Our friend Geno Villafano recently won the Garmin Gravel Worlds in Nebraska, USA using a 2023 King Zydeco.
So we thought it was finally time to ask him a review of the bike he has been using throughout the season, to check out his feeling towards our go-fast-everywhere monocoque carbon fiber frame...
How many kms/miles have you clocked on your Cinelli so far?
On the gravel rig, about 2,100km which isn’t a lot for me in the time I’ve had the bike, but most of those have been race miles.
What kind of riding have you been using it for? What kind of rides do you most love taking it on?
At first I was mostly using it for “fast gravel” things, like the dirt roads around New England, but once I realized I could fit 45c knobby tires on it while still maintaining good mud clearance I started taking it around MTB trails and single track. So, besides it being my race machine it also gets me onto some trails that I haven’t been able to touch since selling my mountain bikes. I’ve also been loving it for bikepacking. Becca and I spent a few years bikepacking on cyclocross bikes, which were great, but they lacked all the bolt-on bag mounting points and massive tire clearance we get with the Zydecos, and I don’t think I can ever go back.
How does your setup reflect that? Could you take us through the details of your build and its relationship to your riding style and needs?
My King Zydeco setup is pretty basic by modern standards, in that I don’t use electronic shifting. I grew up wrenching at my parent’s bikeshop working as a mechanic, so I have no issue keeping mechanical drivetrains running well. The downsides to electric just doesn’t outweigh the low cost, lightweight, and no-charging benefits of mechanical in my opinion. (I still think electronic is great in winter when my cables freeze though).
I run a Sram Eagle XX1 rear mech with Sram Apex levels using a ratio 12s conversion kit. A Garbaruk 10-52t cassette and their 46t direct mount front ring. The Garbaruk stuff comes from the MTB realm and I’ve been running it on all my road and gravel bikes for years. It shifts and holds chains better than stock components, and looks way cooler.
I’m always running either Panaracer SS or SK tires in somewhere between a 38 and a 45c depending on what I’m doing. The panas are fast tires and by far the most reliable tire I’ve ever used. They just punch way above their weight for the price so I’ve stopped experimenting with any other tires.
Since my Zydeco is also a bikepacking rig it also occasionally gets a full suite of minimalist bikepacking bags. I’ve been running the ultralightweight stuff from Woho Bikepacking for this. I even used their medium frame bag and top tube bag for my last 300 mi gravel race (Gravel worlds). They’ve been, by far, my favorite off-the-shelf bags for all my bikes.
Is this the first time you've ridden a carbon fiber gravel bike?
I love carbon bikes. I try to stay rooted, relatable, and frugal in so many things related to cycling but carbon as a material is wonderous for gravel bikes. The combination of stiffness where you need it, lightweight, and dampening is really something special. I never knew another material could get close to it until I started riding the (steel) Nemo Tig recently. I guess if I wanted a softer ride I’d go with the steel frame, but for racing the Zydeco is perfect. I love the bottom bracket stiffness and how efficient it feels putting down power, and since it easily fits 45c tires with mud clearance you can make the ride smooth by just running big tires at low pressure.
How would you describe the handling and ride experience?
The bike is incredibly nimble, more so than I was expecting. It can change lines on a dime. It actually took some getting used to coming from my much longer and more “boat like” cyclocross bike, but now I love it. I’ve been PR-ing and KOM-ing a lot of the single-track MTB trails around me, which is great training for a lot of the gravel racing I do because they often incorporate trails like that.
What do you like most about this bike and why would you recommend it to a friend?
Everything I mentioned above, but also that it is an incredibly light frameset despite having all that tire clearance and all the mounting points for fenders, bikepacking bags, and bottles. My build is lighter than many road bikes.
Front derailleur: NA
Rear derailleur: Sram Eagle XX1
Shifters: Sram Apex 11s with Ratio Tech. 12s conversion kit
Brakes: Sram Apex
Hubs: Easter Vault
Cassette: Garbaruk 12s 10-52t
Chain: Sram Eagle XX1
Rims: Easton EC90ax
Crank: RaceWork 170mm hollow carbon crank
Bottom bracket: Wheels Manufacturing
Handlebars: No-Brand carbon 1 piece
Seat post: No-Brand carbon
Saddle: No-Brand carbon
Tires: Panaracer SS (43c at the moment)