In keeping with Dutch tradition of thrift and value for money, Koga's 2008 Road Racer delivers a significant price drop from last year’s £1799 to £1575 gets you a choice of Shimano Ultegra or Campagnolo Centaur while shedding a claimed 200g on the frame. All of which makes the Road Racer a worthy rival to similar machines, such as the Trek Madone 4.7 at £1600.
Dutch based bicycle manufacturer Koga has been providing cyclists with reliable, well designed bikes for the better part of thirty years. Their design and production principles are shaped through a process of in-house testing and continuous real world feedback; from the Skil-Shimano pro team, through international women’s star Leontien Van Moorsel, down to individual adventure cyclists, a broad sponsorship program ensures an up-to-date and reliable range of machines.
Handling & ride: steady as she goes
The smooth ride and predictable handling characteristics mirror the calm, ordered and measured society from which it sprang. As the miles added up, and small riding events began to accumulate, the Koga grew on me inexorably.
The slightly less than 73 degree head angle coupled with 6 cm of trail makes for a bike with a quiet personality, but one that will inspire confidence and allow you to concentrate on the important things: a forceful cross wind, one finishing circuit left to go on the outskirts of Zeebrugge, 25 survivors strung out in the gutter and 600 euros to be split amongst the first 22.
When you’re suffering indescribable pain for a lukewarm shower and thirty euros in a crumpled envelope, you don’t want your bike to get in the way.
Higher speeds simply increased the bike’s stability, and it passed the classic 'surface transition test' with flying colours: slamming into a stretch of cobbles at 27 mph left the quietly solid Koga and its 'old skool' rider unruffled. This could be down to the stately but manageable overall weight of 17.9 lbs.
The Road Racer provides ample damping by combining optimized weave patterns for the frame and brilliant Vredestein Fortezza Tri Comp tyres in a generous 23mm cross section. Add to the mix a laterally rigid all-carbon straight fork and you’re rewarded with confidence and control in all conditions.
Frame: conservative values
A monocoque construction, the Road Racer embodies all of the beliefs driving Koga’s approach to bike design: form must always follow function. Shunning the current trend for nanotube resin, it uses a tried and true 12k carbon weave combined with traditional square geometry, producing a frame weight of 1160g.
Our test bike was a 58 cm frame, so the claimed weight of 1050 grams is probably for the 54 or 56. (Or just a manifestation of standard bike industry optimism - Cynical ed).
A broad final weave pattern, aesthetically similar to some of Scott’s previous frame efforts, says carbon loud and proud. This is topped by a lustrous clear coat that adds to the luxurious and solid feel of the whole package.
On first approach, after being exposed to an ever growing alpine parade of acute and severely sloping tubes, it’s a refreshing relief to be dealing with a top tube reflecting the topography of its country of origin: nicely horizontal.
Up front, a traditional short head tube buttressed by a light, straight bladed fork weighing 420g complements the mainly straight lines of the frame.
Just a few gentle arcs, bumps and curves add to the mainly level landscape. Seat stays subtly morph from round, to square and back to round again.
The seat tube tapers imperceptibly from 38mm at the seat clamp zone down to 35mm for the derailleur clamp. A de rigueur replaceable rear derailleur hanger keeps things repairable in the event of an encounter with someone’s front wheel during the inevitable time spent in the echelon – that lowlands racer’s lifeboat.
Equipment: race worthy but budget conscious
The sense of luxurious quality is continued with the use of a Campagnolo Centaur drive train, including the Skeleton brakes offering differential stopping power (low-tech ABS) through the use of a less powerful single pivot rear calliper.
The carbon Ergo QS (for Quick Shift) levers have gone through a significant redesign of the internals and the result is noticeably reduced effort on both upshift and downshift. Adapting to the new 'tap-fire' style shifting required little time, and I found it even possible to reach over with my ring finger while on the flats and actuate the release trigger with ease.
Unusual for a frame tagged as a 58 cm, the Koga specs an FSA alloy stem just 90 mm long, combined with a somewhat narrow (just under 44cm outer) FSA double butted alloy anatomic bar. Having lived under the longer and wider doctrine (140/46 anyone?), I was surprised to find the stock position increasingly comfortable as the Road Racer was put through its paces.
Gear selection reflects the intended purpose (semi-pro racing): 53/39 up front with a 12/25 10 speed cassette at the rear will prove perfect for reasonable all around terrain and decent fitness. You’ll be able to use the inner ring more often for flat riding than with the current crop of 34’s or 36’s, while the 39/25 (42 inch) low gear should get a good portion of you over the bumps long before any thresholds are hit.
With all the effort going into producing tailored ride qualities by exploiting carbon fibre’s unique properties, it’s disappointing to find an unyielding seat post topped with an uncomfortable steel-railed San Marco Blaze saddle. Do yourself a favour and ditch the FSA 31.6 gas pipe seat pin for something with thinner walls, and top it with a Ti railed saddle with either more give in the middle section or an anatomic cut out.
Wheels: reliable workhorses
Mavic is facing increasingly stiff competition, but continues to refine and broaden its product range. The Aksium Race wheel package, weighing in at 1250g up front and 1613g for the rear including rubber and cogs, provides good reliable service, and should shrug off gusty crosswinds, cobbles, high speed kerb launches, and repeated dressing room showers in village sports hall facilities. Stainless straight pull spokes with sealed cartridge bearings and chromoly axles ensure wide serviceability, but the unwelded rim joining process made itself known at the front while braking, despite machined surfaces.
Dutch tire outfit Vredestein provides the Koga with 23 section Fortezzas which were smooth and fast rolling. Super tough and grippy with enough height to prevent pinch flats when hitting unavoidable potholes and ridges from following another wheel closely, they were on an even par with that classic benchmark: the open Corsa Cx.
Summary: one for the connoisseur
This bike is squarely aimed at the road racer or rider who prefers a more traditional approach to position and design while benefiting from advances in materials and technology.
Some bikes announce their arrival with great fanfare only to have the pizzazz wear thin as the miles pile on, their limitations breaking through the brittle flashiness. The Koga Road Racer is the opposite. Steady and matter-of-fact at first, the brilliance of this bike lies in its purposeful and unobtrusive performance. As its effectiveness grows over time, so will your inner smile. Race on, Garth!