Racelight’s TK is marketed by the distributors as a winter bike ‘able to perform as an all year round race frame’, which is quite a claim to make. To see whether it was able to live up to this we put it through its paces in some typically miserable, wet, early winter weather – a perfect test-bed for British riding conditions.
Throw in some miles on canal towpaths, wet and leaf-strewn roads, and some extra distances with the bike carrying a couple of shopping-filled panniers (well, it’s got rack mounts and we assumed they weren’t for show) and we’d pretty much covered all the bases. And while the TK is made in Taiwan, a country with a strong track record when it comes to producing good quality, well priced bikes, it’s designed and specced in Britain for our wonderful British climate and roads. It seems like a sensible compromise, but we all know the potential problems with compromises, so how does it perform when it really matters, and what’s it like to ride?
Frame: lightweight, high quality aluminium
Kinesium sounds like something straight out of the Star Trek dictionary – think ‘dilithium’ or ‘tritanium’ – but a closer look at the label will reveal the more Earthbound description ‘premium aluminium’. And nothing during testing suggested that this is anything other than an entirely accurate description. What it boils down to is a 6000 series aluminium (alloyed with magnesium and silicon) developed by Kinesis International. This is claimed to be 25 per cent stronger than the oft-used 6061 for the same weight. But in spite of the light weight and some very oversized tubes this doesn’t result in the sort of harsh ride that aluminium is renowned for. It is stiff where it really matters, though – in the bottom bracket area. The TIG welding was exceptionally neat throughout and the frame came with that necessary requirement for an aluminium frame: a replaceable dropout.
The paintjob looks great, deep and sumptuous. There were concerns that the prettiness might not equal robustness, but a potentially serious wall/frame mating incident resulted in not a scratch to the top-tube. Phew! The forks are carbon with a carbon hanger and while they are not exceptionally light, the frame and fork combo came in at a pretty svelte 2.1kg.
Equipment: decent 105-based kit
For a bike priced at around a thousand quid the Racelight TK is bang on the money. Shimano’s 10-speed 105 groupset – which provides levers and mechs – performs as well as you’d expect, with the ever more common Truvativ taking care of the chainset. All performed perfectly. There’s a very decent headset too, from FSA. Oddly, though, there was one component that did let the side down slightly: the four-bolt alloy stem. Normally this isn’t an issue, but in this case Cycling Plus mechanic George reckoned it wasn’t cut straight, so the handlebars weren’t perfectly in line – and he was right. Although it was incredibly slight and had no bearing on the handling, the right side of the bar was slightly forward of the left.
The Tektro Quartz dual-pivot brakes performed exceptionally well during some wet rides: very impressive. The saddle, San Marco’s comparatively slimline Ponza, was also a good choice.
Our TK came with unbranded narrow chromoplastic mudguards. These have the disadvantage of not having SKS’s excellent Secu-Clip system, but there was decent clearance with 23mm tyres fitted, a much more satisfactory result than you’d get trying to squeeze Salmon guards into a racing frame. Without guards you could fit larger 25 or 28mm tyres no problem.
Wheels: basic performers
Until a few years ago it was nearly always a case of 32 or 36 spokes, more or less regardless of the type of cycling you were doing; and until not long ago I was always wary of wheelsets with fewer spokes. But Mavic and Shimano have set the trend for reducing spoke numbers and having recently ridden a lot of different wheels I’m gradually being won over to the more modern way of thinking. These, while not particularly inspiring, performed well enough, the semi-deep section rims keeping things reassuringly stiff. And being cup and cone designs you’ll be able to service the hubs yourself.
The Kenda Kontender tyres were a very pleasant surprise. Conditions during testing were pretty wet, with leaves and grit everywhere. But for a quite modestly priced tyre these were excellent, never losing grip on wet surfaces, and having had a rash of punctures with other tyres in the last month, these didn’t seem to pick up any cuts. I don’t know what they’d be like over a whole winter, but during testing these performed much better than I would have expected.
Handling: impeccable – fast and confident
November and December in Britain offer a serious challenge for any bike, and it’s fair to say that the Racelight TK took everything winter could throw at it and still came out smiling. Unladen it feels quick – seriously nippy. A friend of mine in London has just bought one for year-round long distance commuting duties, and he absolutely concurs on this. In fact, it feels so quick that he’s seriously considering using it for racing on next summer.
Even when carrying some reasonable loads in rear panniers there were no compromises in the handling, none of the front end twitchiness that my 531-framed steel tourer used to suffer. As a winter trainer this absolutely excelled, chewing up miles with relish, and in spite of the slightly longer than expected wheelbase I really would have no hesitation in either racing on the TK or doing some light touring. It’s quite an achievement to build a bike that feels so adept at both seemingly worlds-apart disciplines.
If you’ve read my reviews before, you’ll know I’m a fan of versatility when it comes to bikes. After all, not everybody can afford – or even wants – a whole stable of machines. And though this won’t do everything, it does tick a lot of different boxes at a reasonable price. It’s a more than decent winter trainer, and yes it is good enough to ride all-year-round. You could even do some light touring on it. Loaded with two rear panniers the frame is stiff and strong enough to cope. And with a weight of around 20lb you could even have a crack at racing or a time trial or racing triathlon on it. You won’t be able to get down into a perfectly low riding position for time trialling, but the handling won’t ever let you down. For maximum versatility an extra wheelset or two would mean you could use this for just about anything: lighter wheels for racing, or tougher wheels for touring.