Entry into stylish urban cycling is more affordable than you might think. We test four bikes that are fun, desirable and under £400 / US$329.
£269 / US$432
Frame High tensile steel / Fork High tensile steel / Wheels 41mm alloy rims, 32h high flange hubs, flip flop rear / Transmission Forged 6061 aluminium, 44x16T / Brakes CStar dual pivot calipers
Perhaps the most important aspect of bike testing is calibrating your expectations. And expectations are, of course, different to preconceptions which should always be banished. These two challenges are never tougher than when testing very cheap bikes. By not wanting to be snobbish about them, it can be hard not to reduce your expectations so low that you end up being impressed because the wheels are round and nothing fell off in the first mile.
One thing that we really didn’t expect was for the Mango (no model name, it’s just Mango, like Lovejoy) to get so much love. On one occasion we looked round a few times before noticing the person banging on a first floor window to get our attention, give us a cheesy double thumbs-up and shout ‘cool bike’ through the glass.
Of course, you may not like green but if that’s the case try to see past the colour because, by our quick count, there are over 191 million colour combinations available. The frame, saddle, grips, rims, tyres, chain and pedals are all offered in eight or nine different colours and there’s a clever design tool online that will occupy you for hours. This personalisation was the core idea when the brand was started by university house-mates Jezz and Ben, and it was well received by BBC Three’s Be Your Own Boss, which gave them a leg up.
The good Mango saddle is the detail you’ll appreciate most often
The Mango has a basic high-tensile steel frame with a relaxed 72-degree head angle and steeper 75-degree seat angle. The build kit is impressive for the price. No corners have been cut even in places were no one would notice, such as the seatpost clamp and cable guides. The dual pivot brakes are decent, the gearing is ideal, the Kenda tyres are tough and a bullhorn bar is optional. It’s as well equipped as the State but it’s so much cheaper that it’s definitely the best value.
Typically for a hi-ten steel frame, it thumps a bit over bumps and flexes when you sprint for a gap in the traffic but it still steers and handles well. In fact, the Mango really made us smile. It’s fun to ride and, assuming you’ve bought one in your perfect colourscheme, it’s bound to make you feel good every time you open the garage door. It’s our clear favourite. Who expected that?
Verdict: Brilliant value for a decent quality bike with millions of colour options
State Bicycle Co Samurai 2.0
£399.99 / US$429
Frame 4130 chromoly steel / Fork Chromoly steel / Wheels 43mm alloy rims, 32h high flange hubs, flip flop rear / Transmission 6061 forged aluminium, 46x16t / Brakes Dual pivot calipers
The State is an important bike because it represents the approximate location of a watershed. Below this price, bikes have frames made of lifeless, heavy, high-tensile steel. From this point on, it’s chromoly steel all the way, in ever improving grades. It’s an important step and if your budget straddles the divide you need to be well aware of it.
If you want a better frame even cheaper, you don’t need to trawl unknown eBay sellers, clicking ‘Buy it now’ with your fingers crossed, you just need to go to your local bike shop. There, the staff will be glad to show you a choice of aluminium framed bikes from just £300 / US$500. They’ll have 24 gears and be known as hybrids.
You’ve probably just gagged but it’s odd that we should be grateful to get a chromoly frame in a £400 / US$430 bike when mountain bikers would expect an alloy frame, suspension fork and disc brakes for the same sum.
The polished forged alloy stem and bar look great and are good quality
State aren’t radicalising what we can expect for our money but the spec of the Samurai 2.0 stacks up well and our mechanic was impressed, especially with the well-built wheels. “Pretty damn good” was the verdict.
The State range consists of 12 models, nine of which are colour variants of this bike so you still have a good choice, even it doesn’t run to millions. As much as everyone enjoyed looking at the pretty, red, white and chrome Samurai, so we liked riding it, too.
The chromoloy frame adds a tangible zing to the ride that engages you in a way that the others, even the sweet Mango, cannot. It steers well, the brakes are good and, as the lightest of the four at 11kg, it goes up hills better.
It is the best bike here and only loses out to the Mango by a point because it costs nearly half as much again, but we’d have no hesitation recommending it.
Verdict: Great riding, well-equipped and desirable bike that shows a bit more cash can go a long way
£320 / US$515
Frame High tensile steel / Fork Chromoly steel / Wheels 45mm alloy rims, 32h high flange hubs, flip flop rear / Transmission Lasco alloy crank, 44x16t / Brakes Dual pivot calipers
Pitango Urban Bikes began in a very similar way as Mango (though the rhyme is coincidence) – some young, entrepreneurial friends got together and decided to launch an affordable bike that offered the range of colour options they thought were missing from existing brands. An interesting side note is that Pitango started up in Tel Aviv, Israel, a very pro-cycling city but one that tends to make the news for less positive reasons.
While there are some bright colours on offer, Pitango’s palette is, overall, rather more subtle than that of the Mango. The red frame of our test bike is actually a deep, metallic cherry red and the whole build is classy looking and well coordinated. While the high-tensile steel frame and chromo fork might not bear too close an inspection, it’s a really pretty bike and it drew lots of admiring looks. In fact, almost wherever we leant it up, someone would take a picture of it.
The spec is all very price conscious, to put it kindly, but there are some smart touches such as the neat cable clips which can be removed for a cleaner look if you choose to flip the rear wheel to fixed and take the back brake off. The saddle is surprisingly comfortable and, despite being the worst copy of a Brooks in history, adds to the bike’s style. The Quando hubs, also seen on the Mango, are decent quality but a polished silver finish would have suited this bike better.
The lugged chromoly steel fork looks the part
The Pitango is noticeably heavier than the Mango and State, no lightweights themselves, and it does show a bit. Along with the upright position, the extra mass makes the 44x16T gear feel slightly too tall.
The vintage moustache handlebar suits the bike and feels good when cruising around but obviously doesn’t suit riding in a hurry and it’s harsh, too, not helped by the very thin bar tape. Bullhorn and riser bars are also offered. At least the bigger 28mm tyres add a layer of comfort, though they didn’t prove to be very tough, suffering three punctures during the test while on the same roads as the other bikes. In fairness, that could have just been bad luck.
For the very reasonable price, the Pitango is good enough that if you fall in love with a colourscheme you’ve concocted online you won’t be disappointed.
Verdict: Classy styling and myriad build options add appeal to a sound but basic bike
SE Bikes Draft Lite
£359.99 / US$329
The Draft Lite doesn’t come in 200 million colours, it comes in two. And at the time of writing the only one available is this one. That puts the SE on the back foot in a market increasingly defined by internet start-ups offering all the colours of the rainbow. Even so, a great bike will always get our vote over a lesser machine no matter how many shades are available. Ride quality is all.
If you don’t know of SE Bikes, and not all of us did before the Draft Lite arrived, then a potted history of the brand will help – SE invented BMX. That was pretty damn potted, eh?
Here’s the longer version: SE stands for Scot Enterprises and the Scot in question is Scot Breithaupt who in 1970, aged 13, organised the first ever BMX race in California. In 1977 he established SE Bikes and their second ever model, the PK Ripper, is hailed as the most famous BMX ever and is still in production now. So, the Draft Lite should run rings around the new brand bikes. But it really doesn’t.
Our mechanic is Californian, somewhere in his 40s, and he remembers the brand fondly, so he was particularly disappointed at the Draft Lite’s quality as he was building it up: “It’s basement quality, especially the steel cranks, seatpost and stem, and the brakes suck. It’s kinda sad but they seem to be using the name to sell it. The rest of the range is way better.”
Compared to the State and Mango the SE is heavy-footed and dull. The 28mm tyres remove some of the harshness but there’s no life in the frame. The brakes are appalling, made worse by the painted rims. Once you’ve worn the paint off the braking improves a bit but then the rims look crap.
The monogrammed cable clips are a nice touch
The frame is quite flexy, as are the bar and stem, and the whole bike is the heaviest here at 12.4kg (27.3lb). The 42x16T (71in) gear is sensibly a few inches shorter than the others but hills are still a slog.
The Draft Lite is decent, rugged transport but the value just doesn’t add up. The State blows it away for £40 / US$100 more and, even if the SE were £100 / US$160 cheaper, and colours aside, the Mango is more fun and way better built.