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The Genesis Volare 853 Disc frameset blends classic steel looks and ride quality with modern disc brakes and a whole lot of fun – if you've never considered steel for an all-round road bike before, here's a reason to.
It's confession time, road.cc readers: I've always looked down my nose at steel bikes. I've always felt they signify a throwback to yesteryear in a world of carbon and aluminium. A steel frame, to me, suggests a bike for riders who aren't interested in going fast but who want to just cruise around, buy their coffee and cake, then roll home.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course, but it's never gelled well with my general approach to cycling. I'm no racer, but I like to improve, challenge myself and, well... get faster. Steel just never married with that approach – not to me, anyway.
Well, now I stand corrected – and apologetic that I was so conceited. Completely, totally, unreservedly. In the Volare, Genesis has blended performance cycling with the innate qualities of a steel bike and, with the welcome benefit of disc brakes, I love it.
Perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised about this revelation – after all, for a while the Madison-Genesis pro team used steel frames to race on the domestic scene with no small amount of success, and that level of input coming from pro riders has got to mean something – in fact, Dave found that it did.
Those guys would have raced on a Reynolds 953-tubed Volare, but here we're dealing with an 853 tubeset. But the racy geometry is the same aggressive-yet-accessible layout, which supplies a magic blend of fun and predictability.
The front end is carbon-race-bike sharp and informative when things get quick on the drops, yet if you sit up and spin on the tops, it transforms into a softer long-distance cruiser thanks to the comfort the carbon fork offers.
Cornering is direct, with subtle inputs responded to in a composed manner, while the rest of the bike is stiff enough to follow suit. The rear end feels very well sorted: planted, efficient, direct, yet supremely easy to handle.
In fact, from the get-go this Volare is one of the easiest bikes I've ever ridden in terms of just getting on and riding (following the usual sorting out of the basic fit). It even rides brilliantly as a daily commuter – albeit without mounts for mudguards or rack.
It gathers speed with surprising efficiency and really excels at maintaining it on long drags. The bottom bracket zone is stiff enough for the power I can send through it and get fun reward for my efforts, yet it isn't super-stiff in the way the Felt AR4 – the pure aero bike I last tested – is. Instead, it offers just a little flex that calms the experience down.
That makes for a bike that really excels over long distances. Assisted by 28mm tubeless tyres, it's very composed, making short work of typically pimpled British roads and damping vibrations excellently.
Despite that composure, the race-bike-short wheelbase – 996mm in the large on test here – means it's sharp to respond when thrown around, out of the saddle, even with tired legs. It even helped me put in a quick time on some of my favourite uphill segments in my local area.
Certainly, it's more suited to longer, shallower drags, but even when you're punching up 15-20 per cent inclines, it's more than willing to back you up.
All this makes the Volare 853 a bike that's hard to pigeon-hole. It manages to be fun-yet-calm, racy-yet-relaxed, sharp-yet-composed, stiff-yet-compliant, and I'm left with the sense that it's one of the most capable all-round performance road frames around.
Ostensibly, this is all we're reviewing here as the Volare 853 Disc is only available as a frameset, which you can have for £1,199. But a ride a frameset on its own does not make, so let's get into some details about it, then discuss the build that distributor Madison put together for us.
The tubeset is tried-and-tested Reynolds 853, with a specifically designed oval top tube profiled to absorb road vibrations. The slightly rounder down tube (it flattens out towards the BB86 press-fit bottom bracket) is said to produce a direct response. Given my riding experience, I can't disagree with these claims.
The chainstays are also substantial enough to support big efforts through the drivetrain, with a chunky ovalised midsection that – we can logically assume – is designed to stop lateral flex when really hammering along, out of the saddle.
The disc brakes – don't groan, steel traditionalists – are flat mount-fitted on both the carbon fork and chainstay (albeit with dedicated bolt holes machined onto the inside of the stay that the calliper fits to). This lets you choose the latest performance groupsets, while the dropouts accept 12mm thru-axles.
While the disc brake hoses run internally, gear cables are run externally should you opt for a mechanical groupset as on this build, or internally if you go electronic.
The groupset Madison chose to fit to the Volare frameset certainly suits the performance claims. Shimano Ultegra R8020, silver finned series rotors and all, is an excellent groupset and allows the bike to really live up to its potential.
Arguably, the slick shifting that Di2 offers might be a notable improvement, but as for upgrading to Dura-Ace? I'm not so sure. The bike as a whole in this build weighs a fairly hefty 9.18kg (claimed frame weight is 2.82kg), and while Dura-Ace would shave away some of this, we're not talking about a huge amount.
Shimano's RS770 (Ultegra-level) disc wheels are carbon-laminated and certainly responsive to ride on. They're shod with 28mm Maxxis Padrone TR tubeless tyres, letting you run lower pressures for greater compliance, maximising grip and feel through the rest of the final build.
That final build includes a Pro Vibe stem and handlebar, along with an alloy 27.2mm seatpost that – although arguably a potential area for an easy upgrade to a carbon model – doesn't downgrade the ride, a testament to the quality of the frame.
All-in, Madison says that the entire bike in the build tested would cost just shy of £3,000 rrp. For that money you can get a similarly equipped Giant Propel Disc if you were aero-minded, or a Cannondale Synapse Ultegra (endurance) or Canyon Ultimate CF SL Disc 8.0 (lightweight) for a few hundred less.
I must admit those deals are appealing for differing reasons, but the steel Genesis remains a stylish and great-riding left-field alternative.
The Volare 853 Disc frameset has converted me from a steel-doubter into a real extoller of its potential virtues. It's smooth and compliant, fun and stiff in a really accessible blend of performance. Spec it up to a decent standard, as our test bike was, and it rewards you time and again.
A smooth and compliant yet fun and stiff ride – a real carbon rival
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Genesis Volare 853 Disc frameset
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the frameset 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?
Racing, crit riding and fast sportives, primarily.
Genesis says: "The Volare 853 frameset is infused with the same race winning DNA as the 953 team bike but is a little friendlier on the pocket thanks to the use of the brilliant-yet-affordable 853 tubeset, now available with 12x12 thru axle and flat mount disc.
"We've worked extensively with Reynolds to produce exclusive, new custom-drawn toptube and downtube that mirrors exactly those used and developed for the 953 team frame; the full-oval Ø31.8/25.4mm toptube should improve in-saddle comfort whilt the oval-round Ø31.4/41.4-36.4mm downtube should further boost pedalling efficiency when paired with the beefy round-oval-round 24mm chainstays and wide BB86 bottom bracket shell. Complete with a full carbon monocoque straight bladed ADK fork for tracking precision the Volare 853 Disc frameset is ready to be built with either the mechanical or electronic group of your choice and delivers on-rails handling for the discerning crit-racer looking for something a little different to the norm."
State the frame and fork material and method of construction
Frame: Reynolds 853 steel tubing
Fork: ADK bladed carbon fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The weld joins are super-neat between the tubes, with really neat integration of things like the rear brake calliper flat mounts. It's almost faultless, while the fork looks smart and bang up-to-date too.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The race geometry is superb. The head tube is short without being at an extreme, while the top tube is lengthy to really assist riders who want to get into a naturally aero position.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The best comparison I can make is to my own large Canyon Ultimate SL – the height is similar, but the reach feels a touch longer with the build supplied.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
One of my favourite aspects about the Volare – it rides really smoothly, and with the help of 28mm tubeless tyres it's one of the most comfortable pure road bikes I've ever ridden.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It's perfectly adequate in terms of stiffness – the bottom bracket lacks a bit of beef, but the slight flex here actually serves to calm the ride down, rather than neuter it.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes – maybe not as immediate (stiff) as a carbon equivalent, but I never felt held back.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Direct, but calm. It's confidence-inspiring, and easy to get used to.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It corners on descents beautifully (again, 28mm tubeless tyres help here), and feels very balanced overall.
Just one step shy of carbon race bike quick.
Not its real forte, but it's easy to handle if you do break into a race for the 30 sign.
I can't find fault here – it's brilliant.
Same again – super-stable.
I really can't give it anything other than maximum.
Just shy of great – its weight seems to slow its reactions down slightly.
I'm not the best descender, but this bike helped me really develop my confidence.
With a 9.18kg weight, it was never going to break records – but it's great fun climbing on it anyway.
How did the build components work with the frame? Was there anything you would have changed?
Yes, they really worked. In fact, I think it was specced perfectly for the frame.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes, I'm sad to hand it back.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
As a steel frameset, the Volare 853 Disc has really impressed me. It does everything well, and a lot of things exceptionally well, at a good price. Above all, it's a great blend of comfort and fun in a race geometry.
About the tester
I usually ride: Canyon Ultimate CF SL 9.0 SL (2016) My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 5-10 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding