• Published in Bikes

By Paul Smith

RBR’s John Marsh and I attended CycloFest 2016 at the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., October 20-21.This was the inaugural CycloFest, put on by the organizers of Interbike to make it easier for East Coast  buyers, exhibitors and bicycle enthusiasts to come together.

The set up resembled the Outdoor Demo area of Interbike, with over 500 retailers showing their wares in booths spread across a gravel parking area. Vendors, many of the same ones that attended Interbike, highlighted products including wheels, bike security, nutrition and, of course, bikes.

John and I got to test a number of high-end road bike beauties (and a couple of others), riding alongside each other while discussing the merits of each bike -- and doing back-to-back comparisons, returning one bike and immediately taking out another. This gave us a unique opportunity to get a great feel for the individual characteristics of each bike, and how they compared to one another.

All the bikes were wonderful, with some more so than others. Following are capsule reviews of the bikes we took out, along with a few other personal and product highlights.

Litespeed T1SL

litespeed t1sl titanium road bike 108.WEB

It seems like titanium is still alive and well, especially in the hands of the thoughtful master craftspeople at Litespeed. They continue to build bikes in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and those of you fortunate enough to ride one will be glad they do.

The T1SL is not like other Ti bikes I’ve ridden. I have an Ibis Sonoma Road frame which was built in 1999. It’s a wonderful bike, very comfortable and forgiving, however with some flex.

The Litespeed frame makes sure that no effort is wasted, delivering power efficiently to the road. At the same time the rider is kept comfortable with ovalized seat stays that flex small amounts under load. The top tube has a unique shape (far more reminiscent of carbon than traditional Ti builds) that increases stiffness in the frame. Litespeed even goes so far as to spend a lot of time machining out material from the bottom bracket, all to save 90 grams. The overall frame is just 1,000 grams.

The result is one of the best bicycles I’ve had the pleasure of riding. John and I both had this as our favorite bike out of ones we rode. It’s a considerable investment at $4,000 for the frame alone; however, with the longevity of Ti frames it’s a bike you can enjoy for years to come.


Side notes:

  • Litespeed worked with NASA on the construction of the suspension for the Mars lander. Since NASA requires strict controls, Litespeed was able to gain access to titanium right from the mine and follow it all the way through the refinement process. The company continues to do so and is the only bicycle manufacturer to have this level of oversight of their supply chain.
  • The T1SL John rode was the only bike at CycloFest equipped with the brand new (just now shipping) Dura-Ace R9100 mechanical groupset. I'll turn it over to John for his impressions: "The new Dura-Ace 9100 feels like a near-perfect mix of mechanical and electronic shifting. It's not electronic, of course, but literally after the first shift, I thought to myself how much it feels like electronic shifting. (And I rode both Di2 and Campy Chorus EPS groups on other bikes at the show, which formed a ready basis of on-site comparison.) The reduced stroke (by almost 25% shifting inboard on the cassette) makes shifting lightning quick. Coupled with buttery smoothness, precision and a feel for shifting that electronic groups just don't offer, the new Dura-Ace 9100 takes mechanical shifting to a new level. For those who prefer mechanical, once this group starts trickling down, it's sure to be a popular choice." —J.M.


Pinarello Dogma F8


With lots of gravel and great nearby mountain bike trails, most of the testers at CycloFest were focusing on MTB and cross bikes. Good for us! It was easy to get access to glorious dream road bikes, with no waiting. We walked up to the Pinarello both, gave them our driver’s license, and in return they passed us a Dogma F8 to try out. A fair trade, I’d say.

This was the first time I had ridden a Pinarello, and it was easy to develop a taste for this high- end Italian machine. Cornering was predictable, and uptake was swift. Standing up on the pedals and starting a sprint sent the bike quickly down the road.

The big surprise for me was on the uphills - it almost felt like there was another little push coming from the back of the bike. No wonder Froome looks so capable in the Alps.

John and I both loved the bike with its well-behaved and controlled characteristics. I’d spend my money on the Litespeed first but would love to have a bike like this in the garage.


Look 675 Light


The Look 675 was a fascinating bike in terms of design, as the top tube flows into the stem and handlebars. The radical design left us wondering how well the bike would handle; however, the ride characteristics and handling proved to be predictable and precise.

Under load in a sprint it showed no signs of wobble and power was delivered efficiently through a full-Ultegra mechanical drivetrain. This bike actually closely resembled the way my 2015 Felt F1 feels, and John had the same comment about his own Felt FC.

This bike is a delight to ride and represents a comparative bargain, coming in at $3,600.


Eddy Merckx 525


This gorgeous bike from Eddy Merckx has interesting design details wherever you look. The Cannibal insisted on a very specific-handling bike in the 525, and the geometry reflects that heritage.

It is fast and efficient on the road, something both John and I noticed immediately. Cornering was the most fun and precise of all the bikes we tested. There was a small roundabout heading out on the ride which we pushed the bike into. It seemed to almost steer itself through the corner and right out the other side.

The bike is truly an efficient race machine, which also meant it had one glaring shortcoming (depending on how you might ride it). Road noise was the most pronounced out of all the bikes we tested, with both of us feeling every little bump and ripple in the road. The 525 would excel as a race-day-only machine; however, it would be challenging to ride a century on this bike. All-day comfort would not be in the offing.


Van Dessel Whisky Tango Foxtrot


As disc brakes have become commonplace, manufacturers have started to play up the ability to keep the same frame and swap out wheels so that it’s possible to have one frame suited to multiple roles.

The Van Dessel Whisky Tango Foxtrot (or WTF) is an example of this, with fun flowing lines from the stem through to the rear wheel. Since the bike was sporting a trail-capable set of wheels and tires, I took it out first on some gravel and then on an easy mountain bike trail. I was still grinning when I turned the bike back in. It handled bumps and drops with relative ease and still made sure I could get the power down to get up steep sections covered in tree roots.

The frame costs $699.


Niner RLT-S

NinerRTLS.WEBNiner has produced an unusual bike, highlighting the strength and versatility of steel even as carbon dominated the show (and bikes, in general). The RLT is purposefully designed as an adventure gravel bike, with different and less twitchy geometry than a cyclocross bike. There are even frame mounts for panniers should you decide you want a bicycle suitable for touring.

Just like the Van Dessel WTF, swapping wheels can turn this bike from a road bike into a gravel bike that can also do fine on mountain bike trails. Which is exactly how I rode it. It was huge fun. Although I would have liked a little front suspension off-road, the bike was capable of handling the twists and turns of the trail and felt comfortable in loose gravel. And did I mention it was fun?


Other CycloFest Highlights

Alto Cycling

Alto Cycling is continuing to build some very interesting wheels, a pair of which I purchased last year. Bobby Sweeting, the CEO, AltoCyclingCrossSection.WEBhighlighted some of the design features to me, including the smooth inner walls of the wheels. By gaining such smoothness and uniformity Bobby claims the wheels are stronger, better balanced and therefore more precise and comfortable.

High-precision axles with super high machining tolerances provide low friction. A new line of alloy wheels will be out shortly, along with a now available line of wheels to support disc brakes.



Northwave was on hand with their new shoe offerings. Their new high-end shoe, the Extreme RR, retails for $400 and claims to have one of the stiffest soles on the market. It’s certainly an elegant-NorthwaveShoes.2.WEBlooking shoe with a number of interesting features, such as their proprietary dial lacing system and a “cats tongue” grip built into the heel fabric to prevent your sock from sliding out of the shoe.

Even more interesting, though, at $200 and sporting some of the same features was Northwave’s mid-range shoe, the Flash Carbon (see above) – which promises great functionality and value. The “cats tongue” feature carries over, although the sole is less stiff. But the weight is nearly identical to its twice-the-price cousin. It’s a shoe we are hoping to look at more closely in a future review.


Paul Smith regularly reviews products for RBR. He’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. He commutes often, and his car is worth less than any of his bikes. Click to read Paul's full bio.

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