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Van Dessel's new Aloominator proves that aluminum can still hold a candle to 'cross when it comes to racing
Light, fast, and made in USA
This article originally published on BikeRadar
Van Dessel's all-new Aloominator is a prime example of how alloy frames can still compete with carbon fiber on a cyclo-cross course. The lightweight chassis has a snappy feel and superb handling, it's impressively smooth and comfortable, and it's made in the United States with beautiful fit-and-finish to match. It's far from the cheapest aluminum frame option out there but you get what you pay for as it's also one of the nicest production ones we've encountered.
Ride and handling: Quick and comfy with fantastic geometry
We've praised Van Dessel 'cross bikes in the past for their fantastic handling and the Aloominator certainly continues the trend with its thoroughly new-school geometry that includes a low bottom bracket (70mm of drop on our 52cm sample), very short chain stays, and a relatively relaxed 71.5-degree head tube angle.
As a result, the Aloominator may not be the quickest bike we've ridden in terms of initial turn-in on twisty courses and might not suit riders that prefer more of a road racing-like personality. The upside, though, is that it's gloriously stable and inspires confidence even when the ground conditions don't. Other chassis may offer more of a point-and-shoot feel but in our opinion, the slightly more relaxed demeanor is a small price to pay for the ability to happily two-wheel-drift through corners.
After all, the fastest rider at the end of the hour is oftentimes the one that's best able to stay upright.
Handling confidence also comes about from a torsionally stiff and predictable front end, which we haven't always found with previous Van Dessel aluminum 'cross frames. The Aloominator, however, is built with big and burly main tubes that are able to take full advantage of the smart geometry. The front triangle feels impressively precise and solid when muscling the bars or charging through bumpy sections of a racecourse. That matching Easton EC90 XD fork's massive dimensions don't offer much flex per se but its large-diameter, thinwalled construction damps vibration well and is rock-solid under hard braking.
One trait that we're happy to see carried over from Van Dessel's cult-favorite Gin & Trombones to the new Aloominator is the fantastic rear-end comfort. Especially as compared to many carbon frames, the Aloominator's stays are certainly on the small side but the built-in flex pays real dividends any time the track is anything but buttery smooth. One race in particular was a fresh course routed over notoriously bumpy Colorado prairie and while we wouldn't call the ride quality magic carpet-like, we were definitely able to stay seated and continue putting the power down better than we expected.
That being said, the rear end of the Aloominator is still a little soft under power, especially when compared to top-end carbon bikes. It doesn't leap forward with the slightest jab at the pedals so much as it gradually builds a head of steam. As such, we found it more effective to maintain a high cadence and spin things up rather than try to churn over a huge gear.
We unfortunately didn't have the opportunity to race the Aloominator in heavy mud although for the most part, we expect that it would fare reasonably well. Clearance through the stays is good but riders running bigger tires might find the clearance behind the seat tube to be rather tight. Unfortunately, it's a bit more worrisome up front. The Easton fork may be huge but strangely, the bottom of the crown tracks the tire tread much more closely than we'd prefer.
Weight is one area where the Aloominator can't quite keep pace with carbon fiber although in fairness, it isn't far off the mark, either – plus it's nearly 200g lighter than the aluminum-and-carbon Gin & Trombones. Our 52cm test sample came in at 1,340g including the rear derailleur hanger and seatpost collar – just 150g heavier than the Specialized CruX Pro Race Red Disc we tested earlier this season.
The accompanying Easton fork adds another 480g but that's a deceptively high figure given the unusually heavy steerer tube. We lopped off about 100mm – and took off a significant 50g in the process.
That slight weight penalty becomes even less significant with a careful build, too. While Van Dessel offers the Aloominator in a staggering twelve complete bike configurations (including SRAM, Shimano, and Campagnolo options), we went with a bare frameset and a custom package. As pictured with a SRAM Red 2012 group, FSA SL-K cranks, HED Ardennes Plus FR disc wheels, TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes, and various finishing kit from Ritchey, Enve Composites, Bontrager, and Clement, the total weight came out to a very competitive 7.77kg (17.13lb) without pedals.
Frame: Handmade in the USA with fit-and-finish quality to match
The Aloominator doesn't break any new ground in terms of frame design but its tried-and-true formula certainly works well. The down tube measures an enormous 50mm in diameter from end to end while the seat tube starts out at a similarly healthy 35mm across down by the PF30 bottom bracket shell before necking down in size up top to accommodate a standard 27.2mm seatpost. As is common for alloy 'cross frames, the top tube is slightly flattened to ease the pain of shouldering.
Out back, the Aloominator uses 25mm-tall chain stays that taper down to about half that by the time they reach the CNC-machined, hooded dropouts while the seat stays are 15mm wide throughout their length. A short length of the driveside chain stay is replaced with a solid section of machined aluminum that has enough clearance for a 44-tooth chainring.
A short machined section on the driveside chain stay creates better clearance for the tire and chainrings
While Van Dessel had previously outsourced its production overseas, the Aloominator marks a new direction for the company that now seeks to keep manufacturing on US soil (at least for aluminum frames). The folks at Portland-based Zen Bicycle Fabrication build the Aloominator with US-sourced 6061 butted aluminum tubing and it's certainly a step up from the mass manufacturing norm in terms of finish work.
Our test frame arrived with a bottom bracket shell and head tube that were both perfectly bored and faced post-welding – key elements to creating a durable and creak-free fit with the corresponding bearing cups, not to mention good bearing life, and a rare feature for a production frame of any material. Weld quality looks very good, and all of the associated fittings (dropouts, disc tabs, etc.) are exceptionally well made – including the machined and red-anodized replaceable rear derailleur hanger.
Going along with the function-over-form construction is a distinctly businesslike aesthetic that plays well to the bike's workhorse intentions – and drew near-universal praise from onlookers. Instead of paint, the frame is first sandblasted and then anodized, which not only lends a durable finish that should hold up well to repeated power washing but also creates a remarkably grippy surface that's ideal for running barriers. To finish off the stealthy look, the down tube logo is masked off before media blasting to lend a bit of contrast.
And if you prefer rim brakes, keep in mind that Van Dessel also offers the Aloominator with traditional cantilever studs, 130mm rear hub spacing, and an Enve Composites fork instead of the Easton unit.
All in all, Van Dessel has created quite a compelling package here, at least in terms of performance. The Aloominator rides and races well, it's well built, and its finish should last for multiple seasons of hard use. Budget-minded privateers might still find the US$1,599 asking price for the frame, fork, and headset to be a bit high (especially when you consider that major label options like the Trek Crockett cost roughly half that) but as compared to other frames of similar quality, the cost seems more than fair.
Price: US$1,599 (frame, fork, and headset)
Weight: 1,340g (52cm disc-compatible frame only with rear derailleur hanger and seatpost collar); 480g (Easton EC90 XD fork with uncut steerer)
Pros: Fantastic handling, comfortable ride, great build quality, durable finish
Cons: Somewhat expensive, not the most efficient under power
BikeRadar verdict: 4 stars
More information: www.vandesselsports.com
Complete bicycle specifications
Frame: Van Dessel Aloominator
Available sizes: 48, 52 (tested), 54, 56, 58, 62cm
Fork: Easton EC90 XD
Stem: Bontrager Race XXX Lite
Handlebars: Enve Composites Standard
Tape/grips: Bontrager Gel Grip
Front brake: TRP Spyre, 160mm rotor
Rear brake: TRP Spyre, 140mm rotor
Brake levers: SRAM Red 2012 DoubleTap
Front derailleur: SRAM Red 2012
Rear derailleur: SRAM Red 2012
Shift levers: SRAM Red 2012 DoubleTap
Cassette: SRAM PG-1070, 11-26
Chain: SRAM PC-1090
Crankset: FSA SL-K BB30, 46/36T
Bottom bracket: Wheels Manufacturing PressFit 30 w/ angular contact bearings
Pedals: Ritchey WCS Paradigm
Wheelset: HED Ardennes Plus FR Disc
Front tire: Clement PDX clincher, 700x33mm
Rear tire: Clement LAS clincher, 700x33mm
Saddle: Ritchey WCS Vector Evo Contrail
Seat post: Ritchey WCS Carbon FlexLogic Link