The Sarto Asola is a lightweight, smooth-riding frameset that handles beautifully. Priced at £3,600 it's certainly not cheap, but you can have this Italian beauty made to measure and built with the features you want.
Sarto is what you could class as a boutique brand. You won't have seen many, if any, of its frames around. All Sarto frames are handmade in Italy, only about 2,500 per year. Compare that with Trek, for example: about 1.6 million bikes per year. Mass production, it ain't.
Most Sarto frames are made to measure, although ours is a standard model. That said, the geometry (see below) was good for me with a 570mm seat tube, 580mm effective top tube, 193mm head tube and 73-degree frame angles. As I said, though, you can have the exact geometry that you want thanks to Sarto's bespoke service.
The Asola is built from M55J and M46J carbon-fibre tubes that are assembled into a frame using a tube-to-tube technique.
Most carbon fibre frames are made in moulds, but tube-to-tube is an entirely different way of doing things. The tubes are cut to length – in Sarto's case, usually lengths dictated by the individual's requirements – put onto a jig and bonded together. Then the frame undergoes a laminating process to join the tubes together more strongly, making the frame safe and efficient.
According to Sarto, 'The resin that remains in the joints ensures that the laminated frames are generally more comfortable than monocoque structures, maintaining their rigidity and performance.'
Sarto then applies an outer layer of carbon fibre to seal the laminations and provide the finish. In this case, the outer layer is a 1K carbon weave.
Compared with using a mould, tube-to-tube is a labour-intensive process, but it allows you to choose your own geometry and the bottom bracket standard you want. You can also opt for either a standard or an integrated seatpost, and have the frame built for electronic or mechanical shifting, or have it compatible with both. Additionally, the frame can be finished in whatever colour you like.
The Asola looks quite unassuming, all straight lines and round tubes in the front triangle. Fair enough, the down tube is pretty meaty and the head tube is tapered, but on the whole this frame has a sober appearance, quietly dignified rather than shouting about its status.
The stays depart from the restrained script and ad lib a little. The chainstays are boxy in profile while the seatstays are slim and sculpted, the idea being to add some comfort to the back end.
The bottom bracket on our review bike is Press-Fit 30 although, as I mentioned, you can have a different standard if you like. Rather than going for an integrated seatpost, we have a 27.2mm diameter seatpost instead.
Our bike arrived built up with a complete Campagnolo Chorus groupset that we'll be reviewing separately. As you probably know, Chorus is the third tier groupset in the Italian brand's lineup, sitting below Super Record and Record. The wheels are from Campag too: Shamal Ultras shod with Continental Grand Prix 4000 tyres in a 25mm width.
In this guise the Asola hit the road.cc Scales of Truth at 6.94kg (15.3lb). That's pretty damn light. Sarto claims a raw (unpainted) Asola frame weighs 700g. That's really, really light.
The Asola rides like a lightweight bike too, floating up to speed gracefully when you turn up the power dials. What has really surprised me about this frameset is that it combines that light weight with an ability to remain totally unfazed when you get out of the saddle and really hammer, be that on a fiendish climb or in an all-out sprint. The Asola doesn't really look like it's going to offer particularly high frame stiffness, but it does.
Some frames just look rigid: the down tube is a colossal scaffold pole of a thing and the chainstays appear to have been fashioned from a spare part for a JCB. The Asola is more elegant and sophisticated than that, but still holds firm when you sling it about.
There are certainly bikes out there that are more rigid around the bottom bracket (Sarto claims that its own Dinamica is, for a start) but the Asola feels great on a power climb – you know, one of those short, sharp hills when you just want to get up on the pedals, fire your quads, and blast over the top. Some frames will squirm about in that situation, drifting from side to side just enough to put you off the job in hand, but the Asola soaks it all up.
Descending is a real pleasure too, because the Asola has excellent manners, politely going where you ask it to without getting too distracted by road conditions. It's not one of those lightweight bikes that bounces about and does its own thing when the road surface is less than perfect, which is a good job because the road surface is nearly always less than perfect.
The overall ride quality is up there with the very best. The Asola doesn't isolate you from the road to the same degree as some endurance bikes out there, but on the other hand it doesn't feel the need to tell you about every little detail either. It handles things on a need-to-know basis, and that's cool with me. A happy medium, I'd say, and I'd have no problem recommending it for even the longest of rides.
This is an exceptionally good frameset all-round. I'm really struggling to think of anything negative to say about it. There's the small matter of the price, of course, but if you can stomach that, you're in for a treat here.
Exceptional carbon fibre frameset that's made to measure in Italy; a superb climber with an outstanding ride quality
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Sarto Asola frameset
Size tested: XL
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
The Asola is built from M55J and M46J carbon fibre tubes. They are assembled into a frame using a tube-to-tube technique; the frame doesn't come out of a mould.
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?
Sarto says, "Awarded by Tour magazine as one of the best frames in the world for the incredible light weight, stiffness and comfort, Asola represents the ultimate expression of technique by Sarto. After years of experience, countless hours of testing and hundreds of materials characterizations, Sarto has succeeded in making a super carbon frame: Asola.
"This road bicycle is characterized by a sober and essential design: round straight tubes, ultra-thin seat and chain stays, miniaturized dropouts, Asola has been specifically designed for riders looking for essence. Asola is our idea of frame. And you can customize as you like."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
It is a beautifully made frameset.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Nearly everyone who buys this bike will have the frame made to measure. That's one of the main reasons why it's made in a tube-to-tube method: so the geometry can be spot on for each customer.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It is a very comfortable bike. It filters out enough of the road imperfections to keep you comfortable without isolating you entirely from the feedback you need.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The bottom bracket area is stiff – not the most rigid ever, but certainly solid.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, it feels efficient, especially for something this light.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
None, just misses.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Normal for a bike of this kind, I'd say.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It climbs beautifully. I've ridden bikes with an overall weight quite a bit lower, but the Asola gets the work done with very little fuss.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? If I had the money for a made-to-measure bike, definitely.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
Made-to-measure bikes aren't cheap, but if you have the money and you're not exactly stock size, you can get something really special. I think that in this case the performance score overrides the value score and that an exceptional bike like the Asola deserves a 9.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.