From Jan Frodeno’s Canyon Speedmax to Ali Brownlee’s Scott Plasma and Flora Duffy’s Specialized Tarmac, we feature plenty of high-end lightweight carbon fibre machines here on 220.
But most of us actually buy bikes at much more real-world prices, with our reader research showing over 40% of you currently ride a bike that costs under the Cycle to Work Scheme cap of £1,000. Fortunately, even road bikes with a top price of £700 have enjoyed some trickle-down technology, so internal cable routing is now seen as often as not, and the frames regularly feature geometry and other design touches inherited from much more exotic bikes.
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Our three bikes on test here start with Fuji’s endurance-friendly Sportif 2.3 before moving onto the Pinerolo SE 0.1 from the British company Mekk, which is geared towards the racier end of the road bike spectrum. Specialized’s Allez, which has undergone a major redesign for 2018, completes the line-up. Each of these three offers something slightly different. And each looks like they’d potentially make a great bike if you’re dipping your toes into triathlon for the first time, or are looking to upgrade from a more basic bike.
THE FUJI SPORTIF 2.3
Originally hailing from Japan – hence their Mount Fuji logo – Fuji are now a Taiwanese-American company, and that international flavour is continued in the manufacturing of the Sportif, which is designed in the USA, made in China and distributed in the UK by online giants Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles.
The Sportif 2.3 is very much aimed at the triathlete with distance riding and comfort in mind. Our 56cm model has a 19cm head tube, plus a headset top-cap and 3.5cm of spacers, while its short 9cm stem further adds to a very upright back-friendly ride. Frame angles are all pretty standard 73° and, though the chainstays are 42cm, the wheelbase isn’t overly long (100cm on our test model).
The double-butted aluminium frame is standard stuff for the price, which isn’t a negative. It has neat internal cabling, a standard threaded bottom bracket and a 1 and 1/8in carbon fork with an aluminium steerer. Why mess with tried-and-trusted technology?
The Sportif’s most notable features are the tapered ‘Wave’ seatstays, which are designed to ‘disrupt and diffuse road vibration and provide a slight vertical flex, increasing your comfort and smoothing out your ride’. Kinked slim seatstays should certainly reduce vertical stiffness, but our reckoning is that the geometry and 28mm tyres contribute just as much as those swooshy stays. The Vittoria Zaffiro tyres have a largely slick centre and lightly treaded sides that’ll give you a little grip off the tarmac, but the real treat is that they balloon out to a bump-numbing, bum-comforting 30mm width on the decent Vera Corsa wheels, while still having space for proper mudguards.
The Shimano Claris groupset is here in its compact chainset, 11-32 cassette incarnation while the unbranded non-cartridge brakes have all the hallmarks of coming from Tektro. They work well enough, but we’d stick with our usual recommendation of up-speccing to cartridge brake blocks. The rest of the components are from Oval, Fuji’s in-house kit supplier, and all are fine for the price.
We were surprised just how impressed we were with the Fuji’s ride. True, you’re not going to be zinging along at 25mph, sprinting like Jonny Brownlee or setting Strava records, but that’s missing the point. Instead, you’ll be spinning along comfortably at nearer 15mph, but you can do it day after day. Okay, it’s carrying a little extra weight, and it’s a little ponderous on hills so won’t suit the hilliest of short-course triathlon bike courses (see Helvellyn and the Slateman Tri), but when gravity is no longer on your side that
32-tooth sprocket becomes your new best friend.
Rear rack mounts mean you could easily load up to tour on it, with the upright riding position being touring-friendly even if the wheelbase is a little shorter than a tourer’s. And it makes a very fine long-distance commuter, which were the rides we used it on initially, with the big tyres coping well with poor surfaces. If the position isn’t too upright for you it can double as a tough, year-round trainer.
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
MORE OR LESS OPTIONS: FUJI
The Fuji Sportif 2.1 (£849.99) with Shimano nine-speed Sora is a little lighter, but the frame and most of the kit is the same as the 2.3. The Sportif 2.5 (£599.99) shares the same frame, all-important wheels and tyres but a step down to seven-speed Shimano A070 and an 11-28 cassette.
MEKK PINEROLO SE 0.1
While Specialized is a child of the 70s and Fuji date back to 1889, Mekk is the new kid on the Brit cycling scene, though its two founders – Mark Edwards and Ken Knight – are leading cycling industry figures. They’ve created a range of 13 aluminium and carbon road bikes, of which the Pinerolo SE 0.1 is the least expensive. As with the rest of our bikes here it comes with eight-speed Shimano Claris, but in an older incarnation rather than the newest R2000.
The entry-level Pinerolo has an aluminium frame, carbon fork and Tektro brakes with cartridge pads. There are some more unusual choices in the form of the compact chainset, wheels and cockpit kit from Mekk’s associated company Saturae. Instead of the cabling being hidden underneath the bar tape, the gear cables dangle in front. Aesthetically it’s less elegant, but the shifting action is lighter, both ways across the cassette and from the small to large chainring, which surprised us. The levers are a slightly different shape, too; the newer ones have been beefed up, their extra width a more natural fit for your fingers than this earlier, skinnier version.
One of the reasons for this is that, while the Specialized overleaf has had a recent makeover, the Pinerolo design is now a few years old. So, it’s all external cable routing and perhaps more significantly, it still has 23mm tyres, all the others having 25mm or 28mm rubber. That’s even more of a surprise when you spy the Mekk’s rear rack and mudguard mounts – there’s plenty of clearance for the rear mudguard but a front one would be a very tight squeeze, and nigh-on impossible with 25mm tyres.
Saturae is Mekk’s associated component-manufacturing arm and its name adorns the standard aluminium cockpit components, straightforward wheels and a Shimano Claris-alike five-arm compact chainset, which shifted just as well as Shimano’s own. The 11-30 cassette is still better on the hills than an 11-28, and it’s good to see cartridge brakes, too.
The Mekk stands out with its unashamedly aggressive geometry, steep frame angles (74° head and 75° seat), a long, racy top tube and a head tube that, at 14cm, is by far the shortest here, though 4cm of spacers do allow you to set the bar higher if you don’t want to be in perma-race mode. This marks it out as a more performance- rather than endurance-orientated ride. Though not that light, it climbs well thanks to that tight front end rewarding out-of-the-saddle efforts. Its racier credentials hold up on descents, where it feels controlled.
Concerns that the seatstays, which are larger than most, would leave us battered over poorer surfaces, proved unfounded. Though we’d have still preferred wider tyres and a less squidgy saddle. We would’ve liked a little more cushioning from the bar tape, too, even though the carbon fork takes the sting out of broken roads.
So the Pinerolo SE 0.1 represents good value for a first ‘serious’ road bike, especially if you’re looking for a quite aggressive ride, but 25mm tyres and a firmer saddle would be good for the next incarnation.
Buy from www.mekkbicycles.com
MORE OR LESS OPTIONS: MEKK
The Mekk Pinerolo SE 0.2 (£800) shares the same frame as the 0.1, but this time is kitted out with nine-speed Shimano kit and R501 wheels. Double your money on the Poggio 1.6 (£1,400) and you get a Toray T800 carbon frame with Shimano Sora groupset and R501 wheels.
THE SPECIALIZED ALLEZ
The Specialized Allez is a familiar sight on Britain’s roads. In its many guises it has been around for decades, first as a skinny-steel affair in the 1980s, and latterly as the entry point to the world of Specialized’s big-tubed aluminium road bikes.
The least expensive in our test has the same Claris groupset as the rest, but the redesigned frame is strikingly different from earlier Allez bikes. Gone is the curved top tube, ditched in favour of a straighter one complete with internal cable routing. The seatstays have been dropped in the style of BMC, and it has rack and mudguard mounts for added versatility.
For the last few years the Allez has been recognisable by its arched top tube and dangling ‘washing-line’ rear brake cable. Until 2017. Now the Allez is all straight lines and no curves.
Other changes include the move to full internal cabling – and very neat it is, too – and the welcome, versatility-increasing addition of rear rack mounts to go with the smart mudguard fittings, and room for ‘real’ mudguards. We’ll deal with the groupset first.
As with all our three bikes it’s based around Shimano’s eight-speed Claris, with Shimano’s familiar STI combined shift and brake levers. It works well, though lacks some of the ‘feel’ of the company’s higher-end kit.
The Allez’s 50/34 chainset and 11-32 cassette combination offers a wide range, with maximum help up hills and a more-than-adequate top gear for sprinting and descending
at high speeds.
All three test bikes have threaded bottom bracket shells and square-tapered bottom brackets; not glamorous but functional and much easier for the home mechanic to replace than press-fit.
The Allez has Tektro brakes and the already-fitted cartridge blocks are a welcome touch. But Specialized has achieved something else nobody has managed here: a full-carbon monocoque front fork. The FACT fork’s steerer is a fair bit beefier than last year’s, too, going up from 1-1 1/8in to 1 1/8-1 3/8in.
Considering this is the least expensive bike here that is quite an achievement, even if the sub-£1,000 Allez range had an initial recall to replace the original forks. The carbon contributes to front-end comfort, the proportions adding precision to the handling, which is better than you might expect on an entry-level bike.
LIVELY AND TAUT
Another change is that Specialized, using its massive Retül bike-fitting database, has lengthened the head tube by 2cm. So more in all-rounder than all-out race bike territory. But with frame angles around 73° and a 100cm wheelbase the ride is still reasonably lively, and that tautness is emphasised by the dropped rear seatstays, as pioneered by BMC back in the day, which create a tight and aggressive rear triangle. The frame is stiff enough for out-of-the-saddle climbs and gearing low enough for seated ascents. A win-win.
In spite of the Allez’s raciness it has plenty of comfort, helped by the popular Body Geometry saddle and the 25mm Espoir tyres (26mm in reality). And every little helps. There’s room for 28mm rubber, though you may have to forego mudguards. It’s always hard to update such a deservedly popular product but, after the blip with the forks, Specialized has got it spot on with the new Allez.
The ride has been ‘modernised’ with slightly less racy geometry, but it hasn’t lost its dynamism. Rack mounts add commuting versatility, and the full carbon fork, plus Specialized’s own wheels and tyres are at the upper end of what you would expect for £700, let alone just £599. And the striking red colour scheme looks great out on the
Buy from www.tredz.co.uk
MORE OR LESS OPTIONS: SPECIALIZED
The Specialized Allez Sport (£799) offers the same frame with swankier nine-speed Shimano Sora and Praxis’s classy-looking Alba chainset. The Allez Sprint Comp (£1,600) gets Specialized’s top-level S-Works FACT fork, carbon seatpost and Shimano 105. Very racy indeed
THE £770 ROAD BIKE OVERALL VERDICT
Inflation means you’re not getting quite as much for your money kit-wise as before, but that’s partly offset by today’s less expensive frames enjoying the benefit of trickle-down technology.
The Mekk is the most aggressive of our trio, with a fine, fast ride, but its older design is held back by a couple of component choices. The Fuji puts long-distance comfort at the heart of what it does. The swooshy seatstays genuinely seem to work and it’d make a fine all-day training bike.
The Specialized Allez has had recent radical surgery. It now has a very different-looking frame, and its slightly more endurance-friendly geometry is helpful to older or less flexible riders, plus it has a wide-ranging cassette, cartridge brakes and a tapered full-carbon fork. It’s also the lightest and least expensive of our test bikes, and is possibly the best looking.