Michele Favaloro epitomizes the passionate and dedicated spirit that has long defined the world of Italian frame builders. From his workshop in Polpenazze, Italy that overlooks beautiful Lake Garda, Michele has been polishing his craft for over two decades; first starting with steel and aluminum frames before making the jump as a highly touted carbon craftsman.
We first ran into the friendly Italian in 2017 when we visited him at his previous frame shop that was based in the garage of his house. While he was assembling carbon tubes, his mother and wife were upstairs getting dinner ready – fabulous! In the years since, the frame factory has moved to a larger location to handle the increased production.
We next ran into Michele when he traveled to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show five years ago where we once again came face to face with his uniquely designed frames with arced top tubes and beautiful finishes. Showing his diversity in design, Michele had also struck up an R&D partnership with Italian e-bike motor company Polini to begin testing the waters for a series of pedal assist bikes.
While we’ve become most accustomed to testing his carbon bikes, his US importer Albabici recently sent us two new gravel bikes to test; one steel and one aluminum, to get a taste of how his non-carbon bikes ride.
The aluminum Fire is made with Dedaccai 7003 series aluminum and is only available as a custom order. Lucky for us, the bike fit our 5’10” frames perfectly. The Fire was outfitted with a selection of Italian branded products including the Selle SMP saddle, Vittoria Terreno Dry tires mounted on a pair of carbon Campagnolo Bora WTO 33 hoops. We have to say that we came away mightily impressed with the rolling quality of the Vittoria tires on both paved and dirt surfaces, offering a super smooth ride on the former and plenty of traction on the latter.
As has becoming an increasingly popular spec to accommodate internally run cables, the Fire uses a FSA stem and ACR headset which allows for the cables to run through the handlebars and into the stem. It’s a super clean set-up.
So long have aluminum frames been outside the daily group ride talking points, the Favaloro’s naked frame caught everyone’s immediate attention and interest.
But it was the Campagnolo drivetrain that was the most interesting aspect of the bike’s spec. It turns out that in addition to his frame building duties, Michele was also helping Campagnolo with the R&D of their newly released (and fabulous performing) Ekar gravel group. This bike however was built with an interesting mix of (leftover?) Campagnolo parts consisting of a carbon 1x Super Record crank with a 38t chainring mated to a Chorus rear derailleur and a 34t cassette. Strange, but it worked perfectly for an abundance of road and flatter gravel rides. It was only on the super-steep dirt stuff where our legs would give out and we’ d have to get off and walk up the incline.
(Read our review of Campagnolo Ekar)
Besides the odd Campy drivetrain, the other most talked about component spec was the TranzX dropper post that was ingeniously activated by the left-side Campy Ergo Control lever. While we’ve previously seen this with SRAM levers, this was the first time we’ve seen a dropper post actuated via Campagnolo levers. Of course, as cute as it was, other than using the system to entertain ourselves and those on the group ride, the dropper post – while popular with the flat bar senders – was of no practical use for how and where we ride.
Our first ride on the Favaloro was a 30 mile road ride and the immediate take-away was how smooth and fast the bike rolled on the 38mm Vittoria tires. Really impressive. But, given that the bike was intended to be ridden off-road, that’s just what we did two days later on a 50+ mile dual purpose ride in Orange County that was made up of about 80% dirt roads and single-track with multiple creek crossings and some steep climbs and descents. Between the front-end geometry and traction provided by the Vittori tires, the Fire turned on a dime through tricky bamboo jungle-like settings.
At the end of the 4+ hour ride that included everything from merciless braking bumps, rain ruts and rocky sections, the aluminum Fire rode as well all as any high-priced carbon bike. In short, it was an awesome performer.
Like his carbon and steel frame, Michele is a custom fabricator with a wait time of less than 50 between the time an order is made the the frame is finished. A Fire frame sells for $2790
Slathered in a thick coat of green paint, the steel Race was an eye-catcher the moment it was rolled into the tidy, neat and well-lit RBA corporate office. Although the Race frame is touted as “road” bike, ours was delivered in a more quasi-gravel, “all-road” spec with a 1x SRAM drivetrain and big Vittoria tires.
Oh yeah, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that absolute eye-candy of the meticulously designed Alligator brake rotors – more cool than an igloo full of Eskimos!
Integrated seatpost and headset
Dedacciai Zero high tempered chromoly frame.
Seat tube Ø 35mm. Top tube Ø 35mm. Down tube Ø 42mm.
Tapered head-set 1” – 1.5”.
Press Fit B/B 41 x 86.
Internal cable routing Di2 compatible, available.
Weight: 1,700 grams.
Dedacciai RS light fork (tapered)
Weight: 360 grams.
WHAT ABOUT THE RIDE?
Since the Race frame was a tad under-sized for us RBA staffers, we loaned the bike out to one of our smartest and fastest test riders and forced him to give up the 2021 Canyon Aeroad test bike he’s on for a few days to tell us how the Italian steel bike rode…
* The bike is a beauty. Everyone commented on it: the curves, the color, the shine. My reply of “It’s Italian” was always received with knowing nods. All-internal cabling (even for the dropper) makes for an ultra-clean look. Even the TIG welding is beautiful. Selle SMP saddle is comfortable but the dropped nose is a little too Salvador Dali for my taste. As for the ride I think of it as more of a mixed-surface bike than a pure graveler because the long stem and geometry makes it feel like a road bike. I’m not aware of any bike that I can get for $3k which is sized exactly for me. It’s not much to pay for a piece of art that I can ride and that is guaranteed to fit me to a T.
* Weighing at 22.6 pounds, the Race is heavy and it rides heavy. But the ride is very smooth and comfortable. 47 mm tires certainly help that, and there’s plenty of clearance for more
* SRAM Rival 1x was more capable than I expected: quick, crisp, reliable shifting
* 1×11 was somewhat limiting, though. The low end was too high and the high too low for the riding conditions near the palatial offices. I would go with a wider range in the rear but I don’t know if Rival can do that. One doesn’t really need such close shifting on a gravel bike in my experience.
* The thru-axle taps on the front and rear are machined almost flush so one can’t just drop the bike onto the wheel and assume it will be lined up nicely for the thru-axle itself. The front axle also has an odd washer on it that will be very easy to lose. I’ve not seen that on other bikes and don’t really know why it’s there.
* The dropper post is awesome. Control via the otherwise unused left shift lever is a stroke of genius, and one can even select how much drop one wants: just click when you get the drop you’re looking for and it locks in.
* The Vittoria tires aren’t the right choice for our trails because they just don’t have enough grip. When I put the dropper down and went for the late brake into the corners, I would just break loose. They roll very smooth and fast on the flat sections and climbs, however and smooth fat tires were great for the sandy sections. I would opt for something knobbier in order to get the most out of the aggressive riding possible when the dropper is down.
OH YEAH, THE E-BIKE
For more: Albabici