Specialized Langster London £399

A fantastic package for anyone looking for a sub £400 mount that will cut mustard as TT or hill climb tool but still deliver plenty of smiles per mile as a fair-weather plaything.

BikeRadar score 4.5/5

The Langster London is a special "pimped" edition of Specialized's popular production fixer which has slowly evolved since landing on these shores a couple of years back. Like Kona's Paddy wagon, the Langster derives its name from its creator - in this case Specialized employee and US track champion, Dan Langley.

Frame

Imagine taking a Specialized road frame, grinding off all surplus gear bosses and cable guides, replacing the road drop-outs with substantial track offerings, add some colour coordinated carbon forks and finish in durable white livery. In essence you have the Langster.

The butted aluminium frameset is well finished with some very nice detailing. Braze-ons are minimal but adequate, two sets of bottle bosses and a four point carrier fixing ensure greater versatility than a track bike with road forks.

Clearances, whilst not fag paper, prohibit rubber wider than 23mm (although at a pinch there's just enough room for 25 at the rear) limiting its potential as a year round commuter/winter trainer. I would have preferred to have seen a front facing seat tube slot, although keeping the post well greased and placing a home made boot made from old inner tube over the seat collar will go a long way to eliminating dirt and ingress thrown up by the rear wheel contaminating the seat tube.

At 3.5lb, the frame is substantially robust enough to resist accidental denting and shouldn't fall victim to premature fatigue. Welds are as neat as they are uniform, having a very raw industrial beauty - especially around the bottom bracket area. But the one big disadvantage of aluminium is difficulty in repairing it. Equally, you could argue at this price you wouldn't bother.

Attention to detail is impressive, removing the carbon-wrap post revealed a cleanly reamed seat tube and bottle threads had been chased properly after painting. Track ends have stainless inserts to protect them from premature wear and contribute to the overall feel of a frame fitting on bikes costing twice as much.

On the subject of finish, the special edition graphics are very eye catching and for this reason I'd feel nervous about commuting duties unless I had "Sits with me in the office" secure storage. In these bold colours it raises its front wheel and screams "steal me!!!!!"

Carbon forks are hardly a rarity these days but coupled with the integrated headset give a very clean, seamless appearance, shave a few grams and coupled with the butted tubeset deliver a surprisingly supple ride through lumpy lanes and potholed streets alike.

Equipment

The overwhelming use of own brand components keeps the price low and performance high. Aside from the KMC chain and slightly agricultural Shimano freewheel, I couldn't fault and wouldn't immediately upgrade any of the spec. A 7deg four-bolt front loading stem makes for a super-stiff cockpit when paired with the oversize chrome plated track bars. I prefer more width but their narrow profile make it easy to negotiate tight gaps around town and allow a very low position into headwinds.

Being oversized made it difficult to mount the headlamp for my lighting system and whilst oozing retro track cool, I wasn't totally sold on the Keirin grips and would probably tape the bars instead. Whilst the transmission forms part of the braking, top mounted mini-levers worked better with the unbranded dual pivot callipers than I had any right to expect and aside from some initial stickiness, gave powerful and progressive braking no matter how late I left things.

Square taper bottom brackets are a bit old hat given the popularity of ISIS and hollow-tech designs but this is a sensibly sealed, fit and forget unit which is cheap enough to bin when it finally gets the rumbles. Polished 170mm 5 arm Sugino cranks host a very sexy CNC "Zen messenger" 42 tooth ring - a very harmonious combination that translates into a surprisingly stiff and rewarding drive train. The colour co-ordinated KMC chain might look fetching but I'd be changing it for something smoother.

Saddles are the most personal of contact points but I found the comp road saddle a very comfortable perch. Being white, it's likely to require some attention to keep it clean, especially without guards. While some might turn their noses up at carbon wrap, the seat post offers all the advantages of full-blown carbon for a fraction of the cost and in a package like this I'm not complaining.

23mm Mondo slicks run at 125 psi are more forgiving than their width suggests, delivering low rolling resistance surprising comfort and total confidence in all conditions. Pushing it hard over wet manhole covers around town or carving deep into the corners of slippery, dung-strewn lanes couldn't pursued them to misbehave and the extra puncture protection gives peace of mind on glass strewn city streets or quieter roads during the hedge cutting season.

Wheels

32 Hole Alex rims are hardly the stuff of dreams but are worthy enough and look pretty with their machined sidewalls and red anodising which matches the extremely fetching unbranded large flange hubs. These give a really high end feel to an otherwise budget wheelset and doubtless contribute to the bike's racy, direct feel and climbing prowess.

As fixed has become less niche, manufactures have been using their knowledge of mountain bike components to build less maintenance hungry hubs. These seem well sealed and should, with basic care last a few seasons before needing attention. The purist in me isn't overly taken by flip-flop hubs but I can appreciate they at least give choice. Not everyone wants to pedal on very long descents and I might just opt for such a set-up on a planned charity ride to the summit of Mt Ventoux. Upon reaching the summit, exchanging the fixed for a freewheel would eliminate the risk of spin-out and potential spills on the return descent.

The jury is out on the black 14 gauge spokes. Being relatively light at 70 kilos, I was able to enjoy their lighter weight, faster acceleration and despite rough roads and the odd pothole encounter they've kept their tension and remained true throughout. Frankly, I'd be happy to do evening 10s and longer, lightly laden day rides on these wheels. The cheap but perfectly serviceable track nuts are the only tell-tale indication these are budget hoops.

Handling

The Langster's handling is easily on a par with packages costing £150 more. From the first pedal stroke you're rewarded with punchy acceleration and quick, yet predictable handling. Five minutes into our first outing, the road became my playground as we skipped around the cat's eyes, upping the tempo still further as I left the main roads for the loneliness of the lanes where I could really set it free, flicking around the bends at thirty-plus mph .

Town manners are just as good, allowing me to snatch the bike effortlessly away from opening car doors, snoozing pedestrians, potholes and broken glass in a heartbeat. Even on wet roads, it carved into corners and laughed at my efforts to tease a shimmy on long descents, even when lightly laden. I wouldn't use it regularly at a velodrome but by the same token, I never ground a pedal and would be happy to run it stock (save perhaps for gearing) as a TT or hill climb mount.

Climbing out of the saddle with my full weight on the pedals, I couldn't detect any power sapping flex from the bottom bracket area and the super stiff cockpit eliminates flex when heaving on the bars, giving real confidence on descents. Lightly laden with two small panniers and rack bag failed to dampen the experience, suggesting longer day jaunts are a realistic option, although two cross spoking pattern and shorter chainstays rule out larger panniers and anything more adventurous.

Summary

Having ridden the first incarnation some two years back, this version is a vast improvement and I must confess to being totally smitten. Handling is excellent and the finishing kit wouldn't shame bikes costing £100 or so more. But if you're in the market for an all-season's mount with all season's practicalities- clearance for guards, stout tyres etc, Kona's Paddy Wagon, On-One's Ilpompino and Perason's Touche' are much better bets.

There's no denying the Langster (dubbed "funster" in my house) will add sparkle to even the dullest commutes but it's too sexy and will attract thieves like flies to dung. Clip-on race guards might extend the machine's horizons to some off-season's training but this is missing the point...

It makes a fantastic package for anyone looking for a sub £400 mount that will cut mustard as, TT or hill climb tool that will still bring plenty of smiles per mile as a fair-weather plaything. For our US readers, check out the USA-issued only Boston, Chicago, New York and Seattle models in the photo gallery and on the US website.

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