Long-term test: Specialized Langster review£440.42

Singlespeed speed machine

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Due to a mixup at BikeRadar HQ we ended up getting two Specialized Langster singlespeeds in to test. Our US editor Gary Boulanger has already given his opinion on the bright yellow Langster New York. Specialized UK sent us a more subdued-looking, but far classier, standard Langster.

Although fundamentally the same bike – the silver Langster has a drop bar instead of narrow flat one, a pared down saddle and Tektro rather than Avid brake levers – we felt the difference in spec, and the radically different conditions here in the UK compared with Gary's stomping ground in sunny California, meant it was worth hanging onto the silver machine for a longer-term test.

Yes, it’s a 2009 bike and 2010 models are now starting to appear on shop shelves, but take a look at the new aluminium Langster and you’ll see it's largely unchanged. So how did our drop-barred silver speedster compare with Gary's canary yellow commuter?

Ride & handling: Stiff and sprightly when the gradient’s not too steep

A singlespeed makes a lot of sense for commuting, especially in the UK, with no gears to get caked in mud, dust and grime. The Langster's combination of a 42t chainring and 16t sprocket is a good compromise.

Specialized langster: specialized langster
Specialized langster: specialized langster

Yes, you spin out on fast flat and downhill sections, and yes, it's hard work grinding up long hills out of the saddle, but it's surprising what you can accomplish when you've no other option but to grit your teeth and bear it, and at least there are no skipping gears to worry about.

The light, stiff alloy frame allows rapid acceleration and encourages you to ride as fast as your rapidly spinning legs will allow you to – hey, most of us ride at too low a cadence anyway – while the carbon-legged fork filters out road buzz effectively. At 18.9lb (8,570g, not including the supplied pedals with toe clips), the bike is easy to get up to speed.

The long head tube (205mm) on our XL test bike gives a comfortable, fairly upright position which is handy in traffic and will appeal to less experienced riders, but can feel a little precarious when taking downhill corners at speed.

Specialized's speccing of a drop bar rather than the fashionable flat alternative is a major boon when the wind picks up, allowing you to get nice and low so you can keep up your speed – essential when it's not possible to change into an easier gear.

It's also handy for longer commutes when a choice of hand positions helps to relieve the strain on your back. The downside is a more head-down position and less precise steering in traffic.

Specialized langster: specialized langster
Specialized langster: specialized langster

Chassis: Light, stiff frame plus carbon fork, but understated look bucks the fixie trend

The Langster’s frame is made from Specialized’s butted A1 Premium Aluminium and boasts an integrated headset, reinforced bottom bracket shell, replaceable steel horizontal dropouts and two sets of bottle cage bosses.

It’s light (3.2lb/1,470g) and stiff, and the singlespeed setup allows for instant transfer of power to the rear wheel. Bolt-on track hubs means you will have to carry a 15mm spanner for roadside puncture repairs, though.

Up front, Specialized’s FACT fork with carbon legs, alloy crown/steerer and forged dropouts is a welcome sight on a bike at this price and adds some comfort to the ride, along with the own-brand carbon-wrapped seatpost, as well as helping to keep weight low.

The flip-flop rear hub means you can convert the Langster to fixed gear if that’s your bag, although the fashion crowd looking for their fixie fix of garish colours and super-narrow bars will likely be disappointed by its understated look.

This remains the case in the UK for 2010, when the aluminium Langster comes in stealth black and a new drop-barred steel version is available in red/chrome. In the US there are four models to choose from, all of which eschew the flat bar trend in favour of drops.

Specialized langster: specialized langster
Specialized langster: specialized langster

Equipment: Some minor quibbles, and aero wheels can be sketchy in windy conditions, but a good spec overall

The Langster is well equipped for the price, with forged alloy Sugino Zen Messenger cranks and a smattering of good quality own-brand parts.

 The Specialized Body Geometry Toupe 143 saddle is a lot more comfortable than it looks, thanks to well-placed padding and flexible rails – provided you wear padded shorts. One short ride from workshop to car in jeans was enough to ensure we always wore Lycra from then on.

The wheels – Alex Race 32 rims on generic track hubs – stayed true throughout testing but the deep-section rims meant an iron grip on the bars was necessary on windy days. They may look nice, but the aero benefit is minimal and we feel a more traditional wheel would be more appropriate on a commuter that’s likely to be used in all weathers.

The Specialized Mondo Sport tyres with Flak Jacket protection roll quickly and we didn’t have a single puncture during over six months of testing. This was lucky as the bolted axles would have made a roadside repair a real faff.

The dual pivot brakes paired with Tektro levers are adequate but could never be described as powerful. Our large test bike could have done with a wider bar than the 420mm Specialized Comp specced, and the short drop wasn’t universally popular, but those are minor quibbles on an otherwise excellent bike for the price.

Specialized langster: specialized langster
Specialized langster: specialized langster

CW has been riding mountain bikes for more than two decades now. He's the first to admit he's not the fittest or most skilful rider on the hill, but that doesn't stop him sweating up the climbs to have a blast on the downhills.
  • Age: 37
  • Height: 189cm/6'2"
  • Weight: 70kg/154lb
  • Waist: 32in/81cm
  • Chest: 40in/102cm
  • Discipline: MTB, commuting
  • Preferred Terrain: Big mountains and flowing singletrack
  • Current Bikes: Whyte T-129 S SCR, Stanton Sherpa 853, Pinnacle Dolomite 6
  • Dream Bike: Evil The Following
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston Old Peculier
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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