I put Spa’s titanium Elan through its paces a while back and it turned up trumps, so I thought I’d take its Reynolds 725-framed Elan for an extended test ride, too.
Steel is a little heavier than titanium but it will save you a fair wodge of cash, which lets you splash out on some swankier kit – hence the gold-coloured Hope components adorning the frame and the matching hubs.
Back in the day, numerous bikes were available as frames, but these days it’s largely the preserve of steel models. The big advantage of this is that you can spec the kit to your needs, taste and budget – hence some slightly unusual choices on this Elan.
The Spa’s kit is based around Shimano’s excellent 105 hydraulic groupset but you’ll notice the teeny-tiny chainrings are very much not Shimano – but I like to spin rather than crank my way up hills (hey, if it’s good enough for Chris Froome then it’ll do for me…) and this chainring pairing will get you up all of your fiercest local hills with ease.
I upgraded the wheels to a pair with Hope Pro 4 hubs – in gold! David Caudery / Immediate Media
I normally reach the bottom gear too early and look back desperately for a bigger sprocket to help me out. On the Spa, I nearly always had a gear or two to spare.
The 46/32 chainset and 11-40 cassette, with its side plate-sized bottom sprocket, still provide a reasonably high 112in top gear – roughly equivalent to the 50×12 that’s the second-top gear on most compact setups.
Crucially, for me, the lowest gear is much smaller than the usual 34×34 or 34×32 – a wall-crawling 20in that gets me up the double-digit inclines on my daily commute without even nearing the granny gear.
Spa achieves the extra range with the Shimano 105 rear mech by using a Wolftooth Goatlink, increasing the range without hampering shifting quality. Neat.
The most important factor, though, is that you can choose from dozens – probably hundreds – of options from Spa, Shimano and Stronglight: singles, doubles, compacts, super-compacts, even triples, pairing them with the correct levers, of course. And in silver and black.
Spa’s own 46/32 chainset is one of a huge number of options available. David Caudery / Immediate Media
Another area where Spa scores over the cycling conglomerates is in the choice of wheels offered.
The classic Reynolds steel frame is paired with up-to-date wide tubeless Kinlin rims and, for a touch of bling, Hope Pro 4 hubs. These are expertly put together by Spa’s own in-house wheelbuilders and are supplied tubeless with wide Schwalbe G-One tyres.
It’s a great pairing, super-smooth running, and the G-Ones offer a very good ride on tarmac with the ability to tackle variable surfaces, such as gravel. It’s surprising that the Elan has quick-releases rather than thru-axles, but braking is excellent.
It’s this versatility and the Elan’s comfort that are its main strengths. It’s the heaviest bike out of the All-City Zig Zag, Genesis Volare 853, Cinelli Vigorelli and The Light Blue Darwin also on test (10.39kg in a 54cm), but if you are an absolute weight obsessive, steel probably wouldn’t be your first port of call.
The material’s renowned long-distance comfort is here in spades, and Spa has added to that with the FSA handlebar and its gently swept, slightly flattened tops. If you do a lot of your riding in this position, they’re a real boon.
Fitted with this 46/32 chainset the Spa will let you climb anything. Robert Smith
Those wide, tubeless tyres are also your friend if comfort is crucial to you – as well as being tough, grippy and reducing the likelihood of punctures.
It’s not a super-sharp descender or climber, its long wheelbase (1,047mm) favouring stability over dynamic handling, but this (and the great braking) mean that descents are always very well controlled. Carrying over 10kg of bike you’re never going to fly up cols, but low gears ensure you’ll always get there without stress.
The only bike you’ll ever need? If you’re not sprinting for village signs or to shatter personal bests, this will cover pretty much all your bases.
Weekends away, sportives or long-distance trips, day-to-day riding and commuting over the worst of roads (what, in Britain, in winter?) – this’ll cope with these all day for as long as you can ride.
Spa Cycles Elan 725 geometry
Sizes (* tested): 50, 52, 54*, 56, 58cm
Seat angle: 72.5 degrees
Head angle: 71.5 degrees
Seat tube: 54cm
Top tube: 55.2cm
Head tube: 17.5cm
Fork offset: 4.5cm
Bottom bracket drop: 6.5cm
How we tested
This bike was tested as part of a five-bike grouptest of steel road bikes and road-biased all-rounders.
Steel might be the oldest of bike building materials but can be used to create comfortable, long-lasting and repairable bikes. It’s also recyclable, so better for the planet than you might think.
Modern tastes are felt though with disc brakes, tubeless tyres and clearances for wider rubber all making an appearance.
Bikes also tested: