Enigma Elite HSS Frameset  £1499.00

8/10

UK built steel frame using latest Columbus Spirit HSS tubeset offers refined handling and superb performance

Weight 7870g   Contact  www.enigmabikes.com

by David Arthur   July 30, 2014  

Brilliant looks, refined handling and super performance characterise Enigma's state-of-the-steel-art Elite.

Enigma may be better known for titanium frames, but the Elite has been a stalwart of their steel range for a number of years. Now it's been upgraded with the latest Columbus Spirit HSS tubeset and is all the better for it, displaying the sort of ride that would make you question all other frame materials.

The Elite frame is made in the UK and costs from £1,499 as a frameset with a carbon fork. Enigma will build you a bike to any specificaton you want, we plumped for a Campagnolo Chorus 11-speed groupset, a fine complement to the frame. As with all Enigma frames, you can customise the finish, with a wide colour palette available if this racing red colour isn't your cup of tea.

Performance

It doesn't take many rides to be won over by the Elite's charm. That's not a word I often use to describe a bicycle, a collection of steel tubes and mechanical parts, but the Elite has it in spades. If you ever questioned why people are still building frames out of steel when there are arguably better materials available, a few miles on the Elite will have you changing your mind.

Steel is well known for its smoothness and in this regard the Elite impresses. It has that quietness that only good steel frames really posses. It floats across rough road surfaces and tracks brilliantly when hitting such roads at high speeds, it isn't bounced around like some frames. It's one of the smoothest steel frames I've ridden.

Yet it has ample stiffness to indulge my appetite for riding fast. I took it along to my local evening chaingang, where as usual I'm surrounded by the latest crop of top-level carbon fibre race bikes and deep-section carbon wheels. In such company you'd think the Elite may struggle. It didn't.

It's stiff enough to respond to attacks and chase down sprinters, rolls along at the high speeds involved and didn't hold back on the climbs. It certainly didn't show any lack of performance when it was required.

Away from chewing-the-stem-riding the Elite is the sort of bike you can happily ride all day. And I did. On numerous occasions.

The handling is nicely balanced. It feels solid in a straight line, not a hint of twitchiness, but push the handlebars into a corner and it displays a liveliness that makes it hugely fun to swing through corners with plenty of speed, yet it never feels reckless or sketchy. It's an easy bike to ride. Very reassuring.

The geometry of the 55cm test bike includes a 15.5cm head tube, which is short as I like it, but some may find it a bit short. It's easy to get a good fit, with the 11cm stem and enough stretch in the 55cm effective top tube that I could cruise along on the tops quite happily, yet get nicely aero in the drops.

Frame

Much of the Elite's performance is a benefit of the changes the company have made to the frame this year. It's been in the range since 2008 but Enigma have now switched to the new Columbus Spirit HSS triple butted tubeset.

Italian company Columbus are still investing in steel tubesets, which is helping to fuel the resurgence of interest in steel frames. HSS features oversized tube profiles including a 44mm diameter profiled down tube. That, along with a tapered head tube with 1 1/8in-1 1/2in bearings, provides a higher level of stiffness for the frame. And that's something you can really detect when riding the Elite.

It all adds up to create a frame that is responsive and precise, to the extent that it compares favourably with some carbon frames.

The oversized tube profiles also give the Elite a muscular appearance that is a far cry from the old stereotype that steel bikes are all flexy skinny tubes. The tubes are smoothly TIG-welded with a sloping top tube. Enigma use Breezer dropouts with a traditional threaded external bottom bracket. Stainless steel braze-on fixtures are used for the bottle and front derailleur mounts.

Everyone knows red bikes are fastest right? If the resplendent red-with-white panel paint job isn't your cup of tea, Enigma will paint the bike in just about any colour you want. They even go the extra mile and paint the stem and Columbus Grammy carbon fibre fork to match the frame. It really is one of the nicest looking bikes that has passed through the road.cc office in a while.

There's an obvious weight penalty with a steel frame compared to a aluminium or carbon fibre alternative, but it's really only a 'penalty' if you're concerned with getting the lightest bike for your money. With a claimed frame weight of 1,600g it certainly compares well to the race-orientated Genesis Volare 953. This Campagnolo Chorus build weighs 7.93kg (17.48lb).

On the road, it didn't feel like a penalty on the climbs or even when trying to ride as fast as possible. The Elite conceals the weight well. It zips along the road with terrific pace and once up to a decent lick, it barrels along with good momentum. Point it at a climb and it makes fine progress, there's no hint of the Elite holding you back.

Build kit

Enigma don't offer off-the-shelf builds but they will accommodate any requests you have for a custom build.

For this test Enigma put together a Campagnolo Chorus 11-speed groupset with Campagnolo Neutron Ultra wheels, fitted with Continental GrandPrix 4000S II 23mm tyres. They then complemented the bike with a custom painted Enigma stem to match the frame, and did the same with the fork. Their own-brand aluminium handlebar and carbon fibre seatpost and a Fizik Aliante saddle completed the build.

You'd need £3,450 if you were to buy the exact same specification. That's quite a bit of money, and clearly there are better specced bikes from the bigger manufacturers.

Value though takes on a different meaning when you're in the market for a steel bike. You have to take into consideration the fact that the frame is designed and made in the UK, and is finished to your specification, with a choice of colours available, and the fact that Enigma just don't have the buying power of the bigger brands to push the prices down. Compared to other UK built steel frames from Condor Cycles and Rourke, the Elite is well-priced.

Conclusion

Steel might not be for everyone. If you aren't concerned with having the lightest or stiffest frame, but want to enjoy the smoothness of a well-built (in the UK) steel frame making the most of the latest tubeset developments, the Elite should be on your shortlist.

There's a resurgence of steel frames, and Enigma's Elite is one of the finest modern steel frames currently available. It's a bit pricey, but Enigma's packed order books suggest that customers are queuing up for one of their well-made steel frames. After this test, I might well be joining that queue.

Verdict

UK built steel frame using latest Columbus Spirit HSS tubeset offers refined handling and superb performance

road.cc test report

Make and model: Enigma Elite Frameset

Size tested: 55cm

About the bike

State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.

A real steel thoroughbred the Elite has been completely redesigned for 2014. Now constructed by hand from the brand new leading edge Columbus Spirit HSS steel tube set with a tapered head tube as standard. The Elite delivers fantastic performance and handling while the rider is still able to enjoy the unparalleled steel ride quality and road feel. Every Elite is hand built to order and can be finished in our signature one panel bands paint scheme in the two colours of your choice with a custom finish option available at extra cost.

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?

Compact geometry 9 degree slope

Columbus Spirit HSS over sized triple butted tubeset

Columbus tapered head tube 1 1/8' to 1.5' steering column

English threaded BB

27.2mm seat post size

Braze on front changer

Stainless steel braze on's as standard

Custom paintwork an option.

Weight from 1600 grams

Frame and fork

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
8/10

Riding the bike

Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for acceleration:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for sprinting:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
 
10/10

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
9/10
Rate the drivetrain for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for value:
 
8/10

Wheels and tyres

Rate the wheels and tyres for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for comfort:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for value:
 
8/10

Controls

Rate the controls for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for comfort:
 
7/10
Rate the controls for value:
 
8/10

Your summary

Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.

Would you consider buying the bike? Yes.

Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
9/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
8/10

Overall rating: 8/10

About the tester

Age: 31  Height: 180  Weight: 67

I usually ride:   My best bike is:

I've been riding for: 10-20 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, mtb,

 

17 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

That seems awfully expensive for a tig welded frame - you could buy an old classic one off ebay, smarten it up... or am I missing the point?

posted by localsurfer [163 posts]
30th July 2014 - 17:40

10 Likes

localsurfer wrote:
That seems awfully expensive for a tig welded frame - you could buy an old classic one off ebay, smarten it up... or am I missing the point?

I rather think you may be. Whilst a new steel frame might not be for you, surely you can forgive a discerning rider his moment of weakness.

Mike

mike the bike's picture

posted by mike the bike [135 posts]
30th July 2014 - 18:10

5 Likes

localsurfer wrote:
That seems awfully expensive for a tig welded frame - you could buy an old classic one off ebay, smarten it up... or am I missing the point?

Not sure I am totally objective here (as I have a Engima Ti frame) but I think you would find that the passage of time would show in your comparison. I believe the Elite would be lighter, stiffer and more comfortable than an old classic from the likes of ebay. When I purchased my Enigma frame, I tried out the Elite and my point of comparison was my old 'classic' 531C, which I used on events last year, and I found that the decades had made a major difference. In the end, it was a definite Engima Ti v Steel shoot-out. The Ti won on the basis of an ex-demo bike being available, rather than any major performance differential. ( I am still smiling 12 months later!)

posted by NickK123 [70 posts]
30th July 2014 - 18:13

5 Likes

localsurfer wrote:
That seems awfully expensive for a tig welded frame - you could buy an old classic one off ebay, smarten it up... or am I missing the point?

Yes, shortly.

Pegoretti builds most of his frames using tig welding. And hilarious custom paint schemes aside, they are among the very best frames you can get from anywhere. Not cheap, but if you pay you play.

posted by Gordy748 [88 posts]
30th July 2014 - 18:52

7 Likes

Price does seems a bit stiff I must say. But it will certainly outlast three iPhones.

harman_mogul's picture

posted by harman_mogul [132 posts]
30th July 2014 - 19:59

12 Likes

Quote:
That seems awfully expensive for a tig welded frame - you could buy an old classic one off ebay, smarten it up... or am I missing the point?

You could race this one as well as ride it all day by the sounds of it. Would you want to race a vintage steel frame? That might be nice to ride all day but I wouldn't race a vintage frame.

I like that its got a threaded bb. If only more manufacturers would stick with that. Press-fit are a pain for swapping different kit between frames.

posted by mtbtomo [62 posts]
30th July 2014 - 20:19

7 Likes

Thanks, Enigma, for making Condors look like pretty good value! (I happen to know that the Acciaio frameset retails for half of this - would love to know what the differences are...)

Edit: 200g apparently.

posted by chokofingrz [287 posts]
31st July 2014 - 0:50

6 Likes

@chokofingrz

Maybe not that much in terms of ride experience but let's not confuse a relatively mass-produced Italian frame with one built by hand in the UK. Different strokes for different folks. Like comparing an Italian 'fashion' shoe with a pair of Trickers brogues.

(and yes, I ride a steel Condor Fratello amongst other bikes)

posted by Yennings [222 posts]
31st July 2014 - 2:10

16 Likes

chokofingrz wrote:
Thanks, Enigma, for making Condors look like pretty good value! (I happen to know that the Acciaio frameset retails for half of this - would love to know what the differences are...)

Edit: 200g apparently.

Well really you need to compare the Elite HSS with the Super Acciaio, which is pretty similar money at £1300. And yes the Elite is 200g lighter, but that's based on claimed weights

David Arthur's picture

posted by David Arthur [1561 posts]
31st July 2014 - 8:05

9 Likes

I guess steel frames are just something you 'get' or don't 'get', it is surprising the amount of emotion a frame material can generate. I personally love steel bikes and have several including an Enigma Extensor Xcr which is an amazing bike to ride. That said I also find myself admiring many Carbon Fibre (would kill for a Colnago C59 Italia) and Aluminium bikes as well.

With regards to price, yes £1500 is a chunk of money to pay for a frame, but also as pointed out above you are paying for something made in the UK by craftsmen, who have a right to earn a decent wage for a product, which if looked after will out live its owner. I would imagine that there is a stronger argument that a BMC/Specialized/Colnago (or any other top end brand for that matter) carbon fibre frame costing over £3000 is ridiculously over priced, even taking in to consideration the R&D, testing, marketing etc. that goes in to those frames.

Personally I hope Enigma go from strength to strength they are a fantastic company to deal with and really do make an excellent product.

posted by tbecher72 [7 posts]
31st July 2014 - 14:28

6 Likes

Can someone explain the tubesets for Columbus? I understand the numbering system for Reynolds, but I'm lost with Columbus. I saw a great-looking frame in Columbus SL for just over £1k, but how does that compare to Spirit or XCR? I'm after a fast light frame that can be built up as a not-overly-hardcore-but-still-racy frame that will stand the test of time. For context, Trek's H2 geometry is a great fit for me, despite the toe-overlap.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3200 posts]
31st July 2014 - 16:41

4 Likes

localsurfer wrote:
That seems awfully expensive for a tig welded frame - you could buy an old classic one off ebay, smarten it up... or am I missing the point?

Probably.

A handbuilt bike for the same price as a typical production line carbon 'MAMIL magnet' that people on here get overly excited about? To my eyes it's a fair price. A well built frame in Columbus Spirit HSS is not like a scaffold pole. But tastes vary.

Most people with good quality frames don't usually sell them. Anything on ebay half as nice as this will either be stolen or end up going for a whole load of cash. Unless you think a typical 1980s Peugeot with side-pull brakes is "near enough the same thing", in which case... Rolling On The Floor

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1969 posts]
31st July 2014 - 16:53

9 Likes

notfastenough wrote:
Can someone explain the tubesets for Columbus? I understand the numbering system for Reynolds, but I'm lost with Columbus. I saw a great-looking frame in Columbus SL for just over £1k, but how does that compare to Spirit or XCR? I'm after a fast light frame that can be built up as a not-overly-hardcore-but-still-racy frame that will stand the test of time. For context, Trek's H2 geometry is a great fit for me, despite the toe-overlap.

The Columbus website has got loads of info, is worth a look at (www.columbustubi.com ). It's something like this:

XCr - Stainless steel
Spirt HSS
Spirit
SL
Life
Max
Zona
Cromor

David Arthur's picture

posted by David Arthur [1561 posts]
1st August 2014 - 10:33

3 Likes

Ok, thanks.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3200 posts]
1st August 2014 - 11:02

2 Likes

@Yennings

What goes around, comes around: now it's steel that's cool!

One of our club members (Central London CTC) commutes to work in West London on her orange Condor Fratello. Taking in a homeward bound turn through Richmond Park, she was asked about her bike by several other riders who stopped to admire it, asking if were really steel: "Wow, cool! I must get one!" was one response.

harman_mogul's picture

posted by harman_mogul [132 posts]
1st August 2014 - 11:48

7 Likes

I have just had a custom Columbus spirit hss frame made by jon chickens at chickens frame emporium. He trained at enigma. My frame is similar to this and I couldn't be happier with it. The ride etc is lovely and it motors when you want it to. Columbus spirit is a great frame material. Long live steel!

posted by Simonsays50 [5 posts]
1st August 2014 - 18:45

4 Likes

i just got a Genesis Volare 853. love it! built with decent kit and the original genesis alloy carbon fork its 8kg with pedals but just got it a columbus fork which will make it sub 8kg.

the weight as it is is not relevant though, its fast sharp and fun to ride.

carbon is nice if you like that sort of thing but i have never owned a carbon frame and never intend to.

to much generic open mould shite out there.

glad the steel movement has gathered strength

posted by russwparkin [16 posts]
1st August 2014 - 19:20

3 Likes

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