The original aluminium Specialized Langster was one of the first off-the-peg bikes to surf the wave of fixie popularity. This Reynolds 520 steel version is far more hipster friendly. Check out its shiny silver finish, chequered transfers, quill stem, track handlebar, dinky bar-top brake levers, copper riveted saddle, and complete absence of braze-ons.
It’s a very urban fixie – it even comes with a hockey-stick-shaped chainguard to keep your Momotaro jeans out of the drivetrain. It’s a neat looking bike, especially given it’s only £400. The problem is that, in places, the emphasis on form has eclipsed function. It’s not the lack of braze-ons, though they'd add versatility. It’s not the quill stem, which looks smart even if it’s heavier and a bit less secure than a threadless stem. The big problem is the handlebar and brake combination.
The bar is a narrow steel track drop. There aren’t any brake hoods to rest your hands on, so they slide forward from that position, as they do from the rounded shoulders of the bar. The only decent handhold on track drops is the drops themselves. But that’s not where the brakes are. You’ve got to sit up and transfer your hands to the narrow tops where the levers are.
That delays your braking and simultaneously compromises the handling, since your hands are now just each side of the stem, where you don’t have enough steering leverage. If you’re riding fixed, the back pressure you can put on the pedals might buy you enough time to avoid that collision-course taxi, but even riding fixed it was an unnerving experience in traffic, and on a 1-in-6 descent it was terrifying.
The bike didn’t climb well either, as there was nothing to haul on while honking the bike. The saving grace is that it’s not expensive to put right. If you want to keep the track bar, fit bar-end brake levers, like Tektro’s RX 4.1, which you can reach from the drops. If you want these bar-top levers (frankly, we’d swap them for something more effective like Tiagra R550s), fit a different handlebar: flat, mini-riser, cowhorn, or just inverted sawn-off drops.
With any other handlebar and brake combination, the Langster Steel would be at least a three-star bike. For while it's heavy, it’s also cheap. Steering is velodrome sharp thanks to a 73.5-degree head angle, yet slow speed, sudden direction changes don’t risk road tumbles as there’s no toe overlap. High flange hubs will resist lateral forces well if you do take this bike onto a track, and with their semi-deep-section Mavic CXP22 rims, the wheels will look the business outside a Shoreditch cafe too.
We found the riveted saddle more stylish than comfortable, but the 165mm Sugino Messenger chainset is spot-on for a £400 fixie, being smart, stiff and spinnable. The Specialized Langster Steel looks good for a budget bike, and by and large it is. But its current handlebar and brake lever combination is as risky as riding on tri bars in heavy traffic. If you choose this bike these will need changing immediately.
This article was originally published in Cycling Plus