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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
UK built steel frame using latest Columbus Spirit HSS tubeset offers refined handling and superb performance
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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
Riding the bike
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
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,
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.