B'Twin is the house brand of the French sports supermarket Decathlon, which has 27 UK stores with two more on the way. Its business model allows it to sell bikes at prices its competitors can only dream of. But does a Flanders-designed Shimano Sora-equipped bike for £450 – £350 mean corners have been cut?
The first thing you notice is that the 520 has a triple chainset, the second thing is that Decathlon has gone to town and well beyond when kitting out the bike, a full nine-speed Sora groupset taking care of shifting and braking.
The extra sprocket means smaller jumps, the extra ring more usable gears, though the 30x25 bottom gear is virtually identical to 34x30. The smaller jumps are welcome, though I feel Sora’s 11-30 or 12-27 cassette would be better than the 12-25 fitted, the former giving a much wider range, the latter a lower bottom gear. But Sora both feels and looks, well, ‘classier’, even if it does have the same mass of cables in front of the head-tube as Claris.
The frame has a raft of features to up its versatility. On a bike that’s likely to be your only one there’s a good chance you might want mudguards and a rack. Well, the Triban has fittings for front and rear ’guards and, unusually, mountings for front and rear racks. This means you can conscript it for light touring and shopping, without recourse to a backpack.
There’s loads of clearance for wider tyres too. The geometry is also a little more leisurely than most of the opposition, its longish head-tube resulting in a quite upright riding position.
In keeping with modern thinking, the frame has a large down-tube and a slimmer, flattened top-tube, though the welds aren’t smoothed like those on the Boardman and Specialized. But the B'Twin still looks great, the plush, high quality two-tone bar tape perfectly complementing the frame’s red-and-black paintwork.
The 520’s ride is geared to tapping out the miles regularly and in comfort, rather than in cranking up the gears and throwing it around with abandon. If you’re looking for a bike for your first century ride, big day out or sportive this is very well suited and it’s comfortable too, the compact frame ensuring a lot of the 27.2mm seatpost is exposed. If you can get it at its lower price you could even upgrade to a carbon seatpost with some of the cash saved.
The only obvious component compromise is the braking. The deep-drop Shimano brakes allow room for guards or wider tyres but they combine with non-cartridge brake blocks to deliver soft and underpowered braking, which on long descents puts a lot of pressure on your hands. Change to cartridge pads tout suite and you won’t regret it. We’d also fit tougher tyres than the Hutchinson Equinox 2s if you’re commuting, though there’s no need to change them straightaway.
The Triban 520 is a fine bike and if getting the best kit for your money is important, this’ll win hands down, though its ride lacks a little of the dynamism of some other bikes. If you can get it for £350, it’s an unbelievable steal, costing little more than a bike-shaped object. There’s also a women’s version, with a female-specific saddle, shorter stem and narrower bar — oh, and obligatory flashes of pink.