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Bowman Pilgrims frameset review

7 Dec 2016
Verdict:

Delivers a racy feel despite a longer wheelbase, with plenty of room for adjustment

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£750
For 
Durable aluminium construction; excellent design details; price
Against 
Pressfit bottom bracket; overbuilt forks

For a relatively new bike company, Bowman has hit the ground running. It currently offers a range of five frames, the most recent arrival being the second generation Palace the R, an update to its very first frameset.

The Pilgrims was its second offering, having been available since early 2015.

Bowman’s has a down-to-earth approach to bike-building and the Pilgrims is an all-aluminium frameset, which brings with it two distinct benefits.

First, it helps keep costs down, which is always welcome, and second it means its frames are tough and durable, designed to be ridden hard on the road, or occasionally off it.

It would be all too easy to pigeon-hole Bowman’s mile-munching, big-tyred bike and say that it’s a gravel machine, but it wouldn’t be fair to do so, for while it is indeed well suited to that style of riding, that’s not actually what it’s designed for.

And what better way to get my head around its true nature than be riding the road the bike is named after?

In this regard Bowman is following in a fine tradition that includes such luminaries as the Trek Madone and Genesis Croix de Fer. In this case the road in question is a touch less exciting, but a whole lot nearer.

The Pilgrims Way runs along the sunny side of the North Downs through Surrey and Kent, taking in a few vineyards along the way. At times it’s a narrow ribbon, at others little more than a rat run. It’s certainly a testing course if you’re looking to ride fast.

Near-constant changes of gradient, direction and surface mean it’s a route that demands both stiffness while pedalling yet also a degree of comfort, along with the kind of dynamics that give you the confidence to cope with unseen loose surfaces mid-corner without scratching off too much speed.

And it’s this focus on performance that sets the Pigrims apart from true gravel bikes.

Side-on there are more than a few nods to current frame design thinking, such as the 90-degree profile of the down tube, wide bottom bracket and deep head tube to maximise weld areas; chunky chainstays for good power transfer along with slimmed down seat stays and a narrow 27.2mm seatpost to help minimise road shock from getting to the rider.

Up close the details continue with CNC’d rear dropouts, T-shaped hydro-formed top tube, tapered and oversized fork crown that gives a very square stance and up to 35c tyre clearance plus post mounted disc brakes.

So does it all come together out on the road? Well, we’re happy to report, it certainly does. As with any well-built 7000 series alloy frame, there’s an innate stiffness and the large-diameter tubes imbue that distinctive alloy feel.

Given its robust construction the Pilgrims doesn’t have quite the zing of a full-on race machine but does encourage you and rewards the effort you put in.

The flipside to a bike that's not built for pure speed is that it’s great for longer rides. Where the lightest alloy frames can lead you to feel quite fatigued after a couple of hours, that’s never the case with the Bowman.

Likewise the handling is well tuned for longer rides. It can without a doubt carve a tight corner and thanks to its slightly stretched-out wheelbase, it feels like a stable platform on tarmac or loose surfaces and is fun to ride.

To this end a slightly less overbuilt fork would probably give more feel to the front end, which for this tester at least would be a welcome thing.

Far from being picked at random from a catalogue, this ‘road-plus’ machine looks like nothing else and is covered with clever design touches and detail choices.

From the forged bottom bracket shell (sadly pressfit) with its cable outlet that doubles as a rearward facing drain, to the big tyre capability, it’s all aimed at expanding your build options and letting you tune the bike to be what you want it to be, rather than the bike defining how you ride.

We love this approach, and it makes real sense when creating a bike for an as yet unrefined category.

Unsure ourselves quite how we’d use the Pilgrims, we went with SRAM’s Rival 22 Hydro-R 11-speed groupset with the excellent hydraulic stoppers, Deda’s alloy Zero 100 bar and stem along with Zipp’s budget 30 Course clincher wheels fitted with Continental GP 4000 II 28mm tyres.

This selection turned out a complete bike with a price of around £2,850 (that’s using retail pricing for parts). It’s hard to compare value for money on a custom build like this to an off-the-peg build, since our choice of wheels and contact points make it more the kind of bike you’d end up with after several years of upgrading otherwise.

So what else could you buy for around this outlay? Perhaps a Trek Domane SL6 with its carbon frame, Ultegra groupset and Bontrager wheels. Or a Genesis Equlibrium Disc 30 with a steel frame and Ultegra.

Neither of these quite match the Bowman’s considered, real-world design and build. The Ultegra groupset is arguably a step up but the wheels and contact points are two steps down. And therein lies the beauty of buying a frame, that you can specify and place your cash where you’ll notice it most.

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