actually made it the worst of both worlds.

To some extent it’s a fair question, because the HVRT doesn’t quite master either of the jobs it sets out to do. But I’d argue we need to be realistic about what we expect from our bikes.

Perhaps the HVRT can’t keep pace with the purest racing machines on the road. And maybe it can’t tame the toughest of trails. But the fact that it can get close to both of those things with one frame is fairly astounding.

Rondo is one of the few brands really trying to maximise every opportunity that the newest technological advances in cycling can offer. The result is that the HVRT is innovative, fast and thoroughly good fun.

Buy the Rondon HVRT CF Zero road bike from Chain Reaction for £5,999

Spec

Frame Rondo HVRT CF Zero
Groupset Shimano Dura-Ace R9100
Brakes Shimano Dura-Ace R9100
Chainset Shimano Dura-Ace R9100
Cassette Shimano Dura-Ace R9100
Bars Easton EC70 Aero  
Stem Rondo 110mm
Seatpost Rondo Aero Carbon
Saddle Fabric Scoop Flat Ultimate
Wheels Rondo X Hunt 50 Aero Carbon, Panaracer Race C Evo3 26mm tyres
Weight 7.9kg
Contact rondo.cc

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