Cell Bikes Akuna 1.1 Review
- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 19 June 2014
People keep calling the Akuna an “entry level bike”. I don’t understand this because the only thing entry level about this bike is the price. In one sense, however, it was definitely entry level for me since this was the first fully carbon fibre bike I’ve ridden. It may seem weird, given the ubiquity of carbon bikes, but as a big boy with a tight budget and the need for a reliable bike, I shied away from carbon. But I know bikes, so I’m an ideal candidate to represent the ‘my first carbon fibre bike’ buyer and I’m really glad the Akuna was my first carbon experience. I’m sold on it.
The Akuna 1.1 is the latest in a line of new models from Cell Bikes which includes the Omeo 2.0 (with Ultegra Di2 for less than $3,000) and the Omeo 1.0 (with traditional Ultegra, for less than $2,000). These full carbon road bikes are joined by the Lapa aluminium framed road bike as well as the Yarra and the Stromlo mountain bikes. Notice anything about those names? You’re right, they’re Australian names (the Lapa is for La Perouse in Sydney, google the rest) and they indicate that these bikes have been created for Australian cyclists.
From my perspective it means that Cell are actively changing their image. When I was “born again” to cycling many years ago, Cell produced budget category bikes that were… budget category. The new range of bikes have raised the bar and are on par with bikes from many other brands. Cell seem to be actively taking notes from Australian riders and creating bikes they want to ride.
The technical specifications for the Akuna 1.1 are best read from the Cell website, but they’re easy to summarise: the Akuna has a full Shimano 105 10-speed groupset (with the exception of the cassette, which is Tiagra, and the chain, which is KMC), the wheels are Mavic Aksiums , the headset is FSA, and the cables are Jagwire. That’s a pretty good collection of branded components on a Cell branded frame with Cell branded handlebar, stem, seat post (full carbon), and saddle. To produce a bike for the Akuna’s price, you’re going to have to make some compromises in the components, but I think the compromises they made are sensible and I don’t think the quality of the bike suffers from any of them.
The Akuna 1.1 arrives boxed and mostly assembled – you merely have to put in the seat post, which has the saddle attached, bolt the handlebars to the stem, and attach the front wheel. Add some pedals, pump the tyres, and the bike is ride-able with the brakes and shifters dialed in and requiring no adjustment. The seat post is the only carbon component on the Akuna that you have to tighten yourself, so I borrowed a torque wrench because I’m ultra-paranoid about adjusting carbon components.
While I had the wrench I gave the bike a once-over, which is what I do to all of my bikes every once in a while anyway, and I’m glad I did. While the majority of the components were tightened to spec, the bolts that connect the stem to the steerer, ones that should have been tightened at the factory, were little more than finger tight. I gave the handlebars a sideways jolt and the stem moved around the steerer – which would have been very dangerous if it happened while I was riding. If you buy any bike in a box, from anybody, either check all of the components yourself or have a bike shop do it for you. Now that the public service announcements are over, let’s get back to the Akuna, because the worst is behind us.
The Akuna is a pretty bike to look at. The colour scheme and graphics are clean, the components match well, and the Cell logos on the frame look more like geometric patterns than advertising. The frame itself is chubby with an over-sized down tube and head tube which contrast against a ‘traditionally’ sized seat tube and stays. The bike won’t be winning any awards for aerodynamics, but it’s not aimed in that direction.
I’ve seen the Akuna described as an “endurance” bike and I suspect that’s to do with the length of the head tube and top tube. The bike doesn’t have the shortened reach and aggressive angles of serious racing bikes, but it doesn’t have the slack angles of a cruiser either. The long head tube raises the handlebars up so you can reach them more comfortably without having to raise the stem up, but there are plenty of spacers on the steerer if you do want adjust the stem height to get a better fit.
I chose the bike size based on the top tube length and the seat to handlebar reach of my other bikes. Luckily, only the seat height needed to be set to get my ideal fit. I rode the large sized Akuna and, surprisingly, there is a larger frame still. I’m 190cm (6 ft 3), so I’m taller than about 96% of the population, but a good number of that remaining 4% will be comfortable on the XL Akuna. I suspect the person who designed this bike was thinking of the Australian market.
Despite being a full carbon bike, the Akuna isn’t a super-light weighing in at around 9.5 kg with pedals and a bidon cage in the large sized model. It certainly doesn’t have a heavy feel, and with a wheel upgrade (maybe some Swiss Side Francs), the overall weight can be quickly dropped. I don’t feel that I’m missing out, however, since a lighter bike isn’t going to make a significant difference to the type of riding I do (or many MAMILs do), but I still appreciate the benefits riding full carbon. We’ve all seen the horror photos of broken carbon bikes, but the Akuna simply doesn’t seem fragile. As a newbie to carbon, the generous sized tubing gives me a bit more confidence while riding.
Riding this bike was indeed a revelation. Firstly, it was instantly comfortable, as comfortable as my commuter or touring bike, but with its short-ish chain stays it moved like my Columbus tubed racing bike. Secondly, as mentioned in the introduction, I had never owned a full carbon bike before (though I do have an aluminium frame with carbon forks) and if you’ve never ridden carbon either, I suggest you give it a go. I wont spend the rest of the review talking about carbon fibre’s ride characteristics, but I will say that it’s surprisingly smooth even though the bike is very stiff. Dare I say it? It almost feels better than top quality steel, and it certainly beats the hell out of aluminium.
The Akuna was smooth and responsive while riding with excellent cornering performance. Even though I was riding a large bike, often while wearing a backpack for commuting, the bike didn’t feel unbalanced or awkward even at very low speeds. The geometry of the bike puts the rider in a good handling position and coming out of the saddle to accelerate or climb wasn’t a chore with your center of gravity sitting over the center of the bike rather than forward over the front wheel. The Akuna was also a very stiff ride and no matter how much force I put into the compact cranks, there was no overt movement in the bottom bracket that I could feel, nor could I feel any over flexing of the stays. I suspect this is a feature of the frame material more than the frame design, but I liked it.
While I used the Akuna mainly for commuting, I did a number of long recreational rides as well. In the review period I tallied around 500km on the bike and mixed up my riding duration and routes to make sure I gave the bike a good workout. To say that I enjoyed it is an understatement. This is a great bike and I felt that I should have started riding carbon sooner. The reasons I didn’t are two-fold: I’m a big guy, around 100 kg, and carbon fibre bikes are expensive. The Akuna takes care of both of these problems – it’s solid enough and it’s cheap. I’m not going to break the bike and I’m not going to break the bank.
Of course, with any bike there are some things you like less than others. With the Akuna the most immediately dislikable thing was the saddle. I hate it. I kept it on for the duration of the review, and I did get a little more used to it as time went on, but I still don’t like it. It does look good with the bike and its suitability will vary from person to person since saddles are a very personal thing.
The Shimano 105 cabling created a challenge as the shifter and brake cables were both routed along the handlebars. Although it removes the clutter from the cockpit, which is great, it creates a common problem among modern road bikes of increasing the effective bar diameter which interferes with the mounting of lights and other devices. In my case, my preferred bike light wouldn’t fit so I had to channel the spirit of MacGyver to find an alternative solution.
The most serious niggles I had were with some of the compromises they’ve taken with the frame design to make it more affordable. Cell have done a great job in putting quality components on the Akuna, but a close look at the frame reveals the differences between a 105 equipped Akuna and a 105 equipped “big name brand” bike. The cable stops, for example, are riveted to the frame rather than integrated into it (with internal cable routing), and the front derailleur is a clamp-on rather than a braze-on.
The biggest issue I had in this category was that the front derailleur cable passes through a drilled hole in the frame (behind the seat tube) after it goes around the bottom bracket. It gives the impression that the frame was put together and someone went “whoops, guess what I forgot?”, then decided to drill a hole to fix it. I’m sure it’s not going to affect the bike structurally, but it looks sloppy and I’m concerned about water getting into it in the rain.
Update: Cell have confirmed that it is not ‘simply drilled’, and there is an internal PVC tube which is securely set in place and means that it is easy to re-cable, and that water, dirt, and grime can’t get into the frame.
The gear cables go though the frame as well, at the headtube, but these holes are merely “tunnels” for the cable which are then routed externally along the length of the downtube. Internal cable routing through the frame is a feature you expect with pricier bikes; it is neater and makes it easier to clean the bike. While the riveted cable stops are not elegant, in this price category this is a cost effective production option which doesn’t significantly impact upon the functionality.
So who is this bike for?
If you want a solid all-round road bike, the Akuna could fit the bill. If you are taking your first step into road cycling, the Akuna gives the advantage of a carbon fibre frame (over an aluminium frame) with the reliable Shimano 105 groupset. If you are a serious rider with the latest weight-weenie frame, the Akuna could be the backup training bike that you won’t be afraid to ride in the rain. If you want a fast commuter bike and are willing to forgo racks and mudguards, the Cell Akuna cost less than car registration (in New South Wales).
I test rode this bike for 4 weeks, but is 4 weeks enough time for a comprehensive review? At BNA we aim to produce honest reviews in order to provide you with the information you need if you are considering buying. Cell Bikes agreed to a long term review of the Akuna for 6 months, to see how the Akuna stands up to my 100kgs, riding 5 or 6 times a week in all weather for commuting, recreation and racing. Cell Bikes certainly have faith in this bike and I am looking forward to taking this journey as it has been an enjoyable bike so far.
The Cell Akuna 1.1 can be purchased for around $1,200 from Cell Bikes and includes free delivery to certain areas. There is also an Akuna 1.0 version for $1399, but stocks are limited.
 The Cell website has the Akuna 1.1 spec’d with Shimano R501 wheels, however the model sent to me has the Mavic Aksiums, which are the wheels spec’d for the Akuna 1.0. ($1399) I would advise checking with Cell before purchase if the wheelset difference is of concern.