First Look: Volagi Carbon Endurance Road Bikes with Disc Brakes

Volagi cycles is new, but we’re betting their first bike, the Venga, will quickly put them on the map.

The first thing you’re likely to notice is the disc brakes, but that’s not even the raison d’etre for the brand or the bike. Created by Robert Choi and Barley Forsman, who both come from a varied design background within the cycling industry, the Venga is designed to offer endurance cyclists the form, function and fit they need to ride long, but the geometry is designed to handle quickly like a race bike.

On paper, this seems like a great idea, and we’re looking forward to testing one out when they come available next April.

For now, we can tell you about the technology and design, like those “longbow” seatstays that start well ahead of the seat tube and the geometry that tailors this bike to the type of riding most of us actually do.

Photos, video and story behind the jump…

First, the story. We asked Barley a few questions about the bike and why they started a new brand.

BIKERUMOR: Can you give me a little more detail about yours and Choi’s backgrounds and the catalyst that sparked your new company?

BARLEY: Robert Choi founded Vistalite in 1989, and pretty much pioneered bicycle safety lighting. Eventually, he sold the company to Bell Sports and became a product manager there. In 1997, he hired me as a product designer at Bell Sports (I have a BFA in Industrial Design). In 1998, Robert became the director of R&D at CamelBak, where I joined him (as the only designer) in June of that same year. We were at CamelBak for about 10 years, and were responsible for all of the design/development during that time. In 2007, I become the design manager at Specialized – Robert started a day after me as the director of equipment.

Then in April 2010, we formed Volagi. Robert and I are both passionate endurance cyclists, between us we have ridden over 60 double centuries in California alone. Robert has been on the podium of the Triple Crown Stage race (the 3 hardest doubles in California) every time he has raced it (he’s never done worse than 3rd, and I believe he has won it at least 3 times). I placed 2nd in the race last year. I’ve also raced the 508 (the same race my wife – Susan Forsman – won this year), and won the fixed gear division in 2004. My wife and I also rode and finished Paris Brest Paris (PBP) in 2003 – that year she was the 3rd American to finish.

Bottom line, we all love to ride our bikes – a lot! Robert and I are always talking product when we ride, and we began to notice a void in the market: If a cyclist wants to buy a performance bicycle, their only real choice is to buy a bike designed for a pro racer – as an analogy, it would be similar to wanting a sports car, but the only thing available was an F1. Most companies dedicate 90+% of their resource designing product for riders who never buy product – most of the time they’re actually paid to ride it (so they don’t even choose what they ride!) Last time I checked, the average cyclist was not in their 20′s, not 120 pounds, not capable of generating 400 watts for an hour, and generally not hell bent on winning at any cost (no consideration for health or comfort).

So the average cyclist has no choice but to buy Lance Armstrong’s bike and then start the long process of “tweaking” it to work better for them: add spacers, change stems, change handlebars, change saddles, change gearing, etc… we decided to dedicate 100% of our resources to the “real” cyclist, by creating performance equipment just for them (as well as us!) We wanted a bike that could go the distance and provide a catalyst for a new PR at their next event.

BIKERUMOR: What prompted the use of disc brakes versus standard rim brakes?

BARLEY: For us the question wasn’t “why are we doing disc brakes?”, but rather, “why would we not use disc brakes?”  We wanted to be sure that everything about our bike had a purpose and made real-world sense.  We went through every detail and specification and asked ourselves, “is this the best option out there?”  Even though, both Robert and I have used road calipers for years and just excepted it as the only option, when we actually stopped to think about it, it just didn’t make sense.  The very first car (and first motorcycle, and first bicycle) used a block of wood that was jammed into the wheel as a method of stopping (slowing!) the vehicle down – seems that a block of rubber is one small step better.  Consider that the modern performance (road) bicycle is the only form of transportation to still use “rubber” as the braking system.

Disc brakes offer consistent braking under all conditions, better safety and control, better stopping power, less hand fatigue, no black gunk all over the frame, less maintenance, they’re more economical, easy to adjust, won’t damage your expensive carbon rims, will brake even with broken wheels, you can run wider tires and/or fenders without worrying about caliper clearance and it makes changing a flat easier.

BIKERUMOR: What were the challenges (spec selection, frame design, etc.) with using disc brakes?

BARLEY: So far we have had little to no real issues with the discs.  We are using existing technology in a new way – full carbon, post mounted disc brakes are not new.  29er mountain bikes have been using this technology for several years now – the forces applied for the frame from a 29er wheel are much greater than what can be expected for road, cross, or even standard 26″ mtb wheels.  In terms of component selection, we are very confident in the mechanical Avid BB7 performance – in fact we believe the performance is very close to some hydraulic systems.  Mechanicals are also very easy to adjust and maintain (especially when you’re out on some back road, in the middle of nowhere with no tools!)  Our company is founded on the very simple idea that function will drive design and component selection, so we will always be working toward better solutions.  Now that the UCI has lifted the restriction on disc brakes in cross racing, we expect great advances in technology – in fact we have already started talking to some key component manufacturers about the future of this technology and how we can help shape the future of disc brakes

BIKERUMOR: Speaking of ‘cross, the next obvious question is are you considering doing a cyclocross model? The compliance and disc brake use make it seem like a logical next product.

BARLEY: Currently our objective is to perfect this bike and to be the first company to offer a performance distance bike to “real” cyclist – I think it’s important to note that when we think distance, we are thinking more in terms of time than actual distance.  This will be the ideal bike for the cyclist interested in optimum performance over 4+ hours of riding – again the objective is to perform as well during the last hour of the ride as you do the first hour of the ride.

Having said that (as our current goal), we are definitely thinking big – we believe our Longbow Flex technology has many great applications (potentially cross, mountain, tri, city/urban, etc.)  I can’t go into detail now as to what our plans are, but feel confident knowing that we don’t plan on being a “one trick pony”.

ABOUT THE BIKE:

After the disc brakes, the first thing you’re likely to notice are the seatstays, which at first glance look a lot like the Triple Triangle design of GT.

“About the only thing a Volagi bike and a GT have in common is the first-glance visual – functionally, they are very different,” Barley said.  “Our seat-stays are not connected at the seat-tube, which is the biggest obvious difference.  This allows our bikes to have slightly shorter chain-stays compared to the traditional endurance bike, for tighter geometry. It handles like a performance bike in the twisties.”

“It also gives it a longer seatstay, which provides a high level of compliance, translating not only to reduced rider fatigue, but also better traction – keeping the rear wheel on the ground where it belongs.  We chose to focus on how the rider feels the last hour of a ride, not just the first.  To give you an idea on how much compliance, with a static load of 250lbs (on the saddle), we are getting just less than 6mm of deflection at the rear wheel – we believe this is the best real world ‘compliance’ in the industry.  Currently, we are patent pending.”

Two frames will be offered using the same mold, and EL and lighter SL. Both are full one-piece monocoque carbon frames, with the SL getting a mix of 30T and 24T fibers and the EL getting just 24T. They use nano particles in the resin to add strength without adding weight.  Frame shaping is said to be very aerodynamic since up to 80% of your energy is used just to push air out of your way once you get up to speed.

The headtube is tapered 1-1/8″ to 1-3/8″ and is a bit taller than normal bikes to put the rider in a more comfortable position for long rides, something that’s becoming increasingly common on other brands’ mid-level road bikes, too.

The disc brakes are 160mm front and 140mm rear and use Ashima’s AirRotors with Avid’s mechanical calipers. Pulling the brakes and shifting comes from standard Dura-Ace (SL) or Ultegra (EL) shifter levers.  Both bikes get FSA compact cranks.

The great thing about these bikes, beyond the claimed better braking and comfort, is that none of the parts are proprietary to make it work. When hydraulic disc brakes for road bikes come out, which is inevitable, you’ll be able to upgrade (though depending on how the internal cabling is run, you may have to run the house along the frame). That, and you can slap fenders on the frame using the built-in mounts and ride all winter long. Wide 25mm rims let you throw some ‘cross or winter commuter tires on and pedal away instead of sitting inside on the trainer.

The SL (shown above) will run $5,595 and the EL will be $3,595.  Initially, only 53, 55 and 57 sizes will be available, with 50 and 60 coming online shortly thereafter. Full specs on their website at volagi.com.

Comments

slippyfish - 10/12/10 - 1:01pm

Nice bike. I wonder how hard braking on the road with discs would feel at 30mph. Would you experience shudder through the wheels and spokes from the wheel ‘winding up’?

Just my two cents but if I was doing a bike for ‘real world riders’ and just came from Specialized I wouldn’t design and paint it to look like a Specialized.

Mike - 10/12/10 - 1:29pm

BRAVO !!! It’s about time SOMEONE designed a bike for the normal joe’s out there and not the skinny 140 pound roadies or racer types.
I applaud Barley and Robert for taking the risk and designing a bike that is truly functional and uses the best of what’s available on the market
even if it isn’t “roadie sanctioned” a.k.a. disc brakes. I for one have ridden bikes for 40+ years and am CONSTANTLY battling trying to get a
headtube on a bike or frameset that isn’t too short in height. I suffer from carpal tunnel and would love to have a bike that has a headtube
with a decent height so that I don’t have to add a ridiculous amount of spacers to get a decent stem height. Robert and Barley keep up
the good work !!! :-)

wallymann - 10/12/10 - 3:05pm

what about the risk of “front wheel ejection” with that rear-mounted caliper on the fork?

wallymann - 10/12/10 - 3:11pm

@slippyfish — cars and motorcycles and MTBs have used hub-mounted brakes (discs or drums) and spoked construction for eons. if the wheels are built with crossed spokes, there is no “wind-up” issue.

Mr V - 10/12/10 - 3:47pm

Canyon bikes have long ago delivered bike, albeit a project one, featuring STI lever actuated hydraulic disc brakes. Unfortunately they are doing maintenance on their webpage atm so I can’t post a link. You might want to try http://www.canyon.com/_en/ later and look for it.

Adam - 10/12/10 - 4:05pm

@wallymann
What is “front wheel ejection”?

AlexK. - 10/12/10 - 4:58pm

I put disc brakes (front) on my road bike after the standard road brakes did not inspire much confidence (lotta mountains round here). I now have a bike that I feel comfortable taking to 40+ mph and knowing that I can stop in a safe distance.
@Slippyfish – no wind up or shudder that I’ve found. 24spoke XTR hub with Velocity Aero rim and I’m 190lbs
@Wallymann – my front wheel has never budged. I can get wheel flex when really cranking out of the saddle, but I’ve never worried about the wheel slipping out

ShopMechanic - 10/13/10 - 12:11am

What is the rear end hub spacing? 135mm (mtb) or 130mm (road)?

wigs - 10/16/10 - 12:05am

Great ides, but has that hideous/goofy Specialized frame.

MichaelB - 10/21/10 - 11:57pm

After just having gone through the process of adding a front disc to my road bike (just like AlexK), I was amazed to see this bike. It looks great and it is great to see that some people are willing to think outside the square, as the discs are fantastic for braking, especially in the wet.

Hopefully it won’t be too long till these are for sale in Australia !!!

Looks really neat too, love the styling

I WANT ONE NOW.

Will - 09/04/11 - 11:41am

Aside from the disc brakes, I don’t really see what they are doing that is much different from the Specialized Roubaix, Cannondale Synapse, or Felt Z series. All of those bikes have tall head tubes for a more comfortable riding position and they are performance oriented. Heck, all the guys at the bike shop specifically sell those bikes to the 40+ guys looking for a more comfortable ride (we just got my 62 year old dad one).

@slippyfish- agreed about the product design. A brand identity is important, especially when you are trying to launch a new line.

bottom line: I don’t predict this company grabbing much market share.

andy - 01/01/12 - 9:41pm

I have disc on my road bike, which is a cyclocross frame actually, but set up as road bike. The brakes work so much better. Not that they have more power, which they do, but that they are more controllable. Also on big downhills where u need to brake there is no worry of over heating the rims. There is no brake shutter or anything, and I don’t know why there would be. I predict, however, that road bikes will be using 120mm rotors rear and probably up front as that is more than enough paired with a road tire.

greg - 01/27/12 - 11:18pm

the styling may be similar to specialized and felt, but the concept of the system and frame design are radically different than the others. I currently ride an ultegra and avid equipted Lemond Poprad, and swear by the disc brakes. I have a nice CF bike thats 17lbs, but prefer the 20lb disc bike whenever possible. the velogi’s ride and fit will generate a whole new rage of rides.

as far as market share, Will, I think you are tied to your tried and true traditions. this bike is just the beginning, in 5 yrs you will see disc brakes the norm and rim brakes as museum pieces. 10 yrs it’ll be like friction shifting and 6 spd cassettes, triple cranks and standard aero levers.

avid currently builds the best disc brakes, shimano waits for others to test the bugs out, and soon new name brands with lightweight/aero shapes will evolve————no reason not to.

this bike rocks, I would buy one today if I had the cash.

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