I think I first ‘promised’ a reviews section at the end of the first year of the blog (or at the beginning of the second) so it’s only taken me about a year and half to actually do something about it! Obviously in order to do them you need something to review in the first place and as I’m not yet in the bracket where I get asked to test anything it does make things kinda difficult*. Then there’s the whole thing about what to review; bikes, components, clothing? I guess my post on the Velothon could count as a review? Anyway I have a new thing and I haven’t seen it reviewed anywhere else so here goes..
Roux are a UK brand that offer a range of bikes from road through to cross with hybrids and tourers in between. The website launched in 2012 and a quick glance at the range shows how the designers have thought about what riders in this country want from their bike given a specific use. The touring bikes feature full mudguards and racks as standard for example and each model is priced at or below the all important Cycle to Work £1000 maximum.
Roux offer two bikes in the Belt range both featuring a Gates Carbon Drive belt in place of the chain found on most bikes. The advantages of a belt drive over a chain driven bike in theory are that the belt drive requires little or no maintenance or lubrication and should be long lived as the materials used in its construction are stretch free. Gates have extensive experience in this kind of drive system; a different version is used on Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Priced at £899.99 the Carbon Drive A8 is the top model in Roux’s two bike belt drive range. The 7005 series aluminium frame has pretty relaxed geometry mated to a alloy straight bladed fork. The Gates belt drives a Shimano Alfine 8 speed hub gear and stopping duties are provided by Shimano M445/7 hydraulic discs. The wheels are described as ‘triple chamber’ (I’m assuming triple wall) laced to Shimano centrelock hubs and Continental Contact rubber. There’s a full set of rack and mudguard mounts although some of these are compromised to all for the installation and removal of the belt drive. The frame has an understated matt finish but is slighty let down by some untidy welding. The finishing kit while unbranded looks decent enough in terms of quality and not out of place at this price point. If you’re wondering where your money has gone it’s reassuring that £899.99 has bought the best version of the Alfine hub gear and ever reliable Shimano disc brakes.
If you’re used to riding a road bike the Roux A8 has a very upright riding position out of the box. Flipping the stem would make things a bit more focused but this is probably not an issue for most of the riders this bike is aimed at. The Wellgo cage pedals supplied with the bike similarly will work for most but I changed them to A530 touring pedals to get some strength and stability. The DDK saddle is fine for the short journeys I have done so far but the seatpost can be adjusted for fore and aft movement only so you’re stuck a slightly nose up angle on the saddle.
My first few rides were accompanied by the kind of ‘click/knock’ sound that normally indicates a bottom bracket problem. I had already noticed that the drive train appeared to be very tight; the tension on the belt was not dissimilar to a singlespeed but with no previous experience of riding a belt drive there wasn’t much that could be done to diagnose the problem over the weekend.
After contacting Roux and speaking to their in house mechanic I learnt that most bikes are received from the factory with the Gates belt over tensioned. Moving the bike about I had noticed that the clicking was happening without me touching the pedals so the chat with Roux pretty much confirmed that my bike was suffering from the same over tension issue. I’ll point out here that I didn’t get the bike direct from Roux; any bikes they supply via their online shop should have the belt tensioned correctly. If you buy the A8 from anyone other than Roux check that the shop know how to check and then adjust the tension correctly.
This is a straightforward enough job if you have owned a singlespeed and didn’t cause me any issues as I am in the bike trade. If you don’t fall into the category of home mechanic it could be frustrating to diagnose and it will involve a trip back to your local bike shop. If it’s a common fault I can’t help thinking that Roux should be getting the factory to set the belt to the correct tension. There’s nothing shipped with the bike that deals with this potential issue so if you aren’t buying from Roux direct you may encounter some issues.
As I mentioned above, setting the correct tension is not to difficult for the home mechanic. Once you have the information you need the job should only take 5-10 minutes but you could waste a few hours misdiagnosing the fault if you haven’t. The Gates website provides a lot of information and support but I was surprised to find that when it comes to belt tension; there’s an app for that! I was a bit sceptical to begin with but the app really does work. It measures the tension of the belt drive using the microphone in your smartphone to register the frequency when you tweak the drive. There’s a 15 hz range for the belt with a maximum recommended tension of 50hz when using a hub gear system. My belt was set a 120 Hz! The tension adjusters on the A8 are very easy to use and like the rest of the components fitted of decent quality.
Tension issues fixed I could now concentrate on the riding experience. With the bike running noise free it’s amazing just how quiet the bike really is. The Alfine gears shift quietly, even under load. The spread of gears is fairly narrow but there’s enough there to get up an incline and I have seen 20mph on a flat stretch of road. The braking performance is unspectacular but does all that is expected. The ride comfort is good despite the all alloy frame, fork and seat post probably helped by the cushioned ride delivered by the Conti tyres.
If you’re looking for a low maintenance bike for the daily commute or a bike to get you smoothly around the city centre the A8 could be the bike for you. The equipment levels on a bike costing £100 under the Cycle to Work maximum are excellent and the Gates drive offers the possibility of a bike that will need little maintenance once it’s set up correctly.
I’ll provide a longer term update in the coming months but stay tuned for my review of the Topeak rack and storage that I have fitted to the A8 to make it into the perfect all round city bike.
Here’s a quick look at the Roux with the Topeak rack fitted (for the benefit of any Guardian readers tuning in). Obviously the groceries are optional! I have added a Portland Design Works Takeout rack at the front now too (pics to follow)
Pros – smooth belt drive performance, Alfine hub gear, equipment levels
Cons – belt tensioning issues, lack of adjustment on seat post
*Hey product people; send me stuff to try!