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This latest Van Nicholas Zephyr is one of the best blends of performance and comfort I have known from a road bike, and it's not just down to the pleasing ride quality of the titanium alloy either. The geometry is perfect for those who want to ride quickly without needing to get into an aggressive position, and the handling is so easy to live with at speed or when cruising along.
For more options, check out our guide to the best road bikes for our top picks from just £300 to north of £13,000.
The biggest surprise for me about the Zephyr is the weight – not so much the fact that it weighed 9.23kg on our scales, but more the way that it doesn't feel that heavy out on the open road.
I hadn't seen that weight before I went out for my first ride, and the Zephyr felt quick off the line and once rolling it picks up speed very well indeed, in a similar way to a carbon aero bike. Above, say, 17mph I could feel the benefits of that head tube shape which flows into the top and down tubes, and the deep-section wheels were also playing their part.
When you want it to, the Zephyr behaves very much like a performance race bike. It's stiff around the bottom of the frame where it needs to be for hard efforts, and it has an urgency about its ride – it responds well to being pushed hard, and for your efforts you do feel as though you're getting a big return.
Get towards 25mph, though, and the Zephyr does remind you that it isn't a race machine; the tall head tube and resulting large frontal area of your riding position means that drag becomes noticeable.
This is by no means a criticism – the Zephyr is an endurance bike, so by its nature it is designed to give a comfortable position for riding long distances. It does that very well indeed, but it's great to know that there is that raciness in its DNA should you need it.
While we're on the subject of comfort, if you want to go long you really can't beat a quality titanium frame. They have a natural spring to them, a subtle smoothness to the ride which just takes any harshness out of the feedback, and the Zephyr has it in an abundance.
Welding a few titanium tubes together doesn't guarantee that excellent ride quality though. As with all other materials, the designer and manufacturer have to know what they are doing. Wall thicknesses, butting (variable wall thicknesses along the length of the tube) and geometry all come into play, but the way the Zephyr behaves shows that this is a very well-designed frame.
It has a firm ride; there is a tightness to it throughout. Hit a climb and hammer the pedals and you won't feel the slightest hint of movement around the bottom bracket, and it's the same at the head tube, which restricts any unwanted movement under heavy braking or steering loads.
From a handling point of view the Zephyr is fairly neutral, which is what you want on this kind of bike, but that doesn't translate into boring or sedate. The Zephyr responds well and quickly to rider input, so dodging potholes that you see at the last minute at speed is a smooth and calm experience, and high-speed technical sections aren't a chore either. It's impressively done.
Van Nicholas has also managed to keep the wheelbase quite short. This medium model (a 54cm essentially) is just 993mm long, so the whole bike feels very responsive and surprisingly nimble considering its intended use and weight.
Overall, the Zephyr is a very well-balanced road bike that'll suit any rider who still wants speed, performance, great handling and comfort, but isn't bothered about being able to get completely aero in an aggressive position.
The Zephyr's frame uses 3Al/2.5V (3% aluminium, 2.5% vanadium) titanium alloy tubing with a cast head tube, which is what gives the front end its smooth, aero look.
The rear dropouts and the bottom bracket junction have also been cast, with the latter being designed to accept a T47 BB.
T47, if you haven't come across it, basically uses the dimensions of a press-fit design (so a larger shell diameter) but with bearing cups being threaded into the frame, which limits any discrepancy in tolerances between the cups and frame – something that led to noisy running and premature wear on early press-fit attempts.
The welding is finished to a high standard throughout, and the high sheen finish works well against the graphics. The engraved head tube also looks the business.
Cable and hose routing is internal, which gives a clean look overall, although they enter via a port on the head tube rather than inside the stem and down through the headset, like on many modern bikes. It really isn't an issue for me, but some riders who saw the Zephyr out in the wild reckoned it'd look even sleeker with the hoses hidden. Unlike some new bikes, though, the Zephyr is compatible with both mechanical and electronic groupsets.
Tyre clearance is decent at 35mm.
Van Nicholas offers an impressive warranty to the original owner. The company says it will replace any frame that fails due to manufacturer defects in materials or workmanship for the usable lifecycle (lifetime) of the frame, dependent on the type of frame and various other conditions. It says that 'lifetime' works out as an average 25 years across the line-up.
Six sizes are available, with effective frame sizes of 48cm (XS) to 64cm (XXL), so a good spread.
Our 54cm medium model has an effective top tube length of 537mm with a head tube height of 165mm. These correspond to stack and reach figures of 577mm and 366mm respectively.
Both the seat and head angle are 72.5 degrees to create that sporty but not necessarily racy riding position.
On its website Van Nicholas doesn't offer specific builds as such, as it has a configurator to build your Zephyr to your own specification and budget.
Going in at entry level, the Zephyr has a starting price of £4,655 with a mechanical 105 groupset, alloy finishing kit and shallow rim alloy wheels, while our build with Ultegra Di2, deep-section FFWD wheels, an expensive saddle and a smattering of titanium bling like the seatpost, headset and spacers costs £7,379. If you want the twin titanium water bottle cages you see here too, that'll be another £194.
A frameset retails for £2,880 which includes frame, full carbon fork and headset. You'll need to add thru-axles.
I think the build here works well with a frameset of this quality. The Ultegra R8170 Di2 groupset is arguably one of Shimano's best to date – virtually all the performance of Dura-Ace Di2 with a bit of added weight but a much lighter price tag.
As you can see from our review, the gear shifting is top notch in terms of speed and crispness, and the updated brakes offer even more power and modulation than previous generations.
If Ultegra pushes your budget, the lower tier 105 comes in a Di2 setup without sacrificing much in terms of performance.
Van Nicholas offers groupsets from all of the top brands including SRAM and Campagnolo as well as Shimano.
The Tyro II wheels from FFWD (I reviewed the rim brake version last year) have a 45mm-deep rim so they are good all-rounders, giving a decent aero advantage without being affected too badly by crosswinds.
A 21mm internal width keeps a smooth, rounded profile with wider tyres, and their overall weight isn't too bad for the specs.
FFWD says that they can be used for light gravel too, and because of that durability is very good, and you don't need to worry too much about poor road surfaces.
Wrapped around them are a pair of Schwalbe's Pro Ones – one of my favourite tyres for fast road riding. They have a supple feel, something not always achieved by tubeless tyres, and the compound provides a lot of grip and feedback. I've always found them easy to set up tubeless too, and durability and wear rates are good considering their lightweight, racy nature.
I've used Van Nicholas's own brand alloy finishing kit on many of its bikes, and it's good kit. The logos make it look a bit more expensive than it is and the Wingshape handlebar fitted here is very comfortable.
The stem is, well, a stem and it does the job you'd expect it to.
Our bike has a titanium seatpost with 15mm of setback which is held in place in the frame by a titanium seatclamp. It's a setup that certainly looks the business and provides a very small amount of extra comfort by bringing that smooth titanium feel to the rear end.
Atop the post is a Selle Italia SLR Boost Kit Carbonio Superflow saddle, which is very comfortable indeed, although it does add £239 to the overall price tag.
Its slender padding and minimalistic shape works for me, while also balancing that performance and comfort ethos that sums up the Zephyr.
Casting titanium is an expensive business, which is one reason the Zephyr isn't exactly a cheap option, but it does compare well against the similar Reilly Fusion I tested last year.
The Fusion has slightly racier geometry, and the model I tested did come with a very expensive handlebar, but the rest of the build was quite similar, with Ultegra Di2 and deep-section wheels, giving a build price of £8,699 back in July last year. Adjusting the spec to something closer to the Zephyr's brings the price down but only to £8,249, and there are no options to upgrade to titanium components.
Another brand offering titanium frames with cast junctions is J.Guillem. Its Orient has endurance geometry and comes with the same tyre clearance as the Zephyr, and can take full mudguards as well. Using its website to spec a bike with a similar build to the Van Nicholas sees it come in at £6,842. That is with an own brand saddle, as J.Guillem doesn't offer the kind of expensive models that Van Nicholas does. I also found the frame overly stiff when I tested it in 2018, which can become tiring on rough roads.
If you are looking for a performance-orientated road bike that doesn't require a race position to ride, the Zephyr will give you everything you need. Plus, you'll get that excellent comfort and ride quality. Ignore the overall weight, too, as in the real world it is immaterial.
Offers a great balance of speed and comfort for those who don't want an aggressive riding position
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Van Nicholas Zephyr
Size tested: Medium, 537mm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra R8150 Di2, hydraulic discs
Wheelset: FFWD TYRO II with FFWD 1:1 hubs
Tyres: Schwalbe Pro One
Headset: Van Nicholas Titanium
Spacers: Van Nicholas Titanium
Stem: VNT Alloy 7050
Handlebar: VNT Alloy 6066 Wingshape
Bar Tape: Van Nicholas Natural Cork
Seatpost: Van Nicholas Titanium 15mm setback
Seatclamp: Van Nicholas Titanium
Saddle: Selle Italia SLR Boost Kit Carbonio Superflow
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?
Van Nicholas says, "Designed to keep you fresh in the saddle for a full day's competing, this finely poised racer places comfort at the forefront, and delivers exceptional handling and power transfer in the sprint."
The Zephyr is a quick bike, albeit with quite a relaxed riding position.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
The entry price for the Zephyr is £4,655 but you can spec it how you like on Van Nicholas's website.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Exceptional finish throughout, and the transition between the cast sections and the tubes is seamless.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is 3Al/2.5V titanium alloy while the fork is full carbon fibre.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The Zephyr's geometry is very endurance based, with a relatively short top tube but a tall head tube.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The stack is taller than most thanks to the length of the head tube, while the reach is on the short side compared to a road race bike of this size.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It has a firm ride, but that is offset by the natural smoothness of the titanium alloy.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Stiffness is great from a performance point of view, but it hasn't been overdone so comfort is still good.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
There is excellent power transfer through the lower half of the frame.
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? On the lively side of neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling makes the Zephyr a very capable bike in the corners without it feeling so quick or razor sharp that it is a handful to live with.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The saddle is an expensive upgrade, but it is a very comfortable place to sit.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The Tyro wheels offer loads of stiffness for out-of-the-saddle efforts when climbing etc.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Again the wheels bring efficiency thanks to their aero shape.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The latest Ultegra Di2 is a brilliant groupset with quick, precise shifting and loads of braking power.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
A good all-rounder set of wheels that offer an aero advantage alongside durability.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
Supple and fast-rolling tyres that allow you to use the Zephyr to its full potential.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Van Nicholas' own brand finishing kit is good stuff, bolstered here by the upgrade to a titanium seatpost that increases comfort.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Reilly's Fusion is a similar style of bike, although a little more racy in terms of geometry. With an Ultegra Di2 build and deep-section carbon wheels, it came in at £8,699 when we reviewed it.
J.Guillem's Orient comes in at £6,842 with similar upgrades to those we have on the Zephyr, although the saddle is a much lower spec, so you can probably add a couple of hundred quid to that.
Use this box to explain your overall score
This is quite a bling build, which does put the price up, but it's on a par with rivals. And on the plus side the ride quality and riding position give a great balance of speed and comfort, which for me means the Zephyr is worth the investment.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 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,
As part of the Tech Hub here at F-At Digital, our senior product reviewer Stu uses the knowledge gained from putting well over a 1,000 products through their paces (including hundreds of bikes) to write in-depth reviews of a huge range of kit. After first throwing his leg over a race bike back in 2000, Stu's ridden more than 160,000 miles on road, time-trial, track, and gravel bikes, and while he's put his racing days behind him he still likes to smash the pedals rather than take things easy. Although, as he spends a fair bit of his time reviewing ebikes these days he's becoming an expert in letting the motor take the strain. He's also waiting for 23mm race tyres to make a comeback!