Everything in the bike world is carbon these days. Frames, forks, handlebars, seatposts, wheels, even your mini pump and the top cap on your headset. Carbon is definitely a Good Thing. And if it’s not carbon, it’s so last century. Trouble is, we can overlook the fact that lots of things that aren’t carbon are good too… like titanium frames, for example, which can be very light and strong and last aeons. And Van Nicholas’ Astraeus is an absolute beauty.
The Astraeus' double-butted frame is without doubt one of the best looking we’ve ever seen – and, believe us, we’ve seen a whole lot. The top tube is a bottom-heavy diamond that slims down in profile towards the seat tube junction. The biaxial down tube is a fairly similar shape, morphing from tall and thin up at the head tube end to short and wide by the time it reaches across the bottom bracket shell.
Straight chainstays and seatstays lead to intricately sculpted dropouts at the back while up front you get a skinny, traditional-style head tube with an external headset – of the type most ti manufacturers have returned to now. The workmanship is excellent, the welds are unobtrusive, and the brushed finish and lack of gaudy graphics give the Astraeus a chic, stylish appearance.
The frame on its own will set you back €1,999, or you can spec it yourself from the wide range of parts that Van Nicholas offer. Ours came fitted with Shimano Dura-Ace drivetrain and brakes along with a Chris King headset, Fizik Arione saddle, and Van Nicholas’ own fork, seat post, bars and stem.
First off, though, why would you even consider titanium when carbon bikes offer such impressive stiffness-to-weight ratios? Well, we’ve got nothing at all against carbon – far from it – and we think that the ‘amazing ride quality’ that Ti manufacturers like to suggest is inherent in the material is overstated. For us, the main reason to think about choosing titanium is for its strength and durability. It has a high fatigue life and its crash damage tolerance is high too. Plus, it won’t corrode and any little scratches are easy to buff out. In other world, titanium is good at handling real world riding – which, we guess, is why Van Nicholas are able to offer a lifetime guarantee on the frame.
Enough of the background, how does the Astraeus perform out on the road? Hitting the scales at 16.3lb (7.44kg, 56cm model, without pedals), it’s light, though not quite super-light, and that’s reflected in its crisp, sharp acceleration. There’s a tad more sideways sway in the bottom bracket than you get with the stiffest bikes out there, but that’s only detectable when you’re riding out of the saddle and really looking for it – this is an efficient speed machine.
The Van Nicholas’ deep section rims offer an aerodynamic advantage on the flat and they’re pretty darn light for wheels of this kind. They come fitted with Schwalbe’s featherweight Ultremo R tyres too, helping the Astraeus to hot foot it up the climbs. Whether you're seated or standing on the pedals, it springs forward to give you the feeling that you’re being helped upwards, rather than dragging the bike up there kicking and screaming.
Van Nicholas’ full carbon VNT fork is a new one on us and it puts in a very workmanlike performance up front. Sling the bike through the bends as fast as you like and it’ll keep things steady with only the smallest amount of sideways flex and just enough fore and aft movement to dampen out vibration from the road. It’s a sound option.
The Dura-Ace components work as well as always. Quick, reliable gear shifts up and down the block, comfortable levers, easy adjustment – we’re big fans. Braking on the carbon rims isn’t nearly as predictable as on alloy braking surfaces, particularly in the wet, but it’s okay once you adjust your mindset.
Fizik’s ever-poular Arione saddle adds more comfort, as does Van Nicholas’ titanium seat post, much of which extends out of the frame thanks to the sloping top tube design. But Van Nicholas have also built enough ‘give’ into the frame to keep the ride nice ’n’ smooth, meaning that you feel fresh on board, even towards the end of your longest stints in the saddle. No doubt about it, you will enjoy riding this bike.
Pretty light and very comfy road bike with cool looks and tons of durability
road.cc test report
Make and model: Van Nicholas Astraeus Dura Ace
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
3Al-2.5V titanium, hydroformed
You can have it built up from a wide selection of components. Ours came with:
Shimano Dura-Ace drivetrain
Van Nicholas VNT carbon fork
Van Nicholas VNT deep section wheels
Schwalbe Ultremo tyres
Van Nicholas VNT alloy stem and bars
Van Nicholas titanium seat post
Fizik Arione saddle
Chris King threadless headset
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Van Nicholas say: "For the rider who wants the best. Period. The Van Nicholas Astraeus combines the ultimate in Ti material and fine detailed design to create a top class performer. Equally at home leading the race or for blasting a day long ride, absolute performance is the hallmark of this bike. The Astraeus demands the fastest of riders, are you up to it?
"The Van Nicholas Astraeus is the result of an extensive planning, design, and testing programme. Utilizing a compact design, the Astraeus sets the benchmark for Titanium frames. The Astraeus maintains the magical ride qualities Titanium is famous for, but also delivers a stiffness not seen before in a Ti frame. A climber’s dream, its acceleration and performance in the sprint make it a perfect choice the obsessed."
Essentially, it's a high end titanium road bike that's fast and comfortable.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Beautifully put together frame - high-end quality.
The forks are less glamorous but sound.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is 3Al2.5V seamless double-butted cold worked titanium.
The fork is full carbon.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It's a compact frame with a sloping top tube. The geometry is pretty standard for a road bike of this kind.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, a smooth ride which becomes more noticeable the longer the ride gets.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, just the smallest amount of bottom bracket flex.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Accurate steering, not too much flex in the bars or stem.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
We always get on well with Fizik Arione saddles. We never make use of the extended section at the back, but the nose offers a good balance between support and comfort
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The deep section wheels are pretty solid - very little in the way of sideways flex
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Dura-Ace cranks - very good
Wheels and tyres
Surprisingly light for deep section rims
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
Ultremo tyres aren't the most durable ever but they are very lightweight
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? If I was in the market for a ti bike, yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes, if they were after ti
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
Overall mark would be somewhere between and 8 and a 9.
It is a lovely bike. If you're in the market for a high-end titanium bike, you've got to give the Astraeus some serious consideration
About the tester
Age: 36 Height: 184cm Weight: 74kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb,
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a youthful 45-year-old Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.