Festka One frameset review
Festka is a bespoke frame-building company based in Czech Republic. The company is perhaps best known for its adventurous paint schemes however buyers will find there is a deep catalogue of options, including a choice of steel, carbon or titanium. In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a closer look at the One, Festka’s high-end carbon fibre road frameset.
Michael Mourecek and Ondrej Novotný founded Festka in 2010. The two men had a clear vision for custom-built frames but they couldn’t find anybody in the Czech Republic that was prepared to do the work for them, so they took on the project themselves. For Michael, a professional cyclist, and Ondrej, a manager working in publishing, it was a daunting proposition but they were committed to bringing the project to life.
This story probably explains why Festka is a little different to a lot of frame-builders. Most bespoke frame-builders are built upon the reputation of a single person, the craftsman who is responsible for the company’s vision, direction, and very often, production. Festka appears to function more like a co-operative enterprise, comprising a variety of individuals with clearly defined areas of expertise.
Festka’s ethos revolves around a passion for cycling and devotion to the craft of frame-building. The company also recognises the unique needs of every rider and thus, has embraced a range of materials to build its frames and offers custom options at every step of production.
Buyers get to choose from carbon fibre, titanium, stainless steel, or a combination of carbon fibre and titanium for their new frame. Festka has embraced modern formats such as threadless bottom brackets, oversized (44mm) head tubes, tapered fork steerers, and disk brakes, but also cater for traditional tastes with classic versions of their carbon fibre and stainless steel frames (however, they do not use lugs).
Every frame is built to order with a choice of standard or custom geometry. As for paint, there are different levels of customisation available, starting with a choice of colours for standard paint schemes and going all the way up to working with the company’s graphic designer to create a unique finish.
Festka has been experimenting with carbon fibre for some time. Their earliest frames made use of lugs and some incorporated Kevlar, however the current model, called the One, does away with both in favour of seamless tube-to-tube construction.
There are actually five versions of the One in Festka’s current catalogue. The standard One is a race-oriented design; the One RS beefs up the chassis for bigger, more powerful riders; the One LT slims it down for weight-weenies; the One Motul is a track bike; and the One Gravel is designed for unpaved roads. In every instance, Festka leaves fork production in the hands of recognised manufacturers, making use of stock options from 3T, Columbus, THM, Enve, and TRP.
For this review, I spent a week riding a standard One frameset, courtesy of Festka’s Australian distributor, Bicycle Buyer.
Before the Ride
Festka is proud that the One is almost entirely made in the Czech Republic. While the PAN ultra-high modulus carbon fibre used in the frame is sourced from Japan, Festka works with CompoTech, a local composites manufacturer, to create the Rocket tubing that is used to build the One.
This tubing takes advantage of CompoTech’s true unidirectional (or axial) filament winding procedure, which offers more strength (~15%) and extra stiffness (~40%) than other winding procedures. Each One frame is assembled using tube-to-tube construction, which provides enormous freedom for customising the geometry and allows the joints to be reinforced when required (the One RS and One Gravel get this treatment)
According to the Festka, the front triangle of the One is optimised for stiffness, hence the 44mm head tube, tapered fork steerer, and BB86/PF86 bottom bracket. The frame has carbon dropouts, external cable routing for the brake and mechanical groupsets, while internal routing is provided for electronic groupsets. Optional extras include an integrated seatpost, internal brake cable routing, a BSA threaded bottom bracket, and titanium dropouts (extra charges apply).
There are two options for custom geometry: first, Festka can build the frame according the buyer’s specifications; or second, they can design the geometry to suit the buyer’s fit data and riding needs. There is no extra charge for the former, while the latter depends upon the fitter that is used (Bicycle Buyer can recommend a fitter for Australian buyers, if required).
Alternatively, buyers will find that the One is offered in 12 standard frame sizes with a choice of two head tube lengths (Race/Sport), as shown in the chart below:
A detailed geometry chart can be found at Festka, though it’s worth noting that standard frames have relatively short chainstays (403-410mm, increasing with frame size) and are mated with a 3T Rigida fork that has a rake of 46mm.
As mentioned above, every Festka frame is made to order, so the company does not hold any stock. While this means that there will be a lead-time for every order (currently 3-4 months), buyers are able to make even minor modifications to the design, fittings, or finish to suit their needs and/or tastes. Of these, I expect most buyers will spend most of their time deliberating the finish of the bike.
There are four options for the finish of the frameset:
• Standard (free): provides a preset paint scheme with a choice of colours from a limited palette.
• Semi-custom (AU$435/US$299): offers an unlimited palette and allows the buyer to modify Festka’s stock paint schemes.
• Custom (AU$1,454/US$1,429): the buyer works with the company’s graphic designer to create a unique scheme.
• Festka Edition (AU$2,181/US$999): provides a choice of one of the inventive geometric patterns (Pablo or Dazzle) that have come to define the brand.
Whatever the option, buyers can expect an exquisite finish. The bike sent for review had a luxurious high-gloss finish with flawless masking and a few meticulous details. The bold tubing of the frameset provides a generous “canvas” and Festka makes the most of it to provide a finish that suits the high-end pricing of the bike.
The One sent for review was a size 54 built up with Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 groupset and an Enve seatpost and cockpit, Fizik Antares saddle, and Irwin Cycling’s 58mm carbon clinchers with Vittoria’s new Rubino Pro Speed tyres (25mm). Total weight for the bike with one bottle cage was 7.17kg sans pedals.
After the Ride
At face value, the One is a very sturdy-looking frameset, and in this instance, the bike lives up to the promise of its appearance. Indeed, the One seems infused with the pragmatic no-nonsense attitude of a brawny Czech that looks forward to a long day of hard labour.
There is no unnecessary fanfare associated with the One. Festka promise a race bike, and that is exactly what you get. As such, the bike is quite stiff and responsive. I found it was at its most potent on smooth, flat stretches of road and downhill stretches, where any effort out of the saddle felt like opening up a tank of nitrous oxide for a spurt of supercharged speed.
That stiffness didn’t overwhelm the bike though, so it was reasonably comfortable on harsh roads in the way that most would expect for a race-oriented frame. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t reach for the One for a long day of riding on rough roads. I wasn’t troubled by a few kilometres of chip-seal, but I expect that the amount of road buzz that the One generates would get tiresome after an hour or more.
While it was easy to appreciate the stiffness and responsiveness of the One, the one trait that really stood out for me was how robust the bike felt. It wasn’t that the bike was ever unyielding or non-compliant, but the way that it responded to the road and my efforts was always sure and confidence inspiring. Indeed, I see the One as a bike that is perhaps better suited to larger and more powerful riders because of that robustness, though tall/heavy riders may be better served by the extra reinforcement that is added to the tube junctions of the One RS.
The One didn’t lose much of its potency in the hills but I wouldn’t put it in the same category as an ultralight frameset like BH’s Ultralight EVO. Of course, a set of lightweight climbing wheels would probably do a lot to close the gap since I spent all of the review period riding the 58mm carbon clinchers that were supplied with the bike. Having said that, I expect the One LT (that is ~120g lighter) will be a better choice for dedicated climbers.
The One was a very stable bike with steering that bordered on slow, which complemented the robust and sturdy nature of the bike. At high speeds, the One was very easy to ride and I was able to hold my line through any corner without much effort. Changing my line was more difficult so I ended up giving myself plenty of room for the entry and exit rather than wrestle with the understeer.
The slow steering proved advantageous when riding Irwin’s 58mm carbon clinchers in the wind, because the bike was reluctant to deviate from its line. That’s not to say that the wheels were immune from crosswinds, just that the effect was less noticeable and easier to contend with compared to a faster-steering bike.
My time on the One was cut short by a problem with the brake bridge of the frame. After the first ride, I had trouble keeping the rear caliper centred over the wheel, and after a week of riding, the left brake pad started dragging on the rim. I cut away the paint to have a closer look and that was when I discovered that the alloy sleeve had come loose in the frame. Not only was it rotating freely within the brake bridge, I could pull it part way out of the frame by tugging on the caliper.
The bike was returned immediately to Bicycle Buyer and photos were sent to Festka. Once it was clear that the frame hadn’t been damaged in transit, Festka was happy to acknowledge it was a defect, but stressed it was an isolated incident.
One of the important issues that any defect creates for the owner is the time it takes for warranty claim to be addressed. In this instance, Bicycle Buyer called upon Luescher Teknik, their Australian warranty repair partner, and I’m told the brake bridge was repaired within a week.
This is the first time that I’ve experienced a defect in bike or frameset during a review, and while it might colour the quality of the One for some readers, it’s worth acknowledging that there isn’t a brand that hasn’t suffered a defect in materials and/workmanship at some point. I count it as a good sign that Festka is treating the issue seriously (the company is considering new design options for the brake bridge) and that Bicycle Buyer was able to have the frame repaired in a very timely manner.
Ideally, I would have liked to ride a second One frameset to test confirm that the issue was an isolated incident before submitting this review, but that would have meant a wait of at least three months. Nevertheless, Bicycle Buyer is organising a new frame for me to assess and I will update this review once I’ve spent some time on the second One.
Final Thoughts and Summary
Festka is a relatively young company that have embraced both new and traditional frame-building technology to build their frames. They may not have the same kind of reputation as an established frame-builder but they appear to have worked hard to create a diverse catalogue, so that in addition to customisable geometry, fittings and finish, buyers have a choice of materials as well.
Given all of these options, I think the high price of Festka’s frames is justified. Indeed, there is arguably more value in a Festka frameset than a similarly priced offering from trophy brand because it is a customisable product. As such, the final product will depend upon the buyer’s needs, not just in terms of fit and finish, but performance as well.