The NK1K is the first Cipollini we've reviewed at road.cc, but it's been worth the wait. Concentrating on aerodynamics and power transfer, the NK1K is a high performance machine that embraces the latest trends in the road cycling world such as room for wider tyres; you can even get a disc brake version.
When you finish a 70-mile ride with an average speed 3mph quicker than normal, you know the NK1K is a fast bike. Well, in fact you know before then – you realise that the second you start pushing the pedals.
The thing is, unlike other aero road bikes I've tested such as the Storck Aerfast, the Cipollini doesn't just seem to show its wind-cheating benefits once the speed gets higher, above 23mph or so. The NK1K feels quick throughout the range.
On the flat, the NK1K is easy to maintain a high pace on. The way the geometry is laid out, with a 545mm top tube, short 138mm head tube and a steep 73.5-degree seat angle, puts you in a long and low position ideal for keeping out of the wind. It's also, for my proportions at least, a very comfortable position that allowed me to tap out a smooth, high cadence on rolling terrain without needing to move about.
With such large tube profiles and the massive bottom bracket junction, frame stiffness is pretty much as high as I've ever felt. This means that under acceleration or when sprinting or climbing, you don't feel any wastage of power at all.
In fact, the way this thing surges forward under a ferocious attack of the pedals you actually enjoy being forced to stop so you can set off again. From a standing start, the Dura-Ace Di2 our test model came fitted with is a godsend, as you need the super-fast shifting to keep up with the bike.
With top-level Ritchey components, FFWD F6R carbon clincher wheels and full Dura-Ace Di2, this NK1K weighed in at 7.37kg (16.24lb). In the grand scheme of peloton-ready bikes it isn't really that light, but you never feel like you suffer in the hills. That stiffness again sees that every tortured pedal revolution on steep inclines pushes the bike forward.
All of this stiffness does come at a slight compromise, especially in terms of comfort. If you want a plush-riding, day-long machine then the NK1K probably isn't what you are looking for.
I mentioned in my review of the Ribble Sportive Racing how, if the carbon fibre layup isn't right, you can be left with a dead feeling frame offering little information to the rider of what is going on with the bike.
The NK1K designers have hit just the right balance. The Cipollini doesn't buzz or rattle over rough surfaces, as they've dialled in just enough compliance to take out any harshness. That's it, though, it's right on the borderline of tolerable. If the roads aren't in that great condition and it's been a long, hard ride you'll know about it, especially if you're also wearing stiff carbon fibre-soled shoes. You don't get much let up, and it's probably the one thing that would stop me buying the NK1K as it's not really a bike I could live with on a daily basis. It will take 28mm tyres, though, which would make a small difference over the 25mm ones on our test bike.
Going downhill fast
When it comes to high-speed descending, one of my favourite parts of any ride, the Cipollini never let me down. Up front the NK1K has a tapered head tube and fork steerer, increasing in diameter at the fork crown, which gives a larger cross sectional area and therefore stiffness. This, coupled with everything else, gives pinpoint accuracy to the steering.
That frame feedback mentioned above comes into play again here; the frame may be stiff but there are those little snippets of information being sent up through the bike to your contact points so you can really keep this thing pointed exactly where you want it.
At really high speed on a rough section the bike can squirm about a bit as it battles for traction, but that's good – it's fun.
The steering is so sharp that minimal tweaks to the bar and your position keep it under control; you need a firm hand and a smooth input, but that's what I'd expect. It's a professional frameset aimed at riders who have some skill and knowledge built up from plenty of miles in the saddle.
Made in Italy has always had a bit of kudos about it, from the fashion and style driven world of cycling, and it's something the team at Cipollini are proud of. The majority of the manufacturing is carried out there with a small amount also done in a factory in Bosnia according to the website.
The frame is created using Toray T100-M46J carbon fibre, one of the stiffest it makes. High modulus is a term bandied about quite a bit in the cycling world, to such a point that it can become quite meaningless. High modulus carbon fibres are ones that have seen more processing, basically, each process increasing the fibre's roundness and tidying it up, if you like. This allows them to fit closer together, meaning you can get more fibres into the same space as lower modulus ones. More fibres mean a higher tensile modulus, a measure of stiffness.
What this means for the likes of Cipollini is that it can create a very stiff frame without upping the weight. This medium frame weighs 1150g unpainted, which is a good 400g heavier than some on the market, but the larger tubes and therefore larger amount of material accounts for that. Without using this high level carbon fibre, Cipollini would either have to sacrifice stiffness or weight – although the compromise here is cost, a cool £4,200 for the frameset alone.
The fork uses Toray T100 too, but not quite such a high modulus version, which allows a little bit of fore and aft movement for comfort and feedback.
The seatpost is part of the frameset package and it's here that you can see attention to aerodynamic detailing. The post is held in place by an expanding wedge design. We've seen this before, but on other bikes the tensioning bolt is tightened through the back of the seat tube or under the top tube; the NK1K's is sunken into the top tube, hidden from view by a little carbon fibre cover attached with a Torx bolt. It's a faff, don't get me wrong, but it keeps things smooth and looks mighty fine.
More detailing takes place at the headset. For that smooth, slammed look you have a choice of two headset spacers which integrate with the top tube. One has a zero stack height and the one we have here gives an increase of 16mm. If you need things higher you can use conventional spacers on top.
All of the cabling is internal and will accommodate both mechanical and electronic groupsets with differing spacers and blanking plates, something we're seeing a lot of these days.
I mentioned that the NK1K comes in two braking versions. This Direct Mount model uses calliper brakes that attach by two bolts being screwed into the fork legs (front) and each seatstay (rear). The Dura-Ace versions are brilliant, with a real increase in braking power over their standard dual-calliper siblings.
The other model takes disc brakes, its frame and fork designed to work with the new flat mount callipers. In these areas the frameset has been strengthened to cope with the extra braking loads, but other than that it's exactly the same as the rim brake option; it's the same price too.
The NK1K is a lot of money, even against other Cipollinis in the line-up, and you can get a lot of other professional-level framesets for a lot less money. You can probably get the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX – a very good bike in its own right – as a complete package for the same money as the NK1K's frameset.
But the Cipollini is a different product, and it's the engineering, the design and the exclusivity that you are paying for here. It's a tough shout, but if you have the money then you won't be disappointed. The NK1K as a whole package is pretty awesome, and you'll never get bored of fellow riders stopping to take a look at it.
The NK1K is only available as a frameset package, but this gives you plenty of custom options from paint finishes to choosing your components to create a truly individual build.
All in the name
The name Cipollini couldn't reside on a more appropriate bike, to my mind. Mario Cipollini (if you didn't already know) was one of the most successful sprinters of the 90s and early millennium, racking up 190 professional victories with 42 of those being Giro d'Italia stage wins, alongside 12 at the Tour and another three at the Vuelta – impressive considering for the latter two he rarely made it past the first mountain stage. Chuck in a World Road Race Championship win, Milan-San Remo and three Ghent-Wevelgems and you'll agree it's an impressive palmares.
But it was more the way he went about winning that stood out. Things like being one of the first to use a lead-out train in the final kilometres of a sprint, his eye-watering speed and constant fines from the governing body for wearing unregistered kit – remember that Muscle skinsuit when riding for team Saeco?
Add in his ejection from the Vuelta in 2000 for punching a fellow rider to the ground and the launching of water bottles at the heads of motorbike camera people if they got too close, and you could say Mario was a bit of a character and, according to some, tricky to handle.
Which is almost the definition of the NK1K – a bike that Mario himself apparently put a lot of testing time into to get things just right. It's a frameset that is almost an extension of his personality, and while there are compromises to be made with the NK1K, especially with regards to comfort, it is what it is and it's bloody good at it.
The NK1K is flamboyant but charismatic, it's a no-nonsense, dedicated speed machine that can be ridden hard, and those little nuances like the way it can be upset by rough road surfaces at high speed aren't an issue. In fact I'd say they are a bonus – they give you the feeling that you're in control of something that's out of control, and what does that equal? Excitement.
The NK1K is a pure performance machine that also happens to be stunning to look at, with a real focus on the details. It's an engineering exercise that seems to bring passion to the mix, so if you want a frameset you can thrash about on and your pockets are deep enough, the Cipollini should find a place in your shed.
Stunning performance and looks help justify the high price and minimal comfort of this peloton-ready Italian superbike
road.cc test report
Make and model: Cipollini NK1K
Size tested: 54
Tell us what the frameset 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?
Cipollini says: "Besides the masterpieces designed in past years, now Cipollini Bike presents a revolutionary novelty. The extraordinary NK1K, a road frame with the most innovative technologic know-how. Headset carbon cover in 2 sizes integrated in the aerodynamic shape; the frame has been designed for the braking systems of the future, it is available in Disk Brake or Direct Mount, NK1K has a sharp and aggressive line. The only monocoque that today is able to express the maximum possible performance in terms of speed. Ready to write glorious pages. And to stay carved in the heart of all true fans."
The NK1K is an unbelievable mix of stiffness and aerodynamics which makes it a very fast bike; you need smooth roads though.
State the frame and fork material and method of construction
Size M not painted - 1120gr
Size M not painted - 1150gr
XXS - XS - S - M - L - XL - XXL
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The attention to detail and level of finishing is exactly what you'd expect for a frame of this price.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
With a short headtube of 138mm, seat and head angles of 73.5 degrees and 72.5 degrees respectively, this medium sized NK1K is very much on the racy side.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Stack is 545.5mm and reach 384.5mm, which gives a ratio of 1.4. Peloton-ready race bike territory.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The NK1K is brutally stiff and can be a little challenging on rough UK road surfaces. This is a full-on performance, sprinter's race machine, mind, so that criticism has to be taken in context.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
You'll not be left wanting if you're after outright stiffness. It might be a little too stiff for everyday use, though.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
The urgency with which this thing delivers power to the road needs to be felt to be believed.
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? Very lively indeed, but oh so responsive.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The NK1K is a top end performance bike and the handling reflects that. It responds to being pushed hard and when you really get everything right it is an absolute joy to ride through the bends.
From a standing start or a sprint you aren't going to be left wanting, it's an absolute beast.
It may not be the lightest frame out there but boy does it shift.
It's bearing Cipollini's name, what do you think?
Like a lot of bikes of this pedigree it needs to be treated with confidence and a firm hand, but the payback is immense.
The race orientated handling makes it a little twitchy at slow speeds.
It's not a true climber's machine but its stiffness more than makes up for its slightly higher weight.
How did the build components work with the frame? Was there anything you would have changed?
At this price level you'd expect nothing less than Shimano Dura-Ace and a set of carbon clincher deep section wheels. The Di2 group really suited the frame with its quick shifting and the Dura-Ace dual-pivot brake callipers offer unbelievable stopping power.
The Ritchey carbon handlebar brought a little relief from the stiffness of the frame with its inherent flex too.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Tough one but probably not. For performance it is near unrivalled, but it comes at a huge price, not something I could justify for a bike that would be tough to live with day to day.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes, if they wanted an epic performance speed machine.
Use this box to explain your score
The NK1K is expensive even against other Cipollinis but that doesn't mean it's overpriced. You're paying for a lot of engineering expertise here, attention to detail and exclusivity.
This Cipollini is a stunning machine, the performance is phenomenal and while it is very stiff if you are even considering the NK1K sublime comfort probably isn't on your list
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: Mason Definition
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: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.