If you’ve ever raced in France you’ll have seen some odd and often retro equipment choices on course, and that’s reflected in the B’Twin Rafal 760 from sports hypermarché Decathlon.There’s a potentially very responsive and enjoyable bike only a handful of upgrades away though. We literally mean a handful of upgrades too as it’s only the cockpit that properly cramps the Rafal’s style, or as one of our testers put it: “The '90s just called and they want their handling back!”
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The 680mm-wide bar is restrictive enough in terms of steering leverage, but clearance issues with the rotating remote lockout grip collar mean the burly Avid Code R DH brake levers end up 25mm closer to the centre of the bars than the end. Thankfully you can remove the reach adjust knob if you have to and even lightweight carbon bars start at £50 these days.
Release the beast
With the bars sorted the Rafal shows its true potential — it’s otherwise a well-appointed ride. The Crossride wheels aren’t particularly light but are stiff and sturdy. They’re also tubeless compatible, just like the rapid rolling Hutchinson Cobra tyres.
Hollow-armed Shimano cranks turn 11-speed Shimano XT gears with a switchable, chain-quietening clutch and the latest Side Swing front mech for a closely spaced, efficient gear range. While the heat eating four-cylinder Code brake calipers are certainly overkill for XC you’ll never be short of power even with a 160mm rotor up front. There’s serious weight loss potential if you switched to lighter brakes and a single ring set-up though.
Even in its present trim the Rafal is very light for £1,400 and the carbon frame delivers a great race/ride balance too. While the 27.5in wheels can’t compete with 29s’ relentless rollover smoothness, they accelerate and change direction noticeably faster in nip-and-tuck trail situations. Despite beefy looking tubes and a Reba fork the B’Twin is smooth over rough sections too, sustaining speed and pedaling rhythm well rather than choking on every rock or root.
Practicality meets performance
The skinny 27.2mm carbon fibre seatpost adds welcome spring under the firm Fizik Tundra saddle, the large sized frame has a reasonable reach and — assuming you fit those wider bars — the 69.5-degree steering angle adds sketchy moment stability.
Details such as the twin down tube bottle cage positions, external brake line for easy servicing and tons of mud room complete a frame that’s as highly practical as it is high performance.
Don’t be put off by those tiny, crowded bars with their overkill brakes, because the Rafal is potentially a sensible yet super enjoyable speed package at a killer value price.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.