Tech Brief – Masi for 2010

We take a close look at an affordable Workhorse Racer, the Masi 3VC 105.
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By now, many of you have thumbed through the 2010 VeloNews Buyer’s Guide, delivered to your mailbox about a month ago. If you didn’t get one in the mail, it will be available on newsstands for another month or so.

In the Buyer’s Guide we tried to round up as many sweet bikes as we could possibly fit, but limitations in space forced us to cut a few great bikes from the long list. One, the Tommaso Superleggera, was featured on VeloNews.com last month. It’s a bike that easily would have made our “Workhorse Racer” category in print, with terrific spec’ at a great price.

Another Workhorse Racer we had to pass over was the Masi 3VC 105, so now we’re circling back for a close look at this budget-friendly racer. With a suggested price of just $2340 for this all-carbon ride that sports the features of much more expensive models.

Built to be fast from the frame up

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The 3VC 105 uses the exact same high modulus carbon frame as the more expensive, $7600 Team Issue bike. The pricey flagship model sports a SRAM Red group and Zipp 404 wheels, but in dropping over five grand from the sticker price, the 3VC 105 sees only a change in the fork and parts kit.

Brand manager Tim Jackson at Masi pointed out that the rider of Masi’s least costly carbon bike is getting the performance characteristics of his brand’s pro-level model. He explained, “We don’t change the carbon, we don’t change the layup, we don’t change anything about the frame between the various levels.” Jackson pointed out that in addition to being a great deal initially, it’s a bike that’s well suited to being upgraded at some point in the future.

Speaking of that carbon frame, Jackson explained that the construction is a hybrid of two popular methods for building carbon fiber bikes. “Our frames are modular monocoque, meaning the front triangle is one piece for lightness and stiffness, but the back half is lugged and bonded,” he said.

Building frame segments separately allows Masi engineers to tune the frame’s ride and performance for each bike size.

“Let’s face it, the 48cm frame size does not require the same stiffness in the stays as the 61cm frame I ride requires,” Jackson pointed out.

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The seatstays, which as noted are tuned to suit a given frame size, also arch away from the seat tube. Jackson says that this design element improves braking power by eliminating forward flex in the stays under braking. Jackson also said, “This feature also acts a little like a ‘lever’ to help minimize rear wheel skip by keeping the stays from flexing too much.” He explained that carbon frames have a natural tendency to have a bit of rear wheel skip, either from being too rigid or too springy, and the arced stays are designed to help keep the rear wheel more firmly planted.

Masi sponsors the Kenda Pro Cycling Team, and Jackson says the riders are happy with their 3VC Team Issue bikes, which use the same frame as the 3VC 105. The team has a range of riders including crit sprinters and stage race GC contenders. “Again, I’m pretty widely known for being passionate and biased about our bikes, but the 3VC really does ride well with a great balance of being a crit machine thanks to the stiffness of the rear end and being comfortable for all day, every day riding like a stage racer,” said Jackson.

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Spec’ highlights include the Shimano 105 shifters and derailluers, blended with Truvative Elita C2.2 cranks and Shimano R500 wheels. And while it won’t win any weight wars at about 18 pounds, the Masi 3VC 105 won’t lighten your wallet to the degree that many carbon bikes will.

A legendary brand in a modern era

In a landscape dominated by big brands like Trek, Specialized, and Giant, Masi is one of those little companies that everyone has heard of, but few know exactly why. But not too long ago, a Masi was considered to be among the best bikes available.

Masi’s origin story is similar to that of so many small Italian builders that rose to fame in the heyday of “old school” European racing in the sixties and seventies. Nearly 70 years ago Faliero Masi began building frames while he was still racing in Italy and was soon making frames for other riders. He developed a reputation for his meticulous work, earning the nickname “The Tailor.”

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Jackson says that years later Masi was making frames for riders like Fausto Coppi, Luison Bobet, Jacques Anquetil and even Eddy Merckx, although their bikes had often been painted with a different name on the frame. He adds that many of the Masi frames that came out of the Milano workshop became legends in cycling and earned great respect. And in the late `60s and early `70s, Masi was considered one of the top brands in the world and had won many fans in the U.S.

With help from an American partner, Faliero Masi founded Masi USA in 1973, also bringing a master builder from Italy to help establish the same level of craftsmanship as that found across the Atlantic. He also worked with some of the greatest names in US frame making history- Albert Eisentraut, Brian Baylis, Moulton and others – to establish a consistently high bar for Masi USA. Eventually Masi returned to Italy and left Masi USA to sink or swim on its own. Over time, Masi USA went on to build bikes for world and Olympic champions, bolstering the brand’s reputation.

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Without a doubt, the Masi USA of 2010 is a different animal. The company was quiet through the 1980s and `90s, but never disappeared completely. Under the new ownership of Haro Bicycles since 2004, Masi has expanded and grown to offer a more rounded range of bikes for the road market. In addition to the flagship carbon models, Masi builds aluminum racers, urban commuters, cruisers, classic steel brevet-style frames, and fully six fixies for the inner-city hipster set.

But with an extensive and storied past, Masi USA is still trying to remain true to the Masi name of old.

“The brand is still fully committed to race bikes, as well as making more affordable bikes. And we’re still very much committed to how those bikes ride.” Jackson said, “It’s is no exaggeration that we have worked very hard to preserve the brand’s great history and legacy by designing bikes that we are very proud to put the Masi headbadge on.”