I really licked this bike. No, that wasn’t a typo. Like a kid who doesn’t want to share his ice cream with this siblings, I licked this bike. You see, I’ve had this bike on an extended review, and that review period is at an end; it’s time to give it back to Cell. But what are they going to do with a second hand bike that’s done the things detailed below? I’m letting the rest of you know now, it’s mine.
Getting the Cell Akuna 1.1 on an extended review was a bit of a cheeky move. After the original review period, I was enjoying it so much that I wanted to keep riding it. “I could do an extended review, say six months”, I said, and Cell said “OK“. The bikes and the gear that are submitted for review typically perform well, but we don’t always get to see how the equipment really performs over the long term. So, with approval from Cell, I’ve been riding the Akuna on almost every ride since I first got it. I had to cheat for a week when I tested an e-bike (see review here), and I had to ride my track bike to race on the track. Other than that I was on the Akuna, so I’ve given it a very thorough test, and now I’m duty bound to give you the inside scoop.
The re-review part of this article will be necessarily short, since everything is working as it did when I first rode the bike. The shifting is still crisp, though I did adjust the tension to account for some cable stretching (which happens on every bike), and everything that’s meant to turn is still turning. The brakes still stop the bike solidly and I can still lock the wheels up when I need to. The only “problem” I had was an annoying noise occurring on every pedal stroke that took a while to locate. After checking the cranks, pedals, chain, and bottom bracket, it turned out to be a slightly loose rear skewer. It wouldn’t have been worth mentioning, except that I noticed while riding the Akuna that when something needs attention, like the chain needs lubing or the quick release isn’t done up tightly enough, it will sound like the bike is about to fall apart. I suspect this is one of the joys of riding a carbon bike.
I used the Akuna mainly for commuting, racking up around 3,000 kilometers in the 6 months just getting to and from work and in all sorts of weather conditions. Since this was going to be where I spent the beginning and end of my day, I made a few changes to the bike to suit my needs. The first thing I did was change the saddle. As I wrote in my original review, the original saddle and my butt didn’t see eye to eye, so to speak. I swapped the original saddle for my trusty Brooks B17 saddle, which was very comfortable, but looked wrong. I swapped it over to a much nicer looking and equally comfortable Brooks Cambium C17. If you’re going to be riding a bike 5 or 6 days a week, you want to make sure you’re comfortable on it.
The other change I made was the tyres. The tyres that came with the Akuna, Vittoria Zaffiros, are actually some of the better low priced tyres available and were holding up very well until I hit a big rock in the dark and pinch flatted on the rear. I was almost home when it happened and limped in; when I went to change the tube the next day, completely on a whim, I put a 700c x 32 Vittoria Randonneur on the wheel and it actually fit beneath the brake bridge, but only just. I prefer commuting on larger tyres, and the 25’s (i.e. 25 mm tyres) that were on the bike felt great, but having some tough commuting tyres would be better for most of my travelling on the bike. I was going to put some Schwalbe Durano Plus 25’s on the Akuna, but since the 32’s fit on the rear, I thought I would try it on the front as well.
With the Mavic Aksium wheels that come with the Akuna, I wasn’t able to fit a 32 mm tyre under the Akuna’s front forks, but it almost fit. I grabbed another wheel with a narrower rim width, put the tyre on it, and it fit with about 2 mm clearance. So now I had an Akuna with mismatched wheels, but big and tough tyres. It was starting to look more like a cyclocross bike than a road racing bike, but to me, having highly puncture resistant tyres is more important than thinner, lighter tyres. Hey, it’s (temporarily) my bike, I can do what I want, and if it feels good, do it!
Aside from talking about my Franken-conversions of the Akuna, what I really want to talk about is what I’ve done with the bike. The commuting you know about, usually about 25km a day and mostly flat, and while the Akuna doesn’t have the option of attaching a rack and panniers, it was comfortable to ride with a good backpack (a wonderful Deuter pack, highly recommended). As I said in the original review, the Akuna makes a good, fast commuter. It fits in the lift at work, lives in my office during the day, and I can carry it up or down the stairs without any hassle if need be.
The other thing I spent a good amount of time doing on the Akuna is simply riding for pleasure. While commuting is pleasurable, it’s not the same as going out with your mates and riding for two hours to get a coffee, then riding back again. I did as many of these rides as I could, and I’ll briefly share the tales from three of these adventures.
The first ride of note, as far as the Akuna is concerned, was out to Springwood, near Sydney. The ride entails a good bit of climbing, including some very nice switch back sections at over 10% gradient. It was a “no drop” ride and we had some newbies along, so I volunteered to captain the slow bunch. A couple of these guys hadn’t been on a big ride before, and they obviously hadn’t done any serious hills, so they resorted to walking and pushing their bike when they had to. That didn’t include me, however, and I spent a fair amount of time riding at 3 or 4 km/h up hill behind the walkers, giving them words of encouragement. As such, I think I can attest to the low speed stability of the Akuna. I didn’t need to put my foot down once while in motion.
The second ride I’ll mention is the Sydney to Wollongong ride for MS Australia. I have been supporting this ride as a volunteer mobile bike mechanic for over 5 years now. I ride, together with a partner, equipped with tools and spares tubes to help people who have punctures and other problems on the ride. Being a fast road bike, the Akuna doesn’t use a rack, so I had to put my tools in my backpack rather than using panniers like I usually do. That meant I would be riding with a much heavier pack for around 150km (to the start line, to the Gong, train back to Sydney, then ride home) and I was worried about my ability to handle hours on the bike with the pack. I did it easily, enjoying the day as usual, and the Akuna performed wonderfully and comfortably. Further more, I will happily use the same setup again in the future.
The final big ride was the biggest, 207km. I’m bringing this up because, basically, I’m telling everybody that I did a 200km ride. Doing it on the Akuna was pretty incidental to the story; one mate did it on a titanium, Di2 equipped bike, another was on a 90’s steely. You don’t need an Akuna to do 200km, but I did it on one and we (the bike and I) both survived.
In the extended review period, I wanted to do “everything” with the Akuna, and one of the things I do on a road bike is race. But I didn’t do this with the Akuna. Weekend soccer matches for the kids meant that I missed most of the winter season, and then on the few occasions when I could race, rain stopped me from doing it. So can you race on the Akuna? Of course you can and I did use it for race training, since I was still racing track. The Akuna had a gear ratio that was very near my track bike’s setup, so I kept it in that gear combo for about 3 months while I was riding to and from work, and I did plenty of standing starts from stop signs and traffic lights, along with regular intervals along safe parts of my commute.
The Akuna itself is stiff and responsive, exactly what you want in a racing bike, but the handlebars aren’t the best if you’re sprinting hard; they’re way too flexy compared to my track bars. Then again, they’re not specifically designed for hard, standing starts and sprints, as my track bars are. So while I didn’t race in any criteriums, I still feel this would be a very respectable race bike which would suit cyclists new to racing as they climb up the ranks.
To conclude this long term review, I’ll give you a reality check: the Cell Akuna 1.1 is not the best bike in the world, but for its price point it has an excellent combination of components built around a solid and reliable frame. Cell have made sure that the Akuna will give riders years of faithful service. The Akuna is well balanced enough for someone who wants just one “do everything” road bike.
Now that this review is done, it means boxing the Akuna up and shipping it back to Cell (after I do another 200km ride next weekend). But how are they going to offload a second hand bike that has been been repeatedly drenched in uber-mamil sweat? I’ll make them an offer they can’t refuse and keep her instead.
The Cell Akuna 1.1 (not this one, a new one) can be purchased from Cell Bikes and includes free delivery to certain areas.