Review by: Myles Kelsey
An appealing blend of aero, lightweight and race DNA – but how does this base model perform?
After a complete redesign, the new Valerian was released late last year. The intended application is clear – the Valerian joins the new age of road rigs that present riders with a one-bike solution for all courses. The range comprises three performance levels of carbon, spread across a total of six models. The base-level Carbon Comp we tested retails at an astonishingly low, R34 999. Is it fast, is it race-able, and what components (if any) should racers upgrade to squeeze more efficiency out of it? Let’s have a look.
FEATURES & DETAILS
Perhaps the primary feature of the Valerian is the aero influences that flow from the cockpit, head tube and right the way through the chassis. Just about every inch of the Valerian chassis designed with the popular, Kamm tail tube profile. What is Kamm tail? Think of it as a softer (aero) leading edge followed by an abrupt, or cut-off tail section that is almost squarish. Developed by the car industry, it essentially achieves a low amount of drag, within a practical shape.
The fork blades, head tube, top tube, down tube, seat tube, seat post and chain stays are all Kamm tail. Another standout feature is the integrated cabling that is being seen on many race bikes to optimize aero gains. Titan Racing has done well here, with no visible cabling around the cockpit area – none whatsoever. Inside the frame, the cabling is housed in a ‘box system’ that channels them through the frame and prevents any rattling.
Base level it may be, but the attention to detail is evident. Neat rubber grommets line the main cable exit points to prevent cable rattle. The seat post clamp is integrated and the bike is sold with additional steerer spacers, so buyers can forever tweak their bar height.
The Carbon Comp model features the brand’s CL Carbon and all six models in the Valerian lineup have the same geometry and sizing. There’s a small, medium, large and X-large on offer with the corresponding top tube lengths of 504, 536, 556 and 574.
As is the case with a fair portion of the pro-peloton, the Valerian now also features dropped seat stays. The advantages of this, according to Titan Racing, are added compliance and aerodynamics without too high a penalty on weight.
Officially, tyre clearance is up to 28c on the Valerian. This model is specced with 25’s (by Vittoria) and there’s a lot of clearance. On some brand tyres, I figure a 30c would easily fit – but you’d want to allow for some flex so it might not be a good idea. The aluminum disc wheelset is an own-brand by Titan Racing with 32 spoke, 12mm thru-axle and a mildly aero profile.
For this price point, the cockpit is pretty spectacular. A TR Pro bar and stem combo with SRAM Rival 22 shifters and not a cable in sight. I said that already, didn’t I? It’s just that it’s so impressive. The patented, Token Integrated Headset, uses a ‘Cable Box’ design to house the cables outside of the fork steerer tube but fully integrated into the frame.
The compact style TR Pro bars have a shallow (125mm) drop with a ±75mm reach.
The SRAM Rival 22 mechanical shifting has textured levers, reach adjust and uses a double touch (known as DoubleTap) shift function. Shifting is through a single paddle with either one touch or two touches to shift up or down. The brakes are Tektro mechanical, not hydraulic.
The derailleurs are an all SRAM Rival 22 affair with a 2 x 11 drivetrain. 175mm FSA cranks, a 50/34t compact chainring combo drives the 11-28t SRAM cassette.
The front derailleur has a chain spotter which installs and adjusts independently of the mech. The Yaw design of the front derailleur (cage) ensures it rotates in line with the chain and thereby eliminates the need for that highly-irritating, mid-ride shifter trimming.
This model is specced with the Vittoria Rubino PRO tyres, complete with their Graphene 2.0 which, in this tyre, includes changes to the rubber compound specifically to improve wear and grip in the wet.
A Fizik Antares saddle with a composite carbon/nylon shell is mounted to a carbon seat post. The Antares has braided carbon rails to trim some weight and a grippy microtex cover, for comfort and support.
AESTHETICS | Up close it’s a very impressive-looking bike. Those aero influences in the design, the dropped stays, and the integrated cabling reflect what I think is the best-looking sub-R35k road bike in South Africa. The BB area isn’t massive, nor is the downtube. It’s an exceptional finish on the paintwork and detailing.
THE FIT | The Valerian is on point when it comes to fit and I quickly gelled with it. I’m 1,76m tall and prefer a 55cm top tube on road bikes and the size large test bike felt ‘like my bike’. An almost perfect fit, for me. Cockpit setup is a personal thing, for me, the ergonomics of the shallow drop (compact) bar with an average reach, combined well. The SRAM hoods are very comfortable – when in or out of the saddle. Worth noting is the small setback in the seat post – this allows for a wider range of setups.
ON THE ROAD | It was an instant reminder of how much I love fast bikes. Yes of course it’s a little sluggish on acceleration which is due to the weight but it’s very stiff and efficient when up to speed. Great handling, a super descender, and impressively quiet with no rattle or squeaks. Quite remarkable that the entry point to the Valerian range rides this well. There’s a fair portion of rider feedback coming through the bike which gives it that racey disposition. If that’s not your vibe then fitting a set of 28c tyres will up the compliance. Is it aero? I think so. On some of the test rides, in 40kph gusting winds, it felt slick and fast, with minimal buffeting about.
WHAT NEEDS UPGRADING? | If there was an official market segment for carbon, disc and integrated cockpit cabling road bikes at under R35k, then the Valerian Carbon Comp is the best available. Hands down. Seriously, spend some time researching and you’ll see for yourself. The pricing seems like it’s from a decade back. However, it is around 900g or 10% beefier than where the R60k race bikes start, so be aware of that. Depending on your needs, that’s either a hell of a lot or nothing serious at all. For me, I’d sooner cut back on the pancakes and Nutella than drop an extra R30k on the bike. But I’m not a road racer, – anymore. I think racers who want to transform the performance of the bike should focus on finding a 35-50mm deep, lightweight carbon wheelset. There’s around 500g to be saved in the wheelset – which is a chunk.
PERFORMANCE OF THE BUILD KIT | I’ve got decades of Shimano road groupsets programmed into me and it takes a full ride for me on the SRAM shifters, to acclimatize to the single action shifting. By the second ride, the SRAM shifting feels great. Incidentally, I find that the ‘fixed’ main lever opens up more possible hand positions and leverage when stomping in the hoods. SRAM Rival is an entry-point groupset and understandably the shifting isn’t as crisp as their higher-end models, but it doesn’t suck! I never dropped a chain, at all, during all four weeks of test rides. THE FSA compact crankset feels good, there’s a pretty wide range of gearing – even for some of the steeper climbs around my hood. The Fizik saddle isn’t bad and I think I’d get into it with more hours on the bike, but it could be something I’d change down the line. Cable-actuated braking is never as powerful as a hydraulic system and the Valerian doesn’t stop as quickly as it could. There is a lot of brawn in the brakes if you squeeze them really hard, but it takes just a split-second longer to really bite.
The base-level Valerian feels close to an aero road bike. It’s aggressive and fast. Not necessarily the smoothest but you could go up in tyre volume. In my opinion, this is the best sub-R35k, carbon, disc, integrated cabling road bike available in South Africa. Expect to see a lot of them on the roads.
WORDS: Myles Kelsey – Bike Network | LOCATION: Cape Town