Review: Twin Six Rando

Twin Six is a clothing company, so I was a bit surprised to see a collection of bikes in its Interbike trade-show booth a few years ago. The surprise quickly turned to respect, as the bike lineup was simple yet well thought out. This is the sole steel bike in the line—its other bikes are titanium.

“This whole thing [Twin Six, back in 2004] was started because of being fed up with boring options when it came to cycling apparel,” said co-founder and owner, Ryan Carlson. “We founded this company on the idea of designing clothes we wanted to wear. Fast forward 10 years, and our thoughts were the same—let’s design bikes we want to ride. There were plenty of ‘mediocre-frame with crappy- parts’ combos out there, but we felt like we could provide a better option. Two years of drawing and prototyping later and we couldn’t be happier with the range of steel and titanium frames we’re putting out there.”

The Standard Rando is a very practical, by the numbers, all-rounder. While that might sound like damning with faint praise, it is a high compliment in these days of increasingly complicated bikes. A steel frame and fork with classic geometry, but modern components, might just be the ticket for people who want to step off the technology bullet train.

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The Bike

At the heart of the Rando is a double-butted, 4130 chromoly steel frame. While there are probably at least a dozen options for bikes similar to this one, the Rando stands out as a simple and focused option, offering just what most riders want in a frame like this without extraneous braze–ons or styling exercises.

My favorite feature about this frame is the cable routing. Nothing fancy here, just simple cable clips that screw into bosses in the down tube. Full housing runs for every cable reduces the chances for contamination, and all cables under the downtube keeps everything neat. It makes internal routing seem silly. Which it is.

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The frame also has a chainstay mounted disc caliper for easy rack and fender mounting. The fork has mid-mounts for a low-rider rack and a pair of mounts at the forward-facing dropouts. Cheers to steel forks. I think they ride better than carbon and are better able to handle the day-to- day abuse a bike like this may face.

There is one complete bike option for the Standard Rando: a SRAM Rival build kit with BB7 brakes, NoTubes Grail wheels and a Fizik cockpit. Gearing is a practical 46/36 crankset and 11-32 cassette. It’s all very functional stuff and the customer can even choose handlebar width and crank length.

 

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The Ride

The black paint hides it well, but the steel tubing on this bike is of the oversized variety. And that oversized tubing gives this bike a solid feel. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the “feel” that a good steel frame is famous for, but compared to some of the steel bikes I’ve ridden lately, it resists flex under hard pedaling efforts very well.

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The stock 32 mm Panaracer Pasela tires step up and help take the edge off quite well. I swapped in a set of new, 36 mm tubeless Clement MSO tires (see page 60), and things got even better. You can stuff in a tire up to 43 mm wide but that is starting to run out of clearance for mud.

The Rando can handle pretty rough roads without complaint, but it does make its road-focused geometry known when things get really dicey. For the most part it was a fun bike for exploring but not something I would intentionally take on rides with a lot of singletrack, as the steep head angle and low bottom bracket make for interesting times.

That leaves a whole lot of good riding to be had, and with the versatility afforded by all the braze-ons this bike can be set up for almost anything. You could add fenders and a rack for commuting, a low-rider front and a big seat bag for light touring, or knobby tires for gravel rides. They’re all good options and all easy to set up.

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The Rando has 75 mm of bottom bracket drop, which is a good spec when paired with the bigger tires. This keeps the center of gravity low when cornering. Those big tires, whether knobby or not, offer up the traction, and the geometry is happy to take full advantage of it to carve around corners like a sharp knife through a Christmas ham.

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Conclusions

There is a frame and fork option as well for $600. As of early August, the green color option is sold out, but expect another color besides black to be ready soon. The black metal fenders pictured are a $30 upgrade, worth it for the matching look and protection from the elements, although they are not the easiest to install.

The Standard Rando is standout for its clean aesthetic, smart spec and simple functionality. As a steel frame on the stiffer end of the spectrum, this is a good fit for heavier riders or for those folks who just want to mash the pedals and go fast. Strong, stable and straightforward, the Rando is a straight-talking bike that can deliver on its promises.

Ed. Note: The latest color option for this bike is orange, as of May 2017.

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Tester: Eric McKeegan
Price: $2,000
Weight: 23.5 lbs
Sizes: 51, 53, 55, 57 (tested), 59


This review originally appeared in Bicycle Times 43. Subscribe to our email newsletter to get fresh content delivered to your inbox every Tuesday!

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First Impression: REI Co-Op ARD 1.2

Adventure outlet REI is ushering in spring 2017 with their new bike line, Co-op Cycles. This new line of bicycles increases their focus on adventure products by placing a slightly increased emphasis on the popular, and growing, segment of gravel and adventure inspired bikes. Feedback from a co-op members survey directed REI’s decision making after it was determined that members were looking to purchase bikes for adventure, freedom and fun. Sounds good to me.

Select representatives from the cycling and outdoor industry were invited to kick the tires on the new offerings and do a short mixed surface bikepacking overnight in the outskirts of Austin, Texas. Part of the Austin REI team led the ride on paved and gravel county roads, giving riders the full experience on the Co-Op ARD 1.2, their all-around, gravel/adventure bicycle.

mensbike

Men’s Co-Op ARD 1.2

Women's Co-Op ARD 1.2

Women’s Co-Op ARD 1.2

The ARD 1.2 represents the middle-of-the-road option in terms of trim and pricing. It features an aluminum frame with a carbon fork, Shimano 105 drivetrain, TRP Spyre-C dual piston mechanical disc brakes, rack mounts and a front thru-axle.

The bike comes stock with 28mm tires and a generous amount of room for fenders. For this ride, the ARD 1.2 was set up with beefier 35mm tires as we made our way through some thicker dirt and gravel areas. There is still a fair amount of clearance with the 35mm tires, but REI doesn’t recommend using fenders with tires larger than 28mm.

drivetrain

The ARD 1.2 was capable of riding through a variety of terrain and was just fun to ride. The Shimano 105 2×11 drivetrain offered enough of a range to see me up and over most of what Texas hill country could dish out and the carbon fork helped dampen front impacts while remaining stiff and light.

While I don’t often ride drop bars bikes, I really enjoyed my (relatively brief) time on the ARD 1.2. It handled both smooth, flat asphalt stretches and sketchy, gravels descents with equal predictability and seemed up for just about anything else I might want to throw at it.

Photo courtesy of REI

Photo courtesy of REI

Available in men’s and women’s sizing, The Co-Op ARD 1.2  will set you back $1,299. If this is a little rich for your blood, Co-Op offers a more reasonably priced (the Co-Op ARD 1.1) model which goes for $849. Of course, the componentry is not as robust as the 1.2, but that is pretty typical when the price drops on a bike (top tip!).

There are also two higher priced carbon models. The ARD 1.3 has a carbon frame and fork, is equipped with Shimano Tiagra components and is priced at $1,799. The most pricey model is the full carbon ARD 1.4, which comes with American Classic wheels and weighs in at 19lbs 1.1oz(!) and will set you back $2,299.

Photo courtesy of REI

Photo courtesy of REI

I walked away impressed with the Co-Op ARD 1.2 and feel like REI really took their members’ feedback to heart. This bike is a great choice for a wide range of cyclists who are looking for a moderately priced adventure bike.

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Review: Bianchi All Road Hydraulic Disc 105

Words and photos by Jeff Lockwood 

The Italian bicycle brand Bianchi has been an icon in the world of cycling for well over 100 years, and its celeste green paint is lusted after by legions of bicycle lovers from all walks of life. While Bianchi regularly sees its bikes in the pro peloton, the brand is also known for building a solid stable of rigs for mere mortal cyclists. For example, Bianchi produced a very popular series of singlespeed mountain bikes, like the SiSS, in the early- to mid-2000s.

We know from watching races like the Giro d’Italia and Strade Bianche that Italy has some rough roads and that Italians love to ride bikes. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Bianchi’s All Road collection offers a couple of bikes to be ridden atop such surfaces. As part of this collection, the All Road Disc 105 hits a market that prefers a bike that can handle the rugged white roads in Tuscany as well as riding to the local café or winery. While that sounds quite utopian, more practical applications for the All Road for the rest of us means we can ride the bike around town during the week and then take it on some modest adventures on the weekend.

Bianchi - BT

The aluminum All Road frame is designed to be ridden in a variety of scenarios, on differing surfaces—sometimes all on the same ride. While people sometimes simply opt to buy cyclocross bikes for off-road riding, the All Road offers some features that are more specific and useful to the average cyclist—and offers more comfort than a racy cyclocross frame.

Bianchi’s own marketing copy positions the bike as a capable all-terrain steed, “The All Road best suits the needs of riders looking to enjoy endless miles ‘off the grid’ — whether their excursions take them up fire roads, down gravel roads, over mountain bike trails or ‘all of the above.’” However, I find the bike does better with riding situations closer to home. Without failing miserably at being too many things to too many people, the All Road deftly presents a product that wisely offers three important characteristics needed for varying types of riding.

Bianchi drivetrain - BT

1. Versatility

For starters, the amusingly (yet appropriately) named 35 mm Kenda Happy Medium tires offer a tread that will roll nicely on smooth tarmac, grab enough on loose dirt roads and absorb some impact from neglected city streets. The fender mounts are key if you’re more into commuting to the office, as well as light touring. The 35 mm tires are about as wide as you can fit here, but there’s still plenty of room for the fenders. While the rack mounts offer a certain level of utility by allowing you to attach some bags and other bits, I wouldn’t say this bike is quite suited to heavy touring or bikepacking.

The key aspect of the bike’s versatility, in my opinion, is the fact that it’s a bicycle that is quite stable and comfortable on rougher roads for long distances. However, it’s still nimble enough that it can confidently cut and dice around traffic and errant pedestrians as you ride from your apartment to those glorious dirty stretches of road. And, of course, everything in between.

Bianchi tires - BT

Bianchi rear rack mounts- BT

Bianchi tires- BT

2. Comfort

While you could theoretically use the All Road to test the waters of a cyclocross race if you’ve never done one before, the bike has a more relaxed and comfortable geometry and measurements than its racy siblings. The chainstays are a bit longer, which offers more straightline stability, yet the front end of the bike remains on the short side. This lets the bike get snappy when you need/want it to be.

Its taller headtube puts the rider in a more upright (read: comfortable) position, which is always good for those long days in the saddle. This comfortable position is bolstered by the compact handlebars, which offer a shallow drop and slightly flared drops. I love the comfort and confidence this cockpit offers. It’s not often that I find myself riding in the drops on road or ‘cross bikes too much, so it was a pleasure to get into such a position with the All Road.

Bianchi bars - BT

Bianchi stem- BT

The All Road is spec’d with a wider diameter seatpost (31.6 mm). Combined with its aluminum frame, I was expecting a rather rigid and unforgiving feel—especially on rough roads. I was pleasantly surprised that the bike muted some of the vibrations on rougher roads. While it didn’t offer steel-frame-level forgiveness, I found it to be plenty comfortable. Sure, this is mostly thanks to the wider tires, but the whole package rode really nicely.

Bianchi fork - BT

3. Performance

Let’s be honest. The All Road is not designed, or priced, to be a hard-edged racing machine. It’s meant to be more of the trusty Swiss Army knife you have at the ready for whatever might come your way. However, since it’s billed as something to play in the dirt with, I sought out to see how the bike would perform on some tasty singletrack. It’s definitely no cyclocross bike, nor can it withstand truly technical trails with gnarly rocks and roots. But when the path was smooth, flowy and tacky, the All Road was fun. As long as I approached turns with a bit of care, the All Road stuck nicely to the trail.

The component spec on the All Road is typical for what you would find on a similarly priced rig. Shimano 105 takes care of the drivetrain. The 105 group is the workhorse of the shifter/derailleur world, and it’s hard to beat its performance-to-cost ratio. Disc brakes are a must for a bike like this, and Shimano’s road-specific hydraulic brakes offer smooth modulation and confidence. The aluminum stem, bars and seatpost, all branded as Bianchi’s Reparto Corse products, do their respective jobs with neither complaint nor fanfare. The carbon fiber fork is a nice touch. It tracks nicely and doesn’t really chatter on the rough stuff, which is welcome for more dirty sorts of riding.

Bianchi front derailleur - BT

Bianchi rear derailleur - BT

Bianchi QR- BT

While the Reparto Corse DRAW 1.9 Disc wheels and the Happy Medium tires performed well during the testing period, I would have preferred to run a tubeless setup. I understand that would have priced the bike a bit higher, but the performance gains, and confidence, offered by tubeless tires is key for such off-road specific bikes like this. I did worry about pinch flats when I would drop the pressure to further smooth out the ride.

While it was designed and built to be primarily ridden off-road, I found the Bianchi All Road more adept at rides along varying types of surfaces, rather than a pure gravel machine as marketed. If you’re into riding what you want, when you want, the All Road is certainly worth consideration. It may lack the sexiness that Bianchi is known for, but it’s a reliable rig that’s versatile, comfortable, decently spec’d and comes in below the $2,000 threshold.

Bianchi rider- BT

Price: $1,900
Sizes: 50, 53, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 61 cm
Weight: 24.3 lbs


This review originally appeared in Bicycle Times #44. Read more reviews online here, and subscribe to our weekly email newsletter to get content like this delivered directly to your inbox every Tuesday.

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Review: Soma Wolverine

Wolverine-6

Tester: Justin Steiner
Price: $620 (frameset)
Weight: 7.1 pounds (frameset)
Sizes: 50, 52 (tested), 54, 56, 58, 60, 62 cm

I’ve always been a sucker for bicycles that offer heaps of versatility. Sure, some folks will argue that aiming for versatility results in a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” scenario, but in reality most of us are more jack than master anyway.

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On paper, Soma’s Wolverine offers compelling versatility in terms of tire and drivetrain flexibility as well as options for mounting racks and fenders. The Wolverine frame is constructed from Tange Prestige heat-treated chromoly steel and butted chromoly stays. The rear triangle offers mounts for fenders and racks, and the disc brake caliper mounts to the sliding dropout.

Wolverine-3

The Tange/IRD rear dropouts offer adjustable chainstay length and the ability to run a singlespeed setup. These dropouts are also compatible with many of Paragon Machine Works’ dropout offerings, including Rohloff, thru axle, direct mount and other options.

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The fork uses a flat crown and Tange Infinity chromoly fork legs with double braze-ons at the dropout for rack and fender mounts as well as mid-mount eyelets and mini rack mounts for a front rack.

A small section of the drive-side chainstay also unbolts in order to install or remove a belt for belt drive. Originally, the Wolverine was slated for development as a belt drive compatible version of Soma’s popular Double Cross. However, Soma employee Evan Baird suggested the company push tire clearance into the monster ‘cross realm to give riders more options.

Wolverine-5

The team’s effort to maximize utility then led them to lengthen the wheelbase and increase stack height to improve on the Wolverine’s light touring chops. With clearance for 45 mm tires with fenders, or 1.8 to 2 inch wide knobby tires—depending on volume and knob size—without fenders, the Wolverine holds up the monster ‘cross description quite well.

Top tube lengths on the smaller sizes run on the longer side, so be sure to take a close look at the 50 and 52 cm frames. The smallest is said to fit riders from 5 feet 4 inches to 5 feet 8 inches, while the 52 cm spans 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 10 inches.

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Soma currently offers the Wolverine as a frameset only, but the company built up a complete bike to facilitate testing, including a SRAM Rival 1×11 drivetrain and Avid BB7 brakes. The Easton Heist 24 mountain bike wheels offer ample width for the Shikoro tires in a 42 mm width. Soma’s Rain Dog fenders round out the build and keep salty winter road spray and spring showers at bay.

A couple things struck me on my first couple of rides aboard the Wolverine. First, I had forgotten how supple and lively a steel bike can feel, even at this price point. The ride quality improvement when you jump from a basic 4130 tubeset to even an entry-level, name-brand tubeset is significant.

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Secondly, the big Shikoro tires rolled very well and were incredibly comfortable. This was my first extended test of SRAM’s 1×11 drivetrain on a drop bar bike and I’ve come away impressed. At first, the larger ratio jumps between gears were noticeable, but I quickly acclimated.

This setup is great for all-around recreational and commuting use, but may not offer enough gearing range for steep terrain when loaded for a camping weekend. My test rig had the 42-tooth chainring up front, which I would definitely swap for the 38-tooth for touring—the smallest chainring offered with the Rival crankset.

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Just as Soma intended, the handling of the Wolverine straddles the middle ground between drop-bar commuter, monster ‘cross bike and light touring rig. Handling is quicker than you’d find on a true touring rig, but slightly more relaxed than you’d find on a cyclocross bike.

Off road, the Wolverine feels great on graded dirt surfaces or anything that could be loosely classified as a road. When you turn onto singletrack the Wolverine holds its own but the road-oriented geometry requires quick reflexes. With its plethora of rack options the Wolverine is ready for adventure.

However, it’s important to keep in mind this is designed as a light touring bike. It’s more than up to the task, but the lighter your load the more fun you’ll have. If you’re looking for a round-the-world-with-the-kitchen-sink rig, there are better choices on the market such as Soma’s Saga touring bike.

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With a reasonable weekend’s worth of gear, the Wolverine’s handling and frame stiffness both felt great. In day-to-day use as a commuter rig, the Wolverine was a treat. Handling is lively and fun if you’re feeling frisky, yet mellow enough to let you zone out and decompress on your way home from work.

Set it up with fenders and commuting tires for weekly commutes. Rip the fenders off and throw on some knobbies for a long weekend gravel bikepacking adventure. Run it as a singlespeed commuter during the winter to save your drivetrain. The options are nearly limitless if you enjoy tinkering.

Wolverine-1

No doubt, there are a lot of bikes on the market promising versatility. Soma’s Wolverine is a fine example of one that offers highly functional versatility with a few features, such as the sliding dropouts and belt drive capability, that set it apart from entry-level offerings. It’s easy to see this as a versatile drop-bar solution for anyone outside of the performance road or ‘cross racing realm.

It’s now available in black in addition to orange.

 

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Jamis announces 2017 adventure and cyclocross bikes

Jamis announced its early-release 2017 bicycle—the Nova Cyclocross Series and Renegade Adventure Series—due to be available in stores as early as late July, with the rest of the Jamis bike line revealed in September.

Renegade

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Jamis Renegade Elite

The Jamis Renegade line of adventure/gravel/all-road bikes was refreshed with two carbon, two steel (Reynolds 631 and 520) and one aluminum frames. Complete bikes range in price from $3,900 (full carbon, Shimano Ultegra, 19 pounds) to $800 (full aluminum, Shimano Claris, 24 pounds).

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Jamis Renegade Exploit

The Renegades feature disc brakes, front and rear thru axles (on most models), room for 700×40 mm tires and carbon forks on all but the base aluminum model. The wheels feature tubeless-ready mountain rims that are 23-24 mm wide. The full-carbon bikes have internal cable routing and are ready to accept an internally-routed dropper post (seat post size is still 27.2 mm, but there are more and more options now available in that size).

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Jamis Renegade Exile

The Renegade frame geometry is “long and tall,” with three different fork offsets, bottom bracket drops and rear-center measurements available so that bike fits are consistent and appropriate across sizes 48 to 61 cm.

With a wide collection of fork and frame mounts, you can mount fenders, a rear rack, a low-rider front rack (or two fork cages for water bottles/storage) and three front triangle bottle cages.

Nova Cyclocross

Supernova Team

Supernova Team

The Jamis Nova Cyclocross Series features two carbon models and one aluminum, ranging in price from $4,000 down to $1,900.

Nova Pro aluminum

Nova Pro aluminum

All three models of the Nova have been updated to includes 142×12 mm thru axles in the rear. A unique carbon molding process for the top two models purports to be lighter and stiffer while being less harsh. The frames use size-specific tubing, in which top and down tubes get smaller as the frame size gets smaller, which is intended to keep performance characteristics consistent across the line. The carbon models also get a 15 mm thru-axle fork, internal cable routing and Di2 compatibility.

 

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