By our Technical Editor, Richard Gearing: Back in 2011, a German company by the name of Acros launched a hydraulic Groupset into the mountain bike world. At the time I was only a few years on from having switched to a road riding focus, but I knew that if I had an MTB at that point I would have wanted this new groupset on it – partly because it was interesting and different, partly because it was lightweight, but also because it just seemed to make sense.
As I had, by then, converted to road riding, I was hopeful that a road equivalent would follow suit. Rumors circulated then dissipated, and then the electronic groupsets took hold – the emergence of a hydraulic road groupset looked like it would forever be nothing more than a great idea that would never see the light of day.
Fast forward to 2015 and Rotor – the Spanish company of oval chainring and lightweight crankset fame – surprised the industry with a hydraulic road groupset launch at Eurobike. It was to be another year before groupsets began shipping, though, as they were being made in small numbers at the Rotor factory in Spain.
This meant that launch timings and regions to which the groupsets could be sold were both limited and phased – further slowed by the company’s insistence on training mechanics to install the kit before making it available for sale. For anyone buying the kit, they had to send their frameset and wheels into the factory or local distributor for it to be installed.
Eventually, in May 2018, we were able to loan a bike from the Australian distributor, Groupe Sportif, via Happy Wheels here in Sydney for a week to see whether the wait had been worth it.
To my surprise, not only was the test groupset and bike a rim brake setup – a bona fide option from Rotor, but not one I expected to see due to the recent Shift towards disc brakes on the road scene – but we were also treated to it being installed on a high-end frameset from Look in the form of their 785 Huez in the iconic Mondrian colorway.
Having already read a lot of reviews of Rotor’s hydraulic groupset – dubbed ‘Uno’ – I had a good idea of what to expect, but I needed to put those reviews to the back of my mind and find out about the groupset for myself. Initial impressions on giving the bike a once-over were that the Uno parts generally seem very well made; although, as is clear from the pictures, the aesthetics are undoubtedly ‘love or loathe’, based on the very structural design approach.
In use, the groupset is functionally very adept and does the job that is asked of it without issue. Some gears had rub and noise, but not enough to kill the ride; which is a relief, given that ease of adjustment is perhaps where this groupset suffers over mechanical cable groups (it may well be very easy to adjust, but I haven’t been trained).
Shifts were clean enough and crisp enough, and the brakes particularly are very capable – in fact there is almost a fear of crushing the rims, such is the power available with their hydraulic actuation.
As for this brakes, hydraulic rims brakes are big; and therefore not pretty. You will no doubt recognize the brakes as being rebranded versions of the Magura hydraulic rim brakes that were seen in recent years on Cervélo TT bikes – mainly because that’s exactly what they are. Rotor has paired with Magura for the rim and disc brake options for the Uno setup. A wise move, given their experience and caliber.
Getting into the nitty gritty of the group, perhaps the most unfortunate issue is that there is a very vague shift feel – by which I mean there is very little in the way of a positive ‘click’ at the shift lever. It is there, just, but even without gloves it can be tricky to notice, and it would be especially bad with winter gloves on.
I had almost feared the front shift based on the reviews I had read mentioning that it needed excessive effort to move the chain. Sure, it required a little more effort, but I would describe it as being akin to shifting a worn mechanical front mech, rather than the super-slick shift of a new setup (which, I suspect, is what most reviewers will have come from). The bit of extra effort only applies in one direction, too. The front mech is otherwise well executed and avoids being excessively large despite containing the indexing requirements to control the gears within it.
The rear derailleur is the most visually striking part of the groupset. Being almost agricultural in design, the need to contain the indexing capability within what is typically a comparatively small component makes it much bulkier. I don’t dislike it aesthetically, but it may be enough to put some people off.
Personally, it reminds me of when EE Brakes first appeared on the market with a very ‘function first’ approach to their aesthetics. As with those brakes, there is nothing to fear with the function of the rear mech – it never skipped a beat during the time we had it; and it will shift through up to four sprockets at a time, depending on how you choose to have it set up.
The levers are the same for rim and disc brakes, on the basis that both setups use hydraulics. They seem to be a relatively big lever, being both fairly bulky in feel and with a fairly long reach on the hoods (worth watching, particularly if you’re coming from rim brake Campagnolo).
The lever ‘feel’ in the hand could be better too, although this can be a personal thing and they were far from being awful or uncomfortable per se. Finally, the finish of the levers didn’t quite seem up to that of the rest of the group – perhaps because the rest of it is neatly machined, versus the molded plastic edging to the levers which seemed cheap by comparison.
The shift operation itself is in line with SRAM’s ‘double tap’ operation, in that you shift one click to move into the smaller chainring at the front, or towards smaller sprockets at the rear; and you continue the lever sweep through to a second click if you want to shift into the big ring at the front, or into easier gears at the rear. As already mentioned, at the rear this can be up to four clicks for quicker shifts up the cassette.
I’d like to try the disc brake version of the groupset purely to see how the Magura brakes fare on the road scene; and because disc brakes seem to make more sense overall for this all-hydraulic system. Based on previous experience and that of the rim brakes tested, I have no reason to believe they would perform faultlessly and be the ideal application.
A lot of the above seems to err on the negative, which is perhaps a little unfair. I do like this groupset and I absolutely believe it has its place. Where mechanical cables wear and rust, hydraulic requires absolutely minimal maintenance by comparison. Where the consistency of electronic groupsets trumps mechanical, this hydraulic kit matches that and avoids the need to keep batteries charged.
Ok, so you still have to actually ’shift’, but if you believe pressing buttons is how bikes really work you need to get back to basics, in my humble opinion – I like electronic shifting as much as anyone, but a bike with a mechanical shift is infinitely more satisfying to ride.
If Rotor were to release a ‘V2’ of the Uno group – even if that only went as far as to solve the vagueness of the shift ‘feel’ – I would probably buy it. Sure, there were other less-than-perfect things about the group (mainly the lever finish, for me), but this was the overriding hesitation for me. If Rotor is listening, there’s a willing customer waiting in the wings here…
As for that Look 785 Huez, it deserves a review in itself. The kind of bike I wish I could fit on more readily, hence the massive stack of spacers (due to my long legs and short torso, I have to consider their 765 model to find a bike in their range I can fit on), it was a very enjoyable bike to spend some time with. Aside from feeling very lively and lightweight, it was a smooth and direct ride that encouraged having a bit of a dig at every opportunity.
Rotor Website | Facebook | Instagram
Our thanks to Don at Groupe Sportif for organizing this review for us; and to Happy Wheels for their support.
The post Liquid Centres: Rotor UNO Groupset Review appeared first on Cycle EXIF.