Amazing carbon fiber road bike performance for around $2,500
Some people are really obsessed with brand names. Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Mercedes-Benz, Rolex—names that announce loud and clear that the owner has lots of expendable income. The cycling equivalent would be Italian names like Pinarello, Colnago and Bianchi, what many would regard as the “Ferrari of bikes”—race proven, highly refined, built for speed and dead sexy to look at. And just like a Ferrari, high-end Italian bikes are prohibitively expensive for most people with a moderate income.
How well does a $15,000 road bike really ride? I rode a Pinarello Dogma2 with Campagnolo Super Record EPS and carbon wheels once. It was nice, but not $15,000 nice. In fact, it rode only slightly better than my $3,500 Trek Madone with Dura Ace 7800 mechanical shifting. Sure, there’s more technology in the Pinarello, but $11,500 more? I think not. There’s a serious law of diminishing returns at play here, and in the road bike world—not taking into consideration carbon fiber race wheels—that law really seems to take hold around $5,000. Anything beyond that price is largely caught up in the cachet of a brand name.
Most new bike buyers with a realistic budget are getting fed up with bicycles that retail for more than a new Nissan Versa, so they’re seeking out lesser-known brands that mate a quality frame and fork with a terrific component spec.
One of these brands is Tommaso, a name that was born in the 1980s when Columbus steel tubing and lugs were de rigueur for frame building. Tommaso bikes were built in Italy by hand for distribution in the American market. Today, the Tommaso name is completely unrelated to the original owners, and instead of handmade steel, the brand focuses on offering high performance carbon fiber framesets made overseas—but still designed in Italy—using quality Toray T700 carbon fiber, the same material used on many high-end brands with well known names and lofty price tags.
A Tommaso Superleggera Team road bike was sent to us by online retailer Giantnerd, the company that owns the Tommaso brand. Giantnerd has recently gone through a complete change of ownership, and the new owners want to make clear that the company is completely different than it was only a couple years ago, putting complete focus on customer service and satisfaction.
As proof of this commitment, Giantnerd offers up items that other manufacturers simply don’t. Take for instance a lifetime warranty on the frame and fork—something that raises an eye in an era when bigger brands only offer a two-year warranty.
Giantnerd also offers seven day test ride period when you buy a bike with the “Ready to Ride” build kit (more on that in a bit). For seven days you can ride the Superleggera, and if you don’t love it, they’ll take it back and pay for the return shipping as well.
At a mere $2,549, the Tommaso is an incredible value, especially when you look at the component spec—a mix of Shimano Dura Ace, Ultegra, 105 and Mavic Aksium wheels. How do they price it so competitively? By selling direct, Tommaso cuts out two levels of supply chain, saving both the company—and the customer—money.
“We painstakingly reviewed every component on the Superleggera to ensure each one helped maximize the performance of the bike a whole, but at the same time didn’t drive the cost of the bike to a level that just doesn’t make sense for the average rider,” said company president Michael Eddy.
For fit, the Superleggera features a downward sloping top tube for better standover height while still offering plenty of cockpit room to stretch out. Thanks to its Toray T700 construction and shorter tubes, the Superleggera is surprisingly lightweight, with the frame tipping the scales at a mere 950 grams. Fully built without pedals, a medium size Superleggera weighs in at only 16.4 pounds.
Here is where the Superleggera is truly impressive, boasting Shimano Dura Ace 9000 shifters and derailleurs with 22 speeds, Shimano Ultegra 6800 cranks and Shimano 105 brake calipers. Giantnerd believes that keeping the drivetrain entirely Shimano maximizes overall performance, delivering a better experience for the rider.
It was a relief to see that the Tommaso came equipped with a traditional threaded bottom bracket, making it easy to thread in any type of bottom bracket you wish. No proprietary or creak-prone press fit systems on the Tommaso definitely earn it some bonus points in this rider’s book.
Another crucial element of the Superleggera build is the Mavic Aksium wheelset, which deliver dependable everyday service. Although not in the ultralight class, they’re a great set of wheels for training. For those who race or are concerned about weight, a pair of carbon race wheels can turn the Superleggera into a bona-fide, criterium-winning monster.
The Superleggera features a unique alloy flat top handlebar design with very shallow drops. The company felt that a shallow drop bar invites more riders to actually ride in the drops while still maintaining a comfortable position and easy brake reach. A carbon fiber seat post helps absorb road imperfections for better ride quality, while a Selle Seta S1 saddle delivers lightweight, 230-gram performance.
In addition to making sure the Superleggera looks as flawless as it performs, the Giantnerd team used an attractive three-color, high-gloss paint scheme. Yes, a paint job like this costs extra—more than they wanted to pay, according to Eddy—but the end result is worth the expense. The Tommaso looks twice as expensive as it actually costs, but does it ride as good as it looks?
Delivered to Your Door
Before we get to the how the bike rides, lets first discuss how the bike actually gets to you. Because Giantnerd is a consumer-direct retailer, they completely assemble and tune their Ready to Ride bikes prior to shipping. When it arrives all you need to do is install the stem, handlebars and seatpost.
In practice this sounds better than it actually is. The brake and derailleur cable housing on our test bike was far too generous, as were the cable ends, unnecessarily running several inches too long.
The Dura Ace shifter hoods were also positioned too high on the bar, which not only created an uncomfortable hand position, but made it near impossible to reach the brake levers from the drops. Remedying this required unwrapping the bar tape and repositioning the hoods—a daunting task for the uninitiated. Also, the rear derailleur was not fully dialed in and required a couple minutes of barrel tension adjustment.
While it’s understandable why the “pie plate” guard between the spokes and cogset would be included from the factory, a properly adjusted derailleur doesn’t require one. The plate’s existence only cheapens the overall look of the bike, so that was jettisoned immediately.
While most of the complaints are minor, correct hand positioning is critical. If Tommaso wants to win over bike shop customers, every little detail has to be spot-on.
I’ll spare you a long-winded and tedious review of how the bike rides and just say that after spending a few weeks on the Superleggera, I really don’t know why anyone would pay much more for a road bike—especially those with no aspirations of becoming a bike racer.
Even if you want to race, the Superleggera is a terrific choice. It’s light, handles sharply, accelerates with authority and rides with every bit as much responsiveness and lateral stiffness as an Asian-made carbon fiber bike with a big brand name costing thousands more.
Of course because of a full Shimano drivetrain, shifting on the Tommaso was flawless, especially with the front chainrings. In fact, the shifting action on the mechanical Dura Ace 9000 is so light and immediate it makes me wonder why anyone would spend the extra coin on Di2 electronic shifting. Once the brake hoods were dialed in, the shallow drop bars were quite comfortable, and allowed me to ride in the drops more often without any eventual lower back fatigue.
There was only one minor issue I discovered with the Superleggera, which was easily remedied. Giantnerd specs the Tommaso with compact gearing to make climbing easier for customers, using 50T/34T chainrings up front and 11T/28T cogset out back. That’s fine for those who just go on leisurely rides, but the Tommaso rides with the speed and agility of a full-blown carbon fiber race bike, and when you’re on a long descent or a high-speed sprint, especially with a tailwind, the 50:11 simply doesn’t cut it. You’re fully spun out at 40 mph wanting for more gear.
I asked Eddy if the bike can be ordered with different gearing, and he said absolutely. I would personally opt for the traditional 53T/39T chainrings, but there’s also a 52T/36T option that splits the difference nicely.
Overall, the Tommaso Superleggera represents possibly one of the greatest carbon fiber road bike values going. In addition to boasting a high quality frameset with an equally high quality paint job, the Tommaso delivers top shelf componentry and a company that stands behind their product and the satisfaction of customers 100 percent.
If you are the type of person who doesn’t get hung up on brand names and are in the market for a light, quick, responsive and expensive looking road bike without the astronomical price tag, I highly recommend taking advantage of Tommaso’s risk free 7-Day test ride. I’m confident you’ll still be riding it on day 8.
Tommaso Superleggera Dura Ace 9000 Key Specs
- Weight: 16.4 pounds
- Frame Material: Tommaso HCT 12k monocoque carbon fiber
- Wheels: Mavic Askium
- Tires: Mavic Aksion 700 x23c
- Shift/Brake Levers: Shimano Dura Ace 9000
- Front Derailleur: Shimano Dura Ace 9000
- Rear Derailleur: Shimano Dura Ace 9000
- Brakes: Shimano 105 BR-5700 Calipers
- Cassette: Shimano Ultegra 6800 – 11-28 (11 speed)
- Crankset: Shimano Ultegra 6800 50/34t
- Saddle: Selle Royal Seta S1
- Seatpost: Tommaso carbon 31.6mm
- Bar: TRS Ultralight Race Alloy
- Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL
- MSRP: $2,549