The look on their face is priceless, a mix of shock and disbelief that something without an engine can really cost the best part of ten grand. Whether it's a seasoned roadie or a non-cyclist, once they've asked 'How much is that worth then?' the rabbit-in-headlights facial expression is the only response you're going to get to the Passoni Top Force W.
Passoni are based just outside of Milan and in true Italian style they take their time building frames with just two a day coming out of the factory. In their own words they are a niche luxury specialist bike manufacturer. A company that was started back in the 80's by Luciano Passoni who had the dream of building the best, most luxurious and exclusive handbuilt bikes in the world.
The custom frame builder that he acquired to fulfil his dream was noted as being the first to produce high performance titanium frames. The Top Force W, among their other titanium models, is a showcase in how that craft has evolved over the past thirty years.
The majority of the frame uses 3Al/2.5V tubes to Passoni's spec apart from the CNC machined headtube, BB shell and dropouts which use 6Al/4V. These areas are likely to see higher loads so the harder and stronger grade is often used to resist this. The tube diameters - while each one is different - seem to still mate with one another without looking awkward.
The downtube, seat tube and chainstays are ovalised at the BB junction for stiffness while the standard shell diameter keeps the frame looking traditional - and keeps things future proof if the whole BB30 thing doesn't work out.
Thats not to say Passoni aren't willing to accept modernisation; the headtube uses integrated bearings in a standard bearing race up top with a 1.5 inch diameter one at the fork end. The Columbus Genius fork that sits in there is as you'd expect, carbon fibre.
Passoni logos tie things together and thankfully unlike the Genesis Equilibrium Ti there is a break between the silver paint and the titanium frame - its all in the details.
While subtle, the finished product is a thing of beauty, more than just a bike frame as it steps over the boundary towards art/porn depending on which way you want to describe it. The tubes are hand polished and the graphics are applied by sandblasting.
Passoni are sold through Cyclefit in the UK and as with all the custom frames they sell the process starts off with a full fitting to find the riders optimum position. This information is sent off to Passoni who will then design the frame. Its not just the geometry that is custom though, stems, seatpost, bars and bottle cages can be painted to whatever you fancy and saddles can be recovered to match your handlebar tape.
The 'W' stands for wired. Passoni also make the Top Force which works with mechanical groupsets and the W is for electronic. Our test model comes with full Dura Ace Di2 10 speed of which all the wires are routed internally keeping the frame looking clean and uncluttered.
Cyclefit's website has the frame, fork and headset price at £5499 and then it's up to you what finishing kit you adorn it with. As you'd expect the test bike comes with some pretty impressive kit to work with a frame of this quality.
Fellow Italians Marchisio provide their Passoni branded T800 Superlight carbon wheels which are 58mm deep complete with aero spokes and carbon hub body. A quoted weight of just 1270g for the pair is very impressive. Veloflex handmade tubs are fitted which although they leak like a sieve meaning you'll be pumping them up every ride - although performance is always phenomenal.
The Passoni branded carbon bars create a wing shape on the top thanks to internal cable routing, while they do look a bit of an odd ball with their double bend. Passoni also provide the stem and seatpost, being manufactured from alloy and titanium respectively. That mention of re-covering the saddle is in evidence as the Selle Italia SLR has had a bit of tweaking to show the Passoni logo, tying it in with the rest of the bike.
Okay, so we've established it looks great and costs a fortune but unless you're going to hang it on the wall it also needs to perform out on the road. While the pros tend to shun titanium for carbon (Litespeed I think were the last titanium road bikes in the pro peloton, ridden by Lotto back at the turn of the century) the Top Force is designed to show what performance can be gleaned from this material.
Titanium is normally thought of as providing a soft, springy ride which can be built into a stiff frame, something that Passoni are well aware of.
My first ride on the Top Force was a bit disappointing, I just couldn't seem to gel with it. It felt skittish and unsettled by poor road surface and I think an underlying nervousness of binning it on a wet corner. Attempt two was much more successful though - I went for it regardless of the consequences and as they say, a moment of clarity- the Top Force needs to be ridden hard - it is a race bike after all. The pedals need to be stamped on, corners taken with full commitment, hard on the brakes, all while shifting your weight around like a MotoGP rider on a flying lap – it seems to settle the bike down. With this new found courage the remainder of the test miles were completed with a manic grin on my face as I pushed harder and harder to find the Passoni's limits, thankfully without ever finding them.
On this 55cm frame the headtube is just 145mm which creates a neat junction for the joining of the top and down tubes. Whether it's the material, the oversized headset or a mixture of the two, the front end is tight with the bike going exactly where you point it. The Columbus fork doesn't seemed bothered by how much load you put through it either with regards to braking forces or direction changes.
The same goes for the rear end. The machined BB shell shows no sign of flex and the short chainstays mean the rear follows the front end millimetre perfect. Acceleration either from a standing start or on the move just sees the bike surge forward with no scrabbling about of the rear tyre, as the rear triangle holds everything true.
The Top Force does still have that titanium feeling but it is muted through the stiffness. It doesn't absorb the bumps and vibrations as well as say the Van Nick Aquilo but it isn't by any means uncomfortable. Having a decent length of titanium seatpost sticking out of the frame helps bring a bit more shock absorbency at the rear.
Weighing in at 16.3lb (7.4kg), climbing is a pleasurable experience but once again the Passoni prefers an attacking style as opposed to sitting in the saddle and spinning your way to the top. The stiffness is beneficial again if you hit a short sharp incline, honking the bars side to side also helped by the fact that the 53-39 Dura Ace crankset is one of the stiffest on the market.
With the handling traits I've already mentioned descending is always going to be a joy although once again you've got to show the Passoni who's controlling who. Be firm and the speed it changes direction is amazing - small changes in body position will direct it around potholes or gravels even at high speed.
The Marchisio wheels roll sweetly and with such little revolving weight accelerate and decelerate very quickly. Hard efforts don't see any rubbing on the brake pads which highlights good lateral stiffness. The braking surface lacks any sort of treatment which a lot of other manufacturers offer on their carbon rims and it is noticeable when you need to pull up quick. The typical carbon response of nothing, nothing, nothing, nose on the front tyre style of stopping becomes a chore and a touch scary at times. Get some heat into the rims and Corima pads though and it becomes more controllable.
Veloflex tubs are handmade and have a huge tpi count which makes them very supple. They do wear quickly but the feedback and grip are worth the trade off in longevity.
The Passoni bars are very comfortable, with the winged section providing a decent wide platform to rest your hands. The little bend at the tail end of the drops also works well, don't ask me why though but it just felt right. They are stiff and when things do get really rough quite a bit of vibration can get transferred up through your wrists.
We've had a few bikes in with Di2 now so I won't go into too much detail especially as all the finishing kit is a custom option anyway. The battery is still a blight on any bike but especially annoying on a frame as beautiful as this. The new 11 speed version now has an internal battery designed to fit inside the seat tube so hopefully it'll soon become a thing of the past. The more I use Di2 the more divided I get about whether I like it or not. I think the rear shifting needs to become more refined as it can still be clunky at times; that could be down to the fact though that you can't feel the shift through the lever like on mechanical so you tend not to adjust the pressure on the drivetrain as you shift. The front mech works faultlessly and you'll never get bored of the self trimming doing its thing as you change up and down the block.
It all comes together to create a great package in terms of performance and aesthetics but only you can decide whether its worth the asking price. Titanium frames aren't cheap, not because titanium is rare or expensive but because it's a bit of a pig to work with. A good quality titanium frame made in the Far East, say the Kinesis Gran Fondo, will set you back £1399 so considering Passoni create the frame by hand to your custom geometry and using machined 6Al/4V sections as well I don't think the price is that astronomical.
The finished article is a beautiful piece of engineering which thanks to titanium's corrosion resistance will literally last a lifetime - so think of it as an investment.
It may sound a cliché but once you are in the saddle you do become part of the bike, the Top Force responding instantly to tiny changes in body position, speed and direction. I found the harder it was ridden the easier actually riding it became. The kit level here reflected the quality of the frame and it deserves draping in the best you can afford.
If you want to see some Passonis in the flesh get yourself down to Bespoked Bristol in April.
Eye-watering price that's reflected in the build quality, performance and exclusivity. More than 'just a bike' or a frameset
road.cc test report
Make and model: Passoni Top Force W
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.
3Al/2.5V Titanium tubing with the BB shell, headtube and dropouts CNC machined from 6Al/4V
Fork is carbon fibre
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?
It's an out and out race bike which loves to be ridden accordingly. Passoni say its a bike for 'people with a competitve spirit' which I think is a bit of an under-statement
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
An absolutely top notch frame that I'd happily sit and stare at just as much as riding it. I couldn't walk past it without running my hands along the top tube.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The tubes use 3Al/2.5V titanium which is drawn seamlessly into tubes and is the most common grade used by frame builders. The 6Al/4V parts are machined by CNC machines and provides higher levels of strength and stiffness where it is required.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
With a 55cm top tube our test model was perfectly proportioned for a race bike.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, not as comfortable as other titanium frames but this one shows a big increase in stiffness.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes, a perfect balance.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, no messing here. stamp on the pedals and off it goes.
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? Lively.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very direct and nicely balanced. The more you put in the more you get back though.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The tiatnium seatpost helps vibration and the Veloflex tyres absorbed a lot of the harshness from the deep carbon rims.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Dura Ace's crankset is renowned for its stiffness and the Passoni bars worked well up at the front.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The wheels at just 1300g make a huge difference to aceleration.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
N/A frame and fork only.
Wheels and tyres
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?
N/A frame and fork only
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
N/A frame and fork only
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
N/A frame and fork only
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
Value probably isn't a word you'd associate with the Passoni but you get what you pay for. Work it out over the life of the frame and it probably isn't that much.
About the tester
Age: 34 Height: 180cm Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: Ribble Winter Trainer for commuting, Genesis Flyer My best bike is: Sarto Rovigo
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.