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by Matt Wikstrom
November 30, 2016
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
DeAnima is a small bespoke workshop located in the north of Italy with an impressive heritage that belies its modest branding. Over the last couple of years, the company has been refining and producing a race-oriented carbon fibre frameset, which it has dubbed the Unblended. In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a closer look at DeAnima and the Unblended frameset.
There was a time when Italian-made road bikes commanded enormous respect and regard. Colnago, Bianchi, De Rosa, Tommasini, Pinarello, Ciocc (to name just a few) enjoyed sterling reputations for the quality of their craftsmanship, proven racing pedigree, and overall classiness.
Unfortunately, that reputation started eroding at the turn of the century. Carbon composites were on the rise and Italian framebuilders were left floundering because few had any experience with the new material. At the same time, the country’s relatively high labour costs could not compete with the emerging might of Asian manufacturing.
Some major brands, such as Pinarello, Colnago and De Rosa, have all but abandoned the local handcrafting practices underpinning their reputations in favour of Asian-made composites. In practical terms, these brands may have only been outsourcing their production, but the move away from local manufacturing has undermined Italy’s standing in the eyes of many consumers.
That isn’t to say the Italian bike industry is in ruins, however once ardent consumers have been straying ever since, looking to new brands for their next classy race bike. Nevertheless, there are signs that something of a resurgence is underway with a new wave of small brands intent on resurrecting traditional framebuilding practices.
DeAnima is one example of this new wave and the story behind the company is an interesting one. It starts with two brothers — Dario and Gianni — that worked together from 1996 building highly regarded steel frames that bore their surname, Pegoretti. It was a successful partnership that lasted until 2005 when a disagreement split the two men up.
Dario continued with the family brand while Gianni spent the next nine years teaching drug rehabilitants how to build bike frames for a non-profit organisation called San Patrignano. Gianni might have continued with this work — work that he counts as perhaps his most important — however the local San Patrignano community was relocating elsewhere and he had to make a decision.
DeAnima was born in that moment and Gianni was able to quickly recruit two like-minded men — Matt Cazzaniga and Antonio Attanasio — to help him with the new venture. Matt had already worked with Pegoretti in a sales and marketing capacity while Antonio was one of Gianni’s talented students from San Patrignano. As for the name of the new company, it was taken from one of Aristotle’s works.
DeAnima’s catalogue comprises a single carbon frameset, dubbed the Unblended, which may seem surprising given Gianni’s experience (and reputation) with steel. However, he was among the first Italian framebuilders to start using the material when carbon seat stays were becoming popular.
According to Matt Cazzaniga, “Gianni was running a frame shop that made frames for some fairly well-known Italian brands and they all wanted carbon fibre but lacked the knowledge. So he started working with various people outside of the cycling industry including the University of Trento on applying composites to bike building. What started off as carbon rear ends eventually became total framesets.”
DeAnima’s workshop is located in Pergine Valsugana near Trentino in the north of Italy. This is where Gianni and Antonio undertake every step of production, including painting. Every frame is made to order with a choice of standard or full custom geometry. And in keeping with the Pegoretti reputation, DeAnima’s frames feature some unique finishes.
For this review, I spent a few weeks riding an Unblended frameset, as supplied by DeAnima.
DeAnima makes use of high modulus Toray carbon fibre to construct the Unblended. The main tubes are moulded in-house, with Gianni opting for tapered rectangular profiles for the top and down tubes. As conceived, the Unblended is a race frame with an big emphasis on stiffness.
“We have our own moulds that the sections are formed in,” said Cazzaniga. “But that is only part of the picture. What is very important is the layup of the composite material in the moulds: the type of material, the orientation, the amount of layers, and the quantity of resin all play a fundamental part in how the frame ultimately rides.”
Hence, the Unblended is constructed in much the same way as a traditional steel frame. The main tubes are cut to length and carefully mitred for tube-to-tube construction using a frame jig. Once bonded, DeAnima makes use of Toray T700 pre-preg with a 3K weave for final wrapping of the frame.
Gianni has embraced the extra freedom carbon fibre provides, working with an engineer to refine the behaviour of each frame member as well as designing complex shapes.
“The underlying aim has always been to try and apply knowledge to changing materials,” said Cazzaniga. “But also to keep the principles of framebuilding alive.” This thinking accounts for why the Unblended doesn’t stray too far from traditional norms.
Indeed, after discussing the Unblended with Matt Cazzaniga, it’s clear that DeAnima prizes function over form with little interest in pursuing unconventional tube shapes and frame designs.
“The basis of what makes a good frame is still about geometry, weight distribution and understanding what is happening in relation to bike, rider and road surface.”
While the Unblended is largely traditional in form and pragmatic in execution, there are a variety of modern touches including a sloping top tube, tapered head tube (1.125inch upper bearing, 1.5inch lower bearing), BB86 bottom bracket, and options for internal and external routing along with interchangeable fittings to accommodate cables and wires. Every frame is supplied with a replaceable alloy rear derailleur hanger, and requires a 35mm front derailleur band along with a conventional 31.6mm seatpost.
Interestingly, DeAnima chooses to complete the frameset with an open-mould all-carbon fork that, at face value, threatens to undermine the value of the final product. But to accept this notion is to overlook the fact that almost all road bike forks (branded or otherwise) are made in Asia, so the distinction is a vague one at best.
One of the cornerstones of DeAnima’s classic approach to framebuilding is to embrace custom sizing as well as providing a large number of standard frame sizes. To this end, tube-to-tube construction provides Gianni and Antonio all the freedom they need to accommodate every request for the final fit of the bike.
As for DeAnima’s standard frame sizes, there are 10 in all, as shown in the table below:
As mentioned above, DeAnima builds every frame to order so it doesn’t hold stock of standard frame sizes, and there is no extra charge for custom geometry. At present, the current lead-time is 6-8 weeks, and in every instance, the frame is matched to a fork with 45mm of rake.
Buyers get a choice of five paint schemes that can be customised with a range of colours. In addition, there is a choice between gloss and matte finishes, offering plenty of scope for personalisation at no extra charge.
The frameset sent for review was finished with DeAnima’s “Jean” scheme that reminded me of cobbles or the cluster of bones found in the hand and wrist. The paintwork was expertly rendered (albeit with freehand quality) and finished with a thick layer of flawless clear coat, but I expect the unconventional design will polarise opinion.
The Unblended provided for review approximated a 54cm frame and weighed 1,032g including a seatpost clamp and an alloy rear derailleur hanger. The fork added another 312g with an uncut steerer. After assembling it with Campagnolo’s Super Record RS groupset, Deda alloy cockpit and seatpost, Fizik Aliante R3 carbon braided saddle, and Bora Ultra 35mm wheels, the bike weighed 6.76kg without pedals or cages (or 7.26kg with a custom-built high-profile Curve wheelset).
Any frameset with external cables is normally a breeze to assemble, and that proved to be the case for the Unblended. The bottom bracket shell provided a tight and consistent fit for the bearings cups, while the headset bearings were a sure fit in the head tube. The thick clear coat proved to be very robust though it interfered a little with the fit of the rear wheel until I sanded away the excess on the dropouts.
The Unblended frameset sells for €3,250 (~AUD$4,700/~US$3,570) though the final price outside of Europe will depend on currency exchange rates. Interested buyers can place an order by getting in touch with one of DeAnima’s dealers (or if there is no local agent, then DeAnima directly) that will help with every step of the process, including the final fit. As mentioned above, once an order is placed, customers can expect the frameset to be ready for delivery in 6-8 weeks.
For more information on the Unblended, and a look at some of the company’s production processes, visit DeAnima.
My first experience with the Unblended came a few weeks before I unboxed it when DeAnima sent me a picture of the finished frameset. The unique paintwork immediately caught my eye, and while I didn’t find it beautiful in a classical sense, it was compelling.
The frame was no less compelling in the flesh, and once I started riding the bike, my eyes kept drifting down to the top tube to trace the mad pathways between the “cobbles”. The effect was mesmerising, and while the finish will clearly divide opinion, I have enormous respect for DeAnima in striving to achieve a truly unique finish. If nothing else, there will be no mistaking a DeAnima for another brand.
The Unblended was more than just a rolling canvas though. Gianni promised a race bike, and a race bike is what I received. The chassis was incredibly stiff and the handling was quite sharp and precise. This is not a bike designed for cruising around on, and while it’s likely to attract some attention on the local café strip, the Unblended’s place is on a racecourse.
I found that wheel choice had a big impact on my impressions of the Unblended. I started with a high-profile Curve wheelset that proved to be very stiff, and it was like turning the volume up on loud, aggressive music. Over short distances, the bike was impressive for its stiffness, especially when I was sprinting out of the saddle, however, over longer distances, the accumulation of sharp hits started to take their toll, leading to fatigue.
Switching to Bora Ultra 35s that were lighter and more compliant encouraged the agility of the bike, transforming it into an eager hill-climbing rig. In this guise, I was more confident in tackling long rides on the Unblended, but the combination wasn’t something I’d use for everyday riding.
A low-profile alloy wheelset with 25mm tyres proved to be the most forgiving, transforming the Unblended into a bike that was easy to ride every day and well suited to long rides over a range of road surfaces. In fact, there were times when the comfort of the bike surprised me, as if part of me had trouble accepting that a bike that was so stiff with one set of wheels could be anything else with another set.
It’s worth noting that I always experiment with different tyre pressures as I dissect a bike’s performance, so I’m certain that the stiffness of the Unblended was not a product of over-inflated tyres. I’ve found that 60psi works well with a lot of 25mm tyres, and that’s the tyre pressure I favoured when riding each of the different wheelsets.
While I enjoyed riding the Unblended with low-profile alloy wheels, it’s not a bike that I would recommend to buyers looking for a versatile performer to tackle an epic ride. At its soul, the Unblended is a race bike so it will always telegraph impacts with extra clarity when compared to more compliant bikes such as Scott’s Addict, Cannondale’s Synapse, and Trek’s Émonda.
I expect the Unblended will be a better choice for large, powerful riders, though I lack the necessary size, power and weight to truly test this aspect of the bike’s performance. Nevertheless, the Unblended was consistently firm and robust, and few bikes have been as resilient and unyielding as I found this one.
With an apparent excess of stiffness, some might expect the Unblended is a noisy bike, but it turned out to be very quiet. I suspect the external cable routing helped in this regard, since there was nothing to rattle around inside the frame. There was a little rumble and rattle from the Curve wheelset on rougher roads, railway crossings, and concrete paths, however the rest of the bike was consistently silent.
I didn’t have any issues with the Unblended during the review period, so the seatpost didn’t slip into the frame, the cranks stayed quiet, and there was no need to fuss with any of the fittings. All told, the bike performed exactly as one would expect for a conscientiously handcrafted product.
There are dozens and dozens of highly skilled framebuilders around the world, so buyers looking for a bespoke frameset are spoilt for choice. But that also means it can be difficult to decide on one over another.
Location, reputation, chosen building materials, cost and presentation are all important considerations; so too, is how well the buyer relates to, or can identify with, the personality of the brand/builder. While the latter is highly subjective, I believe it serves as the crux of the matter since a bespoke bike is a highly personal and truly individual product.
DeAnima stands out as a truly unique brand, not because the company is Italian, but because of its vision for how a race bike should be. In short, the Unblended is robust, unyielding, and steadfastly focussed on performance that is finished with unmistakable flair.