On paper the KHS Flite 450 perhaps should have won our bike “Best Road Bikes Under $1,000” test. It sports a relatively comfortable position, big tires, and super-low gearing, however, the noodlely frame, toe-overlap, and misplaced rear brake boss break this deal.
The story of KHS’ Flite 450 comes down to execution and the truly tough task that faces product managers when it comes to building a price point bike. On one hand the product manager for the Flite 450 made better parts picks for a newbie cyclist that the rest of the seven manufacturers included in our eight-bike “Best Road Bikes Under $1,000” shootout. The good intentions fall short, however, with both poor attention to geometry details and poor quality control.
Ride and Handling: front and rear handling issues, and bad brakes
Standing in the drive way and throwing a leg over the Flite 450 waiting for everyone else to role out, we almost crashed. Yep, it was embarrassing. The cause the massive toe overlap, despite our smallish 42.5 shoe size and short 170mm cranks spec’d on the bike.
The Flite 450 regained some ground after its rocky start. Our first test route required a 2,500-vertical-foot ride up Flagstaff Mountain. Here the upright cockpit proved tolerable and the super low mountain bike style — 34/34 —1:1 low gear ratio allowed us to ride away from fellow testers. It was an enjoyable experience on a hill that is rarely easy, and one that would definitely give a new rider a massive sense of accomplishment.
Then we turned around and headed back down the hill we had just came up. Now, it’s hard to tell you which struck us first: the wonky oscillation coming from the rear end, the massively flexible frame, or the lack of braking power. But we can definitely tell you the latter was the most terrifying.
The Tektro R340 dual pivot brakes just didn’t mesh well with the MicroShift levers. Cable pull ratios seemed off, which made them feel dead and in need of a death grip to create just modest deceleration.
That wonk in the rear end took a little bit to figure out. After a closer inspection, however, it proved to be the slightly out of round wheel, shod admirably with a 26mm Kenda tire, bottoming out on the rear brake caliper at its wobble. Yeah, that was pretty much the nail in the Flite’s coffin.
Frame: manufacturing mistakes, and a soft ride
Again on paper the KHS’ Flite 450 seems solid. It’s built from 6061-aluminum alloy and has ‘custom’ formed and butted top and down tubes. Welds are par for the price range and had they reduced the toe overlap and welded the rear brake boss up for proper clearance, there wouldn’t really be a huge problem.
The frame rides quite softly, and granted we were putting the bike through its paces on the same hill and aiming for the same speeds — note we didn’t get to them — as we do for professional level bikes costing 10 times as much. The overall flex made the bike vague in corners, which we found generally led to understeer.
On our dirt loop, however, the bike rode well aided by the compliant frame and larger volume tires. Here its comfort would likely be a great advantage, to a new cyclist, over some of the higher preforming frames in our shoot out.
Equipment: kudos to the PM
As we started, on paper the Flite 450 seems like one of the best bikes in the price range. The KHS product manager nailed key areas by specifying larger volume tires and super low gears; these two simple features will undoubtedly better the experience for every new rider.
In this category of sub-$1,000 bikes, generally, if it works that’s all we can ask. So to have two specific feature benefits or upgrades, well that’s simply phenomenal. And if KHS can keep spec’ing like they have, and fix the misfortunate frame and geometry issues, well they might pull a Trek, who went from last in 2011 to first in 2012 when measured by our $1k mountain bike test.
Sure we can complain that the MicroShift levers — while offering better ergonomics — are still hard to operate due to the lever force they require. But that’s splitting hairs. Rather the MicroShift 10-speed transmission gets you an extra cog, when compared to the alternative, Shimano’s nine-speed Sora group.