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?

Cycling Plus - - CONTENTS - WORDS War­ren Ros­siter PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Rus­sell Bur­ton

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.

Win­ter es­cape

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

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