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Chesini GP review

22 Feb 2016
Verdict:

The Chesini GP is the product of 90 years of steel knowhow but does it live up to the racy billing?

Price: 
£1,950 (frameset)

Recently a debate raged on Cyclist’s Facebook page. Well, raged is possibly a bit strong for a thread that contained two-dozen comments and an emoji (it was the winky-tongue-out-smiley one). But nevertheless, it wasn’t long before saddles were flung over computers and the keyboard jockeys were off. 

I shan’t bore you with the details, but the main thrust of the argument being proposed by some people was: bikes made in Asia are mass-produced; mass-produced means poor quality; therefore Asian-made bikes are poor quality. Then: bikes made in Italy are handmade; handmade is best; therefore Italian bikes are best. 

Chesini GP head tube

It’s a commonly held view among certain sections of the cycling community, but one that I felt compelled to refute. After all, at the last Tour de France every single team was riding a bike made in Asia (bar any Europcar member on a Colnago C60, although most of the team were on the Asian-made V1-r). Yes, teams are compelled to ride what they’re given, but this is the pinnacle of our sport and even the most cunning marketers would struggle to convince 200 professional riders to ride sub-standard machines just because the suppliers wanted to flog them to the public. 

We have to accept that Asia is no longer just a source of cheap labour in the cycling industry and now has the manufacturing and composites expertise to produce the most advanced race bikes for the top professional riders. But equally, this doesn’t mean that European handmade, small-batch bikes can’t hold their own against Asian bikes. They are just as good – but in a different way. And the Chesini GP is proof.

Case for the defence

Chesini GP bottom bracket

On paper it’s all here – the provenance, the heritage, the idiosyncrasies and, of course, the craftsmanship. Like all good artisanal brands, Chesini is named after its founder, Gelmino Chesini, who began toiling away in his workshop in the tiny Italian town of Nesente way back in 1925. The company has since moved to nearby Verona, increasing its original portfolio of one – the Biciprecision – to 22 road and track bikes, and in keeping with the times it has branched out into aluminium and carbon. The heart of the brand is still very much Italian-made steel, however. 

In fact, so dedicated is Chesini to all things metal-working that in the 1960s it opened a service centre for Singer sewing machines (though sadly this arm of the business is now defunct, as Singers today are plastic).

As befits a framebuilder with metal at its heart, 80% of the frames Chesini sells are bespoke, which also goes some way to explaining the rather ‘different’ geometry of this particular GP. It was built for a customer who will use it for racing, hence the low-slung head tube, high bottom bracket and slack seat tube angle, affording an aggressive position that permits pedalling long into corners before leaning affects pedal strike. That in itself will be divisive both in terms of aesthetic and ride appeal, but one thing you can’t escape is the finesse of its finish. 

Chesini GP seat post

Any metal bike owner will often find themselves fawning over welds, but it’s especially warranted on the GP. They are almost seamless, which is no mean feat when it comes to TIG welding, especially if you’re working with tubes whose walls are fractions of a millimetre thick. In this instance those tubes are Columbus Spirit HSS – standing for High Speed Steel – which are shaped with a truncated aero-esque profile and become as thin as 0.4mm in the middle of the butts. 

The welds are almost seamless, which is no mean feat when it comes to TIG welding

The GP weighs less than 1,700g – not bad at all for a steel frame – but it’s the paint that really makes the bike stand out. In certain light it looks almost black, but get it shimmering in the sun and the midnight blue paintwork lights up with deep lustre, the finely crafted Chesini logos popping iridescently. That might sound awfully flowery, but the GP is awfully pretty. If blue’s not for you, Chesini will oblige with most custom colours as part of the price (more complicated designs are negotiable). 

For the prosecution

It’s always going to be hard to objectively review a bike that’s been built with a specific person in mind that isn’t me, but I’ll do my best.

I wouldn’t class myself as a racer, but I’m still happy enough riding in an aggressive position, and to that end the GP delivered. With a bit of fettling (namely swapping out its gargantuan 140mm stem for a more manageable 110mm), I found it easy to dial in the GP to my liking and I was quickly at home on the bike. Something still felt a bit lacking, though. 

Chesini GP on test

Chesini had described the GP to me as ‘compact and reactive for short to medium distance’ – in other words a race bike – and with such radical geometry I expected it to feel markedly different from other bikes. The slack seat tube would put my centre of gravity further back, unweighting the front end and potentially leading to quicker handling, while the compact rear would mean a stiff, nippy ride. But things just felt a bit, well, normal. 

That’s not to say that the GP wasn’t a nice bike to ride – it certainly was, especially on more cruisey outings where the top-quality steel tubeset provided a lovely smooth ride, as if someone had dusted the road with talcum powder and Polyfilla’d in all the cracks. It also delivered a steadfast enough pedalling platform, with little detectable flex through the bottom bracket (perhaps in part due to the OMC chainset). But in terms of presenting a racy persona, or indeed anything particularly notable, the GP just fell a bit short. It felt a bit neutral, dare I say plain. 

The GP rode as if someone had dusted the road with talc and Polyfilla’d in the cracks

As an example of the bespoke, one-off world, the GP is a shining case in point of all that can be achieved in terms of design and finish. It demonstrates why there is no definitive answer as to who makes better bikes, the grizzled European artisan or the massive Taiwanese factory. Both genres are capable of some amazing things (just read the Cervélo S5 review, if you haven’t).

However, within its own sphere of bespoke handmade bicycles – one populated with the likes of Tommasini, Passoni, Scappa, Parlee, Festka – the GP’s neutrality in terms of performance means it fails to stand out. It is quite possibly as good as offerings from those brands, but to choose a GP over any other bike would require there to be something about Chesini as a company that draws you in, captures your imagination and means that only a Chesini will do. Otherwise the GP is just another lovely but rather unremarkable bespoke bicycle – unique to its owner, but not so different from the competition.

Spec

Chesini GP £4,880 as tested
Frame Chesini GP
Groupset Campagnolo Record 2014
Chainset OMC V-Strong One 
Bars Deda Superleggero alloy
Stem Deda Superleggero alloy
Seatpost Deda Superleggero RS carbon
Wheels Gest Balance C30 carbon
Saddle San Marco Aspide carbon
Contact creazzo.co.uk

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