When I were a lad, we never had a cup. We used to have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper. And the only stainless steel we’d see was our father’s pocketknife at Christmas when he’d slice up the shoe that passed for dinner. You try telling the young people of today that. They won’t believe you. But how times change.
Now, just like cups, stainless steel is commonplace, in the bike industry that is. Not mainstream, mind – you won’t find a stainless bike in every manufacturer’s line-up – but thanks to the artisan crowd and some choice mass-manufacturers, the stainless steel movement is slowly gathering momentum, producing bikes such as the stunning X-Fire along the way. But is it a case of ‘if you can’t go fast, look shiny’?Choices for the aesthete Digsby IM, Email, and Social Networks in one easy to use application! http://digsby.com
If Narcissus had been into bikes, he’d probably have ridden an X-Fire. The highly polished, mirror finish to the Columbus XCr stainless steel tubeset is spectacular, showcasing incredible craftsmanship and dedication by the builder. Tommasini says each frame takes 80 hours to make, and 16 of those hours are spent polishing.
Every single detail, from the ‘Hand Made In Italy’ engraving on the bottom bracket shell to the neat welds around the head tube, make the X-Fire one of those exceptional road bikes that has to be seen to be believed. That said, it’s an aesthetic that’s not going to be for everyone, however it’s still good to see a stainless bike that doesn’t hide its material under a bushel of paint, not least as one of stainless steel’s best features is that it doesn’t need to be treated against corrosion as other metals do.
For my part, I like it. Ride out on a sunny day and you won’t fail to turn a few heads. And if that doesn’t grab you, Tommasini will do custom colours as well, or a classy off-the-peg version with sandblasted logos. Prices on application, but UK distributor Zetta says it can do most things for free, or a nominal charge of around £100.Metal core Digsby IM, Email, and Social Networks in one easy to use application! http://digsby.com
Like all good Italian bicycle makers, Tommasini is named after its founder, Irio Tommasini, who started his framebuilding career in 1948, receiving training from legendary Italian framebuilder Giuseppe Pela (who made frames for Jacques Anquetil, among others) in Milan before setting up shop in his hometown of Grosseto in 1957. Over the years Irio made bikes for Louison Bobet and Freddy Maertens to name but two, and while today the Tommasini brand might be commercially dwarfed by the likes of Colnago and De Rosa, its frames are still held in high regard among classic bike enthusiasts and traditional framebuilders.
Now in his eighties, Irio has taken a bit more of a back seat in the company, and has left the day-to-day running of Tommasini to his daughters, Roberta and Barbara, and their husbands Valfrido and Alessandro. However, the heart of Tommasini still very much beats steel, with five such bikes in its current line up. So if there’s a bike that epitomises the brand, it has to be the X-Fire. ‘We suggest it as being suitable for people who love long distance riding because of the comfort that steel offers,’ says Barbara. ‘But being stainless it is stiffer and performs better than other steel frames.’ Certainly the X-Fire is no slouch in the stiffness stakes, however it doesn’t possess the bottom bracket stoicism of the stiffest carbon racers. Yet, for me at least, that wasn’t generally a problem.
If you are a colours-to-the-mast racer then yes, you’d want a bike that’s as laterally stiff as possible – watts spent flexing frames are watts lost – but as someone who doesn’t really race but wants a bike that’s exciting to pedal, the X-Fire is right up my street. To deploy that much-used tester’s term, it feels alive. It’s a bit like the difference between rolling a bowling ball down a road versus a football. The bowling ball steams along in a heavy, direct manner, whereas the football will soon start to skip and bound, reacting to the surface with a bounce instead of the bowling ball’s thud.
And so it is with the X-Fire, which has a wonderfully sharp ‘ping’ to the quality of its ride, offering buckets of feedback through the pedals as well as the saddle and bars as it springs into life. Which for me, unless you’re choosing a bike to race on, is the crucial characteristic in an endearing bike, and why the X-Fire is quite simply a pleasure to ride. There are still shortcomings, however, but again these need to be understood in context – remember, this isn’t a race bike.Untarnished reputation
At 8.04kg the X-Fire is a fairly weighty machine by today’s standards, and a lot of that weight does come from the frame – a claimed 1,380g for a medium, about half a kilo up on the top-end carbon weenies. When climbing and accelerating that weight predictably tells. It takes a bit of effort to get things gliding along and there’s a hint of reticence to be found at the foot of climbs. Yet these things pale into insignificance on a long day out.
Comfort, which I attribute in the main to necessary vertical flex in the rear end and forks, is an innate quality of the X-Fire as it expertly treads the fine line between springiness and damping. However, it’s in the corners where the bike really sings. Any feeling of excess weight evaporates as the X-Fire’s well-balanced nature comes to the fore. I dare say if the frame was even 500g heavier it would still handle as well. It has a poise that instils confidence, and offers feedback that allows you to push it harder than other bikes, quickly letting you know when you’ve found a dependable line, or instantaneously warning you before things get squiffy.
So could the X-Fire be the perfect bike? It looks beautiful (or, indeed, can look anyway you want it), it won’t rust and it handles incredibly and rides exceptionally. Sure, it carries a little bit extra around the stomach and could be stiffer, but unless you race you’ll be hard pressed to notice it in most situations, just as you’ll be unlikely to ever see anyone riding another X-Fire (which will be another boon to some: exclusivity).
Yet it can’t be perfect. No bike is. But to level its shortcomings as damning criticisms is unfair – the X-Fire is what it is, beholden to a material choice that just doesn’t lend itself to über-stiff 6kg machines, and designed with a certain customer in mind. Its true beauty, or at least when crafted so expertly by Tommasini, lies in it being able to rise to pretty much any challenge, and handle it with that most elusive of qualities: panache. The X-Fire is just an incredibly classy ride.Spec Frame Tommasini X Fire Stainless Steel