Stoemper is a US-built born-in-Belgium brand, the frames handmade in Oregon, and the Darrell here is their aluminium offering. It’s available with regular brakes or, in this case, with disc brakes and we're all about disc brakes at the moment. Our test bike arrives with a Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset with R785 hydraulic disc brakes.
Stoemper specialise solely in aluminium and steel frames - you may remember the Taylor I reviewed last year. I’ve been keen to review their aluminium offering since being impressed with the Taylor. Aluminium is enjoying a surge in popularity at the moment in the UK with cyclists and frame builders, and while most big manufacturers simply use aluminium for their cheaper bikes, a few do offer top-end framesets utilising the very latest manufacturing knowhow, such as the Cannondale CAAD10 (also available with disc brakes in 2015), and from smaller companies like Kinesis and new UK brand Bowman Cycles.
There’s a lot to like about aluminium, with the latest frames offering a credible alternative to carbon fibre. A good aluminium frame offers a responsive with plenty of stiffness yes, but none of the harshness they're wrongly attributed with and, in the case of a custom frame such as the Darrell, plenty of creative license. Most custom frame builders, especially in the UK, really only work with steel so the aluminium choices are far more limited.
The Darrell frame is custom made from a 7005 triple butted tubeset with full internal routing for the Di2 wiring and brake hoses. It’s a beautifully finished frame with extremely smart welds, well proportioned tube sizes and simple profiles, and a presence that suggest it’s up for some hard riding.
Up front is a chunky tapered head tube, and sitting proudly on the front is the company’s unique Godzilla head badge. Look closer and you’ll see some other interesting graphics that give a hint as to the style of riding this frameset has been designed for, the knuckle dusters on the seat tube and the lightning flash on the top of the forks. Then out back are the oversized seatstays and chainstays that suggest maximum power transfer. This frame has a regular external treaded bottom bracket, a rarity these days.
There are some really nice details that ensure the Darrell really stands out, and my favourite - and I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the frame over the weekend - is the routing for the rear derailleur cable, passing through the dropout and into the chainstay. The rear brake hose is routed through the top tube, with nice lozenge ports, and then exits to flow along the top of the chainstay.
The Darrell Disc arrives for test with a Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset with R785 hydraulic disc brakes, with Shimano XT RT86 Ice-Tech 6-Bolt disc rotors, because Shimano only offer the finned IceTech rotors in their proprietary CentreLock system, and these Reynolds wheels only come with a 6-bolt mount. Shimano typically recommends 140mm rotors being fine for most cyclists so it’ll be interesting to see how the bigger rotors compare.
The Reynolds Assault Disc wheels carbon fibre clinchers not only look fast and fantastic, but keep the complete build weight at a competitive level with a 1,565g claimed weight. The wheels have a 41mm deep rim with a 25mm width, and incorporate the novel Swirl Lip Generator at the leading edge, close to the spokes. The small ridge is designed to trip turbulent air passing over the rim into reattaching and improve aerodynamic performance.
The wheels have spindly looking hubs with 6-bolt rotor mounts and a pair of Michelin Pro4 Service Course 25mm tyres are wrapped around the rims. The frame will take 27mm tyres, something I might try during the course of the review.
To demonstrate the sort of extra detail you can get with a custom build, the FSA K-Force stem and seatpost have been painted to match the decal colour of the frame. Granted they’re not to everyone’s taste, but that’s the beauty of a custom build, you can be specific about every little detail and those colour-matched components are simply not the sort of thing you can get off-the-shelf.
A PRO Turnix saddle and PRO aluminium handlebar, FSA headset and Chris King seatclamp complete the 8.50kg (18.73lb) build. That weight compares favourably with some carbon fibre disc-equipped bikes we’ve had in for test, such as the Orbea Avant (8.55kg) and Cannondale Synapse Disc (8.57kg).
I’ve racked up some 200km since the bike arrived in the office last Thursday and can report some very good first ride impressions. The responses when you put the power down are instantaneous with very direct steering and the wheels certainly endowing a great sense of momentum at higher speeds. Make no mistake, this is a real performance bike, built for high speed pursuits. And the brakes, well they're simply fantastic, and suit the aggressive personality of the Darrell. The frame, based on these early miles, shows no sign of being uncomfortable or harsh, one of the recurring questions from other cyclists, even on some of the more Roman roads around the Cotswolds.
The Darrell frameset costs £2,200 including the Enve carbon fork and a custom paint job, with a delivery time of around 8 weeks. They offer a choice of 11 stock sizes along with the full custom treatment, the bike here is a regular 56cm with a 560mm top tube, 540mm seat tube, 160mm head tube and a 70mm bottom bracket drop.
Head over to http://stoemper.com/the-bikes/darrell/ for more info.
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.