Light Blue St Johns Retro first ride review

Classic styling from the Cambridge bicycle makers

The St Johns is a love letter to classic British drop-bar bikes. With its slender-tubed and brazed Reynolds steel frame decorated in metallic green with chrome detailing, and hand-applied gold pinstripe lug lining, this new machine wouldn’t have looked out of place hanging in the window of your local bike shop more than half a century ago.

Light Blue St Johns Retro spec overview

  • Frame: Brazed and lugged Reynolds 725 steel
  • Fork: CB6 double-butted chromoly
  • Wheels: Halo Retro 32 spoke
  • Transmission: Driven RX mechs and down-tube shifters (50/34, 11-28) 9-speed
  • Brakes: Dia-Compe 610 centre pull

Classic design

Details include hand-applied gold pinstripe lug lining
Details include hand-applied gold pinstripe lug lining

Beneath the beautiful skin is Reynolds 725, a modern steel whose mandrill-butted tubes feature thin walls that cut weight. The geometry mixes past and present with a modern, steeper 72.5-degree head angle and 73-degree seat angle melded to a longer fork offset of 45mm, while the long 575mm top tube of my 56cm test bike is countered by the classic quill stem. It all adds up to a bike that hints at a sporty position but is really more about cruising.

That’s heightened by the comfort of steel, which elicits a smooth ride that’s not even interrupted by the idiosyncratic non-indexed, down-tube shifters. It’s naturally not the smoothest transition from one cog to another, and the Driven RX gearing, which is 9 x 2 with a combo of 50/34 upfront and 11-28 out back, also results in greater jumps between sprockets than on a modern bike. But once you’ve acclimatised to shifting old style, it’s a truly enjoyable ride.

Continuing the historic theme, the centre-pull brakes ramp up from gentle dragging to pulsing and then locking on tight. It means this classic-inspired beauty requires thinking ahead — thinking about gear and brake selection — to keep things smooth.

Tyre choice

The only niggles are with the tyres. While I appreciate the 29c Halo Courier tyre when it comes to fixed-wheel bikes, the large volume and puncture-protected construction coping well with skidding abuse and rear lock-ups, I’d switch them out for something like Vittoria’s skinwall Corsas — in 25 or 28 — to add a little more zip.

The non-indexed down-tube shifters
The non-indexed down-tube shifters

If you’ve ever fancied battling one of the many retro rides like the L’Eroica series, but have neither the time or money for an expensive restoration job, the St Johns complies to the rules and regulations of said event. Just add a set of toe clip pedals and you’re good to go.

You can do it cheaper, too, as it’s £1,375 without the optional accessory pack. However, you’d miss out on those lovely copper-toned, hammered mudguards, porter rack (with matching canvas bag) and thick leather saddle pack. They really elevate the bike’s appearance, and when a bike looks and rides as well as this Light Blue, I really think it’s worth it.

Light Blue St Johns Retro early verdict

Gloriously retro and a comfortable ride to boot.

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