London-based Condor Cycles built their reputation, stretching back to 1948, on steel bikes, though they have very highly-regarded carbon and aluminium bikes too. The Fratello continues to be their best-selling model, despite the prevalence and increasing affordability of lighter materials, and for 2015 it has received the biggest update in its history, a new Columbus tubeset and the addition of a disc brake option.
Steel might have been replaced by aluminium and carbon fibre in the affections of most cyclists in the last decade or so, but despite lighter and stiffer materials, steel has proved to have an enduring popularity. In fact, it's very much in fashion at the moment - you only need head to the popular Bespoked UK Handbuilt show to realise there's a healthy number of frame builders and brands, old and new, offering a steel choice for the increasing number of cyclists who want it.
For 2015 Condor have switched from Dedacciai tubing, which they've used for many years, to Columbus Spirit, with some specially profiled tubes. The new frame retains the same lines as the previous version, but they've taken some inspiration from the Super Acciaio, namely in the new squashed oval top tube. It looks delightful up close. The tubeset change has netted a small weight drop, down 125g to a claimed 1,900g for a size 55cm frame.
The big news is the addition of a disc braked Fratello, though there will still be a regular caliper rim brake version. For the disc version, Condor developed new dropouts and placed the brake caliper on the top of the chainstay. This is a smart decision as it provides maximum clearance for fitting mudguards and racks.
A new fork was required for the disc bike, and Condor have developed their own, a carbon fibre item with a straight 1 1/8in steerer tube. There is plenty of clearance for 28mm tyres and mudguards; remove the mudguards and you can go wider on the tyres if you really want to. It's a straight bladed fork, some people have commented that a slightly curved fork might be more aesthetically pleasing. I can't make up my mind if I like the straight blades.
Condor have routed the gear and brake cables along the down tube. The rear brake has a full run of outer housing, all neatly zip tied into place on its journey from the brake lever to the brake caliper. The guides are compatible with hydraulic hoses. The front brake cable is routed inside the fork leg, providing very clean lines and pleasing absence of zip ties.
You can buy the frameset for £699 and build up the bike however you want, or choose from a number of builds, starting at £1,305 with SRAM Apex or Shimano Tiagra. Condor will be able to accommodate custom builds if you have a particular preference, and all bike purchases include a bike fit so you can be sure of getting the right fit.
The bike I rode was the one on display at the Cycle Show last year, where it was first shown to the world, and as such it's more of an example build to demonstrate the frame, actual full builds when the bike is available this spring may, and most likely will, differ a bit.
This one then was built up with a SRAM Rival mechanical groupset and TRP Hy/Rd disc brakes. These brakes are self-contained hydraulic calipers operated by a regular cable brake lever. That means they're easily fitted to a bike with conventional brake levers.
They provide good performance. There is noticeably more power than a good caliper rim brake, but they're not in the same league as a full hydraulic setup. The test bike had clearly been used before I got my hands on it, there was some drag in the rear brake, despite the full outer housing to keep the muck out. Unlike a full hydraulic system which needs little maintenance, the cables still need to be regularly serviced to keep them running nicely.
Are the disc brakes worthwhile? Riding roads covered in mud and water at this time of year: yes. Disc brakes, even these semi-hydraulic disc brakes, provide noticeably more stopping ability. While the difference is less pronounced in the dry, in the rain you really notice the improved braking.
It's not only about braking power, it's also about not grinding the rims away. Don't take my word for it, though. Steve Abraham, currently attempting to beat the record for the greatest distance ridden in a year, is using disc brakes because after testing a bike with rim brakes he said: "The pads only lasted a few days and by my reckoning I'd need new rims every 6-8 weeks."
There was also much less cleaning required because the aluminium rims hadn't deteriorated into the black paste that coats large parts of the fork and frame after a wet ride. They're quieter too, no scratching and grinding as the brake blocks flail desperately at the rims. I'm sounding like a convert aren't I? Let's move on.
Wheel choice for disc-equipped bikes is increasing all the time. The Fratello was specced with Mavic's new Aksium Disc wheels. They're based on the regular wheels of the same name but have new hubs with a six-bolt disc mount and revised rims.
They're an entry-level wheelset with commendable performance and good robustness for riding along pothole strewn roads, but at 1965g they are far from light. They're plenty stiff enough and don't flex when giving the Fratello some welly on a fast road though. The front hub can be easily converted to a 15mm axle, providing an upgrade opportunity down the road.
On to the wheels are fitted a pair of 28mm Continental Gatorskin tyres. They're super reliable tyre sfor winter riding and though you can feel their weight when first getting the Fratello up to speed and through low speed turns, they zip along at a comfortable cruising speed quite happily. If you're new to 28mm tyres, it's worth experimenting with the tyre pressure, you can run them quite low with little adverse impact on the rolling resistance.
The test bike was finished with a Brooks Cambium seat, and really there's nothing I can add to John's glowing review of this saddle. Okay it doesn't look quite right on the blue Fratello, I'd go with one of the newer black Cambium saddles now available, but my god is it comfortable. A perfect choice for settling down into a 200km or longer Audax.
A carbon fibre 27.2m Condor seatpost provides a small measure of deflection. Up front was a perfectly fine Deda stem and handlebar - I changed the stem for a longer stem to achieve my ideal fit. This is a 55cm size frame, I'm 5ft 11in, and I found it a perfect fit, with enough length in the top tube for a comfortable stretch without being overstretched, and just the right head tube to promote a reasonably pointy position.
With the new carbon fork and the updated frame, the result is a bike that relays a bit more feedback from the road but feels more energetic and enthusiastic than before, without unduly sacrificing all-day comfort. Settle down into a relaxed tempo and the Fratello provides the easy pace and impressive comfort it always has done, but the new tubeset delivers a slightly more refined and crisp response than the older generation bike.
It doesn't always feel fast. The uncanny smoothness of the steel frame and the tyres, and the quietness of the whole bike, fools you into thinking you're not travelling especially quickly, when actually you are. It's as comfortable as an Audax or light touring bike needs to be, and it's perfectly suited to being a dedicated winter training bike.
It's easy to get hung up on weight in cycling, and you're reading the wrong review if you're after a lightweight climbing bike. At 10.6kg the Fratello is no featherweight, but this is a traditional Audax and light touring bike in looks, yet one that despite that weight, offers a rewarding and lively ride as a result of the updated tubeset and new fork. And it has proper mudguards and a proper comfy saddle: that all adds weight.
But at no point does the weight ever compromise the sheer pleasure of the ride. The Fratello isn't a bike designed to be slung around the road or to chase wheels on a fast club run, though it's not beyond its capabilities, as I found out the other weekend. Get it up to speed and it barrels along with that smooth capacity that steel bikes have; it just takes a bit more time to gather up that speed.
The Fratello Disc is about enjoying the ride, exploring new roads and going the long way home and staying out all day on the bike, just because you love cycling. It's not a bike for battling Strava segments or worrying about the fastest time from A to B; if that's your bag you've lots and lots of other options.
Add in the full-length mudguards for unparalleled protection from muck and water on the roads, and the rack mounts for adding some panniers for transporting a change of clothes to work in a pannier, or for more adventurous multi-day rides, and you have yourself an ideal do-everything year-round UK bike. The disc brakes are just the cherry on top of a well-iced cake.
If you want a pleasant and enjoyable riding experience and a bike that can be used for daily commuting, touring and the odd Audax, and even some sportives, the Fratello Disc is a fine choice. I'm in no hurry to give it back.
Sublime smoothness and comfort from updated frame now with the luxury of disc brakes
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Make and model: Condor Fratello Disc
Size tested: 55
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The original superbike is now even better. Our flagship steel frame is as popular as ever. Used as a commuter by some, fast tourer or winter trainer by others, its inherent versatility makes it ideal if you don't have space for a stable of bikes. The disc mounts are placed inside the rear triangle to ensure the bicycle can be used with pannier bags and mudguards. The 2015 model uses a lighter and smoother custom Columbus tubeset, using custom shaped Spirit tubing, the responsive triple butted steel, in our latest incarnation of the Fratello is lively and exciting to ride, whatever the weather.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Price includes frame, fork and headset only - images show example full builds
Frame: Custom Columbus Spirit developed with Condor triple-butted steel
Fork: Condor Pioggia carbon disc
Custom drawn and shaped tube sections used at the seat stays create a responsive frame that minimises rider fatigue and maintains ride quality
Colours: deep purple
Mudguard eyelets and rear rack mounts
Fits up to 28mm tyres
Internally mounted disc to allow use with panniers and rack
Reflective detail on rear stay for increased visability
Sizes: 46, 49, 52, 55, 58, 61cm
Durability is one of the strengths of steel; it's bombproof.
It's no lightweight but that isn't its remit, so the weight is about right for this sort of bike and the intended riding.
Superb all-day comfort. The big tyres and Brooks saddle contributed hugely to the smooth ride.
There are better value builds - Charge for example offer the Plug with SRAM hydraulic disc brakes for £1399, and there's the Genesis Equilibrium Disc 20 with 105 and TRP Hy/Rd brakes for £1,499. Things to consider with Condor include the brand heritage and the fact a bike fit is included so ensure you get the bike fitting you just right with the correct length stem, width bars and the right saddle, for example.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
As a super commuter, touring, sportive or Audax bike, the Fratello is the perfect choice. It'll look after you all day long in supreme comfort. You can do everything but race on it, and for many people that's the perfect bike.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The comfort and smoothness, and the disc brakes.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The brake cables need regular servicing - a full hydraulic brake setup would be my personal preference.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
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.