Choosing a road bike is a lot like choosing a violin. Think about it: Violins and road bikes all look alike and are used the same way. But to a skilled violinist or cyclist, they differ in certain nuances – in tone, in feel, and in the way they please you. Subtle things, true, but also important.
The $1,985 (without pedals) Masi Team 3V is like a fine Italian-school violin.
OK, the one we tested was a screaming red violin with brilliant yellow decals. It’s sufficiently showy to make a group of school kids yell, “Hey, bitchin’ bike!” But its tone and feel were on par with a nice fiddle all the same. Think of it as a Strad that’s been chrome plated with flames painted on it, but which still sounds as good as when it was brown.
A road racing bike’s feel is determined by a complex combination of factors, including frame geometry, type of tubing and wall thickness, rims, tires – maybe even crankarm stiffness. If all of these things jell, you get a magical bike that makes you feel good. The Masi is like this.
The Team 3V is the latest refinement of a concept that was fairly radical when it emerged in the mid ’80s: oversize, thin-wall steel tubes silver-brazed to the outside of internal lugs. Masi did it before many other steel-bike manufacturers succumbed to the design’s advantage: more stiffness for less weight.
This latest version comes with appropriately classic-yet-exotic Reynolds 753 steel tubing uniquely developed for Masi. Some of the weight saved by the thin tubing is regained in the internal lugs, but absolute minimum frame weight isn’t what the Team 3V is about. Balance between stiffness and liveliness is. The frame’s feel, coupled with seemingly unremarkable geometry (74/73.5-degree head/seat angles), produce a ride so sweet you might just want to walk right past the titanium, carbon fiber, and aluminum sections of your favorite cycling supermarket.
The Team 3V frame and complete bike, however, are relatively heavy. Our sample frame weighed 4.26 pounds without fork, and the whole package was 22.2 pounds without pedals. The Sachs New Success parts are durable, but not feathery. Mind you, the bike doesn’t feel/heavy. If you just ride it and stay away from scales, you’ll never know the difference.
Though it has italian cachet, the Team 3V is made in California from British tubing. A frameset with steel fork costs about $1,000. Sustaining the international theme, a fully equipped 3V comes with a Sachs group and Campagnolo Ergopower brake/shift levers, Modolo handlebar and stem, Campy headset, Selle Italia Turbo saddle, a rather shockingly ugly seatpost (“Whoa, Marv! We gotta cut some cost on this baby!”), and Torelli clincher rims with excellent Vittoria Open Challenge Kevlar tires. Ah, yes, and air pedals. The bad news is you don’t get any; the good news is you can get what you want.
The Sachs drivetrain components are generally good-looking and durable, and the shifting is what it is. Dr. Z and I are fans of Ergopower, but other Bicycling editors aren’t so fond. The way I see it, Ergopower shifting is designed for big, meaty fingers in the heat of battle. Namby-pamby mineral-water sippers should stick to dainty Shimano STI. Of course, STI will be wearing out just as Ergopower is breaking in, but it’s up to you.
My first ride on the Team 3V produced a 30-mile smile, and I kept riding it despite a garage full of tasty test machines. The 3V, or Tre Volumetrica, concept (the liveliness of large-diameter tubes kept from harshness through the miracle of very thin walls) really works. The bike handles in a sprightly way, yet eats buzzy macadam surfaces like a carbon fiber model. In fact, the frame rides more like carbon than it does titanium, steel or aluminum, and that’s a compliment. Hard cornering feels safe and happy, white-line drones are stable and relaxing, and sprints and climbs are energizing and (as Masi’s literature says) “zingy.”
Although this Masi isn’t as light as its frame technology might lead you to expect, it works as well as it looks. It is truly an excellent violin.