Only a short time ago flat-barred road bikes were a breed apart. Once the personalised steeds of streetwise couriers, these mutant machines mixed and matched parts from road bikes and mountain bikes to offer the best of the both worlds. Splicing the speed of one with the riding position of the other turned out to make a whole lot of sense, and it wasn't long before manufacturers were lining up to offer their take on the formula.
In fact, the flat-barred setup appeals to many. You might be an older roadie looking for a more upright, comfortable riding position without too much loss in performance; a commuter who enjoys a fast turn of speed on your ride to work, as this same geometry offers an improved field of view through traffic; or indeed anyone new to cycling - flat-barred cockpits, with their improved braking and easier shifting, plus the visibility bonuses, are more confidence inspiring. Lastly, they're also a bridge to those heralding from an MTB background - a familiar riding position only with a slicker, faster ride.
Tapping into the appeal of the inclusiveness of the setup, there's now a whole range to choose from. Some are effectively road bikes fitted with flat bars, offering a simple change in riding position for weekend escapes. Others are more evolved solutions, often with city use more in mind. It's worth pointing out too that speccing a flatbarred setup should save you money too, as rapid fire shifters are considerably cheaper than more complicated STIs for drop bars.
We've tried out Planet X's chromo Kaffenback as a winter trainer - this flat-barred version is now sold as a complete bike for a tempting £599.
There's nothing trick and fancy about the new Kaffenback, just a tried and tested frame that sees a change in colour for 2006. Gone are the distinctive Blue Dragon tattoo-style decals, replaced with a stylish coat of sandy colour and clean coffee decals. At 4lbs , the butted frame isn't exactly hovering above the scales - but is light enough not to feel unwieldy and burly enough to take a knock. This no nonsense approach to frame building is carried through to the open gusset on the downtube and chunky seat stays, transplanted from On-One's popular Inbred.
Although originally conceived as a winter road bike, the Kaffenback's capable of taking on even rough bridleways and dirt tracks, limited only by the tyre clearance at the back - enough for a 32c knobbly, or a 32c slick with 'guards. Other boxes that are ticked include rack mounts for touring duties and a pump peg along the top tube. Finish is good for the money, though not as neat as the Cotic. The fairly hefty chromo fork features a curved blade, with mudguard eyelets and plenty of clearance to match. You could always upgrade it to Planet X's carbon 'cross fork for an extra £99, saving a few hundred grams.
The Kaffenback has had its fans in our office for some time, having won us over previously as a well priced, no-nonsense all-rounder, happy to try its hand at anything. We've set it up with flat bars for touring around Wales, with drop bars for climbing the Alpe d'Huez and with mudguards for commuting duties. It's not the lightest of road bikes, but carries its speed well and has a reassuringly solid feel.
In its flat-barred incarnation, it's also a very comfortable bike, thanks to a semicompact design with lots of standover clearance, a generous head-tube, plenty of steerer space, a 300mm seat post and a flippable six degree stem - it's just a case of shuffling things round to get the right riding position. In fact, although our test bike is an XL (equivalent to a 60cm), it didn't feel or look too big. Handling is fluid bit not too twitchy, and it will happily accommodate a couple of laden panniers without throwing it into a fit of wobbles.
At £599, Planet X might have been a little thrifty in the parts department. In fact, no stone has been left unturned, with an impressive list of solid, mostly inhouse branded kit with a few fancy surprises thrown in. Most eyecatching is the Shimano drivetrain - one of the new 10-speed 34/50T Ultegra grade compact cranksets. It's mated to a tight 9-speed cassette (11- 23T), and along with the mongrellike setup of its Tiagra front mech and a Sram X-7 provides clean - if a little clunky - shifting.
Gripshifts may not appeal to everyone, so it's worth noting that Planet X now offer a whole host of options, including the new rapidfire 10-speed Ultegra shifter for around £800 (complete bike). If you're thinking of touring, we'd recommend going for a wider ranged 12-27 option. T
he saddle, possibly inspired by Fizik's Arione, is in a fetching shade of tan and lives atop a lightweight Planet X seat post. Basic Tektro Mini-V's provide good braking, teamed with Avid levers. These are fitted to some cheap grips on a dependable XC 24in flat bar, and a light four-bolt stem. Finishing touches even include a pair of 22g carbon cages - a bit out of place on a bike like this, but very spiffy none the less. Overall weight is sub 22lbs, which is fine for such a durable bike.
WHEELS Planet X 9
There're two kinds of complete Kaffenbacks - the unbuilt version sports an R500 Tiagra wheelset and costs £499. Invest an extra £100 though, and you get the bike prebuilt, as well as a more traditional set of handbuilt wheels. Our test bike featured the latter, using Planet X's solid double-walled rims with eyelets, designed to take anything from a potholed commute, to club runs and even cyclo-cross. Spokes are lightweight, double-butted Sapim Race, built up in an easy-to-maintain, strong three-cross pattern. Tyres are tourer's classic Conti Top Touring 2000. 32c wide, they run up to 75 psi and offer good durability and puncture resistance, with a decent turn of speed too. The quality Planet-X skewers are a nice touch.
Kona Phd Latest and lightest in Kona's stylish flat-barred lineup, features Easton Ultralite Race tubing, Aksium wheels, FSA Gossamer triple, Conti Ultrasport 23c tyres, rack and 'guard eyelets too.
Trek 7.6 FX WSD With 700x32c wheels, the 7.6 is good for city and light rough stuff, while still having the look and feel of a flat-barred road bike. There's clearance for mudguards too.
Genesis Day 03 The classic flat top boasts sleek looks, lightweight aluminium frame and fork, Shimano Tiagra triple, R500 wheels and rack eyelets - all without worrying the bank manager.
Trek Soho Hit town in style: Avid BB7s for all-weather breaking, single chainring for minimum maintenance faff or cost, rubber frame protectors, upright riding position and there's even a thermos for your skinny latte too...