Litespeed Pavia

Why would a company that's been building titanium bicycles since 1986, and constantly telling us that titanium is superior to carbon,  want to build a carbon bike?  That was my first question when I was offered the chance to road test a Litespeed Pavia.  Three hours later I think I had the answer.  Here's what I found.

First impressions always count.  Because like it or not we make our mind up about something or someone within the first few seconds of acquaintance.  Then spend the rest of our time looking for clues to support our initial judgement, while ignoring all other conflicting signs.  It's human nature, we are what we are.  I'll have to work through this if I'm not to pre-judge the bikes I'll be testing.  Enough of the psycho-babble, on to the test. 

When I collected the Pavia my initial impression was, it's light.  I took it home, set it up to my measurements, put my pedals on, checked the tyre pressures and and took it for a quick spin.  It's dark, it's cold and I'm hungry but I want to make sure I'm not faffing around first thing in the morning getting it right.  So I take it around the school yard a few times just to make sure everything fits.  All's well, tomorrow I can get on the bike, ride it and get on with the assessment.  It's still feels light and it seems fairly comfortable but what can you tell with five minutes in a car park.

The Frame
The Pavia is Litespeed's only carbon offering.  For 2006 Litespeed have taken carbon fibre out of the rear triangles on their titanium bikes.  Their titanium bikes are all titanium and their carbon bike is all carbon.  No more mix and match.  Evidently with changing prices, market forces and construction costs, the performance~cost~weight benefits aren't what they should be.  The all carbon Pavia frame is constructed as a low density monocoque, much like a Giant or Colnago E1, held together with a Litespeed specified "special" resin. 

To make the best use of a monocoque construction the frame has massively oversized tubes.  For those that remember, in 1986 I had the first Cannondale in the Island, my Pink Pig.  How everyone laughed.  The tubes were enormous and often the butt of all the jokes, apart from the colour.  "They'll never catch on" was everyone's cry.   Well twenty years later they'd look pretty insignificant compared to those of the Pavia.  The Pavia's tubes are big, but don't think big is heavy.  The complete bike weighs in at only 18.5lb, of which 1250gms is the frame.

Litespeed have used ultra-light, low density, 3K carbon weave in their  construction to give a decent ride quality and good shock absorption.  These days I ride Colnago's and would say the Pavia is as comfortable as my C40.  Praise indeed when you think the complete Pavia bike can be had for the same price as a C40 frame! 

The wishbone seatstays feed into a 73 degree seat tube and a gently sloping top tube.  The chainstays, pinned to the seatstays with a sexy allen key arrangement, feed in to a mighty aluminium bottom bracket area.  Running through the bottom bracket was an Ultegra 53x39 chainset.  When sprinting hard out of the saddle there was a small amount of flex in this area.  It's not as rock solid as some top-end bikes but you don't get comfort and rock solid at this price.  It's one or the other; and seeing as you need to arrive at a sprint fresh, then I'd go for comfort every time.

The forks are  Litespeed's own brand, Real Design HP Pro full carbon jobbies.  They're curved, with a 4.5 cm rake, and go a long way to adding to the comfort of the frame.  Straight forks would make the bike a whole lot more nervous and you'd feel every ripple in the road.  They were direct and well damped, with no road-buzz coming through the bars, even when ridden over the hideous St Ouen's Manor main road. 

There was a lateral flex (again all part of the comfort package) but nothing to worry about and cornering was perfect except under a full, heavy, throw-it-in-and-hang-on, cornering load when the bike would run wide.  Which to be honest, is exactly as it should be for the market sector it's aimed at.  It's better to gently run wide and give you time to react than have the tyres let go in an instant and take a tumble.

Wheels
The wheels are also Litespeed's own, Real Design Supersonics.  They look like a cross between Rolf's and Mavic's.  They have a Rolf-like 40mm carbon profile and an aluminium braking surface; the best of both worlds.  The aero, straight pull spokes are laced radially on the front, with two cross on the back drive side and radial on the non-drive.  As you would expect, they gave no problems throughout the ride, my only "observation" was they didn't make the fantastic whooshing noise of the Mavics. But at a third of the price who needs a posey noise?

With Vittoria Rubino Pro slick tyres mounted on them I was wondering how my cornering tests would go on a dampish road.  They never let go and were predictable right up to their limit.  In one of my "can I get round here without braking" tests we had the added excitement of two cars stopping to chat to each other on the corner apex.  With no time to jink either side of them I dragged the bike to the centre of the road and went for the gap in the middle at around 35 mph.  Not a problem, the bike went from leant over, to upright, to back over in the blink of an eye.  We still made the corner, although we did run a tadge wide.  If I'd had the right entry line it would of passed with flying colours,

Groupset
This was the first time in fifteen years I'd ridden a Shimano equipped bike.  I was really, really surprised; don't know why I should have been, but I was.  The 10 speed Ultegra groupset was impeccable.  The gear changes, both up and down, were silky smooth and the braking was solid and dependable. The lever hoods, although I thought they looked bulky and ugly, were comfortable throughout the ride.  My only gripe on Shimano levers is an aesthetic one; those floppy cables just don't look nice.

From a gear change point of view I was surprised to find you can only change one gear at a time and the front mech is either in or out.  With Campag you can multiple up and down shift and feed the front mech across the chainset.  However, come the end of the test I went to extremes across the chainline, 39x12 and 53x23, and the chain didn't rub.  So no need to feed the mech then. 

Also when climbing under load I changed down and up to test the reaction time.  Although there was a "clunk," the gears went in without hesitation, or a jump, every time.  So the gears passed all the tests and the lever hoods were a triumph of function over form.  Top marks all round.

Finishing Kit
The ITM Mantis Wingshape bars, mounted in an ITM 4Ever stem and on an oversized Cane Creek hidden headset, was as stiff as anything in its class.  Torsional forces through the bars and stem are minimised which help, as you would expect, when sprinting hard out of the saddle and pulling like a dervish on the bars.  Riding on the tops, where the bar tape doesn't go, was comfortable except I could feel the brake cable underneath which distracted me a little at first but as with most things, I soon got used to it. 

As for the anatomical shape, I can take it or leave it.  All my bikes have "strada" profiled bars (the traditional shape).  It all comes down to personal preference and probably age!  Normally every other part of my body is in pain when I'm cycling so I don't pay too much attention to my hands.  Lot's of people, ride them and like them so who am I to contradict?

Now the saddle.  If you've looked at the rest of this website you'll know that I've been doing the odd bit of climbing in the last few years.  A couple of years ago I saw the Arione saddle in a French mag and bought one.  It offered me a perfect climbing position without compromising the normal racing "on the rivet" stance (their words not mine!). 

The Arione has a 7cm extended section at the back, for which the UCI changed their rules to allow it to be used in competition.  Again, everyone laughed, even though I said it was the most comfortable saddle I'd ever ridden.  When I bought five to fit all my bikes people began to take notice and slowly they appeared on more and more bikes.  Now they're everywhere.  If you have to ask why you obviously haven't ridden one.  The Arione is one of the most comfortable and practical saddles you can ride.  I recommend you get one, today.  If you're still unsure, read the bottom of the page.

The Pavia comes without pedals.  In the good old days, (once toe straps had become extinct) you got a pair of Look pedals and would go for Time's if you were posh or understood how superior they were.  These day's there are far too many options.  It's all down to your preference.  That's why bikes come without pedals.  Make your choice and Pedal Power will do you a deal when you buy one of their bikes.

Tech Spec
For some the following numbers mean nothing, for others they'll be studied for hours as all the variables of seat, top tube, stem requirements are worked out to the nth degree.  For most of you the first and last measurements are the important ones.

Sizes

S M ML L XL

Top Tube Length (cm)

52.2 54.0 56.0 57.0 58.5

Head Tube Angle

72.5 73.0 73.0 73.0 73.5

Seat Tube Angle

74.5 74.5 73.5 73.0 73.0

Seat Tube Length

50.0 53.0 55.0 58.0 61.0

Chainstay Length (cm)

40.6 40.6 40.6 40.6 40.6

Wheelbase (cm)

97.3 97.9 98.5 99.6 99.8

Front Centre (cm)

57.7 58.3 59.0 60.0 60.2

Fork Rake (cm)

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Head Tube Length (cm)

11.5 14.5 16.0 19.5 20.0

Frame Weight (grams)

1040 1070 1220 1250 1310

Conclusion
Titanium is an excellent material but it comes at a price; a price not everyone is willing to pay.  Titanium has many advantages over carbon but then carbon, when it's done right, can often beat titanium on a price/performance ratio.

The Pavia is Litespeed's first foray in to carbon bike building.  Carbon is an excellent material for building bikes.  However, the skill, as with anything in life, is in putting the basic ingredients together in the right order and mix to make something desirable.  Litespeed have definitely done that with the Pavia.  They've taken some basic ingredients and built something special.  Special in performance, weight and price.

They've taken their existing titanium frame geometries and used the flexibility (in a manufacturing sense) of carbon to replicate the Litespeed feel.  If you need proof that these bikes are good enough for you to race on, look at the top photo.  No, it's not me, it's a member of the Recycling Team riding and winning UK Premier Calendar races on Litespeed Pavia's.  That's all you need to know really.  If it's good enough for them you can bet they're good enough for us.  Having ridden one, I now understand why a titanium manufacturer has built a carbon bike; it opens up a whole new market place for them.

The Deal
If you're still unsure if the Pavia is the bike for you, get down to Pedal Power and ride it for yourself!  They have a demonstrator available for you to try.  The Pavia is on sale for 2,150 for an Ultegra equipped, red and black only, bike.  All you need to add are the pedals.  The bike I tested is available with a massive 20% discount, that's 1,750.  A great price for a race ready bike.

Unsure if you'll like an Arione saddle?  Just ask Pedal Power to lend you one of their road test models.  However, be prepared to buy one when they ask for it back.  You're bum will thank you for it.

The Tester
What makes me think I'm qualified to write articles and critique bikes? Click here and I'll try to explain.