Rondo is the latest project of Szymon Kobylinski. He started NS Bikes about 15 years ago on the basis that he couldn’t find the sort of bikes he wanted to ride in his native Poland (Kobylinski raced mountain bike downhill at a high level). The brand is still going today and its gravity, freeride and jump bikes are highly regarded.
In recent years, Kobylinski has put away his full-face helmet and body armour and taken up road and cyclocross, which has led to his latest venture: Rondo bikes. According to the Rondo website, it was started ‘because we wanted to change the way drop-bar bikes are perceived, by both roadies and mountain bikers’.
Rondo’s first bike was the RUUT, a gravel machine with ‘vario geometry’ (a system of oval inserts in the fork that can be flipped around to alter the bike’s effective geometry). And, while it was versatile enough to cover the gravel, adventure and cyclocross bases, Kobylinski wanted something that could also handle fast road rides while retaining the RUUT’s off-road chops. That led to the creation of Rondo’s newest bike: the HVRT CF0, which stands for high velocity, rough terrain. The CF0 suffix refers to the bike’s frame material: carbon fibre (it joins the steel-framed HVRT ST and HVRT AL, which is made from aluminium).
Kobylinski is at pains to point out that the HVRT isn’t simply a gravel bike with aero elements. “It’s a road bike,” he says. “A unique one, but still a road bike. It can take big tyres and occasionally ride gravel road segments. But it’s not a gravel bike or any other kind of off-road bike. The HVRT puts the rider in a more aggressive position, the frame is stiffer and more responsive. You can really feel the difference, especially when compared to a bike set up on the same wheelset.” And the wheels are a key element, because you can run the HVRT with either road 700c or off-road 650b wheels.
I’ve been following the development of the HVRT CF0 since August 2017 when we saw an early prototype while visiting Rondo HQ in Poland. We’d been pestering them ever since to get a ride on it as soon as we could and finally, late last year, Kobylinski got in touch to say the first production bikes were on their way. So we hatched a plan to meet in Cyprus for some off-season riding (you’ll note we photographed this bike in the green Somerset countryside, not on the aforementioned island in the Eastern Med). Cyprus was picked because it has a wide variety of terrain with an epic network of roads and gravel trails. Routes and rides were planned that would allow me to put the full versatility of the HVRT CF0 to the test. First we’d head out on the HVRT in high-axle ‘race’ trim (700c carbon wheels and 25mm tyres) for a long road ride; the next day we’d switch in the 650b hoops with 47mm tyres for a four-hour gravel grind; then for the last couple of days we’d swap to the low-axle, ‘relaxed’ geometry.
At first glance, the HVRT looks like one of the current crop of aero bikes with blended frame junctions and truncated aerofoil ‘Kamm tail’ tubes. It also has dropped rear seatstays that taper down to a point behind the rear axle before kinking back in with an ‘ankle’, acting like a spring to add some compliance into the back end of the bike.
Where it differs from a typical aero bike is the tyre clearances, which are big enough for 30mm tyres on 700c wheels and 47mm tyres on 650 wheels, which makes for a level of comfort you wouldn’t normally expect from such an aero design. The aero seatpost also has a trick up its sleeve: that slot you can see in it is there so that a rear light can be fitted securely and easily.
The fork’s crown is neatly integrated into the down tube for smoother airflow and the brake hose runs internally down to a flat-mount for the disc calliper. The front brake calliper is shrouded by an aero fairing - we’ve no idea if this has any actual benefit but it looks damn cool. Of course, the fork’s main feature is Rondo’s ‘Twin-Tip’ dropouts that enable the bike’s vario geometry; running the tips in the high position give the HVRT a racier geometry while the lower, longer position makes it more relaxed and stable.
Our first ride with the HVRT follows a route from the coast into the hills inland of Larnaca and then over a few challenging climbs before a long, technical descent leading into a flat, fast run back to the sea. The first two and a half hours are, for the most part, uphill, with the highlight being what the locals refer to as ‘the rollercoaster’ – a sinewy ribbon of smooth tarmac that rises and falls through a high-sided valley, with plenty of switchback corners and short, sharp descents.
The HVRT in its high-axle, ‘race’ trim is in its element on this route. Our 59cm test bike has a stack just shy of 600mm, a long 407mm reach, a steep 73.8° head angle, a 73.3° seat angle and 45mm of fork offset, all of which make it a great companion for this type of terrain. The chassis responds to our pedal and steering inputs with impressive immediacy, which makes threading it through the rollercoaster a highlight of this trip. As the average gradient increases, the HVRT’s rigidity ensures all of our efforts count.
We’re riding with a group and whenever we sit in and grind away on the bike’s lowest 36 x 28 gear, the comfort afforded by its clever rear end and classy Fabric ALM Ultimate saddle is very welcome. The climbs also give
us a chance to consider the wheels, an impressive collaboration between Rondo and British wheel brand Hunt. The 50mm-deep carbon rim (with a wide 21mm internal width) they’ve come up with doesn’t feel like the sort of wheel that should work on climbs. But the 1,487g combined weight is pretty much class-leading and they respond as well as wheels half their depth.
When our group reaches the highest point on the ride, we enjoy a welcome café stop, during which our guide Kyriacos, a Cypriot XC MTB champion and self-confessed climbing addict, tells us the next chunk of our ride is fast and downhill with plenty of tight turns. As we’ve taken a turn back towards the coast, the wind has picked up, so this is going to be a decent test for an aero bike with deep carbon wheels.
The first few kilometres are full of hairpins. The Dura-Ace disc brakes with their Icetech rotors get a big workout here and, just as the HVRT handles with pinpoint accuracy, the hydraulic brakes offer a similar level of control. The Hunt wheels cope well with gusting crosswinds, never snapping or jarring sideways but only ever succumbing to them with a feeling of sideways pressure that’s easy to counter. At the base of the descent we’re still about an hour away from home. The route from here is mostly flat and gently downhill but we’re running out of daylight so our group forms into a chain gang and we take turns pulling to keep the average speed close to 45km/h. During this final stretch, the HVRT feels every inch the race bike that Kobylinski intended it to be, and when we arrive back we’re surprised that a bike that’s as versatile as this hasn’t once felt compromised.
Gravel triathlons could be the next big thing so for the second day’s ride, we switch the 50mm-deep 700c carbon Hunt wheels for a set of alloy 650b wheels with balloon-like 47mm WTB Horizon tyres to see how it would handle the gravel trails of Cyprus. Our group heads out on the same bearing as the previous day but takes a gravel trail that leads off the rollercoaster road up to a monastery. And it’s here, on the red, loose, rocky dirt that we’re expecting the HVRT to feel out of place.
A dedicated gravel bike may be better for comfort, but the HVRT is thrilling to ride on trails like this. With big-volume tyres absorbing the worst of the trail’s imperfection, we find ourselves paying far more attention to our lines than we would on, say, our Cannondale Slate or Kinesis Tripster ATR, both of which are equipped with suspension. It’s
very much like the difference between riding a full-suspension mountain bike and a hardtail – both are fun to ride, but in different ways.
At the top of the gravel climb we decide to head back using the tarmac road. On the descent, the fat, slick tyres provide grip that’s out of this world and their wide, round shape lets us achieve some seriously steep lean angles through the corners. The descent is faster and more technical than anything we’ve ridden so far. Midway down, the Dura-Ace brakes are getting a little noisy but our confidence in the grip makes us keep pushing until our Garmin logs 88km/h – not bad on 47mm tyres!
At the bottom of the descent, we face a flat section where the 47mm tyres don’t feel as slow as we thought they would and it’s only on the brief climbs where the 650b wheels feel slower than their 700c counterparts.
TAKING IT EASY
The third day’s ride is due to be long but not as fast, so we switch the HVRT into its low-axle set-up. In this guise, the stack rises to 605mm, the reach reduces to 400mm, the head angle relaxes to 73°, the seat angle drops to 72° and the fork offset becomes 40mm.
On paper, the differences seem small but the effect on the road is noticeable. Whereas the high-axle set-up gives the HVRT fast, nimble handling, in this low position it feels much more stable. The differences may amount to a few millimetres but the end result is a bike that’s more of a cruiser than a speedster. That’s not to say the two set-ups are worlds apart – in this low position the HVRT is still more aggressive than most endurance bikes (the Cannondale Synapse has a 610mm stack and 393mm reach).
For our final day’s ride we try the ‘road+’ set-up (low-axle and 650b tyres), as we’re intending to spend the three hours on the bike doing a spot of sightseeing. In this guise, the HVRT is a different beast again with a ride feel so far removed from the first day’s experience it’s hard to believe it’s the same chassis.
What becomes clear from all this is that to get the full versatility out of the HVRT, you need a second set of wheels. To help with that, Rondo gives HVRT buyers a discount voucher with their wheel partners Hunt, so you can save 15% on the alloy hoops seen here (dropping them from £319 to £271.15).
THREE BIKES IN ONE
Since testing the HVRT in Cyprus we’ve shipped it back home and have been experimenting with it on more familiar roads. Even without the dramatic terrain and sunny weather, it’s still a hugely impressive machine, one that does a decent job of being three bikes in one: a fast aero bike, an endurance bike and a gravel bike. Yes, at over six and a half grand (when you factor in the second set of wheels) the HVRT CF0 is expensive, but you’re getting a lightweight, aero road bike, equipped with Dura-Ace and range-topping components from the likes of Fabric and Easton, not to mention excellent wheels and all that versatility.
Before riding the HVRT, we’d have argued that 3T’s Exploro offers a similar level of versatility at a significantly lower price – £4,200 (when built with SRAM’s Force 1). But the Exploro is much more biased towards gravel (as the 1x drivetrain and its 650b wheelset spec suggests). The HVRT is a road bike at heart but one that, with a few slight alterations, can be made to handle almost any terrain superbly. If we had to take one bike on a riding holiday or training camp, it’d be the HVRT. Or God forbid, if we only had room for one bike in our life, it’d be hard not to choose the HVRT.