At first glance the Wabi Cycles Special isn't much to look at, what with its plain champagne metallic paint job (which is nearly completely devoid of decals), spindly-looking round tubes and modest fixed-gear build kit – but that all changes once you take it for a spin.
Ride & handling: No-frills lugged steel fixie with a classic look and feel
Lying inside the genuine Reynolds 725 thin-walled chromoly tubes, investment cast lugs and classic proportions is the sweet ride that good steel is renowned for. The Special is fantastically springy and full of life beneath you.
It's highly communicative of what the tyre contact patches are doing and yet remarkably comfortable on broken pavement. Not surprisingly, the small-diameter tubes aren't that stiff when you're hammering out of the saddle or attacking a climb but even so, it still feels good rolling down the road.
Frame geometry is appropriate for the genre with handling more suited to cruising public streets than hitting the velodrome. The somewhat laidback 72-degree head angle makes for a stable feel that's still quick enough for zipping through town and the slightly raised bottom bracket makes it less likely to catch a pedal mid-corner (a terrifying experience on a fixie!).
All in all, the Wabi Special won't blow any doors off but for under US$1,000 (Wabi don't have a UK distributor but will ship internationally – see www.wabicycles.com for details) it offers a nicer-riding steel frame than many other lower-priced fixies plus an intelligently selected build kit and customisable options.
Frame: Understated chromoly chassis that's carrying a little extra weight
Traditional features accompany the traditional level top tube frame appearance. There's a standard 1-1/8in front end with external bearing cups, a threaded bottom bracket shell, and tidy-looking rear-entry horizontal track-style dropouts plus a good-old-fashioned 27.2mm seatpost, all of which add up to a pleasantly understated rig that focuses more on function than flash.
At 8.4kg (18.5lb) for the complete bike without pedals, 1,800g (3.97lb) for the bare frame and 850g (1.87lb) for the matching lugged chromoly fork, the Special is certainly no ultra lightweight rig. But considering the sort of terrain you're likely to cover on this thing it's unlikely you'll care much – you'll be too busy enjoying the ride.
Equipment: Good quality no-name kit, plus lots of customisation options
Adding to the experience is the irreplaceably direct feel of the standard fixed-gear drivetrain which, like the frame, doesn't get the blood pumping at first with its no-name look but goes about its business admirably. The square-tapered, cold forged aluminium crankarms are fitted with a machined 7000-series chainring (in a proper 144mm BCD no less) and out back is a machined steel fixed-gear cog.
Joining everything together is a lesser-known YBN chain but it all runs exceptionally quietly and smoothly and there's none of the cyclical tightening and loosening that typically plagues lesser stamped bits. Wheels are quality items, too, comprising generic but lightweight semi-aero machined alloy rims, butted stainless steel spokes with brass nipples and alloy flip-flop hubs with smooth running Japanese cartridge bearings.
Build quality was solid with no truing required during testing, but the hubs worry us a bit on account of their relatively unprotected nature. While pushing the cartridges to the very edges of the hubs is good for wheel stiffness, there are no supplemental seals or dust covers aside from the ones on the cartridges themselves to guard against contamination.
Braking power is provided by forged aluminium dual-pivot calipers (with cartridge-style holders) and alloy levers with composite bodies, both from Tektro. Considering the moderate speeds the Special is likely to encounter, these get the job done with a decent amount of power and reasonably good feel – and if you want, you can remove the whole lot and not even leave housing stops behind thanks to old-school chromed clamp-on guides.
Sharp edges on the front of the lever bodies around the blade pivots became irritating over time, though, and the awkwardly bent drop bar places the levers uncomfortably far below the tops – even more so than a classic bend.
Wabi's direct-to-consumer business model keeps costs manageable but also allows for some customisation – choose stem and handlebar dimensions, crankarm lengths, saddle colours, even gearing. Freewheels and pedals are optional, too, as well a nice looking brazed steel stem for an extra US$100.
Customer service seems pretty solid, too, despite the lack of a brick-and-mortar dealer. Our Special tester was spot-on in terms of frame alignment but the fork blades took visibly disparate paths down to the dropouts (which were aligned to each other). A bit disappointing, but a couple of days later we had a replacement fork in hand and Wabi would have cut the steerer tube to length and installed a crown race if we'd so desired.