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One of our favourite frames, the Kinesis Gran Fondo Titanium is back with some performance tweaks and a bargain build that gets you out on the road for just over two grand. Some of the compromises dull the bike's edge a little, but a few upgrades would allow the terrific frame to really shine.
A couple of years ago I tested the original Kinesis Gran Fondo Titanium and it was, still is in fact, one of the best all-rounders on the market, I gave it four and a half stars after struggling to find anything to fault. That hasn't stopped the guys at Kinesis UK making a few tweeks though, hopefully for the better.
At its heart is a frame made from stress relieved, double butted 3Al/2.5V titanium alloy. (The numbers indicate 3% aluminium and 2.5% vanadium in the mix.) Apart from a tapered headtube, and a couple of other small changes, it's exactly the same as the original.
That head tube is machined from a solid billet of titanium to accept a 1 1/8in – 1.5in integrated headset. Past experience has shown that this increase in diameter results in a tighter front end benefitting handling and braking but on the flip side can make for a stiffer front end and less comfort.
The move to the tapered headset allows the fitting of Kinesis' own Tracer fork which we first tested on their TK3. The Tracer is designed for mudguards and deep drop brakes which means you can now squeeze in a set of 28mm tyres with guards fitted. That brings the Gran Fondo Titanium in line with the likes of Genesis' Equilibrium Ti and the Sabbath September that we've tested in the past.
Alongside the mudguards the Gran Fondo Titanium can also take a rear rack for commuting and light touring duties.
The beauty of a titanium frame is the inherent elasticity of the material gives an almost springy ride. That's great for vibration dampening but if things aren't beefed up a bit in crucial areas a titanium frame can end up a touch on the flexy side. Kinesis have kept things tight by ovalising the top and down tube, flattening the profile to give more lateral stiffness. The frame remains vertically compliant so comfort isn't affected. As before the seatstays are curved at a large two metre radius to give the rear end a touch more absorbency as well.
The welding at high stress areas, such as the bottom bracket and headtube, receives two passes of the torch to make sure the weld has fully penetrated for strength. All the little add ons, bottle bosses, cable stops, chain hanger are all welded into position rather than riveted giving another nod to longevity. The KUK logo engraved into the tube still looks as classy before and sets the theme for the rest of the frame.
Overall the build quality is pretty exceptional with the raw titanium finish giving an engineered mechanical look matched by the tidy welds. It all gives a reassuring feeling that the Gran Fondo Titanium is going to stand up to plenty of miles in all sorts of harsh weather.
Kinesis bikes always score well when it comes to their overall finish and even though there isn't any paint on display here the simple understated graphics match the raw look of the frame. The machined titanium seat clamp is a nice touch as are the blue anodised barrel adjusters.
As well as a frameset (£1499.99) Kinesis also offer the Gran Fondo Titanium as this full build which has the same spec sheet as the TK3 aluminium all-rounder.
That means for your £2069.99 you get Shimano Tiagra 10 speed shifters and mechs, a FSA Vero 34-50T compact chainset and Shimano R501 wheels. It's a pretty basic build for a fifteen hundred quid frame but it's a good dependable starting block and by far the cheapest way to get straight out riding on a Gran Fondo Titanium.
Tiagra has come on a long way over the last couple of years and the current 10 speed shifters have a very positive gear change, almost as good as their 105 counterparts. The compact chainset looks slightly odd with its old school inboard bearings but it works well enough with crisp shifting between rings and little signs of flex. Paired alongside the 12-28T cassette it gives a decent spread of gears and are pretty much spot on for the style of riding the Gran Fondo Titanium is likely to be used for. There isn't much you're not going to be able to scale with a 32' bottom ratio.
The bars are FSA's Vero Compact which are ideal for non-racers who aren't fans of deep drops. The tight bend and minimal fall from tops to drops means you can get low enough to duck out of the wind without altering your position too much and with little effect on handling.
A carbon seat post removes more of the vibration than an alloy option but the Gran Fondo Titanium uses a 31.6mm diameter when a 27.2mm post would allow more flex to combat road buzz. There were a few slippage issues and judging by the state of the seat clamp bolt I wasn't the first tester to have problems but a new bolt, some carbon paste and jobs a good 'un.
A fair few test bikes have used the R501 wheels and to date I've had very few issues with them. They've stood up well to rain, grit and salt on some of the winter bikes we've tested and I don't foresee any issues with these ones either. They're far from light though so if speed and performance is your intention this will be the first place to upgrade. The same goes for the Freedom tyres, tough as old boots and grippy in the wet but don't set any land speed records.
That's the hardware then but as always it's tyres to tarmac that really counts.
There is normally an adjustment period when a new test bike arrives, a couple of hours getting used to the geometry, feedback and grip before the bike starts to feel familia. But the Gran Fondo Titanium was just right straight from the off as if I'd been riding it for weeks. A lot of this can be attributed to the material as I've noticed the same from the Equilibrium Ti and the Van Nic Aquilo
As you'd expect from a bike named after Europe's long distance rides the Gran Fondo is pretty adept at allowing you to put in the miles in comfort regardless of terrain or road surface.
The stable handling means it's a very relaxing ride too. Even with the 42cm wide bars fitted the steering is very neutral with enough speed should you need to get yourself out of trouble.
Kinesis settled on the 2m radius rear stays after lots of testing of various shapes and finding that they were the best all round performers for speed and comfort. There is little more to say really as even after six or seven hours in the saddle there wasn't any sort of feeling of soreness or discomfort even though the saddle was pretty harsh.
I'm guessing you're sat there thinking yeah, all sounds great if you're after a commuter or long distance steed but fear not speed lovers: give the Gran Fondo Titanium a poke and it'll eat carbon race machines for breakfast.
Weighing in at 20.4lb meant that our test model didn't exactly fly off the line but once up to speed it'll sit there ironing out the road perfections that can see harsher frames bounce about wrecking your pedalling rhythm.
I won't lie to you, I had initial concerns when I saw that the front end had been stiffened on the new version. As far I was concerned the handling was pretty spot on on the original. Thankfully though it's only improved things.
Cruising along tapping out a steady pace you'd be hard pressed to notice any difference over the standard 1 1/8in head tube but once things start getting a bit more aggressive that 1.5in lower headset race keeps things super tight and loads up nicely. Downhill cornering at speed was an absolute laugh with the front end tracking bang on as you flick from one lean angle to another.
The Tracer fork works well with the frame, providing plenty of reassurance as you test for the grip limits of the tyres. The oversized fork crown absorbs braking loads without any undue flex (not that there is much load due to the poor brakes but more of that in a minute) while the curved fork legs absorb road vibration.
It can climb too. The geometry gives a more upright position that's perfect for long ascents. You can stay seated and just tap things out, with the shock-absorbing rear end staying planted as you push on. Short sharp inclines that require you to stand on the pedals are repaid with plenty of stiffness around the bottom bracket with just a bit of flex if you have to go properly deep to crest the hill.
Shimano's third tier Tiagra gears keep up with the performance until you're really going for it, when the slightly spongy shift doesn't quite deliver the crisp shift you need at speed. The 12-28T cassette has a few gaps in it which can be a bit annoying but the spread of gears is a welcome compromise for long days in the saddle.
Braking as I mentioned is pretty poor. I actually find the Tektro R317s to be some of the better deep drop brakes out there but they are all pretty woeful compared to standard drop calipers. A change to Swisstop's Green pads helped matters a bit but the brakes don't deliver the kind of stopping power this bike requires.
The R510 wheels once again showed that they are a good bet for a set of all rounders staying true and smooth rolling in the bearing department. Sticking a set of Zipp 30s shod with Michelin Pro 4 tyres meant the acceleration and weight deficit was reduced and really highlighted how good this frame is.
A great bike just got better; the tweaks that Kinesis have made to the frame have worked for the best. The oversized head tube is the star of the show making little difference to comfort or handling at cruising speed but masses of difference once the speed and rider input is increased. It's a spot on balance of performance, handling feedback and comfort and confirms the Gran Fondo Titanium's reputation as a year-round performance machine.
Against its competition it holds all the cards. As a frameset it's the same price as the Equilibrium Ti but handles better and is a much more exciting ride and the Sabbath September we've also tested has nowhere near the speed capabilities. On the flipside the Gran Fondo Titanium is an equal match for the Sabbath's long distance, surefooted credentials.
As you can probably guess I'm rather smitten with the Gran Fondo Titanium and if I had to sell my fleet of bikes and buy just one, the Kinesis would be that bike.You might wonder then why this time round I've given the Gran Fondo Ti a slightly lower mark than the earlier version, the simple answer is that we tested that version as a frameset and this one as a complete bike. As a frameset the new Gran Fondo Ti manages the difficult task of improving on the original and the overall mark would have reflected that and I'd be having a good old ding-dong with the editor about whether it should or shouldn't get a 10. As it is while the base level build certainly helps bring a superb frame in to the realms of affordability for more people and give you a fantastic commuting bike it doesn't release the frame's full potential.
If I was buying I'd go for this build but with 105, commute on it all week before swapping to lightweight wheels and tyres at the weekend and tackle the hills and possibly even the odd crit.
Near superbike capabilities in a frame that is just at home on the commute, audaxing, sportives and much much more. It's a looker too.
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Make and model: Kinesis Gran Fondo Ti
Size tested: xx
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Titanium alloy 3AL/2.5V
Fork: Carbon fibre Tracer with mudguard eyelets and deep drop brake clearance
Headset: FSA Orbit C-40-ACB TAPERED
Bar: FSA Vero Compact 420mm x 31.8
Stem: FSA OS-190 110mm 31.8
Seat Post: Kinesis UK, Micro-Adjust carbon
Brakes: Tektro R317 Long Drop Caliper
Crankset: FSA Vero Compact 34/50T
Bottom Bracket: FSA Power Spline 68 x 108mm
STI Shifters: Shimano TIAGRA ST-4600
Front Mech: Shimano TIAGRA FD-4600
Rear Mech: Shimano TIAGRA RD-4600SS
Cassette: Shimano TIAGRA CS-4600 12-28T
Saddle: Freedom By WTB KinesisUK AON
Wheelset: Shimano R501
Bar Tape: VELO Black Cork Tape
Tyres: Freedom By WTB Racine
Mudguards: Future Forms SP-33S, 700C
Seat Clamp: Kuk 34.9mm
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?
Kinesis have this to say on their website:
"The outcome is a superbly finished, smooth riding frameset, designed to go the distance and last for years. If speed, comfort, distance, adaptability and durability top your list, then this true 4-season frameset is the one for you."
Its safe to say they've pretty much fulfilled that design brief as the GF Ti is an all round great piece of kit providing functionality with performance and comfort.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Tidy welds and beautifully finished. The graphics are nicely understated and stand up to scratches well. I love that engraved headtube as well.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The titanium is an aerospace grade alloy which is custom drawn into seamless tubes providing better strength than rolled and welded. The tubes are worked cold which maintains grain structure before then passing through a process to relieve stress in the material.
the fork is a full carbon fibre monocoque with the steerer tapering from 1.5" to 1 1/8" bottom to top
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry is slightly more upright than a race bike making it ideal for long days in the saddle. The longer wheelbase due to mudguard capabilities is very stable.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
A look at the geometry table shows things are pretty standard in relation to frame size. In use the GF Ti fitted very well with a sensible seat to bar drop allowing performance riding and long distance staedy pace efforts.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Very. The ride quality is superb, there is a solid, secure feel that comes back through the saddle and bars providing you with loads of feedback.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes. Its not as tight as some high end carbon bikes but minimal flex is only noticable during flat out efforts. The flexibility is all part of the charm though.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
It does feel very efficient especially once up to cruising speed. It maintains an average with relative ease.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
No, not without mudguards.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling has improved over the previous version with the inclusion of the new tapered headtube. When you are pushing hard that extra stiffness makes a lot of difference.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The saddle was pretty harsh but on the whole everything else works well with the frame. The stiff cockpit and seatpost keep the bike feeling stiff without punishing you.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Outboard BB cups and a two piece chainset would provide more stiffness at the bottom bracket area but we're talking marginal gains here.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The standard tyres really hamper the overall performance of the frame as they don't roll very well at all. Lighter wheels do also make a huge difference to performance.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Tiagra is the minimum requirement for a frame of this quality and performance is pretty good. I've used Tiagra on winter bikes in the past and it's hardwearing and relatively cheap to replace. The FSA chainset is primitive but performance isn't an issue.
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
The R510s are good performers with a decent track record although heavy. The tyres are slow and heavy and take a lot away from the frameset but they are hardwearing and provide decent levels of grip so are ideal for winter and commuting use.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
It's basic but does the job. The alloy bars and stem are stiff and provide plenty of hand positions. The shallow drop of the FSA bars are ideal for smaller riders especially if the shims are used for reducing the Tiagra levers' distance.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
It's a budget build but provides plenty of solid and care free miles while providing a decent platform to upgrade on as bits wear out.
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?
The overall scores at first make it look as though the GF Ti V2 isn't as good as the original version but you have to remember that that was a frameset review whereas this one takes into account the full bike build. The kit here as I've already mentioned works and works well but by upgrading just even the wheels releases so much more from this frameset.
Age: 34 Height: 180cm Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: Ribble Winter Trainer for commuting, Genesis Flyer My best bike is: Sarto Rovigo
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: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!