Long Term Review: Volagi Viaje Steel Road Bike, Disguised as a Commuter
At Interbike, Volagi showed a very attractive commuter build of their steel Viaje road bike. Using FSA road compact cranks, stem and Metropolis handlebar with XT hydraulic brakes, levers, derailleurs (rear) and cassette, it blended the right gearing for both speed and ease with impeccable braking.
One could argue that it doesn’t have the right geometry for a commuter bike. That it doesn’t have appropriate rack mounts to carry enough cargo or mount panniers. You could even argue that there are more purpose built bikes or steel road bikes for less money.
Logical arguments, sure, but they missing the point entirely. Make them and you’d be missing out on one wicked fast, wicked smooth bicycle that simply rides perfectly. Besides shaving five minutes off my already short ride-the-kids-to-school-quickly-because-we-got-up-late-but-still-made-waffles-from-scratch morning intervals, this bike did two great things:
First, it showed the incredible versatility of the Viaje. Want a road bike? Great, build it up with traditional parts. Want a super fast commuter? Here’s proof it works for that, too. Want any combination of anything for riding any kind of terrain shy of full on mountain biking? No problem, just mix and match to get exactly what you want.
Second, it’s given me confidence that disc brakes on road bikes will indeed live up to expectations – or surpass them, depending on where you sit. Click through to see why and for a full review of the Viaje…
After my none-to-pleasant accident using a completely inappropriate mash up of rotors, calipers and adapters on my ‘cross bike last February, it was quite comforting to see just how well the XT hydraulic stoppers and 160/140 rotors could bring the Viaje to a stop. Granted, I wasn’t bombing down mountain passes, but I did ride fast. And given my experiences with sustained singletrack and freeride park descents that left the pads burning and rotors discolored, yet with enough stopping power intact, I’m cautiously optimistic that when dedicated systems hit the market paired with intelligently sized rotors, things will be A-OK. Like nailing a landing where you’ve previously broken a bone, this Viaje’s particular build has restored my faith, and for this I’m quite grateful.
Why is this relevant to this review? Because dedicated hydraulic road brake systems are coming soon, and thus far the only readily available options have been intermediate converters or pure mechanical systems. Seeing how a native hydraulic system works (and that it does so quite well on the pavement) is key to convincing riders to try it.
Now, lets dive into particulars about the bike…
WEIGHTS & DETAILS
Out of the box with Volagi’s saddle and Ignite XL alloy wheels, FSA SLK seatpost and Metropolis bar & stem, full wood fenders and XT hydraulic brakes, Avid rotors and Clement X’plor USH tires, the size 63cm Viaje XL comes in at 23lb 15oz. Grips are standard lock-ons wrapped with leather bar tape.
The Viaje’s lines appeal to me quite a bit, and all who saw the bike approved as well. Honestly, I was bummed to send this one back. The subtle curves of virtually every tube gave it a more sophisticated look than standard straight tubed steel road bikes, and (by design) they yielded a comfortable ride that only improved on the double butted 4130 chromoly’s inherently smooth ride. (Note: the Viaje SL uses triple butted Columbus Spirit tubing)
The headtube flares to allow a tapered carbon fork without disrupting the paint scheme by using an external headset cup. The fork, a Volagi design, has mounts for fenders at the crown and near the dropouts. The hole at the crown does not go all the way through, so no, you couldn’t rig it to run rim brakes.
Alloy clamps keep cables and housing relatively hidden under the downtube, hugging the curve of the frame.
The split Long Bow Flex Stays are two separate tubes attached to a lug that’s welded to the top tube. This allows for a larger contact patch on the top tube for a stronger frame. The joints between the lug and stays are fairly smooth and barely noticeable unless you’re staring right at them.
Another thoroughly modern detail is the BB386EVO bottom bracket, which will fit Shimano’s PF86 cranks with adapters, or appropriate BB386 options from FSA or SRAM.
Fender mounts allow for a range of adjustment, accommodating fatter tires. The frames are good for up to 42mm wide treads without fenders, but I suspect flat ones like these would accommodate just about anything you could wedge in there. Volagi claims the bike will handle 32mm tires with standard fenders.
The Viaje and 2nd generation Liscio bikes both use 135mm rear spacing. The inset rear brake mount is a beautifully curved piece of minimalism that attaches on both stays. It’s one of the most elegant designs we’ve seen on a product bike.
The Breezer-style rear dropouts look good and provide a large attachment point for the stays. Overall this is a good thing, but it prevents the use of trailers like the Topeak Journey Trailer that use large bolt on axle attachments. It’s not just the Viaje – Moots, Niner and many others use a similar design – and with the disc brake, it also hampers use of clamp on style trailers or kid haulers that attach to the chainstay (like we experienced with the Giant Seek). For adventure style bikes, it’d be nice to see some accommodation made for use of a trailer.
The Viaje is built around a 27.2 seatpost, further aiding rear compliance. I swapped the carbon seatpost for an alloy Momsen post since I was mounting the Trail-a-Bike to bring the kids to school.
With this build, I was sitting more upright than on a normal road bike, but it was still fast. Railing into corners or slaloming S-turns on the bike path were quick and stable. Steering was precise, and there was no undue noise or shudder during hard braking on the front.
On crackly roads and gravel paths, the bike soaked up vibration and chatter like a sponge. If anything, I had more weight on the rear of the bike because of the build, and it was very smooth. The large tires, which were generally run around 60-70psi, helped, too.
Even with the heavy duty tires and Volagi’s 1850g Ignite XL wheels, acceleration was good. Mashing the pedals or sprinting didn’t produce any undue frame flex, a credit to the huge BB shell and widely spaced chainstays. I imagine with lightweight wheels and tires, this thing would feel downright sprightly.
And it can be built much lighter. Zach’s personal Viaje XL is 21lb with Rival, the same wheels and 42mm tires in a more standard road build. Wait for the SL to become available and there’s no reason you couldn’t hit 17 pounds without completely blowing the budget.
There’s a lot to like about the Viaje. Beyond the great ride quality, it just offers so much potential as a “any road quiver killer.” From cyclocross to gravel roads to light touring to just plain ol’ regular road riding, this bike could be built to do just about anything. Even commuting. And, thanks to the shared sizes of road and 29er wheels, quite a few of your existing parts can be shared among bikes as necessary. All in all, I’d recommend it highly.
Retail for the Viaje XL frameset is $1,195 and includes the full carbon fork and headset. Yes, this is a bit more expensive than most regular steel frames, but regular steel frames don’t have disc brakes, flex stays, inset tapered headtube or a paint matched full carbon fork.
- I seriously wanted to put a lower stem on the bike and flip the handlebars down cafe-racer style, but just didn’t get to it. It would’ve looked bad ass.
- In the event you do build this into a commuter bike, I’d recommend a wider saddle. Standard, narrow road saddles don’t feel quite so good when you’re sitting upright.
- When you’re sitting upright on a road bike, wheelies happen much quicker and easier than you might think…I flipped the bike out in front of me on more than one occasion.