Chapter2 Toa road bike review: Keeping pace with the big players
A versatile road race bike that’s smoother-riding than most.
A versatile road race bike that’s smoother-riding than most.
If you were to strip back the paint and logos of a number of modern and integrated road bikes, would you be able to tell which is which? So many of these sleek new machines are often subtly refined versions of their competitors’ and the result is a lot of choice without a heap of tangible difference.
I bring this up because that’s exactly what was running through my mind before my first pedal strokes on the new Toa road race bike from New Zealand brand Chapter2. Sold only as a frameset, the Toa is an all-rounder race bike of the modern era with an aero-aesthetic (coining it). It’s comparable to the likes of the Specialized Tarmac SL7, the Cervelo R5, Trek Emonda, and Cannondale SuperSix Evo.
So what, if anything, separates this Kiwi-designed racer from its competitors? And can such a bike truly be competitive to those who perhaps spend more on a WorldTour team than what this small bike company likely does in annual turnover? Turns out the answers to those two questions are respectively ‘enough’ and ‘yes’.
Michael Pryde is the key name behind Chapter2 bikes, a name that anyone familiar with the now-defunct Neil Pryde bikes will quickly recognise. Back in 2016, Pryde took up his second major venture in the cycling industry by launching Chapter2 Bikes, and the New Zealand-owned company has morphed its way to the road and gravel-focussed brand it is now.
Today, Chapter2 is an omnichannel bike company (it uses both consumer-direct and distributor-based selling options, depending on region) that doesn’t sell bikes. Rather the brand specialises in high-end carbon fibre framesets that can be purchased direct or through participating dealers. The frame designs are all unique to Chapter2; this is no open-mould AliExpress brand with fancy paint.
Speaking of paint, Chapter2 plays the proven game of exclusivity by doing limited runs of special – often Māori-themed – paint schemes. The bike I was sent for review features the Tongariro limited-release colourway, one that pays homage to a volcano with a surrounding region that became New Zealand’s first national park. This unique colourway is already coming to an end but the company offers an ongoing turn-table of new designs in addition to the simpler staples.
Released in 2021, the Toa borrows characteristics and features from the other road bikes in Chapter2’s range. The result is a UCI-approved race bike that aims to be a modern all-rounder in every sense, and it leaves me thinking that the company has a little too much overlapping bloat in its range.
With a frame weight of 1,099 grams (medium, painted), the Toa isn’t the lightest bike in Chapter’s range. That title belongs to the more traditional, less stiff, and less aero Huru.
Those seeking a more comfortable and subtly more relaxed bike may be looking to the Tere, but on paper, that feels like the predecessor to the Toa. By comparison, the Toa offers a claimed 23% increase in head tube stiffness and 7% boost at the bottom bracket. Additionally, the Toa should be more aero through its integrated front end cabling, and at the very least it looks cleaner.
And then we come to Chapter2’s latest aero road race model, the Koko. The Koko aims to take aerodynamics up another level from the Toa, but the company hasn’t yet tested the Toa to know just how much benefit there actually is. The two platforms obviously offer different frames, but they both share the same one-piece Mana bar and stem, the same 1.5″ headset that conceals the cables through the top bearing, and the same feathery and flexible D-shaped seatpost.
Obviously, Chapter2 has its bases covered regardless of what performance priority or aesthetic preference you may have. And if you want it all or simply can’t decide, then the Toa is likely it.
The Toa comes with all the modern flourishes that you likely expect from the category in 2022.
The front end hides the cables through Chapter2’s own 1.5″ headset system and past the regular round-shaped steerer tube. Chapter2 obviously wants you to run its own 395 g Mana one-piece handlebar, but there’s the option to swap out to the different headset top cap if you want to run a regular bar and stem with cables exposed until the top cap, Meanwhile other 1.5″ concealed cable headsets, such as those from Deda, can be run if you wish.
Follow the angular and subtly truncated airfoil-shaped down tube and you’ll find a T47 threaded bottom bracket (internal style). You’ll also find a modular cable port at the bottom bracket which reveals that this frame can handle electronic or mechanical shifting. However, I’d advise against the mechanical shifting simply given that the concealed cabling at the front end will make future cable housing replacements far harder than they need to be.
Sitting above are some curvy dropped seatstays that nestle into the back of a D-shaped seat tube. And that shape is matched to the proprietary 135 g D-shaped seatpost. A binder wedge holds the post as it should and is set at an angle that allows even the worst-shaped torque wrench to fit – a welcomed touch.
There’s tyre clearance for 30 mm tyres when going by ISO standards (which dictate 4 mm of surrounding clearance). I can confirm that measured 32s do fit but I wouldn’t want to go wider. The pinch points for tyre fitment are seen between the width of the chainstays and how close the front tyre runs beneath the down tube. And in case you were wondering, this being a race bike means there are no provisions for fenders, and that lowly set down tube means even strap-on fenders are a no-go.
At both front and rear dropouts sit replaceable threaded inserts in the off chance you ever manage to mangle the thru-axle. And the provided thru-axles are intricately machined for weight reduction compared to what most brands provide. Just note that the stepped axle design tends to grab against hubs that lack a centre spacer or axle between the bearings, such as the Tune Kong hubs provided with my test bike.
My medium test bike weighed 7.8 kg (17.16 lb) without pedals or cages. It’s worth noting that this weight is with a not-so-light SRAM Force AXS groupset, however, the rest of the build is rather premium with Chapter2’s matching Mana handlebar, Princeton Carbon Works Grit 4540 wheels, Pirelli Race TLR 30 mm tyres, and a Fizik Versus Evo Adaptive 3D printed saddle. Spend enough and you could have this bike at 7.5 kg without much of a struggle, but with a frame and fork at 1,500 g it won’t ever fulfil a weight-weenie’s fantasy.
Pricing wise, you can expect to pay US$3,349 / AU$4,899 / £2,999 / Є3,299 for the Toa frameset in standard paint. The limited-edition paint schemes sit at a small premium of US$3,499 / AU$5,199 / £3,199 / Є3,599. And it’s extremely important to know that the optional Mana handlebar (available in two colour choices and five sizes) is not included in the above prices – you’ll need to add another US$699 / AU$1,099 / £619 / Є699 for this product.
Obviously, these prices aren’t low, but at least they include international delivery and import taxes (taxes excluded from quoted prices for Canada and a few other countries). Unfortunately, a future price rise is expected.
With just framesets available from Chapter2, it’ll be up to your local dealer to provide complete bike options and pricing. As tested, my bike retails for AU$14,536 (pricing specific to Australia).
Being a smaller company you can bet that any required spares unique to the frame will need to be sourced from Chapter2 directly, but it’s pretty positive news there, too. An extra derailleur hanger is provided with the classily well-packed frameset. The frame comes with a lifetime warranty from a structural sense, and a two-year warranty on the paint. And Chapter2 will carry stock of all consumable parts for a minimum period of 10 years (a generous timeframe by industry standards). “So hangers, spacers, cable stops and other bits will be supported,” said Michael Pryde. “Many of these parts are shared across a number of models so the actual period is more than 10 years.”
Jump out of the saddle and the Toa responds with an immediate kick. Drop your knee into a corner and this all-rounder flows through without a fight. And come around a bend with a split-second choice between hitting a pothole or horse manure (just me?), and the Māori-themed machine is reactive enough to avoid both. This is all great stuff, but it would be problematic if a race bike didn’t offer such agility and stiffness.
Early on in my testing, I questioned whether there’s anything beyond the paint that sets the Toa apart from other all-rounder race bikes. Those initial impressions simply pointed to the Toa being at least competitive with any other high-end race bike I’ve ridden in recent times. Some other race bikes offer subtly higher levels of stiffness that make you feel your cleats flex before the frame does. Others offer twitchier handling that can reward the experienced. Some do it with a fit that’s clearly designed to suit the pros the company sponsors. And a number of them sit at 100 g or even 200 g grams lighter for the frame and fork.
However, the Toa manages to feel like a performance bike while introducing a level of comfort that’s beyond the norm of already increasingly comfortable race bikes. Here the bike has a wonderfully smooth ride quality that feels balanced front to rear and encourages you to stay in the saddle more than expected. And from what I can tell, so much of it can be attributed to the D-shaped seatpost and optional Mana handlebar, both of which provide a visible amount of flex when you bounce on them.
That seatpost isn’t quite to the level of buoyancy as Canyon’s VCLS 2.0 (the leaf-spring style post), but it’s not too off of it either. Similarly, those compact-shaped bars that are repurposed across many of Chapter2’s framesets are no pieces of over-cooked pasta that wiggle when you pull on them, but pressing on the hoods or twisting on the drops gives a feeling that they’re coming up to al dente.
A small part of me believes that Chapter2’s approach to offering a smoother riding race bike is partially linked to the fact they don’t have top-tier professional riders on them who would be asking for forever stiffer bikes. So many pros often believe that stiffness equates to speed – something the science rarely supports. Instead, Chapter2 has seemingly sought to give the Toa an accessible ride quality that feels great for long days in the saddle without any obvious loss over the short bursts.
That accessible ride quality is somewhat mirrored by the geometry, too. Notably, the reach figures across the six sizes of Toa tend to run a little shorter than many popular race bikes, meaning most with a desk job could still comfortably run a pro-looking stem length. Equally the stack figures are appropriate for the masses, approximately in line with the likes of the Giant TCR or Cannondale SuperSix Evo. And for those that may live life with a step stool nearby, the Toa is available in extremely small sizes that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from such a brand.
The way the medium-sized Toa handles reminded me greatly of the BMC Teammachine SLR01 or Canyon Ultimate, both bikes that are often praised as well-mannered all-rounders. And so while the Toa will change direction with minimal input, it does so with a level of control that the longer 60 mm trail figure (based on a 30 mm tyre) brings.
Just be warned that the 60 mm figure is only relevant to the tested medium size, and I can only provide handling notes for the size I tested. I give this disclaimer as Chapter2 is somewhat all over the place with its trail figures and most other sizes feature shorter (faster-handling) figures. For example, the large and extra-large have a super-fast 54 mm trail figure, while the small has a Specialized-Tarmac-quick 56 mm figure. Certainly expect these other sizes to be twitchier in their manner.
Overall I like the somewhat safe approach Chapter2 has taken with the fit-based choices to the geometry, and so while it doesn’t ideally suit the flexible racers looking for a truly long and low machine, it will be good for many riders seeking a race bike without a short stem and/or a huge stack of spacers.
So is Chapter2’s attempt at an all-rounder race bike perfect? Well, no, and nor is anyone else’s. At the top of my minor complaints list is that the Toa is a premium race frameset that claims to be aero, and yet only has questions marks in relation to how it stacks up in that department. Now this lack of aero data wouldn’t stop me from buying any race bike, but it may give pause to others. Frankly, this is one area where Chapter2’s limited resources can’t keep pace with the big name brands, and as a result, the Toa isn’t being sold on data, but rather the fact that it looks aero and has a number of known-to-be-fast-features.
Now I’m no aerodynamicist and so you should take this with a pinch of Lake Grassmere salt, but if I were prioritising real-world aerodynamics above all other metrics (something I never do), I’d be looking for a bike that doesn’t have a fat headtube that hides oversized 1.5″ bearings within. However I’m not that customer, and the reason I’d buy a wholly integrated bike like the Toa or any number of new race bikes is simply that it looks slick. And that it does.
My complaints from there get even smaller.
There’s a small exit hole for a front derailleur cable at the base of the seat tube and it’s shaped to funnel water in. Yes a piece of tape fixes this, but I’d like to see the New Zealand company provide a plug or even just a colour-matched sticker to solve the issue.
Each frame size is provided with the identical 10 mm set-back seatpost, and while most frame sizes offer a 74º seat angle, it’s not impossible to imagine that some riders may want a straight post – something that is simply not available. Equally, each frame size seemingly comes with the same length of post, meaning my medium had a 75 cm minimum saddle height before I cut the post down. Cutting the post perhaps isn’t any different to the expected process of cutting the steerer on a new bike, but most other brands avoid this step by supplying appropriate-length posts with each frame size.
And sticking with the seatpost, I was briefly irritated by the fact that nothing holds the seatpost wedge in the frame when the post is removed. I had the wedge fall down into the seat tube while trying to get the post into place (easily fixed by tipping the bike upside and shaking it), and you’ll likely experience similar at some point if you travel with the bike.
Chapter2 isn’t exactly asking small money for its Mana handlebar/stem and so it would be nice if a computer mount was included. Alas, you’ll need to buy your own K-Edge Integrated Handlebar System (IHS) mount or similar. Similarly, it would be nice to see Chapter2’s matching bar tape included with the handlebar or at least offered as a low-cost add-on rather than being sold as a separate item.
And lastly there’s the subjective topic of aesthetics. Over time the limited edition Tongariro graphics grew on me and I started to really appreciate that it doesn’t look like any other bike around. That said, there’s just something about the shaping of the frameset that makes me tilt my head to the side and ponder at every glance. I think it’s the curve from the middle of the fork blades that are doing it, and while the top tube and seat stays also feature curves, it just doesn’t flow seamlessly to my eyes. Perhaps larger sizes solve this, or perhaps I’ve just spent too long looking at it after a few adult cordials.
Keeping pace with the leaders of the industry who have non-stop generational improvement is no small feat, and Chapter2 deserves some serious kudos in this sense. And while the Toa is certainly not the lightest, the stiffest, nor the most aero race bike on the market, it still offers a genuinely good balance of what makes a bike enjoyable to ride.
However, despite the Toa being competitive with the most popular offerings, I’m still left wondering why I’d buy one over the myriad of other wholly integrated do-it-all race bikes that are available at this not-so-budget price point. The subtly more accessible geometry and ride quality are certainly positives in my eyes, but fundamentally I keep returning to the real point of difference being the paintwork, and owning a brand of bike others in your riding circle are unlikely to have. For many, that’s enough.