We have to confess we weren’t really expecting to like the Pendleton Initial as much as we did. We get the odd posh, featherweight carbon bike to ride here at BikeRadar, you know, and the Initial isn’t one of them. But with its alloy frame, modest kit, modest price and more than acceptable ride, it’s really rather good.
To be honest, we were a bit disappointed with Olympic and world champion Victoria Pendleton’s first range of bikes. It wasn’t to do with the ride – in fact we haven’t ridden one – it was the fact that, having been the fastest female track cyclist in the world multiple times, she chose to put her name on a range of sit-up-and-beg city bikes. Where was the top-of-the-range featherweight flyer deserving of her world class title? Which young female fans wanting to follow in Vicky P’s tracks would choose a Somerby? So even when the more obviously road-orientated Initial arrived for testing, we weren’t overly excited.
We were pleasantly surprised, though. Our initial thoughts – on the Initial – were that it looks classy and understated. An attractive classic livery, complete with world champion rings (well earned, of course), and not a hint of pink; the only really ‘girly’ flourish being Vicky’s swirly initials – hence the name? - on the frame and saddle. Although the compact frame is made of alloy, there’s nothing too oversize or off the wall: a round seat tube, ovalised top tube and teardrop-shaped down-tube, plus thin seatstays, slightly oversized chainstays, straight head tube/steerer… all pretty classic stuff. Looks aren’t everything, of course, but so far so good.
One of the first things we do with test bikes is weigh them. At 10.52kg the Initial isn’t light, and knowing it’s nearly double the weight of some of the carbon beauties that come through our doors didn’t make it any more attractive a proposition to ride.
The reality, though, is that it’s perfectly all right. Yes, it’s not the most exciting bike on the planet, and its frame isn’t the comfiest when road surfaces are rough and broken, but its stiffness makes it respond well, especially on smoother tarmac, and when you get a tailwind too (or is that just your supreme strength and ability?) it actually feels good. You even start to forget the 10kg-plus heft…
It’s a very personal thing, but we really don’t like the saddle (and not just for the swirly girly initials); with the nose angled down it’s less uncomfortable, but it’s the first thing we’d change. The riding position feels quite stretched, especially when you get into the drops, but the saddle deterred us somewhat on that score.
Claris gearing isn’t something we have much experience of either (we’re so superior); you could describe Shimano’s cheapest eight-speed groupset as clunky, but we prefer the more positive ‘positive’. Generally, you know when you’re changing gear as you can feel the movement within the lever – unless it’s having one of its ‘floppy’ moments, when the lever moves but nothing happens…
Our biggest problem with the gearing, though, is the range. When the going goes up, or it’s one of those days when you wake up ‘without your legs’, you’ll probably want lower gears than the 50/34 chainset and 11-28 cassette provide. If you live somewhere flat, it’s less of a problem; add some hills, though, or go riding on a day when your muscles aren’t at their freshest, into a headwind, and you could be struggling. We were.
We wondered about the Initial – who it’s aimed at, why ‘Queen Victoria’ wasn’t going after the higher end of the market – but if she’s out to encourage girls and women to get into road cycling, we reckon the Initial is a good option for the money.