British brand Enigma has been handbuilding steel frames, both bespoke and in set sizes, for a good many years now. Its Ezona 105 – at £1,549, the company's cheapest model – is touted as a bike for winter use, touring and commuting. There's no doubt that the Ezona rides like a metal bike, but I couldn't help feeling it was missing that magical springy steel quality.
Steel bikes have been making something of a resurgence of late, with their relative ease to customise for individuals and for a supple ride. When I found out the Ezona was made from Columbus Zona tubing, I got quite excited. I recently built my first steel frame at the Bicycle Academy, and used Zona tubing for a number of the tubes. Not wishing to blow my own trumpet too much, it's one of the best feeling bikes I've ridden, with a lovely springy yet responsive ride, so I was very much looking forward to experiencing more of that with the Ezona.
I've been commuting on the Ezona two or three times a week for the last couple of months, as well as doing a few longer rides. While it's not a bad riding bike at all, it's also not quite what I was expecting.
As a bicycle-making material, steel tends not to get built up into super-stiff racers, as carbon and aluminium alloy generally do that job better, cheaper and lighter. We've touched on this in a previous article on frames of ferrous alloy, which you can read here. It's not unheard of for a steel bike to be built super-stiff deliberately, but unlike in the performance-driven world of modern carbon and alloy race bikes, I would say that the main reason people buy steel bikes is for the comfortable ride feel they give.
Enigma describes the ride of the Ezona as 'crisp'. With a steel frame, an absence of stiffness in the right places can give them a lively and springy feel, but even with its smaller diameter Columbus tubes, the Ezona was stiffer than I was expecting.
This, combined with the considerable 10.2kg heft, means the Ezona doesn't feel like many other steel bikes I've ridden, and actually feels a little uninspiring. I should make it clear that the stiffness I'm talking about here is a relative term – compared with your average alloy or carbon race-orientated bike, the Ezona is no match in the rigidity stakes.
Nonetheless, I would expect a bike designed for winter use, touring and commuting to be a bit more comfortable. The Ezona is certainly on the harsher side of what you would expect of a thin-tubed steel bike.
While climbing, the mass of the bike is largely offset by the cadence-tastic combination of a 34-tooth inner chainring and 32t winching gear sprocket at the end of the cassette. The Ezona is never going to be a mountain goat, but it's reassuring to know you're not going to grind to a halt on properly steep stuff.
Once over the brow of a hill and making my way back down again, the bike felt stable and surefooted. It might not be the most inspiring ride, but the Ezona will get the job done nonetheless, and with minimal fuss.
The frame is constructed from TIG-welded and double-butted Columbus Zona tubing. The all-carbon fork has a straight 1 1/8in steerer that sits neatly in the integrated headset. In my opinion the frame and fork complement each other nicely in an aesthetic sense.
Talking of looks, the paint job is excellent, with a glossy finish and understated graphics that add to the quality feel of the bike. If the baby blue (Enigma calls it Fiat 500) isn't your bag, the Ezona is also available in Jaguar Red and Lotus Racing Green.
I tested a size 56cm frame, with a 56cm top tube, 57.7cm stack (the vertical distance from bottom bracket to the top of the head tube) and 38.3cm reach (the horizontal distance between those points). This is pretty similar to the various road bikes I've ridden that I consider to fit me well.
Enigma supplies the bike with a layback seatpost and a 110mm stem, which increases the distance between bar and saddle and for me made the bike feel quite stretched out.
The Ezona is built with a full Shimano 105 5800 11-speed groupset. So much has been said about this groupset already on road.cc, not least our in-depth review of the groupset here that I feel I only need touch on its excellence. It's pretty much the perfect choice for a winter bike in my eyes.
The way the frame is designed means 105 short-drop brakes can be used in conjunction with 25mm tyres and mudguards, which is a massive plus in my eyes – I think long-drop brakes are always a bit down on power in comparison.
The Mavic Aksiums are a great and robust wheelset for winter mileage. They're no super-lightweights, but they are more than adequate for the job at hand. They were ever so slightly out of true out of the box, which led to a bit of brake pad rub, but a couple of tweaks with the spoke key brought them back into line and they've been absolutely fine ever since.
The wheels come shod with Continental's 25mm Gatorskins, which aren't necessarily the most responsive or supple tyre on the market, but their puncture protection is a plus for a winter bike.
The rest of the finishing kit is all Enigma branded. I have to say the combination of stem and layback seatpost didn't work for me, and felt I was over-reaching. I seemed to be constantly sliding forward, necessitating a lot of shuffling around trying to find a comfortable position. Bike fit is an incredibly individual thing, though, and what didn't work for me might work very well for you.
My only other niggle was that the rear brake cable, from the hoods to the first cable stop on the top tube, was too short. In fact, it was so short that the rear brake would come on if turning sharply right in a road or messing about in a car park waiting for mates, which is a bit disconcerting and annoying. And while it is an easy fix, it's quite a faff to sort out as the bar will need re-taping along with new cables being needed.
I've had a bit of a mixed time on the Enigma Ezona. It's a great looking bike, and I always like to see steel bikes being handmade in the UK, but the Ezona is just missing that magic ride quality that is usually the killer selling point of a steel bike.
To get a second opinion and make sure I wasn't being overly harsh, I sounded out tech ed Dave Arthur, who's owned a steel Enigma for a few years now, to see what he thought.
"On my first outing on the Ezona the ride did feel unusually firm," said Dave. "A steel road bike can often be expected to provide a silky smooth experience, with a knack for smoothing out rough roads – like my own Enigma steel bike, which I've owned for six or seven years.
"My first ride on the Ezona was slightly jarring, where my own Enigma, on the same roads, is luxuriously smooth. Swapping the steel-beaded Continental tyres for some Vittoria Open Pave tyres (same width and pressure) improved things, and swapping the Mavic wheels for a pair of American Classic Argents helped even more.
"The ride quality of a bike is formed by the marriage of frame, fork, geometry, wheels and tyres. They each play a part in how the bike rides. The Enigma did initially disappoint, and some component changes did improve matters, but like Ed I still feel it doesn't quite deliver the expected magic carpet ride that one tends to buy a steel frame for. And knowing how well my own Enigma rides, it's clear the company is capable of delivering this sort of quality. Perhaps in trying to meet a lower price point, some of the magic has been lost."
As for value, a handmade steel bike is always going to be more expensive than a mass-produced aluminium or carbon equivalent. However, for the right ride quality I would always be willing to pay a bit more. Sadly, this bike is just missing that springy steel characteristic and, as such, I'm not sure it justifies its £1,549 price tag.
Great looking, well specced steel bike for winter mileage, but just missing that classic steel feel for me
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Enigma Ezona 105
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
From Enigma's site:
Hand made in Sussex
Hand painted in either Jaguar Red, VW Ice Metallic or Fiat 500 Blue
Built from Columbus Zona double-butted tube set
Integrated head tube
Mudguard eyelets and rear rack mounts
Fits up to 25mm tyres with mud guards
Requires short reach brakes
Tight sporting geometry for top performance
Frame weight 1550g based on a 56cm
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?
Enigma says: "Our lowest priced model and an ideal choice for winter use, touring and commuting - the Ezona is handcrafted and finished here in the UK to the same high standard as every Enigma frame but at a surprisingly low price. The Ezona is constructed using a full Columbus Zona double-butted tube set, light in weight but very robust and the right option for those seeking a light but strong British made frame for all-round use without breaking the bank. With the added benefit of a full-carbon Enigma Etape fork the Ezona delivers a crisp, fast and comfortable ride quality along with excellent value for money."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Lovely build quality and simple yet elegant paint job.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
I never felt fully comfortable on the Ezona, and it was missing the 'springy' steel feel I was expecting.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Slightly too stiff for a steel bike.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral
Shimano 105 is pretty much the best value groupset you can get for the money.
No issues, just one quick adjustment for cable stretch from new.
Wheels and tyres
I had to retrue the wheel slightly.
On the heavy side for sure.
I found the drop of the bar awkward for my hands, and the stem/seatpost specifications didn't suit me.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Not as much as I thought I would.
Would you consider buying the bike? As a frame only, maybe.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Maybe
Use this box to explain your score
The Ezona is a good bike, but I'm convinced it could be better.
About the tester
I usually ride: Kinesis Pro6 My best bike is: The first steel bike I made
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, cyclo-cross, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking