The Planet X Mondo you see here sells for $5150. The frame is carbon, with a tapered head tube, BB386EVO bottom bracket and internal cable routing. The Mondo is equipped with SRAM Red (10-speed, the cassette is SRAM’s 1070 “Force” offering), an FSA K-Force Light BB386 carbon crank, Vittoria Corsa Evo CX tubulars, a Fizik Arione saddle (I switched it to the Velo Miles II seen in the photos) and a some of Planet X’s parts: 50mm-deep carbon tubular wheels; 7050 aluminum handlebar; machined aluminum stem, and carbon seatpost. The website allows the buyer to customize many parts - stem length, bar width - and some bits are upgradable. On my scale, the bike in the photos weighed 15lb. exactly, with pedals and bottle cages.
Not a bad deal, eh? Try finding any bike, made of any material, out there with SRAM Red for $5150, much less one with carbon tubulars, superb tires and a nice saddle.
So, the frame must be super-duper cheap: an open-mold “Cinarello” or something, right? Um, no. Here’s where things get really interesting. The Mondo’s frame is made in Italy by Sarto.
Sarto isn’t a well known brand over here. The name translates to ‘tailor’ which is signified by their logo: scissors with a needle and thread. As the name implies, company specializes in custom bikes. But, according to Sarto’s website, the company was started in the 1950s as a production builder for Italian bike brands like Bottecchia, Guerciotti, Fondriest, Scapin, Pinarello and Moser. It wasn’t until later that Sarto began selling bikes under their own name. The company today specializes in making custom carbon bikes using a tube-to-tube construction method.
An interesting wrinkle in Sarto’s history is their place as a ‘builder of trust’. Back when bikes were made of metal and used roundish tubes, there were several companies that built custom bikes for professional racers that were then sprayed with the paint and logos of the rider’s team’s sponsor. Because frames used to be so similar under the paint, this was pretty easy to pull off. Cyfac and Pegoretti were builders of trust at one time, and Sarto claims to have build bikes for “Rominger, Moser, Fondriest, Simoni, Rebellin, Ugrumov, and Bartoli” as well as Armstrong’s Fondriest during his short Cofidis stint preceding his cancer diagnosis.
In the age of signature-shaped carbon frames, however, builders of trust all but disappeared. If you’re a rider on Sky and your bike doesn’t have the signature Onda fork and seatstays of a Pinarello Dogma, you’re going to stick out. That’s not the kind of publicity Pinarello wants after shelling out millions of dollars to be Sky’s frame sponsor.
The grapevine chatter I’ve heard about Sarto, however, is they can mimic the shape of almost any carbon bike and do a quiet business building custom frames for professional riders that look almost exactly like the bikes that come from the team’s sponsor.
It’s a fantastic rumor and it could be complete crap. I haven’t been able to confirm. The Sarto site does say, “Presently, Sarto’s frames are being ridden by top pro tour riders whose identity cannot be disclosed for the protection of the sponsoring companies whose paint jobs clothe Sarto’s frames.” This would seem to run afoul of the UCI’s frame sticker program, which, if it’s happening, is probably why no one is willing to say much more about it.
… And now back to the $5150 Planet X Mondo …
With Sarto’s history of making production bikes for other brands - indeed, that’s how the company started - the collaboration between Planet X and Sarto doesn’t look so odd. The Mondo, with it’s round front triangle, rectangular chainstays and ovalized seatstays, looks similar to Sarto’s Cima Coppi or Davanti, but it is a unique frame, built just for Planet X. Six sizes are offered; custom is not available.
Planet X is a UK based company and part of a brand empire the includes, On-One, Titus, SAB, Jobsworth and Phaart. Not only are they a bike brand(s), they’re an online bike shop, selling everything down to tubes and offering many well-known brands (Shimano, Sidi, Ritchey. etc). These guys aren’t a shady “over there” operation - they have an office and warehouse up in Portland, Oregeon - run by Michael Golinski, the founder of Spot Brand and actual certified logistics expert - to cut down shipping times to their USA customers.
Some of the stuff in the Planet-X store seems a bit random, making me think it was picked up on the cheap through “connections” of one variety of another. But, they have brand-new stuff, like Shimano 9000 C24 clincher wheels (selling for $772.50, well below the suggested retail of $1000) and more niche stuff like Gilles Berthoud panniers. Prices are generally pretty screaming in a way that will cause IBDs (independent bike dealers) to drink cheap whisky and contemplate a career change.
The focus at Planet X, for both their products and the other stuff they sell, is clearly value. I’m no business expert, but, frankly, I don’t know how they can sell this bike for $5150 with the SRAM Red and Italian-made carbon frame. It’s significantly cheaper than similar - on paper - bikes from big brands like Specialized, and several-thousand dollars cheaper than I bike I considered a screaming deal not too long ago: Diamondback’s $7200 Podium 7 SRAM Red.
Perhaps because it’s such a simple frame - round tubes, tube-to-tube construction - there’s almost no engineering and computer (FEA, CFD) time to amortize. Perhaps Planet-X’s costs are lower because they’re an online-only, direct to consumer, operation. Maybe they lose money on every Mondo. I don’t know, but, it’s hard for me to look at this bike and not see bad news for traditional brick and mortar bike shops. Those kind of shops need to make good margins to rent a building, pay employees and pay the electricity bill. On the interwebz, I see more and more people who can keep it small, lean, direct, creative and, apparently, don’t need to make the same margins a traditional shop requires.
It used to be that the bikes offered by these discount operations were boring commodities. They were inexpensive, but, unrefined, ugly and devoid of story. The Mondo is another indication of a major change in the bike buying landscape. I wouldn’t in any way compare the technology and development costs in a Mondo to a Cervelo S5VWD, but, the Mondo is a tremendous value and a great story. If the online discount operations are able to make bikes that are not just inexpensive, but, cool and unique as well, it might not be long before they figure out how to make inexpensive, cool and unique bikes that also have a technology story that can go head to head with the Cervelos of the world. When that happens - if that happens - your local bike shop may disappear, or, at least, look much different inside.
I’ve ridden the Mondo a bit. It feels great: stiff and smooth, no obvious red flags. It was the bike that was underneath me when on this ride, so, whatever it is and wherever it’s from, its not holding me back. Look for a full and proper review going in Bicycling soon.