'Marmite bike' or what? Fondriest's latest offering, the TF4 is either a love it or hate it machine judging by the comments of both cyclists and non-cyclists who saw our test bike. Personally I love it, though it is screaming out for a set of deep section wheels to offset the chunky tubes. One thing that isn't up for debate though is how beautifully the TF4 rides: it's a cracker.
Subtle it isn't. From the forks to the oversized square tubes the TF4 gets across a powerful first impression: it's going to be stiff, performance is the overall intention and everything else is a byproduct.
The unidirectional Toray carbon frame takes a lot of the design and technology from the TF2 & TF3 models though they all use varying carbon grades with Fondriest using the tensile strength properties to denote the difference. The TF4 uses T24 (24 ton) fibre, TF3 T50 and the TF2 T56.
The front end has some pretty aggressive styling with the top tube profile continuing through the head tube rather than blending into it. That head tube is tapered too, going from 1 1/8in to 1 1/4in from top to bottom allowing that huge square down tube to blend into a large surface area above the fork crown.
The oversizing theme carries on through the chainstays for maximum power output with the round seat tube and slender seatstays there to take the sting out. The wrap around style of the seatstay, seat tube junction was one of the most controversial parts of the bike in terms of aesthetics. Personally I'm not a fan but I'll leave you to make your own mind up.
Should you have the misfortune of dropping it the dropouts are alloy and the rear mech hanger is replaceable so at least the frame won't be a write off.
With the rear Shimano 105 direct-mount caliper positioned underneath the chainstays there are three cables that travel internally through the down tube. They exit at the bottom bracket area and at the chainstay for the rear mech. You can go either mechanical or electronic with your gearing as the TF4 is ready for both.
The Reflex fork pretty much curves the opposite way to the norm. That Fondriest don't make any huge claims about makes me presume that it is purely for aesthetics. After all, if there is a way a bike company's marketing department can claim '10% stiffer' or whatever they will. Using the same T24 carbon as the frame, the fork has a claimed weight of 395g which is none too shabby. It is a direct-mount brake caliper only model though. The brake arms are attached to each fork leg as opposed to the usual single mounting point.
Geometry is steep to create a direct, nimble handling frame with 73/73.5° seat and head angles on our medium test bike. The top tube, if measured as if it was level would be 54.5cm while a 145mm head tube keeps a low front end. The claimed weight of 990g which is pretty impressive for what is essentially a midrange frame.
Our 8.4kg (18.5lb) £1900 TF4 comes with a full Shimano 105 groupset comprising a 50/34 compact chainset, shifters, mechs and those rather cool direct mount brakes. The arms mount directly to the frame rather than by a central bolt which creates a much cleaner look and hopefully a more direct feel to the braking as you're removing one of the variables. They are nice and easy to set up too.
The finishing kit is Fondriest-branded alloy components which all looks pretty good but it's obvious that a lot of the overall price goes on the frameset.
The flat top bars are very comfortable but a pain if you need to mount anything with a round clamp on them. They have a compact drop though which makes them more usable for non-flexible backs and muscles.
Fondriest have gone native with the saddle thanks to an Era Dynamic from Italian company Selle San Marco. Its thin profile and minimal padding makes it ideal for fast riding in a crouched position. I barely noticed it over the test period which is always a good sign for a saddle.
Fulcrum 7 wheels finish off the package and while they are pretty budget for this kind of bike price point they've always been good performers. Previous test models have always stayed true and tight and these ones were no different.
You can get the TF4 in another build based around 105 but using Tektro brakes, a non-series chainset and an Ambrosio rimmed, Shimano hubbed wheelset. This'll set you back £1800.
Should you wish to do your own build you can pick up the frame, fork, headset and Tektro direct-mount brakes for £1299.
The TF4 is definitely a quick bike. Against the Bianchi Vertigo I was also testing at the time, my 35 mile commute was 0.5 to 1mph quicker on the Fondriest. Its not a balls out sprinter though, it doesn't actually feel exceptionally fast when you're on it as it's more of a rapid cruiser that'll also lay the power down if you ask it.
Those Fulcrums do take the shine off of the acceleration but once it's up to speed the TF4 happily stays there and just keeps rolling.
The frame is certainly stiff in all the right places. Climbing out of the saddle or high speed descending don't faze it at all. On twisty downhills the bike tracks really nicely as you flick from apex to apex and it feels really planted through the turn. The Michelin tyres offer good grip, allowing you to really push into the bend without worrying about losing traction.
The direct brakes are a massive improvement over standard dual pivots with a really nice solid feel. It is a bit too easy to lock the wheels up until you get used to how quickly they apply the power. Once you've relaxed a bit they are really easy to control with just the lightest touch at the lever controlling your speed.
I must admit after looking at the tube profiles I was expecting a very harsh ride but in practice that never came true. Don't get me wrong it's not something you'd want to go touring or audaxing on for miles and miles but its easily pleasant enough for a 100 mile sportive or long club runs.
Overall the TF4 is an absolutely cracking frameset which Fondriest have provided in a sensible build to keep the price below two grand. It handles well at speed or cruising and always feels planted and surefooted no matter how hard you are pushing it.
Its comfortable enough for knocking out a century ride while offering a level of stiffness that will suit even the most powerful of riders.
Change the wheels to something more aero if speed is your thing, lighter if the hills are your playground and the TF4 will be a bike you can live with daily.
Comfortable speed machine with looks that can divide a club run.
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Make and model: Fondriest TF4
Size tested: 53
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: UD Toray T24 carbon fibre
Fork: UD Toray T24 carbon fibre
Groupset: Shimano 105 with Direct brake calipers
Wheels/tyres: Fulcrum 7/Michelin Lithion 2
Finishing Kit: Fondriest alloy
saddle: San Marco Era Dynamic
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?
Fondriest have the TF4 for down as a bit of an all rounder from day rides, Gran Fondos and racing and that pretty much hits it on the head. The TF4 is quick and comfortable.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Very nicely finished and styled. It also comes in a grey and yellow colour.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
UD Toray carbon fibre is used for both the frame and fork.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Geometry table is here including stack and reach measurements:
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The stack height is exactly the same as the top tube at 545mm which gives a balanced position. Reach felt slightly longer than normal giving a nice aero position in the drops.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes relative to the performance and stiffness of the frame.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes those huge profile tubes and tapered front end means stiffness levels are good.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Very well through the frame thanks to the large down tube and chainstays.
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? Pretty neutral and well balanced.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very direct and surefooted at speed without being twitchy at lower speeds.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The saddle was comfortable as were the flat-topped bars.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The 105 chainset feels plenty stiff enough when you are really laying down the power although the wheels can flex a bit at the same time.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
I'd upgrade the wheels and tyres to something lighter.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
105 is the entry level for Shimano's performance groupsets; it's hard-wearing.
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?
The Fulcrum 7s are decent wheels but a bit out of depth on a frame of this quality. Buy something nicer and keep them for winter.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The shallow drop bars will be ideal for smaller hands. Everything else worked well and did the job.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes but I'd probably go down the frameset route and spec it myself.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
Age: 35 Height: 180cm Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: Whatever needs testing or Genesis Flyer, fixed of course! My best bike is: Kinesis T2 with full Centaur Red
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,
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!