Cyclists are often obsessed with the latest and greatest bikes and components. In fact, that’s the whole reason The Pro’s Closet was born, to give riders a way to sell their old gear so they could move on to the next new thing. But some riders aren’t so easily seduced by the hype of new tech.
One of our Master Techs, Carl Sechrist, epitomizes this. I’ve been smoked by him enough times to say he proves that you don’t need a fancy new bike to ride fast. And the latest addition to his quiver is a bike that most of the carbon-obsessed velominati wouldn’t give a second glance: a Cielo Sportif Classic. After he dropped me at a recent race, I had to learn more about this humble steel bike, and why Carl chose it over something more modern.
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What is the Cielo Sportif Classic?
Based on the name, I’d wrongfully assumed that Cielo was some small Italian brand, but Carl quickly corrected me.
“They’re made by Chris King!” Carl explained. “He actually started out building frames.”
Chris King, of course, is better known for his headsets, bottom brackets, and hubs. But before he made components, he started Cielo in Santa Barbara, California in 1978. If you’re wondering what “Cielo” means, it comes from “Camino Cielo” which means “Sky’s Pathway”, a narrow road that runs along the top of a ridge in the Santa Ynez mountains behind Santa Barbara. King made Cielo bikes until the mid-1980s when Chris King headsets became so popular that he had to stop framebuilding to keep up with demand.
The headset that made Chris King famous, in the desirable mango color.
Eventually, King moved to Portland, Oregon in 2003, and after growing his business and settling into a large manufacturing facility, he was able to reboot the Cielo brand in 2008. Similar to his approach to components, his bikes were known for a meticulous aesthetic and hand-made feel that appealed to the most discerning customers (like Carl). Unfortunately, Cielo ceased production in late 2017 so Chris King could refocus on its core products.
Carl’s bike is from Cielo's “Sportif Classic” range and he purchased it directly from TPC.
“It just happened to pass by my bench while I was service writing,” he said. “I saw it and knew I wanted it. I took a few measurements to make sure it was the right size. And then I just had to wait for it to get listed.”
He was unable to confirm the year, but based on the drivetrain, he believes it was built between 2010-2014. When new, Sportif Classic frames retailed for $1,895.
Steel is real and rim brakes aren’t dead
Carl is young and fit, and a former collegiate racer. He’s definitely not the type you’d expect to see riding an older, 22-pound steel road bike. But as he pivoted away from racing, he realized he was looking for a different sort of road riding experience.
“After I got done with college, I sold my [Giant] TCR,” he explained. “I wasn’t looking for your standard all-out carbon race bike. Those bikes focus so much on stiffness and lightweight that they get a little bit jarring over the truly rough stuff, even with big tires. I wanted a road bike that felt both smooth and fast. It could hop into the occasional crit race or a road race and hold on. But in Boulder, we also have all these really great dirt roads, so I wanted something capable and comfortable enough to explore those roads as well.
“The Cielo just rides really well. Being a steel bike, everything's nice and stout feeling. It doesn’t accelerate like a carbon race bike, but it’s not slow either. Plus it looks really good and it’s super comfortable. For longer days where I just want to crush miles and get a lot of time in the saddle, it’s perfect. And whenever I feel a bit adventurous I can roll onto any of the dirt roads out here. That sort of versatility was one of the things that drew me to the Sportif Classic. It has long-reach brakes so I've got 30mm tires on it now and I think I could probably squeeze up to 33mm.”
With the mention of the long-reach brake calipers, I had to ask Carl what he thought about riding rim brakes in 2022.
“Disc brakes are definitely better,” he said. (Rim brake fans are heartbroken, I’m sure.) “The rim brake calipers I have do seem to have a good initial bite, but they definitely die off. Like, you don't have that continuous power you get with hydraulic disc brakes.”
Despite the power and fade disadvantages, Carl does recognize that the simpler rim brake design has some benefits.
“I hopped into the Boulder Roubaix a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “I made it five miles before getting crashed out. The way the bike landed, it broke the right shifter. It was so cheap and easy to replace the shifter. I tore the bar tape off, tossed a new shifter on, and rerouted cables. It was ready to go again in about half an hour.
“And I never once worried about the frame. I was kind of worried right after the crash that maybe it scratched the paint, but that’s it. Even a dent wouldn’t be a problem because it’s steel.”
What got upgraded?
“I basically stripped the Cielo to the frame and swapped just about everything,” he said. As one of our Master Techs, Carl definitely knows his way around a bike. “The bike came with a Campagnolo Record 10-speed group. I had this SRAM Force 10-speed group [with an X9 derailleur] from my old bike so I just swapped that on. I'm not a huge Campy fan. I just don’t like the way it shifts and I hate the thumb shifter.
“The brake calipers are Velo Orange Grand Cru calipers. The bike came with some basic Tektros that actually worked great, so the change was mostly for aesthetics. Sully (a former pro and TPC’s resident steel bike expert) pointed them out to me so that was kind of the impetus for that. Afterward, I decided I needed something a little bit flashier.
Carl had to keep the matching Chris King hubs.
“The only parts left on the frame from when I bought it are the wheels, headset, and saddle. The wheels are actually great. They’re Velocity A23s laced to Chris King mango orange hubs which match the headset. They’re pretty wide, especially for rim brakes. I can't really get the calibers much wider actually. That helps a bit with the stopping power for sure. It puts the caliper in a nice position. I kept the saddle because I found that I actually like it.”
Is the Cielo a forever bike?
Carl has owned his Cielo Sportif Classic for a few months now. But how many more months does he plan to keep it?
“Even the nicest new bikes aren’t entirely future-proof,” he said. “They become outdated so fast. I like having the Cielo because it’s just so simple and so versatile. It just is what it is right now. It's not trying to be the most modern thing. It doesn't have integrated anything. I think, for me, that's a good thing. It's kind of timeless and easy to work on. I can keep using it indefinitely. The only limiting factor is if it starts becoming really hard to find quick-release road components. But I think those parts will be around for a really long time.
“Someday, I would like to do a full drivetrain upgrade (again). I want to make the drivetrain more modern with some AXS components. But of course, it has to be rim brake AXS which is a bit of a rare bird. The nice thing about the Chris King hubs is I can just convert them to run the SRAM XDR freehub.
“So, I think we can classify it as a ‘forever’ bike, sure,” he said. “I’ll continue to ride and update it, as long as I still want to put money into it and don't get bored of it. I definitely foresee myself keeping it for at least another two or three years. In my world that's forever!”
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