- Scapin Bandit
- £899 (frame only)
- 01423 709453
Italy’s Scapin offers a range of bikes that blend traditional craftsmanship with high-tech engineering. The range includes two steel hardtails, two full sussers and four road bikes, all made in Italy with colour options and the possibility of full custom builds if you’re a funny shape.
The Bandit is Scapin’s “entry level” hardtail frame, but only in the sense that it’s a bit cheaper than the other one they do…
There’s no denying that this is an expensive frame. Sure, Scapin has the £1,399 Nope just to prove that you can pay more for a steel frame, but £899 is a lot of cash in a world where you can pick up really good 853 frames for under four hundred notes. So where’s the extra money going?
For a start, you’re paying for actual made-in-Italyness. We’re not going to pretend that there’s any real disadvantage to having your bikes made in a Taiwanese factory – Taiwanese welders are some of the best in the world. But there’s still something of a cachet to European manufacture, and it certainly costs more to build frames closer to home on a small scale.
You don’t have to look far around the Bandit to notice where most of the pennies are going, though. There’s an amazing level of detail on this bike, much of which you can’t even see. For a start, the tubing is custom-drawn Columbus Thermacrom – it’s made out of the same stuff as Columbus’s top-line Foco tubeset but with different shapes and butting profiles to Scapin’s spec.
A lot of extra work’s gone into the tubing, too. All of the Bandit’s tubes are shot-peened, hardening the tubes and increasing their fatigue resistance. And then they’re zinc-coated inside and out to resist corrosion.
The general layout is fairly conventional, but there are a couple of distinctive features to the Bandit’s profile. Most noteworthy is the steeply-dropped top tube which meets the seat tube a little way below the wishbone stays. The rear wishbone attaches right at the top of the seat tube, with the minimalist seat clamp round the front. On the subject of seats, the Bandit takes a fairly unusual 29.4mm post – Scapin do one to fit.
The rear end is described as having a “special design for shock absorption”. It’s a wishbone set-up, with the single strut angled relative to the stays. It’s hard to quantify any difference that that may make, but it’s certainly distinctive.
Out back, you can run discs or V brakes. A disc caliper can be mounted to the beautifully machined bolt-on disc mount attached to the cowled dropout, while V bosses can be screwed in to blanked-off holes on the stays. You’ll need to run a full-length cable housing if you opt for Vs, though – the top tube only has hose clips.
On the subject of dropouts, this is one of the few steel frames with a replaceable derailleur hanger. It’s a feature commonly found on aluminium frames that don’t take kindly to being bent back – Scapin have decided not to take any risks on what is, after all, a very expensive frame…
Other details include the head tube-mounted cable stops which avoid the need to weld things to thin bits of down tube and also route the gear cables away from the tube to avoid paint damage. Then there’s the engraved BB shell with the Scapin logo carefully painted in, the reinforced bottle mounts… If God really is in the details, then this must be his bike. The whole thing is beautifully put together and finished.
The Bandit is a frame-only deal (although Boneshakers will do custom builds), so the spec of the test bike isn’t all that relevant. We’ll go through it, though, as it was our first opportunity to have an extended play with 2004 Shimano XT shifters and brakes.
Before that, though, we’ve got to comment on Boneshakers’s thoughtful build. Not necessarily about what the bits are, but that the mechanics took the trouble to choose things that not only work well but match the colours of the frame. Pace forks, Shimano wheels, Hutchinson tyres, Bontrager finishing kit, FSA cranks – there’s a black-with-odd-bits-of-red thing going on that looks great on the the black and red frame. Even the grips have red ends. It’s got nowt to do with function but we like the fact that the guys at Boneshakers care enough to do it…
Pace forks have a reputation for patchy quality, but we didn’t have any problems with the 80mm RC36 fitted to the Bandit – it remained smooth and controlled throughout. Tubeless Hutchinson Scorpion tyres were a bit under-treaded for damp trails, but we do find that tubeless tyres work noticeably better for a given pressure than their tubed equivalents. Whether the benefit is enough to make up for the occasional added repair and fitting hassle is for you to decide. Don’t let anyone tell you that they don’t puncture though…
Wheels are Shimano M765, complete with 16 crossed spokes, deep rims and splined fittings for the XT disc rotors. We can’t say that we noticed them being markedly better than more conventional wheels but they’re certainly no worse and they do look splendid.
And then there’s XT… We got enough miles in on XTR last year to have pretty much got our heads around Dual Control and Low Normal, although not to the extent that we don’t occasionally shift the wrong way and wonder why things have suddenly got unnecessarily hard. We have to admit that we still find conventionally-sprung rear mechs more in tune with our brains – combine one with Dual Control, pretend you’re riding an STI’d road bike with the bars flattened out and you’re sorted. But on the other hand there’s no denying that having the mech sprung towards lower gears can make the difference between getting the shift and crunching to a halt. The shifting itself is smooth and the levers work well, although the requirement to make the levers comfortable to push up and down as well as pull in has driven Shimano to shape them in such a way that they’ve lost the broad blade and big hooky end that we always used to love. The units are also somewhat bulky, although having toppled a few DC-equipped test bikes we’ve decided that they’re not as vulnerable to damage as you might think.
The new XT one-piece disc calipers are lovely bits of kit. They don’t seem to grab hold as strongly as the old four-pot units, but the power’s there if you need it and the modulation’s better. We’d like to see a slightly bigger rotor option, though – Shimano don’t offer anything between XT’s 160mm and Saint’s 203mm, but a lot of riders favour an inbetweeny 185 rotor up front.
Our test bike was a Medium, which equates to just over 17in centre-to-top with a fairly lengthy 22.8in top tube. You can also choose small, large or extra-large sizes and there’s a full-custom option should you fall at the extremes or are a funny shape.
The high bar and stem combo fitted to the test bike turned what could have been a low and fast bike into more of a chuckable trailster, possibly a bit too much of one – the high front and very short back end (the chainstays are 16.1in long) turned the Bandit into something of a wheelie king and needed a good degree of poise to keep the front down on steep climbs. Those short stays gave it gobs of traction, though, and some quick experiments with stems showed that it’s entirely possible to strike a happy balance between heads-up trailiness and uphill efficiency.
Once we’d settled in, the Bandit offered an inspiring ride. The low-slung frame means plenty of seatpost sticking out which is going to be comfy regardless of what it’s attached to. Attached to a compliant, narrow-gauge steel frame it’s really rather cushy, but never mushy – small frame triangles and a short back end see to that. The Bandit exhibits all that’s best about steel frames – it’s got ping or zip or whatever you want to call it, strikes a fine balance between stability and agility and manages to feel solid and flighty at the same time. We’re not sure what sort of riding Scapin had in mind when they designed the Bandit, but with judicious speccing it’ll be right at home around a race course, blasting around the woods or out in the hills all day. With a fairly short fork it’s a bike that demands a degree of finesse, but at the same time it rewards your efforts…
Positives: Classic involving and inspiring steel ride, top-notch build
If you like bikes that just let you sit there, aim in the right direction and pedal then the Bandit probably isn’t for you. But if you want to get involved then this’ll give out at least as much as you put in. It’s a beautiful ride in all respects, which really just leaves price as a hindrance. With plenty of excellent mid-priced steel frames out there, it’s tough to justify the extra cash for the Bandit. But for a lot of riders, the attention to detail, exclusivity, Italian-ness and the fact that it’ll probably last for ever will do the trick…