Artisans: Rolo, Luxembourg’s custom build perfectionists
It may be small, with a population of well below a million, but when it comes to road cycling, Luxembourg punches well above its diminutive size.
François Faber, winner of the 1909 Tour de France and a dominant force in the ‘heroic era’ until his untimely death at the Battle of Artois in 1915, placed the Grand Duchy on the cycling map. His legacy was carried forward by Nicolas Frantz, a double Tour winner between the wars and he, in turn, handed the baton to Charley Gaul, the ‘murderous climber’.
Elsy Jacobs won the inaugural Women’s World Championship in the late fifties and in more recent years the Schleck brothers have regularly peppered the GC standings, with Bob Jungels the star of the current crop of young riders.
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An illustrious tradition, yet it took over a century for Luxembourg to spawn a bike manufacturer to match the calibre and panache of its famous riders. Founded in 2011, Rolo Bikes may be a Luxembourg-based company, but it is a truly international brand. Founded by Adam Wais, a former American diplomat who spent part of his childhood in the country, and, Anders Annerstedt, a Swedish architect, Rolo frames are made in Germany and the bikes assembled in Sweden. The clientele is suitably global – even John Kerry, former US Secretary of State, is an ardent fan.
Rolo was born out of the frustration Wais and Annerstedt shared when pondering the relative merits of innumerable spectrum of bikes on the market: “I could not figure out which bike to buy or even how to decide how to choose one”, recalls Wais. Rolo’s raison d’être was ambitious: to produce ‘the best fitting, best handling and highest performing road racing bicycles’.
Such an aim might raise a few eyebrows in the R&D departments of established, high-end brands, but as the provenance of the Rolo name suggests, this is a marque intent on upsetting the natural order. Rollo was a Norse warrior who strode south and claimed Normandy as his own, paying scant regard to heritage and reputation.
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Rolo utilises cutting edge innovation and engineering and it would take a formidable opponent to challenge Wais’persuasive argument as to why one of his frames, fitted with complimentary lightweight, quality components, is going to deliver the ultimate ride experience. “We believe that there is a hierarchy of importance in making a bike: fit, handling, power transfer and ability to dampen vibration – in that order.
For Wais, the fit is the key and he argues that the industry standard way of measuring a frame, from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube, is inadequate. Rolo have chosen to concentrate on the stack to reach ratio and Wais magnanimously acknowledges the debt to the Canadian brand, Cervélo, for their defining work in this area. (The ‘stack’ is the vertical measurement from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top middle point of the head tube and the ‘reach’ is the horizontal distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top middle point of the head tube).
As any decent builder will tell you, get the foundations perfect and the consequent build will be far less problematic and far more satisfactory. Rolo’s extensive research found that a stack to reach ratio of 1.5:1 provided the optimum fit and the greater the deviation from that figure, the more negative the impact on the handling and performance.
For this reason, Rolo have endeavoured to keep the stack to reach ratio consistent over all frame sizes, to ensure the position on the bike is not too aggressive (as favoured by some pro riders) and not too upright and relaxed.
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Wais is particularly proud of the fact that Rolo frames benefit smaller riders: “Pretty much all small frames on the market offer what I believe to be terrible fit because they have very steep seat tubes, meaning the rider is too far forward relative to the bottom bracket and cannot reach the ground when on the saddle, whilst also having very slack head tubes giving them deeply flawed handling.”
The result is that smaller riders are invariably in a far too aggressive position, which might be aerodynamic, but is not comfortable over prolonged distances. “The effect of our geometry is that the shorter rider will be positioned on the bike the same way as the tall rider, and the smaller bike will handle almost identically.” Few brands can confidently claim such consistency of performance and handling over the entire range of sizes
Achieving the optimum fit is just the starting point: Rolo offer their customers three standard carbon lay-ups, the Arabian, Hackney and Shire– equine-inspired classifications that relate to differing levels of weight and stiffness, but their ‘Ridertuned’service allows customer to tweak the carbon lay-up to suit their personal needs.
So whether you are a 60 kilo whippet who wants to fly up a 25% gradient or a powerful crit rider after explosive acceleration and top end speed, your monocoque frame can be manufactured to your exacting demands. Andy Schleck, an enthusiastic promoter and ambassador for Rolo, was after a light frame, but wanted just a touch more lateral stiffness in the head tube due to the high speeds he reaches on descents.
“Even the climbers have to come down the mountain at some point,” explains Wais and from experience, he is happy to compromise on weight in favour of increased stiffness: “I believe – perhaps wrongly – that trading 80g or more in the frame mass will translate into many more hours of pleasure on the bike with faster times. That is the point after all, isn’t it?”
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Rolo customers share that sentiment, drawn by the promise of comfort and performance combined with unrivalled customisation. “From our point of view, our customers should be able to have the bike they want, with the components they want.”
And for that final flourish Rolo offer a personal, unique paint scheme to their clients: “We have never painted two bikes the same.” The ultimate bespoke bike? Possibly, but one thing is for sure, Luxembourg can now boast a bike brand to rival the very best on the international stage.
Rolo will be exhibiting at the Rouleur Classic on Nov 1-3
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