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Sarto is an Italian frame manufacturer with a massive 60 years of experience, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the company started putting its own name on its frames. This was well after Sarto had made the transition from working with steel to carbon composites, however the company has retained its traditional approach to the craft. Thus, all of the models in its current catalogue are bespoke offerings that are made-to-order in Sarto’s Veneto factory.
That includes the Lampo Plus, Sarto’s latest creation, which stands as one of the very few bespoke aero road bikes in the world. Our former Australian tech editor, and now monthly contributor, Matt Wikstrom, dives into the details and shares his impressions on this Italian superbike.
- Purpose: Road cycling.
- Highlight: Bespoke aero road disc bike.
- Material: Carbon fibre.
- Brake type: Disc.
- Key details: Custom frame geometry, choice of bottom bracket shells, internal cable routing, flat mount disc brakes, 12mm thru-axles, custom paint.
- Price: €5,670 (+VAT)/~AUD$11,000/US$NA/£6,499.
- Weight: 7.96kg/17.5lb (size M without pedals).
- Highs: Custom frame geometry and paint, attractive integrated package, proven frame-building heritage.
- Lows: Integrated cables and hoses will cause headaches, hard to compete with lower-priced offerings from major brands.
The story behind Sarto goes back to the end of World War II when Antonio Sarto and his brothers starting picking up some work finishing frames for a couple of local frame builders. Antonio was just a teenager at the time, but the work was promising, and a few years later, in 1950, he established the workshop that bears his name.
Sarto’s ambitions were modest, perhaps due to his humble beginnings in the industry. Rather than striving to become a recognised brand, Antonio was content with sub-contracting for others. The company started building frames in 1959, and from there, the business slowly grew. Sarto soon gained an enviable reputation as more and more (typically Italian) riders and brands made use of the company’s services.
Antonio’s son, Enrico, took over control of the company in the ‘90s at the age of 18, but only after his father agreed to remain involved with the business. The two started planning a new, larger factory, yet Sarto was still content to brand its work with the names of others. The company has always been coy about revealing the names of its clients, but those that have been mentioned — Moser, Masi, Willier, Guerciotti, Fondriest, and Pinarello — suggest an impressive portfolio.
As Sarto entered the new millennium, the company seemed to make the transition from steel to carbon fibre with ease. Sarto created its first custom composite frame in 2002, then set about rebuilding and expanding its catalogue from there. In an era when many storied brands started looking to the East to remain competitive, Sarto remained in business — in Italy, no less — by preserving its bespoke approach to the craft.
In 2010, Sarto started doing something for the first time: selling frames with its own name on them. After decades of manufacturing frames for others, the company was prepared to introduce itself to consumers.
A custom aero road frameset
Every frame in Sarto’s catalogue is made-to-measure and built-to-order to suit the customer. To this end, tube-to-tube construction affords the company the freedom it needs to vary the stack and reach of a frame and to modify the head and seat tube angles as required. It’s a time-consuming and labour-intensive process that adds to the cost of the frame, of course, but for those riders that fall outside the norm, there is the promise of a better fitting (and handling) bike.
Aside from personalised geometry, this approach allows Sarto to offer its customers a variety of options, such as the choice of bottom bracket shell, cable routing to suit different groupsets (i.e. powered versus unpowered), and of course, a personalised finish for the frame. These kind of options are
Sarto added its first aero road chassis, the Lampo, to its catalogue for 2015. The Lampo’s styling was a clear departure from Sarto’s other offerings, featuring many of the hallmarks that have come to define an aero road frame: kammtails throughout the front triangle, lowered seatstays, a fork crown that nestles into the down tube, and internalisation of the cables and seatpost clamp. Sarto used CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamic) analysis to design and optimise each of these features so as to minimise the drag of the bike, which included the addition of aerodynamic tripwires to the fork legs and the underside of the down tube.
The Lampo must have been received with some enthusiasm because Sarto recently added a second iteration to its collection, the Lampo Plus. Two years in the making, the new frameset embraces disc brakes and internal routing through an oversized stem to hide all cables/hoses/wires from the wind. The result is a very sleek superbike that is arguably faster than the original design and a worthy peer for the current crop of aero wünder-bikes from mass-manufacturers such as Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, Cervelo, BMC, and Giant.
Aero-weenies will no doubt be left wondering how the aerodynamics of the Lampo Plus compare with those other brands, but there is no data for this yet. Sarto is planning to test the bike in a wind tunnel, but until then, the company makes no specific claims other than to label it as the fastest bike in its collection.
More on the nitty-gritty
The Lampo Plus shares many of the same features as the Lampo, including the weight for a raw frame (950g), a tapered head tube and fork steerer (1.125-1.5in), and the choice of four bottom bracket shells (BB86, BSA, BB30, or BB386). The two models also share the same stiffness value (120N/mm), which makes them a little stiffer than Sarto’s all-rounder, the Seta (115N/mm), yet not quite as stiff as the Dinamica (130N/mm).
As mentioned above, the Lampo Plus is available with disc brakes only, with fittings to suit flat mount callipers and 12mm thru-axles, front and rear. The bike is supplied with an integrated bar and stem that allows the brake hoses and gear cables/wires to be internally routed from the levers into the frame and onto the callipers and derailleurs via a cavity in the head tube. The routing system accommodates powered and unpowered groupsets with a minimum of fuss, but all of that internal routing will add time when building and maintaining the bike.
Sarto has designed interlocking spacers for the stem that can be separated and removed to make minor alterations to the height of the bars, but there is not much slack in the cables and hoses to help with this. Tearing down the bike down for travel will also be difficult: the bars can be unbolted from the stem, but with no way to separate them, there won’t be much freedom for arranging the various pieces in a hard case. Travellers will be better off using a soft case where the handlebars/stem can be left in place.
Sarto’s chunky stem dominates the front end of the bike to some extent, and while there were times when I found myself thinking of it as a dashboard, it didn’t take long for me to become accustomed to it. For those wondering about how they would attach their preferred bike computer, there is a pair of threaded holes on the underside of the stem for attaching an out-front mount. That same mount should also provide a solution for mounting a light for early morning or late afternoon training sessions.
The sample provided for this review arrived bearing Sarto’s standard medium frame geometry, which provided a 550mm effective top tube and 147mm head tube with a 72.5° head angle, 74° seat tube angle, and 405mm seatstays. Those numbers are familiar for a race-oriented bike, but there’s no point in dwelling on them since Sarto will adjust them to suit each buyer. To this end, Sarto offers three stem lengths (100, 110, 120mm), three handlebar widths, (400, 420, 440mm), and two seatposts (0 or 21mm of offset) to help with fine-tuning the fit and angles of the Lampo Plus.
Regarding the finish of the frame, prospective buyers can consider the Lampo Plus a blank canvas. In the first instance, Sarto offers customers the freedom to choose up to four colours for any of its standard schemes at no extra charge. Beyond that, there will be a charge in line with the amount of time required to render the final finish.
The complete bike, as supplied, weighed 7.96kg/17.5lb without pedals, which is not really surprising for a disc brake-equipped bike, aero or otherwise. Aero-weenies will probably forgive the extra weight — provided they have faith in Sarto’s CFD analysis — while weight-weenies will look elsewhere, such as Sarto’s Asola, which has a claimed raw frame weight of 700g.
At €5,670 (+VAT)/~AUD$11,000/US$NA/£6,499, the Lampo Plus is obviously expensive, but compared to other high-end bespoke offerings, it’s not unusual. It’s also worth noting that the price includes the frame, fork, headset, stem, spacers, bars, seatpost, bidon cages, and thru-axles, as well as custom geometry, personalised paint, five-year warranty, and a crash replacement option for the first three-years of ownership.
For those customers that are able to visit Sarto in Italy, they will be able to spend time in the company’s fitting studio and with their graphic designer to decide the details of their order. Otherwise, buyers can place an order with one of the Sarto’s international retailers. In either instance, there will be a waiting period of around two months once an order has been placed.
Burning up the tarmac
Sarto may not have any wind tunnel data to woo shoppers, but the sleek lines of the bike work well to satisfy any rider’s definition of a fast bike. Out in the wild, the bike certainly didn’t have any trouble attracting onlookers and drawing compliments. Yes, it shares at least a few similarities with other aero road bikes, but that’s more reassuring than not, since these are the kind of features that have proven effective at reducing the aerodynamic drag of a bike whilst satisfying the UCI’s strict rules.
Those sleek lines, and the luxurious price tag, do raise expectations for a bike that might challenge the speed of sound. At the very least, most would hope that their socks would be lost along the way after throwing their leg over the bike for the first time. However, there is no beast under the bonnet; rather, the Lampo Plus is a sedate and well-mannered bike that feels a whole lot more traditional than its styling would otherwise suggest.
From the outset, the bike was immediately inviting with stable handling and predictable steering. When combined with a subdued ride quality and a fit that was close to ideal, the Lampo Plus often evaded my senses. It was simply smooth and quiet with just a murmur of feedback that I could tap into when required.
The compliance of the chassis hit the sweet spot for me: stiff enough for my weight, sturdy enough for my (modest) power, yet forgiving enough to encourage me to stay on the bike. There was still something of an edge associated with the Lampo Plus that was appealing when I was riding in anger, but it didn’t dominate the bike, so when I was ready to cruise, it was able to accommodate my change in mood.
The Lampo Plus was a calm and easygoing presence in any environment. When the roads were rough, it was easy to concentrate on my effort because the bike remained largely unperturbed; up in the hills, all I needed was a comfortable gear to contend with any slope; and when the road tipped downwards, I was able to settle back and let the bike roll as fast as I dared.
The end result was the Lampo Plus often disappeared from under me, and it was a pleasing sensation, one that I associate with the best of the bikes that I have ever ridden and owned. If I had the opportunity to fine tune the geometry and decide the final finish, then I’m sure I would be able to live with the Lampo Plus for a very long time.
However, it did leave me wondering whether it had any free speed to offer, because I couldn’t feel it. That’s when I put it up against my own bike, a Baum Corretto. With round frame tubing, external cables, and low-profile rims, it is the antithesis of the Lampo Plus, at least in terms of aerodynamics, and therefore, a decent benchmark for a back-to-back test.
Three laps of a mildly undulating 3.2km circuit were completed on each bike at a self-determined tempo pace and the results were clear: I was almost 2s/km (18s over 9.7km) faster on the Lampo Plus. That extra speed went completely unnoticed, to the point where I was convinced it was a very close race until I saw the numbers. The only way I could go faster on my Corretto was to push harder.
Of course, this brief showdown is a long way from a rigorous study, but I’m convinced the Lampo Plus has some free speed to offer buyers. It’s not enough to overhaul a rider’s capabilities, but it might help some crack a few PBs for flat or mildly undulating courses/segments. When coupled with Sarto’s bespoke service, the Lampo Plus should suit any rider that has been longing for an aero road bike that provides a better fit than what the mass-market has to offer.
Campagnolo’s 12-speed mechanical Super Record groupset was a pleasing match for the Lampo Plus, if only on sentimental grounds, yet it lived up to the hype (and price) associated with it. As a long-time user of Campagnolo’s groupsets, I have a bias, but I was still surprised by how much I enjoyed the new transmission.
I still remember my first experience with an 11-speed transmission: the extra sprocket seemed like a luxury rather than a necessity, and several years passed by before I made the jump for my own bike. This time around, the 12th sprocket really feels like it adds an extra gear.
This won’t apply to all riders, though. For example, for those that already have an 11-32T cassette, or similar, fitted to their bikes, the 12th sprocket may go unnoticed. In my case, I routinely use 11-25T or 11-27T cassettes, so the 11-32T that was fitted to the Lampo Plus provided a couple of extra lower gears on the bike without sacrificing a smooth (1T) transition between the higher gears (11-17T). Every time I looked down at the cassette, I was often surprised (delighted!) to find I had more lower gears in reserve, regardless of whether I was using the big (50T) or the small (34T) ring.
The quality of the shifting was as smooth and crisp as it should be for a brand new high-end groupset, despite the fact that full-length housings were used for routing the cables through the Lampo Plus to each derailleur. In the past, this is the kind of thing that could have interfered with the quality of shifting — adding weight to the throw of the shift lever, for example — but not so in this case. I presume this has a lot to do with Campagnolo’s new low-friction cables, and if so, I’m a fan.
As for the rest of the group, I found it hard to judge the quality of Campagnolo’s disc brakes because the brake levers were fitted to the callipers “euro-style” (right lever, rear brake). I prefer to control the front brake with my right hand, so I simply felt clumsy when using my left hand. Nevertheless, the braking action was as smooth and powerful as any good disc brake.
The cranks developed a small knock after the first week or two of use, which was caused by some lateral play of the bearings in the bottom bracket cups. This had nothing to do with the press-fit cups
Summary and final thoughts
The aero road bike market has grown a lot in the last ten years with several major brands investing heavily in research and development to create some very slippery bikes. Indeed, Cervélo, Trek, Specialized, and BMC, amongst others, have done a lot to move the form out of its infancy to the point where a sound aero frameset has become almost indispensable for competition. While appreciation for aerodynamics is at an all-time high, the sleekest framesets are only available in a limited number of sizes, which can have an effect on the position of some riders and detract from their performance.
Sarto is not the first manufacturer to offer consumers a bespoke aero road frameset, but the Lampo Plus is more astute and sophisticated (in terms of aerodynamics) than earlier offerings from Alchemy and Formiglia. At this stage, there is no hard data on how the Lampo Plus compares to the market leaders, but at the very least it will be sleeker than a traditional bespoke frame lacking aerodynamic features.
While the Lampo Plus may be something of a problem-solver for riders that have had trouble achieving their desired fit on a mass-produced aero road bike, it also ticks some other boxes, albeit at a premium price. For example, there is the exclusivity of a bespoke product from a workshop that has decades of frame-building experience. There is also the romance and prestige (perceived or otherwise) associated with any bike that is made in Italy. Add to that the bike’s sleek lines and superbike styling, and the Lampo Plus may be hard for some to resist.