“To B'Twin or not B'Twin?” is a question that Shakespeare sadly didn’t pose in the opening of Hamlet. Which is a bit of a shame, as it would probably have been a pretty straightforward poser for the Danish prince to answer, as B'Twin’s Ultra 900AF road bike is “a hit. A very palpable hit.” Ah well, back to the more sensible bike-related stuff now…
- The B'Twin Ultra 900 AF is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2018. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women's bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub.
B'Twin is the moniker that French sports supermarket Decathlon uses for its sports clobber, but the name has also adorned team bikes ridden by Ag2r and FDJ’s professional riders over the years, so it should have a bit of nous when it comes to putting together bikes for the more modest power outputs produced by the rest of us.
The B'Twin Ultra 900 AF is by the far the least expensive of our nominally £1,000 bikes category in Bike of the Year testing this year. It has a compact 6061 aluminium frame — complete with the UCI’s seal of approval — with internal cabling, non-smoothed welds and a complete raft of Shimano 105 parts in its direct-mount brake incarnation. The wheels are Mavic Aksiums with Mavic Aksion tyres too, something you might expect on a bike costing £200 more.
I did have a couple of minor reservations when I first saw the Ultra 900 AF because it has a couple of features that have gradually been falling out of fashion over the last few years. I'm talking direct-mount brakes mounted behind the bottom bracket and large diameter seatposts; the only other top 10 bike with a 31.6mm is the Boardman Team Carbon.
These mean a few potential issues. Out-of-the-saddle climbing can result in brake rub, though I'm glad to say that I didn’t experience this during testing, and it may only affect those with more Chris Hoy-like power outputs.
The second factor is that it’s a fiddly location for fettling the brakes and that they’re likely to pick up even more dirt, oil and grit than standard seatstay brake bridge-mounted brakes.
This is something that B'Twin is obviously aware of because the brakes are going to be moved on future versions of the Ultra AF. The positive, though, is that the brakes do work very well, with loads of controllable power.
The other concern — that seatpost — was also largely overcome by B'Twin. The triple-butted aluminium frame is stiff and very much performance orientated, and I felt that the seatpost might make it too harsh through the saddle, but it manages to stay on the right side of firm.
The seatstays are slimmer than some and the lack of a brake bridge will reduce stiffness too, and there’s enough of the seatpost exposed to provide at least some give. The carbon fork legs do the same at the front.
With some of the money you’ve saved you could always get yourself a carbon post or an adaptor for a narrower seatpost for more comfort. And I reckon Specialized’s 26mm tyres and some 28mm rubber would fit, adding a little more plushness too.
B'Twin Ultra 900 AF overall impression
B'Twin’s designers have created a bike that scores highly for a quick, dynamic and enjoyable ride. The geometry falls between full-on race bike and endurance, and you could use this for pretty much anything.
It’s sharp enough for racing, comfortable enough for fast sportives, and you could squeeze in a pair of aftermarket mudguards to create a slick winter trainer. Fast and furious or slow and steady? The choice is yours and you can even flit between the two.
The gearing matches the reasonably aggressive geometry, with a ‘pro-compact’ 52/36 chainset paired with an 11-28 cassette. This means you can power up sprints until your thighs are bursting, though the 36x28 bottom gear did make my steeper test climbs more of a challenge, and if hills aren’t your thing, take note.
B'Twin’s Ultra AF 900 may not be quite as light as some of the other aluminium or carbon fibre bikes in this price bracket, but it’s not significantly weightier, and it does dip under the 9kg mark. That’s not staggeringly light, but is extremely impressive for the price and is also a low enough weight for your non-cycling pals to pick it up and be very surprised.
It was a surprise, too, just how good this bike was overall. There are a couple of surprising kit choices, but this is one of the biggest bargains out there. A triple-butted frame with a lifetime guarantee, which is good enough for competing on (even in UCI events if you’re feeling ambitious), balanced with sufficient comfort for longer, more leisurely days.