With Eroica Britannia just one week away, Ride Velo has been busy preparing for the three day festival and, in particular, the Sunday morning bike ride. This must be undertaken on a pre-1987 bike... with a couple of exceptions.
Two of the new 'sport range' of Light Blue bicycles are eligible for Eroica Britannia even though they are were only released last year - they are the Kings and St Johns retro steel bikes - and they are gorgeous! Ride Velo was lucky enough to take three of the new range out for a photo shoot back in December: the Robinson, Trinity fixed and the St Johns. We loved them all, but it was the St Johns that I kept coming back to.
We went shopping for vintage bikes to ride at the Tweed Run and Eroica and Robbie picked up a lovely Bianchi from the 1970s in the unexpected environs of Romford. But when I rode it, and its Italian companions, they were not for me. The saddles was excruciating, the pedals ate through my shoes like bear traps and the gears felt as though they weren’t engaging correctly. The riding position was agony, although they looked beautiful. But these bikes weren't built for women! So disappointing - I should've known better.
Which started me dreaming about the St Johns again... Although it looks exactly like a pre-1987 bike, it certainly doesn't ride like one. The Light Blue design team joined forces with Reynold's Keith Noronha in developing frames using some of the iconic British tubing for Light Blue. The Kings classic road uses the top of the line double butted 853 main tubes and brazed lugs, whilst the modern style Wolfson road uses tig welded oval and bi-ovalised 853 giving some of the lightest steel frames available. The St Johns boasts Reynolds 725 with brazed lugs and weighs in at an impressive 10.5 kg. It feels noticeably lighter than it's 40 year old Italian rival.
MD Lloyd Townsend sent a St Johns to my local bike shop, Brixton Cycles, for me to try out. On walking into their vast new cycle emporium, the St Johns immediately stood out from the very urban crowd, and was attracting the attention of some unlikely fixie riders. Standing next to the racks of chunky modern bikes, the St Johns was pure elegance and class, not to mention vintage and heritage. The optional hammered copper effect mudguards make a stunning addition to this retro gem.
I proudly steered the St Johns out of the shop, very aware of the envious glances all around me, and onto Brixton's pot-holed streets. First thing I noticed was the astonishingly comfortable ride achieved through some clever detailing on the bike. The Halo Twin Rail 29c Courier tyres are wider than on both my Genesis hybrid and my Merckx road bike and their textured surface eats up the lumps and bumps of the road - perfect for gravel and pot holes. The bike has clearance for up to 32c tyres if you forgo the mudguards.
The saddle was a Gusset R Series. I would have expected a Brooks on a traditional bike like this but the Gusset is spongy and every bit as forgiving as the Selle Italia Dama saddle I love so much. As a woman on a man's bike I was thankful for the Gusset! Apparently Light Blue have now modified their specification to include the Dia Compe Touring leather saddle as standard (although you can opt to have the padded saddle if you want).
My bike has a 53cm St Johns frame which compares to a 54cm frame on other standard models. This was the perfect size for me and didn't throw my riding position too far forward when operating the Dia Compe centre-pull brakes on the drops.
The St Johns has a 9 speed Driven RX 11-28 cassette and Genetic Clubman crankset in a compact 50/34 ratio which will be a little more forgiving up those Derbyshire hills than the Kings Retro with 53/39. It's the next best thing to 'granny gears'. The down-tube shifters are Dia Compe light action power-ratchet and work much more securely than their vintage counterparts, although you still have to feel your way into the correct gear - but hey, that's part of the charm isn't it?
But what makes the St Johns stand out from the crowd is the detailing on the bike. Hanging it on the wall in the living room (like the work of art it is) I notice different elements of the bike's beautiful styling every day: from the etching on the Halo Retro 32 spoke wheels, the stunning half chromed forks and rear stays, to the gold lug lining.
So now to the price: at £1,299 it's quite a luxury purchase for a bike that's unlikely to be ridden every day. So far I've kept it for special occasions such as the Tweed Run, going to cycle events in town where I want to show it off in the bike racks, and of course the upcoming Eroica festival. I don't ride it in the rain. I'm certain it will look and perform just as well in 40 years time - and it will probably outlast me!