BIKE TEST – RONDO
Rondo earned plaudits for the innovative Vario geometry built into its debut gravel bike, the RUUT. Can its new versatile road bike, the HVRT CF0, garner similar acclaim?
Is Rondo’s new road bike the only bike you’ll ever need?
Rondo is the latest project from Szymon Kobylinski. He started NS Bikes 15 years ago because he couldn’t find the sort of bikes he wanted to ride in his native Poland (Kobylinski raced mountain bike downhill at a high level). The brand is still going, and its gravity, freeride and jump bikes are highly regarded. In recent years, Kobylinski has put away his full-face helmet and body armour and taken up road and cyclocross, which has led to his latest venture: Rondo. According to the website, it “wants to change the way drop-bar bikes are perceived, by both roadies and mountain bikers.”
Rondo’s first bike was the RUUT, a gravel machine with ‘Vario geometry’ – a simple flip-chip in the fork adjusts the bike from an aggressive road-race like stance to one that is more relaxed. While it was versatile enough to cover the gravel, adventure and cyclocross bases, Kobylinski wanted something that could also handle fast road rides, which led to the creation of Rondo’s newest bike: the HVRT CF0. HVRT stands for high velocity, rough terrain and the CF0 suffix refers to the bike’s carbon fibre frame (it joins the steelframed HVRT ST and HVRT AL, which is made from aluminium).
Kobylinski is at pains to point out that the HVRT isn’t simply a gravel bike with aero elements. “It’s a road bike. 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. The HVRT puts the rider in a more aggressive position: the frame is stiffer and more responsive. You can really feel the difference, especially when compared to a bike set up on the same wheelset.” And that’s a key element, because you can run the HVRT with either 700c or 650b wheels.
I’ve been following the development of the HVRT CF0 since August 2017, when I saw an early prototype while visiting Rondo in Poland. I’d been pestering ever since to get a ride on it and finally, late last year, Kobylinski got in touch to say the first production bikes were on their way. We hatched a plan to meet up in Cyprus in December for some winter riding. We chose Cyprus because it has a wide variety of terrain and an epic network of roads and gravel trails. Routes and rides were planned (with the help of the Larnaca-based bike shop Cycle Love) that would allow me to put the full versatility of the HVRT CF0 to the test. First, I’d head out on the HVRT in high-axle ‘race’ trim (700c carbon wheels and 25mm tyres) for a long road ride; the next day, I’d switch in the 650b hoops with 47mm tyres for a four-hour gravel grind; then, for the last couple days, I’d give the low-axle, ‘relaxed’ geometry a try.
Tested on tarmac
At first glance, the HVRT looks like one of the current crop of aero bikes with blended frame junctions and truncated aerofoil ‘Kamm tail’ tubes. It also has dropped rear seatstays that taper down to a point behind the rear axle before kinking back in with an ‘ankle’ that acts like a spring to add some compliance into the bike’s back end.
Where the HVRT differs from a typical aero bike is the tyre clearances, which are big enough for 30mm tyres on 700c wheels and 47mm tyres on 650b wheels, and deliver a level of comfort you
“The frame is stiffer and more responsive. You can really feel the difference, especially compared to a bike on the same wheelset”
wouldn’t normally expect from an aero design. The aero seatpost also has a trick up its sleeve: a slot you can fit a rear light into.
The fork’s crown is neatly integrated into the down tube for smoother airflow and the brake hose descends internally to a flat-mount for the disc calliper. The front brake calliper is shrouded by an aero fairing; I’ve no idea if this has any actual benefit but it looks damn cool.
Of course, the fork’s main feature is the TwinTip dropouts that enable the bike’s Vario geometry – running the tips in the high position gives the HVRT a racier geometry while the lower, longer setting makes it more relaxed and stable.
My first ride with the HVRT follows a route from Larnaca’s coast into the hills inland, a few challenging climbs and then a long, technical descent leading into a flat, fast run back to the sea. The first two and a half hours are, for the most part, uphill, with the highlight being what the locals refer to as ‘the Rollercoaster’: a sinewy ribbon of smooth tarmac that rises and falls through a high-sided valley, with plenty of switchback corners and short, sharp descents.
The HVRT in its high-axle ‘race’ trim is in its element. My 59cm test bike has a stack just shy of 600mm, a long 407mm reach, a steep 73.8° headThe HVRT in high-axle ‘race’ trim is in its element... The chassis responds to my pedal and steering inputs with impressive immediacy
angle, a 73.3° seat angle and 45mm of fork offset, all of which makes it a great companion for this type of terrain. The chassis responds to my pedal and steering inputs with impressive immediacy, which makes threading it through the Rollercoaster a highlight of this trip.
As the average gradient increases, the HVRT’s rigidity ensures all of my efforts count. I’m riding with a group and whenever I find myself sitting in and grinding away on the bike’s lowest 36x28 gear, the comfort afforded by its clever rear end and classy Fabric ALM Ultimate saddle is very welcome.
The climbs also give me a chance to consider the wheels, an impressive collaboration between Rondo and British wheel brand Hunt. The 50mm-deep carbon rim (with a wide 21mm internal width) doesn’t feel like the sort of wheel that should work on climbs, but the combined 1487g weight is pretty much class-leading and means they respond as well as wheels half their depth.
When we reach the ride’s highest point we enjoy a welcome cafe stop. Our guide Kyriacos, a Cypriot XC MTB champion and self-confessed climbing addict, tells me that the next chunk is downhill and fast, with plenty of tight turns. As we’ve taken a turn back towards the coast, the wind
has picked up, so this is going to be a decent test for an aero bike with deep carbon wheels.
The first few kilometres are full of hairpins. The Dura-Ace disc brakes with their Icetech rotors get a big workout here and just as the HVRT handles with pinpoint accuracy, the hydraulic brakes offer a similar level of control. The Hunt wheels cope well with gusting crosswinds, never snapping or jarring sideways and only ever succumbing to them with a feeling of sideways pressure that’s easy to counter.
At the base of the descent we’re still about an hour from home. From here it’s mostly flat or gentle descents but the light is fading so our group forms a chain gang and we take turns pulling to keep the average speed close to 30mph. During this final stretch, the HVRT feels every inch the race bike that Kobylinski intended it to be. I’m surprised that a bike as versatile as this hasn’t once felt compromised.
The Dura-Ace brakes are getting a little noisy, but my confidence in the grip makes me keep pushing until my Garmin logs 55mph
Graded on gravel
The following day, I switch the 700c Hunt wheels for a set of 650b alloys with balloon-like 47mm WTB Horizon tyres. Our group heads off in the same direction as the day before but on a gravel trail that leads up off the Rollercoaster to a monastery. It’s here, on the loose, red, rocky dirt that I’m expecting the HVRT to feel out of place.
A dedicated gravel bike may be better for comfort, but the HVRT is a thrilling ride on trails like this. With big-volume tyres absorbing the worst of the trail’s imperfections, I found myself paying far more attention to my lines than I would on, say, my Cannondale Slate or Kinesis Tripster ATR, both of which are equipped with suspension. It’s very much like the difference between riding a full-suspension mountain bike and a hardtail – both are fun to ride, just in different ways.
At the top of the gravel climb, we decide to head back on the tarmac. On the descent, the fat, slick tyres provide superb grip and the wide, round shape lets you achieve some seriously steep lean angles through the corners. The descent is faster and more technical than anything we’ve ridden so far and midway down the Dura-Ace brakes are getting a little noisy, but my confidence in the grip makes me keep pushing until my Garmin logs 55mph – not bad on 47mm tyres. At the bottom of the descent we face a flat section – the 47mm tyres don’t feel as slow as I thought they might and it’s only on the brief climbs that the 650b wheels feel slower than their 700c counterparts.
Taking it easy
The third day’s ride is due to be long but not so fast, so I take the opportunity to switch the HVRT into its low-axle setup. In this guise, the stack rises to 605mm, the reach reduces to 400mm,
the head angle relaxes to 73°, the seat angle drops to 72° and the fork offset becomes 40mm.
On paper, the differences seem small but the effect on the road is noticeable. Whereas the high-axle setup gives the HVRT fast, nimble handling, in this low position it feels much more stable. Though the differences amount to a few millimetres, the end result is a bike that’s more of a cruiser than a speedster. That’s not to say the two setups are worlds apart – in this low position the HVRT is still more aggressive than most endurance bikes (the Cannondale Synapse has a 610mm stack and 393mm reach).
For my final day’s ride I try the ‘road+’ setup – low-axle and 650b tyres – as I’m intending to spend my three hours on the bike doing a spot of sightseeing. In this guise, the HVRT is a different beast again with a ride feel so far removed from the first day’s experience it’s hard to believe it’s the same chassis.
What becomes clear from all this is that to get the full versatility out of the HVRT, you need a second set of wheels. To help with that, Rondo gives HVRT buyers a discount voucher for its wheel partner Hunt, so you can save 15% on the alloy hoops seen here (dropping them from £319 to £271.15).
Adding it up
Since testing the HVRT in Cyprus, I’ve shipped it back home and been experimenting with it on more familiar roads. Even without the dramatic
If I wasn’t such a bike nerd, I’d be looking to offload at least a couple of my bikes to make way for this ‘onesize-fits-all’ solution
terrain and sunny weather, it’s still a hugely impressive machine that does a decent job of being three bikes in one: a fast aero bike, an endurance bike and a gravel bike.
If I wasn’t such a bike nerd, I’d be looking to offload at least a couple of my machines to make way for this ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Yes, at more than £6500 (when you factor in the second set of wheels) the HVRT CF0 is expensive, but you’re getting a lightweight aero road bike, equipped with Dura-Ace and range-topping components from the likes of Fabric and Easton, not to mention excellent wheels and all that versatility. If you can’t stretch to the Dura-Ace model, Rondo offers Ultegra Di2 and 105 builds too. Alternatively, you can bypass the carbon-fibre frame and opt for either the aluminium or steel equivalents (£1699 with Tiagra and £2399 with 105 respectively). Prior to riding the HVRT, I’d have argued that 3T’s Exploro offers a similar level of versatility at a significantly lower price – £4200 (when built up with SRAM’s Force 1). But the Exploro is much more biased towards gravel (as the 1x drivetrain and its 650b wheelset spec suggests). The HVRT is a road bike at heart but one that, with a few slight alterations, can be made to handle almost any terrain superbly. If I had to take one bike on a riding holiday or training camp or, God forbid, if I only had room for one bike in my life, it’d be hard not to choose the HVRT.
The Dura-Ace disc brakes give you the confidence to push the HVRT to its limits
Xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx The HVRT CFo in a 650b setup with the 47mm wide WTB Horizon tyres
The wheels are a collaboration between Rondo and British wheel brand Hunt
The aero-bike-like dropped rear seatstays