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Cinelli Zydeco

Review: Cinelli Zydeco

Elaine Bothe's picture

Right Out of the Box

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Cinelli makes cyclocross bikes? Surprise! The Zydeco frameset is the first, and so far, the only dirt-oriented option in the entire Cinelli range. Introduced for the 2011 season, the Zydeco looks to be unchanged for 2012. Perhaps the diehard Cinelli fans wanted something to ride on gravel roads so they wouldn’t muck up their nice road bikes…

Regardless of why they got there, Cinelli assembled a set of Columbus zonal triple butted aluminum tubing and carbon fiber-bladed fork into a very handsome frame. A slender oval top tube makes for comfortable carrying and easy suitcase grabs. The welds are smooth and the balance of thick and thin tubes create an elegant but strong looking profile.

The Zydeco is available only as a frameset here in the United States, so you can build it as nice as you want. Full bike models in Italy appear to be a Shimano 105 setup, with Fulcrum 5 race wheels. Our tester came with a combination of SRAM Rival and Force, Fulcrum 3 Race wheels, a Cinelli branded seat, stem, seatpost and handlebars, and brakes from Cane Creek, the SCX-5. Even the bar tape is Cinelli branded.

Ease of Assembly

This Cinelli Zydeco came to us already built up as a demo bike, with some scuffs and wear from some apparent lovin’. A little maintenance was needed to get us going, but we got a good idea of what this bike is all about.

Bling Factor

The Cinelli Zydeco is certainly a good looking bike. The paint is mostly white, with silver and red accents. The silver appears in a clean break at the rear of the bike and makes the bike look lighter than bikes with the usual white/red/black schemes. The plentiful Cinelli logos even match the silver paint for a pulled-together sporty look.

The beefy down tube is a real eye catcher: the unusual section is designed for strength and stiffness. It looks like Cinelli mated an aero tube with a hexagon one. Draw a very narrow egg shape, and then cut off the top and ease the edges, that’s what the section would look like. From the side it looks very aerodynamic, as it’s thicker than most ‘cross down tubes and creates a roomy billboard for a really big “Cinelli” logo for all the world to see.

Road Test Ride

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Climbing The road test for this bike is our local Mt Tabor circuit as well as local roads and hills. Climbing opportunities are plentiful, as are descents and corners. For the road test I swapped out the Fulcrum wheels/Hutchinson Bulldog rear and Piranha front tires for a set of Easton Vista SLs with Vittoria Rubino Pros. Thusly shod, the Cineli Zydeco proceeds upward well enough, though not exactly sprightly. For lots of road duty, this is a heavy setup for steep or sustained climbs. The 46/38 gearing on our test bike, for me, felt taller than it actually was. Lighter wheels and tires would certainly improve the climbing characteristics on the road.

Cornering

The Zydeco feels very predictable and stable due to its long wheelbase and relaxed seat tube angle, especially in big sweeping corners. Initial turn in is a little slow, but the Zydeco holds a line nicely. Isolated tight corners are solid as well, though extremely sharp corners, especially in a slalom-like sequence, are slow to execute.

Handling

Bumps and undulations in the road did not rattle the aluminum Zydeco one bit, uphill or down. Even gravel roads with the semi-slick Rubino Pro tires felt positive. However we felt an odd reluctance to move side to side on pavement when sprinting and climbing while standing, however, possibly due to the long wheelbase.

Ride Feel

The Cinelli Zydeco is comfortable! The all-aluminum frame lets you know what you’re riding over and the carbon fiber fork helps keep bumps and vibrations from getting annoying. The relaxed seat tube makes for an upright sitting position, though compromises pedaling power. I slammed the seat as far forward on the rails as it would go.

The stock Cinelli saddle is sleek and lovely but sadistically narrow: after one short trial ride this female reviewer immediately swapped it out for something more suitable.

Dirt Test Ride

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Climbing

The Cinelli Zydeco climbs much better on the dirt than it does on the road, especially if there are roots and rocks to negotiate. The long wheelbase and grippy tires provide great traction. On our dirt test track, the Zydeco feels more like a hardtail mountain bike. Like a hardtail, the Zydeco’s long wheelbase, long stem and wide handlebars provide stability and leverage for maneuvering up the technical stuff. Even a punchy little rocky embankment I couldn’t resist didn’t stand in the way of this trusty bike!

Cornering Our Powell Butte test track has fast corners on loose gravel and bumpy grass, tight technical switchbacks and some singletrack sweepers. The Zydeco feels slow to enter a corner, but once I dialed it holds a line just fine. Despite the wide handlebars I overshot some quick corners trying to get the bike to turn on my first ride with it, but the Zydeco feels right at home in the sweepers. After spending more time with the bike, I railed it with delight through some very bumpy sweepers and tighter corners without knocking myself over the bars or into the bushes.

Handling

Straight and bumpy descents, especially gravel, are a strength of the Zydeco. Partially because of the Zydeco’s weight, the long wheelbase and the carbon fiber fork’s responsiveness, the bumps, even fairly big rock-shaped ones, didn’t throw me off line. Just point the Zydeco straight down the hill and hold on. The harder you push the Zydeco, the better it feels.

The brakes on this build, on and off dirt, are superb. The Cane Creek SCX-5 brakes’ ability to modulate speed and come to a quick stop is rewardingly tactile—the stopping power is perfectly related to the amount of effort squeezed out of the lever. Quick adjustments before a corner, or even trailbraking through something tight -- you won’t surprise yourself by dropping anchor or skidding unless you want to, and there’s not a hint of front end chatter.

Ride Feel

The Zydeco is a wonderfully comfortable bike. Dirt or paved, fast or slow, the surface feedback through to you is just what it needs to be, not too harsh nor too plush. Goldilocks would be thrilled… it’s just right. Even after a 2 hour bumpy gravel road ride, my arms and neck didn’t feel abused, and my brain didn’t feel rattled out of my skull. No numbness or arm pump. And, once I hit the pavement, I didn’t feel relief, as on other bikes but Iactually felt disappointed that the ride was ending.

Trainer Test Ride

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The Zydeco is rock solid on a trainer. All that talk above about comfort, relaxed riding position and stiffness? Well, that, plus the wide handlebars add up to a hugely pleasant trainer ride. The bike fit into the trainer easily, and the only way I could tell if the frame was flexing was to look down. If the frame was a little less stiff, the vibrations from my older not-so-high-end CycleOps magnetic trainer would be less noticeable. That said, the Zydeco is a bike with which I could easily break my personal best record for a winter trainer ride duration.

Race Test Ride

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I did not race this bike. Yet.

We Liked

I truly loved the Cinelli Zydeco’s comfort on the trails and its Italian sexiness! It’s easy to find a supportive balanced position, the Cinelli handle bars—though a little wide, we’d rather the next size down -- are the perfect size for my hands, the stem is perfect. And, the Cane Creek brakes.

And, the fork, since I couldn’t find anything wrong, it must be just right. The responsiveness of the carbon fiber blades neutralizes the bumps and the stiffness of the aluminum crown keeps everything on track.

The truest test happened the last day I had the bike. I got a spontaneous offer for a long gravel ride that has worn me out with vibration and bumpiness on other cross bikes in the past. Amongst the choices of my standard steed and the Zydeco, I grabbed the Zydeco and smiled with glee the whole ride. Because I wasn’t rattled to the bone, I could enjoy the day and the trail, pushing the Zydeco hard and almost hearing it say “Finally! We get to play!”

We Didn't Like

The fact that this Zydeco was a demo tester, not a “real” build, which made it difficult to review just the frame. I wish it climbed and cornered more easily on the road and on tight twisites, but with the Zydeco the geometry that makes it so comfortable comes at the price of razor edge road performance. But the Zydeco is not intended to be a road racer. Some cyclocross bikes seem very maneuverable, even criterium-worthy, the Zydeco, for me, is not one of those bikes.

And you’d think, for a bike this comfortable it would come with fender eyelets to give the Zydeco some versatility for long commutes or wet gravel road training rides. It just shows how serious Cinelli is about this being a race bike.

The saddle was torture, but for some people it is probably the best. Try it first… then go for your favorite.

Upgrades

The frame is MSRP $1100, so anything you’ll add will come in handy. We recommend a reliable moderate build, SRAM Rival/Force or Shimano 105/Ultegra, depending on your budget and desire for lightness. Go with some middleweight wheels that can accept a wide tire to further enhance its comfort.

If you can afford it, a set of carbon fiber bars and stem might ease a little more of the vibration on extremely bumpy trails. But you could probably enjoy the Zydeco immensly without that extra expense.

The Final Say

The Cinelli Zydeco is a delightful ride for any bike, not just one made of aluminum. It will be a great choice for an Italian-ophile or anyone who needs a rock solid, quite fun and comfortable bike for long training rides on gravel, fire roads or other rough surfaces. It took me a while to warm up to the Zydeco, but now, I’m sorry to see it go. It would be great to hang onto it for some early season cyclocross races, full of dry bumpy fields and roads, and I suspect that the Zydeco’s stability would translate nicely into the mud and sand as well.

Gravel-road racing is an emerging discipline… the Zydeco would be a great choice for such adventures. It would be a shame to put a bunch of rock chips in the nice paint job, but you’d be grinning all day long.

I'm giving the Zydeco four full hearted cowbells overall, not quite making five because of the slowness during initial turn in, and I'd like to see it climb a little better. But, again, those are tradeoffs that, for me, make the Zydeco a full five-cowbell bike for some conditions, just not all of them.

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