With deep reserves of pace, splendid handling and impressive comfort, the new Aquila SL from Sensa is a thoroughly capable race bike that offers fantastic value for money with no shortcuts in the specification. It's ready to race from the box and has the performance to back up the build.
Hailing from Holland and available exclusively through Merlin Cycles, Sensa have been producing bikes for about 20 years and the Aquila SL is their latest flagship road bike, launched late last year.
The 940g frame and 325g fork can be had in a choice of builds. I tested the Shimano Ultegra mechanical 11-speed model which normally retails for £1,585, but dig a bit deeper into your pockets and for £2,085 you can upgrade the wheels to Sensa's own-brand carbon fibre clinchers.
The Aquila SL rides like a race bike and the numbers support this. This 55cm size features a short 160mm head tube and stretched 557mm top tube, which produces a long and low position, allowing an aero tuck position to be comfortably achieved; ideal for racing. It's no sportive bike, but that's not to say you can't ride a sportive on it, it's just the position isn't laid back, it's pretty racey.
Comfort is injected into the ride by what Sensa call Flexy Stays; the seatstays are certainly very slender in profile. There's also a 27.2mm seatpost, a common gambit to try and provide a bit of deflection to take the sting out of bumps.
It certainly seems to work. The Aquila SL was surprisingly smooth over some of the bumpiest and worst-surfaced roads around my way. It was smoother than I had expected it to be especially with the carbon wheels. Its composure reminded me a bit of a Cannondale SuperSix Evo. High praise.
The comfort doesn't come at the expense of speed however. It's an impressively fast bike, but it delivers its pace with a sense of calm and lack of drama that can trick you into thinking you're not really going that fast, till a glance at the Garmin reveals you're actually trucking along at a decent speed. If you crave speed, the Aquila SL will happily indulge you.
The £500 wheel upgrade replaces the stock Supra (Sensa's own-brand) aluminium clincher wheels with Supra RFC 55 wheels, which have 55mm deep full carbon fibre clincher rims laced to their own hubs. With the excellent Schwalbe One 23mm tyres fitted, the wheelset certainly contributed positively to the performance of the Aquila SL. The wheels proved good performers and are an obvious and worthwhile upgrade that make the bike ready to race. The upgrade is also a lot cheaper than buying a set of carbon wheels aftermarket.
Sensa use Shimano groupsets through the range and this model was equipped with an Ultegra 11-speed mechanical groupset. Sometimes you see shortcuts, own-brand brake calipers and chainsets, as the manufacturer has to bring the bike in on budget. Not the case here, it's a full and complete Ultegra groupset, so you get the excellent chainset and the hugely impressive brake calipers. It's a flawless, utterly reliable groupset, with clean shifting and a decent weight. The whole bike on the scales came in at 7.54kg (16.22lb) which certainly places it in the 'it's light enough' category.
It's a smartly executed frame, packed with all sorts of modern details you'd expect on a high-end carbon frame. Underneath the paint is a full carbon fibre frame and fork manufactured using their Zero Void Curing process. Name aside, it's the same process that most bike manufacturers are using now, and simply aims to create smoother internal surfaces to reduce excess material. The dropouts save a smidgen of weight as they're made from carbon fibre. There's a PressFit86 bottom bracket, which allows the down tube to be large in diameter, and the head tube is tapered with 1.5in lower bearing for the fork to slot into.
Cables are internally routed and there's provision for an electronic groupset, should you want to upgrade in a couple of years. Sensa makes use of the electronic wiring ports on more expensive Ultegra Di2-equipped models. The frame is available in five sizes from 50 to 61cm, with each size receiving optimised carbon fibre layup, so you can be confident each size frame is going to offer the best performance possible. This is something most of the larger manufacturers are increasingly doing, recognising the different demands of a short and light cyclist compared to a tall and heavier cyclist.
Everything I've touched on so far suggests there must be a compromise somewhere in the build, but a look at the finishing kit suggests not. Along with the excellent wheels, top rated and full Ultegra groupset, you get a San Marco Aspide saddle, 3T Team seatpost and Deda stem and handlebars. It's all top notch kit and impressive considering the price of the whole package. Aside from the saddle, which I changed simply because I don't get on with the shape, there's nothing that needs replacing. Impressive stuff.
To put into perspective how competitively priced the Aquila SL is, a look at Canyon's website reveals that, for the same price, you can get the Ultimate CF SL 9.0. Now this is the same frame in shape and profile as the more expensive Ultimate CF SLX, but employs lower grade carbon to bring the price down, which results in a higher weight. The bike in question gets the same Ultegra 11-speed build as the Sensa here, but it's in the wheels that the Sensa eases ahead. While the Supra wheels aren't a recognisable brand, their performance sufficiently impressed, and the Aquila SL looks really good value.
When it first arrived into the office, the Sensa Aquila SL looked fantastic, a lot of bike for the money. Having now ridden the bike, and ridden it a lot, I can safely say the bike lives up to those high expectations. For just over two grand here is a fast and fine handling carbon fibre road bike with a generous specification that in every department hits the mark, and all combines to produce a worthy rival to the more established contenders at this competitive price point.
It might not have the race heritage or brand recognition of some bikes, but that aside it's an easy bike to recommend for anyone in the market for a high performance road bike, whether it's simply for the thrill of riding a fast road bike, or for racing duties, where I'm sure the Aquila SL would be a good choice.
The Sensa Aquila SL was an unexpected delight and I'm trying, but failing, to find anything to grumble about. If I'm being fussy, the 50/34 compact chainset is an odd choice on a bike with such good race potential. And if I'm being really picky, and this is purely subjective, I wasn't won over by the graphical treatment, but you may feel differently. Other than that, there's a lot to recommend here.
Fast, smooth riding race bike that offers a high level of kit for not a lot of money
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Make and model: Sensa Aquila SL
Size tested: 56
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
The ideal bike for a Gran Fondo or any long ride. Especially when it's uphill you
will appreciate the weight, or better the lack of it. We combine the Generation 6 Carbon with the Zero Void Curing technology to create a truly lightweight frame which is stiff, durable and reliable. The whole new Salita SL fork with it's sleek profile is also a real gem. Fatigue always comes during long rides, so the extra comfort from the Flexy Stays and slim seatpost is always welcome. Of course the Aquila SL is Di2 ready and has full internal cablerouting. And it's big PF86 bottombracket is compatible with double, compact and triple cranksets. For each size the geometry and the tubing dimensions are optimized and there is room to mount wider tires.
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?
Monocoque Generation6 - Zero Void Curing – UD Carbon Fibre – SL lay up
Full Carbon Dropout – Lightweight design, compatible with junior cassettes
Flexy Stays provide additional comfort
Di2 Ready – Frame can be used with Di2 as well as regular cables
PressFit EightSix bottom bracket – allows maximum down tube width
Zero Void Curing technology creates smooth inner surfaces with less material
The 1.5 lower bearing creates maximum stiffness
Generation 6 Carbon
Fork - Supra Full Carbon Monocoque Gen6 Salita SL 1.5 – SL lay Up
Weight: 6.3KG approx. ( Frame 940g – Fork 325g)
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Monocoque Generation6 - Zero Void Curing – UD Carbon Fibre – SL lay up. Full Carbon Dropout – Lightweight design, compatible with junior cassettes.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Race inspired geometry produces a low slung fit that is very aero.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
A very good fit if you like it stretched and low at the front. There are a few spacers to adjust the height of the handlebar if needed.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Surprisingly comfortable. Granted it's no magic carpet over the rough stuff, but it's smoother than a lot of bikes, and for one providing such performance and with carbon deep section wheels, smoother than I was expecting it to be.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Bags of stiffness from the front-end and bottom bracket area, wether chucking it through corners or climbing steep hills.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I had to change the saddle, but you might find the supplied saddle perfectly comfortable. We're all different
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?
With such good performance and great value for money, the Sensa Aquila SL is a highly commendable race bike
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.