Von Hof Cycles’ DIA women’s steel road bike: reviewed

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Small-batch American builder Von Hof Cycles has designed its new DIA steel frame for “anyone who’s ever struggled to find the proper fit for a road bike.” Specifically designed for women, the DIA features an altered geometry while promising the same performance, handling, and reasonable price tag as Van Hof’s other road bikes.

Ella Editor Anne-Marije Rook had a chance to test the DIA for a couple of months, taking “her” out on island rides, sunrise jaunts, and even a mid-week criterium to see if she lives up to her “Do It All” label.

Von Hof Cycles’ “DIA”

Based in Hoboken, New Jersey, Von Hof Cycles is a three-year-old boutique bike manufacturer that specializes in small batch, American-made frames. Working exclusively in steel and aluminum, the brand was founded to fill the void between fully custom frames that can take months to deliver and the one-mold-fits-all bikes that are mass produced overseas, all-the-while promoting American craftsmanship and quality materials.

A study conducted by USA Cycling in 2013 showed that only 14 percent of bike racers are women. Von Hof believes this can be attributed not only to systematic inequalities —such as lack of sponsorships, opportunities, media coverage, prize money and pay — but also due to a lack of high performance bike options.

With the addition of their newest model – a high-performance steel road bike called the DIA –Von Hof targets the women’s market, hoping to inspire more women to get in the saddle and toe the line come race day.

“I know from personal experience that there aren’t a lot of options available for riders of smaller stature, especially when you get beyond the massively expensive custom builders,” said Diana Parmer, co-founder and co-owner of Von Hof Cycles.

“One of the reasons we started Von Hof was to grow the cycling community and that’s hard to do if you’re excluding a portion of the population. We built this bike for any woman who’s ever struggled to find the perfect fit for a road bike without sacrificing responsiveness.”

In addition to offering a women’s specific frame, Von Hof has committed to donating a portion of each of their women’s frames sold to Women Bike PHL Racing Development, a Philadelphia-based intensive six-week workshop to help women of all skill levels break into racing.

A women’s geometry

The need to develop a women’s-specific frame arose when Parmer herself could not fit properly on a Von Hof bike.

“When we made our first batch of our classic steel road frames, we offered 52, 54, 56, 58 and 60cm frames,” said Parmer, who stands 1.64m (5’ 4”) tall. “But the 52 was not a fit for me, which was kind of a bummer since I’m co-owner, co-founder, CEO, etc. The more we thought about it, the more it seemed like a great idea to offer a custom-quality handcrafted frame made just for women in a sport and industry that is heavily inclined toward men.”

In a side-by-side comparison of the DIA to the standard Von Hof men’s road frame, there certainly are differences in the geometry. Most notably, whereas the standard road frame is offered in 52-60cm frame sizes, the DIA is made in a 44-54cm range to fit riders 1.67m (5’ 5”) and shorter. Other changes are more minor, such as a shorter reach, lower stack height, a lower bottom bracket and longer chainstays. Combined, this makes for an improved fit and improved bike handling for shorter riders.

Von Hof may be taking the women’s cycling advocacy angle for the DIA, but it seemed to me that this line of frames would simply suit any shorter rider, regardless of gender and Parmer did not disagree.

“If our DIA geometry suits a male rider better than our classic road, then we think it can work as a gender neutral frame,” she said. “The color scheme is the same palette that we use for all of our frames and we think it’s pretty much gender neutral.

“The great thing about building in micro batches and being small enough to keep in close contact with our customers, is that we can take feedback from them and incorporate it into future batches. So if we hear that gender neutral is preferable then we can take that into consideration in the future.”

Steel vs. carbon fiber

What sets this high-performance, race-ready bike apart more so than the geometry, is the fact that it’s steel.

Roll up to any group ride or race and you’ll find that the bikes being ridden are overwhelmingly made of carbon fiber. Stiff, responsive, well-damped and feathery light, carbon sure makes a lot of sense, but Parmer says it shouldn’t be considered the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to frame materials.

“My co-founder and co-owner (and husband) Rich worked for a small steel builder in Boston back in the 90’s. Even when everyone went crazy for carbon, he never lost faith in steel. It is durable, repairable and resilient, and if one uses quality steel and a skilled frame builder, it can still be lightweight.

“Plus, modern steel tubing offers oversized shapes and sizes that allow us to fine-tune the ride quality for each of our models. For example, the DIA has a smaller down tube and seat tube than the men’s model. So with steel, we are able to offer a lightweight bike that is comfortable to ride and can keep our customers happy for a very long time.”

“Lightweight” is relative in this case, though. The claimed weight for a 51cm DIA frame plus Enve fork is 1,910 grams (or 4.1 pounds), which is still about a solid pound heavier than even a mid-range carbon fiber frame.

The DIA at first glance

Named DIA for “Do It All”, this frame is meant to be comfortable enough for long days in the saddle, capable enough to hold its own in a road race, and smooth and nimble enough to handle cobbles and the occasional gravel.

To meet these demands, the DIA frame features Columbus Spirit triple-butted tubing, a tapered head tube, an oversized down tube for increased stiffness, and a PF30 press-fit bottom bracket shell — all of which is welded together in New Paltz, New York by Carl Schlemowitz of Vicious Cycles. In keeping with today’s trends, the frame also features ports and internal cable routing for electronic groupsets, and clearance for tires up to 28mm-wide.

My demo model came paired with an Enve Road 2.0 carbon fork, SRAM Force components, and HiFi carbon wheels wrapped in 25mm-wide Vittoria Rubino Pro clinchers.

The ride

Right out of the box, there was no denying the bike’s aesthetic appeal.

Matte black with cyan blue decals, sleek tubing, and simple overall aesthetic to please the old-time romantics among us, the bike is certainly an eye-catcher. It sparked conversation and drew compliments on every bunch ride I attended, and I received more than a few “can I try it” requests from men and women alike.

But how does she ride?

There were two things that struck me immediately about the DIA. One was the weight, or lack thereof. In the initial lift-the-bike-off-the-floor test, it felt lighter than I thought a steel bike would. At 4.2 pounds for the frame alone, it’s certainly a far cry from the hyperlight race breeds like Liv Langma or Specialized Tarmac WMN, but that would be like comparing apples to oranges. This steed is a different species. In terms of steel bikes, it’s a respectable weight and could always be lightened up with a different groupset and components.

The second thing I noticed from the get-go was the ride quality.

Carbon bikes are great for many reasons, and since throwing myself into racing six years ago, I’ve rarely ridden anything but carbon. But there is something to be said for the ride feel and quality steel can provide. I used to ride around town on an old roadie with Reynolds steel tubing, and I had forgotten how good steel can feel.

The DIA’s Columbus tubing combined with Hi Fi carbon clinchers made for a ride that felt immediately smooth and compliant. While I could still feel the road underneath the tyres, my lower back wasn’t screaming at me after a five-hour day in the saddle. Likewise, rough pavement or gravel roads were much less jarring on the DIA than on my usual carbon bikes.

After matching the demo bike’s saddle and handlebar positions to my own, I found the fit to be perfectly comfortable from the start, too.

With that said, the position was slightly more upright than a race-specific bike, and the reach certainly felt shorter than my unisex frame and therefore required a longer stem, but not so long as to make the bike feel twitchy.

In fact, twitchy is definitely not the word I’d use to describe the overall feel of this bike, and that’s perfectly OK. It’s amply nimble and capable, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss the snappiness of my carbon race steed when I took DIA out to a local evening criterium.
With its slim tubing, the frame is more prone to flex under power, dulling my inputs ever so slightly when accelerating out of a corner.

But what the bike lacks in initial responsiveness, it makes up in trusty handling and comfort. Once up to speed, it just glides.

Capable of racing, but better for riding

Despite DIA’s ties to racing, to me, where the DIA really shines is on steady, long days with gradual seated climbs and mixed pavement.

Race bikes these days are often judged strictly by aerodynamics, stiffness and weight. A bike that doesn’t tick all those boxes shouldn’t immediately be discounted as slow or less capable though. Because unless it’s well done, an ultra-stiff frame often makes for a harsh ride, aero-tubing can make the handling feel less nimble, and an ultra-light bike risks being flimsy.

The DIA reminded me how limiting those usual parameters really are, and how a bike that isn’t a pure race breed can still be wonderful for riding fast.

During my time with the DIA, I’d reach for it more often than not when it came time to grab a bike before a ride, because comfort goes a long way. It may not be the quickest in the bunch, but you can go, quickly, for hours on end. And it left me thinking that my N+1 stable really needs more steel.

Available via the Von Hof Cycles website, the DIA retails for $1950 USD frame only, and $2250 USD for frame + Enve Road 2.0 fork.


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