This article originally published on BikeRadar
Break down the bicycle tally at any top-level cyclo-cross race and there's more carbon fiber rolling around than in a modern Formula 1 car. Former Danish national champion Joachim Parbo (Challenge Tires), on the other hand, bucks the trend in more ways than one. He's pedaling a steel bike this season and you'd be hard pressed to find a smidgeon of Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo anywhere.
Parbo is hardly averse to carbon fiber and aluminum frames, mind you, having raced them exclusively for nearly ten years. In fact, his last steel frame was a Ritchey Swiss Cross dating from just after the turn of the millennium.
For sure, Parbo's new Cielo Cross Racer is heavier than his previous nonferrous frames and admits that he was at first a little hesitant about switching back. However, the affable Dane says he was quickly reminded about how steel's unique ride quality could yield advantages on the racecourse despite the added heft. In particular, Parbo says the steel frame's subtle give actually works better than a stiffer chassis in the muddy and slippery conditions that he prefers.
"At first when we started to talk about it I was worried that it wouldn’t be fast enough," he said. "I remembered from my Ritchey that it would bite better into the corner than the stiff alloy bike I had at the time. It's a good feel."
Mind you, Parbo's Cielo is still no boat anchor. Thanks to a smattering of ultralight bits from Enve Composites – including the tubular wheels, bar, stem and seatpost – plus TRP's latest Revox Carbon narrow-profile cantilevers, total weight is kept reasonably well in check at 8.50kg (18.74lb).
Save for the SRAM PG-1050 cassette, the build kit is devoid of anything from the big three. Instead, the parts package includes a Rotor 3D+ crankset with elliptical Q-Rings, Microshift Arsis shifters and derailleurs, a Wippermann Black Edi chain, and Exustar pedals. Parbo is rather proud of this fact, too, saying he intentionally sought out lesser-known companies when seeking sponsorship during the off-season. Despite the less-common branding, Parbo insists the components' performance is still very much worthy of top-level competition – especially given that it all rolls on 'Team Edition' Challenge tubulars with their supple all-cotton casings.
"I feel like it's shifting just as precisely as it should and the durability is good as long as you change the cables as often as you need to," he said. "For riding, what I really like about it is the big chunky knob up on the top here. It lets you relax way more."
What isn't up for debate is that the frame is gorgeous. Cielo isn't just some other bike company but rather the offshoot from legendary headset guru Chris King, who resurrected his framebuilding career in 2009 after a long hiatus. Parbo's Cross Racer features oversized and thin-walled butted chromoly tubing and is dressed up with a 44mm-diameter head tube surrounding a tapered steerer, a PressFit 30 bottom bracket shell, and polished stainless steel fittings that are machined in-house.
Parbo is a veteran in attracting attention for both himself and his sponsors so it's no surprise to see an easy-to-spot metallic grey and bright neon yellow paint job. The latter was inspired by the 'Neox' hue of Parbo's long-time brake sponsor, TRP, and it's no coincidence that the Microshift components are colored to match, either.
"I wanted to do something different here," Parbo said. "The Microshift components aren't just the same color as the TRP brakes. They're painted at the TRP factory so it's actually the exact same paint."
The yellows don't just match - they match perfectly. In fact, the Microshift levers are actually shipped to TRP so the same paint can be used
Finishing off the unique look is a full complement of turquoise anodized bits from – of course – Chris King, including the InSet tapered headset, PressFit 30 bottom bracket, and new R45 hubs.
After dealing with injury last year, Parbo says he's once again healthy and ready to hit the barriers. One prime target is regaining his Danish national championship but regardless of how the placings end up, his bike will certainly be easy to pick out from the crowd.