A real head-turner, the Roberts 953 Audax is a great option for big, strong riders who want a fast-feeling but sturdy bike for big days.
It won’t win any ‘whose bike is lightest’ contests, but despite its slightly surprising heft, this handmade machine in Reynolds 953 super-steel is as quick as a road racer despite having mudguard clearance.
Ride & handling: stiff & quick – great for big riders
With it oversize tubes and slightly surprising weight, we thought the Roberts 953 might be too harsh. It's not. This will make an uncompromising fast audax or sportive machine for heavier, stronger riders.
Nevertheless, the headline characteristic of this frame is that it’s stiff. Sit on the saddle, put the brakes on and try to ﬂex the frame by putting pressure through the pedals, and it just doesn’t move. It’s about the stiffest steel frame we’ve come across.
Regular tester Paul Smith even joked that it felt like the frame was made of rod rather than tubing. There was the real worry that the resulting ride would be a bone-jarring, teeth-rattling experience, so it was more than a bit of a relief to ﬁnd this wasn’t the case.
The ride may not appeal to everyone – certainly if the armchair titanium ride of a bike like the Sunday September is your idea of a good ride then don’t consider the Roberts. But if you’re a stronger, heavier rider, this just might be the ideal bike for your fast riding audax or sportives.
You certainly feel any bumps on the road as you ride, and it’s really not one you’d want to tackle mixed surfaces on, but it was fast, felt lighter than its weight and handled very nimbly, even with its lengthened rear stays.
Our workshop guv’nor George Ramelkamp agrees. After riding it on the Dragon Ride cyclosportive he commented, “It feels and rides like a strong, stout racing bike, except it has mudguards.”
Frame: built for stiffness & durability
Reynolds 953 is a strong, hard, super high-end steel that can be made into a very light frame. Not here. Roberts has gone for strength here and the result and is massively stiff.
Tubing-maker Reynolds seems to be on a mission to prove that steel isn’t yesterday’s material, despite the recent domination of aluminium, titanium, carbon ﬁbre and just about everything else in the periodic table.
Its 953 tubing is made from a martensitic-aging or ‘maraging’ alloy stainless steel that doesn’t just have an ultra-high tensile strength (over 2000MPa), it’s also tough and relatively straightforward to weld. A 953 frame should therefore be able to combine steel’s renowned resilience with a very high impact strength, and corrosion resistance. And because the material is so strong, a 953 frame can be light, with tube walls as thin as 0.3mm.
That means 953 can be made into frames that challenge the likes of aluminium for weight, so it was a bit of a surprise that the beautifully lugged Roberts 953 Audax weighed in at 21lb, with the frame itself contributing 4lb.
Reynolds makes 953 tubing in a wide range of diameters and wall thicknesses so frame builders can tailor frames to their use. Roberts has gone for stiffness and reliability over weight here, while the result won’t win any bike show bragging contests, it’ll last a lifetime. In a bie intended for high-milage use, that’s a big bonus.
Equipment: complementary excellence
Campagnolo's 20-speed Centaur, Cane Creek headset and Cinelli bar and stem are all good quality, high performance kit.
It would be a shame if a frame of this quality was let down by poor kit and wheels, especially at this wallet-clenching price. The Campagnolo kit and handbuilt wheels contribute to not just the look but the overall ride quality.
Wheels: reliable Rowland quality
The wheels were handbuilt by renowned wheelbuilder Harry Rowland, and he’s done a cracking job on these hops that combine DT Swiss rims, 32 Sapim spokes and Novatech hubs. These aren’t the lightest wheels around, but the quality of construction and materials should ensure longevity.