This is a modified version of a test of women's road bikes I wrote for Cycling Plus in August '99. All the bikes I tested (Cannondale R600 Compact Triple, Vision Pocket Rocket, Battaglin Bambino) were based on 650c (ISO 571mm) wheels. Since this was meant to be a test of bikes for women, and because not all the bikes fit me, I invited as many roadie women as I could find to ride the bikes and give me their opinions.
The Battaglin Bambino (contact Ricci 01209 215787) is intended for young racers. The steel frame sports Campagnolo Avanti transmission and brakes. Again, it has 650c wheels. It costs £599. Unfortunately, since it is a child's bike, it is far too small for me.
When it came to me to test it had a stupidly long stem on it. Evidently the gals they were using for the Cycling Plus photo shoot found the specced 70mm stem too short, so they replaced it with a 120mm one, which Cycling Plus left on when they sent it to me. Great... I put the 90mm CODA stem from the Cannondale on it for testing, so that the ladies I invited over for testing could sensibly ride the thing.
The cheerful yellow frame of the Battaglin has a classic look thanks to slim steel tubes, lugs, and a seat pin binder bolt set into the seat cluster. Unfortunately it is too small for me. It was slightly too small for 5' riders; we think it might fit someone about 4'10". It comes with one bottle braze-on. The front tire barely touches the end of my toe, so I expect there would be no overlap for smaller riders with smaller feet. There are no provisions for mudguards. The main problem with the frame is that it's heavy: the frame and forks are 5.3 lb, fully one pound heavier than the larger Vision and Cannondale frames.
I like a bike that goes where I want with little effort. The handing of the Battaglin was very skittish. It took me some time to feel confident enough to ride with my hands on the tops of the bars, and I felt wary going around corners. I wondered it this might be happening because it is far too small for me. However, in comparison the small Trek WSD bike I borrowed from a local shop (Ben Haywards) had a very steady ride, although the Trek is only slight larger than the Battaglin. Possibly it is the short wheelbase of the Battaglin (88cm vs 95cm for the Trek, 93.5cm for the Cannondale, and 94cm for the Vision) that made it feel so unstable. Also, it's possible that I'm simply too heavy and tall for the bike, and that the small light person that this bike is designed for would find it much tamer. However, based on the reports of the smaller test riders, even these people would find the Trek much more stable than the Battaglin.
Of course, not everyone likes the same thing, and some riders liked the quicker, less stable handling of the Vision and the Battaglin. They felt that they would be happy riding the more frisky bikes in short road races or training rides, while they would prefer the Cannondale or Trek for longer rides, especially centuries.
At the center of the Battaglin wheels are fairly basic Campagnolo hubs. The rims are Ambrosio Elite, with a black coating that looks sharp now but will soon become tatty as the color wears off the braking surfaces. There are 36 fat (2mm) plain gauge spokes holding it together, making the wheels look like they were built for an elephant, not a child or small adult. Using 32 double butted spokes (2.0/1.8mm) would lose weight and would built into a plenty strong wheel.
The rim tape on the Battaglin wheels is very low quality. It is too stretchy, allowing the tube to balloon out into the spoke holes. I got a puncture in one tube due to this. The tire was only pumped up to 100psi, although it was rated for 120psi.
Spoke tension isn't particularly high in the Battaglin, nor it is even. Some time spent with a spoke wrench would reward you with more reliable wheels.
This bike, like all the official test bikes, came with 20mm tires. Since this bike has such a harsh ride, it would benefit greatly from the greater comfort offered by wider 23mm tires.
The Battaglin is equipped with a complete Campagnolo Avanti groupset, except for a Miche chainset. The shifting and braking work fine, and the 155mm cranks are perfect for this size bike. The only complaint I have is that the bike is badly undergeared with a big chainring of 42 teeth. I could roll along comfortably in top gear at the modest speed of 21mph, and it was all I could do to maintain 26mph. The bolt circle diameter of the chainset is 122mm, which seems to be an unusual size. I don't know of a source of rings in this size, to get a larger chainring you may have to get it custom made by someone like Chris Bell of Highpath Engineering (UK phone 01570 470035).
The headset is threaded and comes with a sensible-length 70mm stem (although, as I noted above, I never saw this stem). The 38cm wide handlebars were appreciated by most of the riders. We all found that the shifting and braking from the tops of the brake hoods was no problem with the Campag shifters, but braking from the drops was difficult.
Comfort is mainly a factor of three things: the saddle, position on the bike, and how well the bike absorbs road shock.
I didn't get along with the funny blue stripey saddle that came with this bike, but since saddles are such a personal thing, this is hardly worth mentioning.
Aluminum bikes have a reputation of having a harsh ride, but this isn't the case with the bikes in this test: the aluminum bikes in the test have a smoother ride than the Battaglin. Since the Battaglin, Vision and Cannondale all came with 20mm high-pressure tires, the tires weren't causing this difference. It certainly isn't due to the Battaglin having a stiffer frame than the others. Cannondales have just about the stiffest frames you'll find (see Damon Rinard's frame stiffness tests). The likely reason for the rough ride is geometry. The Battaglin had a considerably shorter wheelbase than the other bikes, as mentioned above under Handling. This makes bumps feel bigger, see Wheelbase and perceived bumps.
For a small rider (just under 5 feet tall), the position on the Battaglin is be a good balance between being stretched out and upright. For me it was hopeless.
Other bike articles
This seems to be a decently-equipped bike with a sensible frame geometry. However, there is no reason for such a small bike have such a heavy frame. Even built up this bike is noticeably heavier than the Cannondale, Vision, or Trek. Now all of these bikes cost alot more than the Battaglin, but you can get far better bikes with 700c wheels for about the same price. Glancing at my Trek 2000 catalog I see: Trek 1000, Alpha alu frame, Shimano 8-speed Sora equipment with double or triple chainset, 500 pounds. Trek 1200, Alpha SL alu frame, Shimano 9-speed Tiagra equipment with double chainset, 650 pounds. It seems like you're paying a real premium to get a small frame.
I've done a fair bit of looking around for an alternative, and I think I've got one. Orbit make a bike, the Mercury Race, with 650c wheels for £460 with STI shifters, or 400 for downtube. The components aren't as nice as those on the Battaglin, but the frame ought to be lighter than the frame of the Battaglin. At least it would be hard for it to be heavier! The main problem with it is that it only comes in one size, 18".
If you would like more choice, check out Deeside Cycles, who have their own line of bikes. They offer frames in a huge variety of materials fitted with a huge variety of equipment. Their small (18" and 19") frames have reasonably short top tubes, however with such small bikes made with 700c wheels there are inevitably compromises. They tell me that they can do their bikes in custom sizes for 50 pounds extra, and this includes bikes with 650c wheels. They are also able to make the bikes completely to your specification, so if you ride a friend's Cannondale Compact, and find that the size really suits you, you could take the geometry specs to Deeside and get something similar made for yourself. You could get yourself a basic 7005 aluminum frame with Shimano Sora equipment for 617 pounds. Not quite as good a deal as the Trek 1000, but it seems to be better value-for-money than the Battaglin.
Unfortunately, I haven't actually ridden a Mercury or one of these Deeside bikes, nor do I know of anyone who has one. So I can't really vouch for their quality. Both Orbit and Deeside's proprietor, Graham Weigh, have a good reputation, but that's all I can go on.