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August 9, 2012
The Carrera brand may not immediately spring to mind when thinking of fine Italian racing bikes, but their Erakle TS is a classy, versatile frameset that rivals the finest offerings of Pinarello, Wilier and Bianchi.
Carrera Podium, the Italian company responsible for Carrera frames, was born in 1989. The company provided frames for the pro cycling team sponsored by Carrera jeans throughout the early 90s. If you are unfamiliar with the era or the team, the team boasted some great talents–Stephen Roche, Claudio Chiappucci, and Marco Pantani–and unique knicks that looked a little like denim. I clearly remember the frame Pantani was riding in the 1994 Tour where he leapt out of the peloton on every climb, a simple white lugged steel frameset with elegant blue insignia.
Twenty years on and the majority of Carrera bikes are now made from carbon (though they still produce a handbuilt lugged steel frameset). The relationship between the infamous climber and Carrera also continues today through Podium’s Pantani Bike Project. Carrera’s current catalogue comprises 10 models and the Erakle TS can be found near the top of their range. Podium manufactures the Erakle TS and the other frames at the top of its range (eg Phibra) in their Italian factory and can offer these models with custom geometry and/or paint with a very quick turnaround. The Australian distributor for Carrera, Velo Republic, typically takes delivery of an Erakle TS frameset within 8 weeks of placing an order.
Next to the eye-popping red on the other side of the frame, the silver finish provides a soothing contrast.
Before the ride
The Erakle TS is made from a mix of 40-, 50- and 60-ton high modulus carbon fibre using monocoque technology and the final product is reported to weigh around 1100g. The “TS” is so named for its traditional seatpost and to distinguish it from the Erakle, which has an integrated seatmast. Otherwise, the Erakle and Erakle TS appear to be identical. Underneath the paint though, you will find that the Erakle is manufactured by carbon lamination (ie. hand layering of carbon sheets) and retails for ~$1000 more than the Erakle TS. Interestingly, the Erakle TS on test arrived with a label advertising carbon lamination, so I’m not clear where the distinction lies. Similarly, the Erakle is marketed on the strength of its custom geometry, however the guys at Velo Republic tell me that the TS is also available with custom geometry–at no extra cost–which makes it sound like a better buy. Correction: What is clear is that the Erakle is the only version that is available with custom geometry; buyers looking at the TS have to settle for one of four sizes (see below).
Taking a closer look at the Erakle TS, it’s clear from the oversized, muscular mainframe that it is not a lightweight climbing machine. The thick headtube accommodates a standard 1.125 inch bearing at the top and an oversized 1.5 inch bearing at the bottom. In contrast, the bottom bracket is a standard English-threaded affair, defying (for the moment) the current trend towards larger bearings. The proprietary seatpost is all carbon and shaped to suit the frame, depriving prospective owners from any aftermarket choices. The rear brake and derailleur cables are threaded through the frame, and conveniently, can accommodate both mechanical and electronic groupsets. There are four stock sizes to choose from:
Cable routing for the derailleur cables is very clean and can accommodate electronic cables if required.
The size medium frame on test sported bright red paint with bold white graphics on one side of the frame; the other side was silver with black graphics. The colours flipped back and forth in a broad checkered scheme that provided a stunning finish and keeps the eye interested from all sides of the bike. Carrera offers the Erakle TS in three stock colour schemes however custom colours can be ordered at no extra charge. The asking price for the frameset, including the headset, seatpost, and a 3-year warranty is currently $5200 which places the TS in the upper end of the market.
The test bike provided by Velo Republic was equipped with a SRAM Red groupset and Edco Furka Competition clinchers. Given the size of the main tubes, the 58mm tall rims and the bold graphics of the Edco wheels were a perfect match for the frame. The Deda Trentacinque handlebars and stem were another perfect match for the bike both in terms of their colour and the muscular styling of the oversized 35mm tubing. The European styling continued with a Selle San Marco Regale saddle, so I had wonder why a SRAM groupset was selected when something from Campagnolo seemed an obvious choice [CT: Please forgive Matt as he is an unapologetic Campy nut!]. Regardless, this was a high-end build with a race-oriented feel. Velo Republic sells the Erakle TS with SRAM Red and your choice of Fulcrum or Mavic wheels for $10,090. If you want the Edco wheels, then expect to pay about $2000 more since the wheelset retails for $3475.
The colour of the Deda Trentacinque bars and stem match the bike so well they might have been painted at the same time.
There are a few points to note about the build here. First, the seat post does not allow simple saddle adjustments. The upper and lower sections of the rail clamp are held in place by a pair of wedges that are bolted together. These wedges remain firmly in place when the bolt is loosened or even removed; in fact, the only way to adjust saddle angle and setback was to knock the wedges out with a hammer. Once assembled and adjusted though, the saddle never moved. Second, the internal routing of the Deda Cinquetrentro bars is very tidy and very easy to thread. Third, the bar tape ceases just after the bars curve towards the stem according to instructions on the bars–there is no explanation for it, though I reason it has something to do with either (i) the diameter of the bars becomes uncomfortably large with as layer of tape; (ii) a standard roll of bar tape is too short to allow wrapping all the way to the stem; or (iii) if you’ve got it, then flaunt it! Whatever the reason, the extra colour afforded by the Deda bars and matching stem added to the stunning extravagance of the Erakle’s two-tone finish.
After the ride
Everything I needed to know about the Erakle TS was apparent to me after one hour in the saddle. I then spent the next three weeks challenging those perceptions over all sorts of terrain. They held fast. This is a classy, well-mannered bike that oozes versatility. Hard efforts on rough roads, easy cruising by the river, out of the saddle on short, sharp pinches, or diving fast into hard corners, this bike doesn’t complain. And it never hesitates. I found that this bike delivered a near-perfect balance between comfort and rigidity, quick-handling and stability, race-efficiency and riding ease.
Given the size of the down tube, you might expect that it would amplify the noise of the road but the chassis remained silent over all terrain.
Over the course of my testing, the frame held firm and never made a sound. All of the components worked flawlessly, though the tops of the handlebars demanded a decent glove to afford the comfort that was missing with the bar tape. The Selle San Marco Regale has a stiff shell like the Concor saddle featured recently in our product picks but is wider and offers a more obvious dip. The Furka wheelset (another product pick) was stiff, efficient, and easy to accelerate; more impressive was the quality of the braking with standard brake pads, though it was associated with a lot of squeal. The tall rims caught too much wind though, even in light conditions, and compromised the superb handling of the Erakle TS. Switching to a low profile alloy wheelset was the obvious solution but the skinny wheels looked out of place on this bike.
I have an inclination towards red bikes, so that might explain my immediate attraction to the Erakle TS. The frame has a bold profile, it’s a proud Italian flexing its muscles, and that may be a little off-putting for some buyers. However, this bike has a lot of class. It is beautifully balanced and will accommodate all types of riders. With the added bonus of custom colours,, the Erakle TS is great value for a high-end road bike.