Sarto Asola Disc
Italian custom carbon gets the disc brake treatment
Rather surprisingly, it hasn’t taken that long for disc brakes to become an accepted norm on road bikes. Yet even now, descriptions of disc-equipped bikes still often include the caveat: ‘It’s quite aerodynamic for a disc bike’ or ‘It’s pretty light for a disc bike’.
Fortunately, that’s starting to change. Designs such as Specialized’s latest Venge, Trek’s new Madone and 3T’s Strada have proven that discs can be added without affecting aerodynamics, and now bikes like the Sarto Asola Disc prove that the same can be said about weight.
This bike weighs just 6.99kg. That’s light, period, not just for a disc bike. It may be dressed up in Campagnolo’s Super Record H11 disc groupset, but its heft (or rather its lack of it) demonstrates that the performance gap between disc brake road bikes and rim brake bikes is reducing all the time.
‘There’s no secret to it – we’re simply getting more extensive opportunities to refine our designs,’ says Sarto’s Manuel Columbo. Only 300 Sarto-badged frames left its Italian factory in Pianiga, near Venice, last year, and only a small percentage of those were disc bikes. That doesn’t seem like ‘extensive’ experience on the face of it, but it’s important to remember that Sarto-branded bikes represent only a fraction of the company’s total production.
Sarto is a custom contractor that fabricates frames for many other brands, to their own specifications, alongside its own eponymous designs. It’s a fitting line of work explained in the brand’s name – Sarto is Italian for tailor.
Columbo tells us there has been a huge upsurge in the demand for disc frames, with most of the brands Sarto produces for scrambling to get one into their own collections. It means Sarto is exposed to a wide variety of carbon road disc designs, and therefore has plenty of opportunity to learn what works best before then applying that to its own frames. What’s more, the frames Sarto builds under its own name remain completely exclusive and as such won’t be available under any other label.
As a result, Sarto has been able to produce this Asola Disc frameset at just 150g more than the regular Asola, and the difference could actually have been smaller still. The top weave of 1K carbon is only cosmetic, but is necessary ‘to produce a distinctive finish, sort of like a Sarto signature’, according to Columbo.
There have been changes to the fork and the chainstays on the Asola Disc, but otherwise the look of the Asola – a bike for the purists among us – has been maintained. Of the bikes in Sarto’s line-up, the Asola is the lightest and the most classic-looking, with round tubes and fairly standard geometry. The construction method is tube-to-tube, and Columbo says Sarto works in this way because it is the only real possibility if you want to offer a fully custom frame.
‘It’s so much better for checking the quality of the product too,’ he says. ‘Layering, weight and thickness can all be assessed more accurately compared to a monocoque construction, so ultimately the ride quality and integrity of the frame is more consistent.’
Class and charisma
Sarto has a reputation for producing high-quality bikes, and the previous models that have been tested in Cyclist were all well received, so I was inclined to take Columbo’s claims at face value. And having spent some weeks aboard the Asola Disc, I was right to.
This Asola Disc was built to my measurements so I was predisposed to suit it, but even then I was surprised to discover quite how at ease I was on the bike from the very first pedal stroke. It was like buying a brand new pair of brogues to find they had already been broken in to my feet.
It was like buying a brand new pair of brogues to find they had already been broken in to my feet
There are some who suggest that custombuilt frames are unnecessary and that for most riders a stock bike can be adjusted to fit just as well, but I’d say there’s more to it than that. A custom frame possesses something extra that is unquantifiable, perhaps even psychological, but no less powerful all the same. On the Asola Disc, this manifested itself in the handling – it just seemed to be more assured, more natural, than most stock bikes I’ve ridden.
Geometry goes some way to explaining the pleasing balance between reactivity and stability. Relatively short 408mm chainstays create a tight back end, while a slacker than normal 72.5° head tube lengthens the front centre enough to keep the bike from being twitchy at high speeds. It created the sense that I could steer the bike with my hips. Combined with Campagnolo’s H11 disc system, the Asola Disc was one of the most confident descenders I’ve ever ridden.
While on the subject of Campagnolo, I happen to think that it produces easily the most elegant groupsets of the big three manufacturers, with a performance that matches both Shimano and Sram. As such, it was the perfect accompaniment to the Sarto frame.
When I wasn’t diving through the corners of my local Dorset lanes, I found the Asola Disc to be equally agreeable on the straights. The frame isn’t race-bike stiff, so even over broken or loose surfaces it didn’t get skittish or uncomfortable, and I would return from long rides still feeling relatively fresh.
Moving with the times
Some of the comfort afforded by the Asola Disc will be down to the 28mm tyres, and if I’d decided that I needed even more cushioning or grip there is scope to go even wider. With no need to accommodate rim brakes, Sarto has designed the Asola Disc to accept up to 32mm tyres.
Progressive touches such as this are welcome reassurance that Sarto is not content just to trade on its heritage or its subcontracted work, but that instead it can keep pace with trends and provide performance levels to match big-name brands in its own right.
Many years ago there was a belief that the advent of off-the-peg suits would prove to be the death of Savile Row. Sarto’s Asola Disc goes to show that, whatever the industry, there will always be a need for a good tailor.
A slacker than normal head tube created the sense that I could steer the bike with my hips
THE SPEC Model Sarto Asola Disc Groupset Campagnolo Super Record H11 Deviations None Wheels Campagnolo Bora One DB Finishing kit 3T Ernova Team Stealth bars, 3T ARX LTD stem, 3T Stylus LTD Stealth seatpost, Selle Italia Flite Flow saddle, 28mm Pirelli...
BESPOKE DESIGN The Asola Disc is closely related to the Asola - both share classic tube shapes and low weight. The Asola Disc could have lost the bridge on the stays but it has been retained to promote rigidity.
GROUPSET H11 is Campagnolo’s first disc brake but you wouldn’t guess - braking is consistent and powerful. What’s more, the technology still features the classic ergonomics and gearshift feel you’d expect from the manufacturer.