Inspired by the “road less traveled” and perhaps an unlikely leader in the gravel bike trend is Niner’s RLT9. There’s a lot to admire about the fresh-looking bike, even without pedaling it: three great available color schemes, designed for 29-inch or 700c wheels, plenty of tire clearance, carbon fork, internal cable routing, similar tubing to the AIR9 mountain bike, singlespeed or geared options, integrated fender mounts, rear rack mounts, relaxed geometry and disc brakes all make for an extremely attractive package.Tweet Print
It’s a warm morning. The sun’s out and spring has sprung. I’m stepping out of my back door with Cannondale’s Quick CX 3 ready to start the 11-mile commute to the office. My neighbor waves “good morning,” and it promises to be a great day for a ride.
My commute isn’t difficult. There aren’t many hills, or even traffic, but it traverses a variety of riding surfaces. It can make finding an appropriate bike challenging.Tweet Print
We’ve already covered a lot about proper cold weather riding gear (like jackets and footwear) for the high latitude areas where the dropping mercury effects our kit choices. But what about when your face starts leaking on those frigid morning commutes?
No worries friends, I got your back. What I’ve begun to understand is that there is a constant battle to arrive at your destination without strange excrement frozen to your face.Tweet Print
By Matt Kasprzyk
I’ve been a Soma Fabrications owner for a few years—I have a Double Cross DC that has thousands of commuting miles on it—so I was eager to ride something new from a company that specializes in versatile, tough, and long-lasting frames and accessories.
This bike is Soma’s love child with Rivendell, meaning it was designed for Soma as a “sport touring bike” by Rivendell’s Grant Petersen, using Rivendell lugs, geometry, and design details. The San Marcos is “the bike any road rider who doesn’t race but rides mainly on the road ought to be riding,” according to Petersen.
So what are these design details? Well, it’s mainly about handlebar height and retro geometry to increase comfort. The concept is simple and time-tested: raise the handlebars to get weight off your hands, crane your neck less, and relieve stress on your lower back. The San Marcos’ top tube slopes up about 6o, raising the stem’s exit point from the head tube. The bike’s 1-inch threaded fork uses a quill stem that you can easily raise or lower to get the perfect height.
In addition to this main point of Rivendell geometry, you also get some bonuses to versatility that are on par with other Soma models. On the functional side, the bike will accommodate up to a 37mm-wide tire, or 32mm with fenders. The frame sports a pump peg on the head tube and two sets of water-bottle bosses. There are two sets of eyelets in the back for a rack and fenders, but only one set on the fork, meaning no front rack. Soma says light loads are fine, but this isn’t meant as a heavy touring bike.
The San Marcos uses the same steel lugs, bottom bracket shell, and fork crown that other Rivendell bikes do. The frame is made of high-quality Tange Prestige heat-treated, chromoly steel tubes, same as other Soma bikes. What you don’t get are the even higher-end steel and the fancier two-tone paint job of more expensive Rivendell bikes.
The two largest sizes have a double top tube. Since Petersen prefers the classic look of small-diameter tubes and lugs, an extra top tube was added on the 59cm and 63cm frames to maintain the same level of triangulation and stiffness as the smaller sizes, especially in the front end. This design has become one of his trademarks.
I believe bikes have personalities and those personalities are part of the buying decision. Jim Porter of Merry Sales (Soma’s distributor) says their relationship with Rivendell is like the relationship of Elvis to blues or gospel music. Taking his analogy further: if Rivendell is gospel, then Soma is Elvis being played in an old Cadillac.
The San Marcos gets you where you want to go in comfort and style, but it’s not going to be the most racy thing to ride. My test bike was built with 32mm-wide tires and had an incredibly smooth ride, but no tail fins (they aren’t very functional). Rough roads and smooth gravel were less of an issue for sure, as long as you’re not in a hurry.
Riding tall with those high handlebars meant the compact drops are probably at the height of most riders’ brake hoods. This provided several comfortable hand positions. The frame is both tall (in the top tube) and low (in the bottom bracket), which helped make for a very stable ride that carved turns gracefully.
The extra tube certainly seemed to help with front-end stiffness, as intended. I’m not that light, or that slow, but I never detected any lateral flex standing on steep climbs, or front shimmying on fast descents. For those of us used to more modern geometry, the extra top tube looks like overkill. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on a bike intended for heavy touring. But it’s actually a retro solution to preserve frame integrity.
The San Marcos is definitely a comfort road bike that many people could get into as a versatile commuter, or a bike able to cart a light load, or just for getting out on long rides. In terms of goals and execution, I think Soma Fabrications has a winner. The San Marcos looks good and does everything it was meant to. It’s comfortable and versatile, but an inexpensive Rivendell is an expensive Soma. If you’re down with the retro styling and geometry, I’m certain this would provide years of comfortable service and enjoyment.
Price: $900 (frame)
Weight: 25lbs. as built
Sizes available: 47, 51, 54, 59, 63cm (tested)Tweet Print
By Matt Kasprzyk
My commute by bike isn’t too difficult. There aren’t many hills (unless I want there to be), but the route takes me over several surfaces–asphalt, cement, crushed limestone, and a gravel access road. The different surfaces makes finding an appropriate bike challenging. Half of the route is on the road. The rest of my commute is on varying types of rougher surfaces, so I need something that’s as effective on the road as it is on the trail.
Bikes like this Quick CX line from Cannondale might be the right tool for the job. “On-road efficiency meets off-road ruggedness,” says Cannondale. Well it certainly has a suspension fork, disc brakes, and knobbier tires.
I guess that means it’s more rugged than your average commuter.
Efficient, though? The fork has a useful lock out, but the stock tires don’t feel very efficient on the street. It has a tall and short geometry. The toptube is relatively short with a fairly high standover. There is a more upright riding position because of the short toptube, but after adjusting the height of the stem and bars I’ve found a very comfortable riding position.
The frame has all the mounts and eyelets that you’d find useful if you’re considering the Quick CX as your all-season commuter. I’m going to eventually replace Kenda Happy Medium tires with a puncture resistant touring tire. I hope that might quicken the ride on pavement. Aside from that, I don’t see much to change about the bike and plan to put several miles of rough commuting on it before my final judgement.
Keep an eye out in a future issue of Bicycle Times for the complete review, and order a subscription today to make sure you don’t miss it.
By Matt Kasprzyk
Singular claims that the classically inspired Peregrine is its most versatile frame. The bike can be your adventure tourer, your commuter, or even your fat-tire monster ‘cross. It’s built from Reynolds and proprietary butted 4130 chromoly lugged steel. Although the paint and construction may take you back a few decades, Singular makes use of some relatively modern amenities like 29-inch wheels and disc brakes.
My ride to work can cross multiple surfaces, which has made the hunt for a perfect commuting bike difficult. I’ve been after a bike that can handle miles of road and urban streets, as well as dirt—a bike that can weather the abuse of rough gravel and provide some comfort.
Enter Marty of The Prairie Peddler, the only North American distributor of U.K.- made Singular bikes. He built his own Peregrine to tackle miles of unmaintained gravel roads in the Midwest. So, imagine how happy I was when he offered to loan me his personal bike for review.
The frame’s hub spacing is 135mm in the rear, 100mm in the front, same most mountain bikes. Tire clearance is similarly burly—the stays and fork will take a 29×2.0 tire. My loaner had Kenda Karma 29×2.0 tires installed. The frame didn’t leave much clearance for any- thing more aggressive, but Marty says you can get up to 700x45s with fenders if you wanted to go smaller.
The larger diameter tires made a huge difference on the rough when com- pared to the 37mm ones I have been using; I went from trying to pick smooth lines through rough gravel to not needing to pick lines at all. Using mountain bike tires with lower rolling resistance, riding on pavement was still bearable, albeit a little slow.
Obviously, disc brakes are pretty rad, but what I really appreciate is the fact that the Peregrine doesn’t have any canti brake bosses ruining its clean lines. To complete the frame, the braze-ons for racks and fenders don’t interfere with the disc caliper mounts, and there are three water bottle mounts and open-style guides for full-length cable housing.
The 59cm frame is the largest offered and has a 590mm top tube, which I thought was going to be a little short for my height. But with wider flared off-road drop bars, it made riding in those drops a comfortable reach. The 70mm of bottom bracket drop might sound like a bit on the low side until you factor in the taller knobby tires, which raise the bottom bracket height.
Same with the chainstays: 445mm may sound fairly long for a road bike, but that’s pretty average for a 29” mountain bike in order to fit decently aggressive tires. However, when compared to a 29er mountain bike, the wheelbase is short, so expect a nimble ride off-road.
Given the frame’s geometry, the handling offered no surprises. Unloaded, the front end will feel predictably light on pavement and wandered slightly because of the rake of the fork. It took about a half a ride off-road to get used to. The issue for me was getting comfortable in the drop bars on dirt rather than any nuances with handling. All things considered, the geometry is pretty standard—if you can call mountain bike wheels with drop bars standard.
The only drawback for me was toe overlap. Buyers with bigger feet will have to deal with it. I never noticed it on pavement, but I had to be conscious of it when turning sharply off-road. Given the larger tires, my feet, and the frame’s geometry, there isn’t really a way around it. Shorter cranks and smaller tires might have solved it, but that also diminishes the bike’s versatility.
There are no color changes planned for 2012, and that’s fine by me. The classic paint and lugs are a nice compliment to some of the varied builds the Peregrine can take. The second- generation frames will have hourglass-shaped chainstays to allow clearance for road cranks with a narrower Q-factor and bigger chainrings. The eccentric bottom bracket allows for a singlespeed set-up, plus there is a derailleur hanger for geared options.
For $725, North American customers will get a frame with a sterling silver headbadge, matching fork, and Singular licensed Phil Wood EBB. Singular has a much broader presence in Europe with several retailers offering complete builds.
If you’re into the retro steel aesthetic and need something more comfortable to crush miles of gravel, or just want a burly commuter that can handle some singletrack, this could be a wise choice. Singular offers a five-year warranty.
- Age: 32
- Height: 6’2”
- Weight: 185lbs.
- Inseam: 34 inches
- Country of origin: Taiwan
- Price: $725 (frame and fork)
- Weight: 25.4lbs.
- Sizes: 50, 53, 56, 59cm (tested)
By Matt Kasprzyk,
My commute to work, should I choose, takes me over a variety of surfaces. Because of that, I’ve had a monster ‘cross-style bike on my mind for about year now. A road bike with disc brakes that could fit 29 x 2.0 tires seemed ideal to tackle the few miles of road, cinder, and rough gravel.
Apparently I’m not the only person to think so. Adventure touring bikes are coming on and the UK’s Singular was able to send a uniquely specced Peregrine allowing me to experience what I’ve been dreaming of.
The Peregrine is billed as Singular’s most versatile frameset. It’s designed for drop bars, can fit up to 29 x 2.0 tires without fenders, has classic lugged construction, an eccentric bottom bracket insert for gears or singlespeed, brake and gear cable guides with rack and mudguard mounts and a matching lugged fork.
“Sturdy enough to hit the dirt, nimble enough for some singletrack, stable enough for touring – the Peregrine will do what you want to do, take you where you want to go," says the Singular website, and from the several weeks I’ve been on the Peregrine, I have no reason to doubt it.
Check out the full review in Bicycle Times issue #15, on sale January 31.
By Matt Kasprzyk
For 2011, Felt is offering six distinct urban models in its Fixie line, the Gridlock being one of the most versatile, and expensive. It will immediately appeal to some people, as the design is clean and classic, drawing inspiration from urban cycling subculture. The paint and build kit accentuate the niche appeal Felt has gained with the recent commercial success of their track frames.
At first glance, the bike may look understated and simple, but there are some serious features often seen on more performance-oriented bikes. Under that matte copper paint is a carbon-bladed fork with aluminum steerer tube and dropouts. The frame is butted and hydroformed aluminum with steel track dropouts in the rear and mounts for a rear rack. The cable routing is internal, helping to maintain a clean look if you want to remove the brakes. One of the most eye-catching items is Felt’s integrated aluminum handlebar and stem, called Mr. Tea. It’s hard not to think of some ex-girlfriend jeans when you see it. As the bar’s name suggests, it’s one piece, only 20” wide, and has a fat 35mm grip diameter (not compatible with standard grips). If you have larger hands, the thicker grip might suit you well.
The Gridlock’s geometry has similar head and seat tube angles as Felt’s road frames. However, the Gridlock’s wheelbase is in between that of their road and track frames. The narrow bars add to the quicker handling and more nimble ride when compared to a typical road bike—fun in the turns, but not as stable bombing hills. The 65mm bottom bracket drop is not quite road bike low, but far lower than a typical track bike, something to be aware of if riding fixed on one of the larger sizes. The reach is also shorter than both road or track geometry, giving a slightly more upright riding position.
The drivetrain isn’t as simple as it looks. It’s a 3-speed fixed-gear Sturmey- Archer S3X internal hub with thumb shifter. It comes as a 46×13- tooth fixed-gear set-up with a 16-tooth freewheel adapter if you’d rather not ride fixed. The third gear is direct drive (1:1 ratio), which is what I spent most of my time in. I only used the other two, lower gears if I needed a bailout on climbs. Anyone used to singlespeed riding will have no trouble with the gear range, but there certainly isn’t anything near the highs of a road bike or lows of a mountain bike.
The thumb shifter is indexed. Even so, I found a bit of delay between switching gears. Sturmey Archer says that a delay in shifting, similar to that of a typical front derailleur, can be expected with internal hubs. The hub is moving more cable than a road or mountain rear derailleur, so it will naturally take a little longer to engage. Although you won’t get the precise shifting characteristic of performance drivetrains, there is quite a bit of practicality and ease with an internal hub.
Tektro brakes do the stopping (if you choose to use them) with enough clearance for fenders. The wheelset is a Felt Urban pair with a CNC-machined braking surface and 24 stainless steel spokes both front and rear, shod with 23mm tires. Another notable accessory is the Felt BeerNuts axle nut and bottle opener tool, but be careful with that—not everyone washes their hands.
The only real pill that’s tough to swallow is the Gridloc’s handlebars. I found that the thicker diameter grip was rather comfortable. However, the width of the bar doesn’t suit every application. Short distances it’s nothing to worry about, but on a long commute, the completely straight and narrow bars tended to hyper-extend the outside of my wrists. And as you can imagine with bars that narrow, the steering is quick.
I can’t help admiring how the Gridlock fuses tech and style. The price tag might eliminate some riders to whom the style appeals. However, if you’re on the fence, there might be enough bells and whistles to convince you this is worth the money. It’s not the simplistic back-to-basics, Jamaican-messenger austerity, but it could help you begin to appreciate that. Unwilling to commit to a singlespeed fixed geared bike and want something that looks great outside your frequent stops? Or have a short city commute and want a more practical urban machine? Check out the Gridlock.
- Age: 31
- Height: 6’2”
- Weight: 190lbs.
- Inseam: 33.5”
- Country of Origin: China
- Price: $1,000
- Weight: 22lbs.
- Sizes Available: 51, 54, 56, 58, 61 (tested)
- Online: www.feltbicycles.com
In an effort to consolidate their line of fixed gears and singlespeeds, Felt has discontinued the Gridlock for model-year 2012. -ed.
By Matt Kasprzyk
So why is All-City’s new cyclocross bike getting some play in Bicycle Times? Well, it’s because most bicycle commuters will tell you that there’s some serious functional benefits to riding a CX bike as a commuting rig. All-City knows this, and I’m about to tell you why.
Cyclocross bikes are generally burly road bikes. There’s the benefit of multiple hand positions, wider tires, often fender mounts and sometimes rack mounts. However, they usually don’t have the relatively sluggish handling and ride characteristics of a touring bike. All-City has a history of making track bikes and the Nature Boy shares some of that geometry philosophy. It’s meant primarily as a race bike, but has some utility as a commuting bike.
The Nature Boy is a single speed 42x16t CX bike named after Minnesota professional wrestling legend Ric Flair. It has a 4130 ChroMoly steel frame and straight blade fork. The dropouts are custom and it sports a signature headbadge. There are hidden fender mounts on the inside of the seat stays and removable canti studs if you want to run it fixed without brakes. The frame and fork have room for 38c tires, and up to 35c with fenders. Racers and commuters can appreciate the internal cable routing too.
The numbers on paper seem a little steep for traditional ‘cross geometry and the bottom bracket may appear a little low if you’re used to cyclocross numbers. All-City says you’re never really riding over barriers in a race, so why not have a bike that corners better?
The Nature Boy looks pretty versatile, so I’ll take All-City’s advise: “race the crap out of it, ride singletrack, gravel, or commute until your heart’s content. “
By Matt Kasprzyk
Don’t let the classic-looking Oxford laces and shiitake mushroom-colored leather fool you. Contrary to the casual off-bike demeanor, this shoe has some on-bike performance. There’s a 3/4-length plastic shank in the sole for stiffness while pedaling, and a mounting plate underfoot for optional SPD use. With cleats installed, they are recessed enough so I’m not clicking down the street or around the office. The outer sole wraps partially around the toe for protection, and the footbed is designed to give good arch support while conforming to the contours of my feet.
The liner is moisture-wicking, and the outer is waterproof leather. My feet stayed dry in light rain, but don’t expect much breathability. These are comfortable in cool weather and long commutes with enough stiffness for efficient pedaling. When off the bike, there is some give for fairly comfortable walking and office wear. If your bike takes you to the pub and market as often as the office, these are worth looking into. They fit true to size. Keen suggests using leather conditioner to add to the longevity. One-year warranty. Made in Asia.