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The Light Blue Darwin One-By review

20 Jan 2017
Verdict:

The Light Blue Darwin provides skinny tubes, fat tyres and lots of fun

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£1,500

About the bike

The Light Blue Bicycle company’s Darwin comes in a range of builds from ultra-practical hub-geared tourer to this more radical option, fitted with humongous tyres and a single front chainring. Its radically flared handlebars help complete a very on-trend adventure-touring rig. Given how much we recently enjoyed riding their Wolfson racing bike, we’re excited to see if the Darwin’s slight-looking frame is up to the rigours of the genre. It might not be modelled on Charles Darwin, but it’s winning on the natural selection front for us. 

The spec

The frame: The skinny tubes on the Light Blue would look scrawny on a road bike, let alone something with offroad aspirations. However, made of quality Reynolds 725 steel they’re at the heart of what makes the Darwin such an extraordinarily fun bike to ride. Zippy and with a noticeable amount of flex, they’re able to iron out far more buzz from the road or trail than any other bike on test. The fork manages the same feat while also featuring mounts for racks or holsters. Both it and the frame are capable of accepting tyres up to 45c wide – almost mountainbike territory. At the back, adjustable dropouts mean there’s the potential to alter the wheelbase by 15mm, either to tuck in the back wheel for faster cornering or stretch out the frame to fit bigger tyres and provide more stability. 

Groupset: SRAM’s 1x11 groupset consists of a medium sized single front chainring paired to an extremely wide 10-42t cassette. It means each gear ratio is selected sequentially, rather than needing to be searched out from a scattered combination of front and back cogs. The downside is fairly large jumps between each gear. The only bike on test not to feature hydraulic brakes, the shift levers are consequently smaller and fit more neatly in the hand. Although easy to service in remote corners of the world, braking power from Avid’s BB7s is noticeably less than that provided by hydraulics, with the action feeling agricultural in comparison. Given the other parts, it’s forgivable, although upgrading later is an expensive prospect, as brakes and shifters come as a single unit. 

Finishing kit: The Union Jack saddle features a no-nonsense shape, medium width and padding. It sits on top of a robust, inline, dual-bolt seatpost. The stem is very short, helping keep the steering direct and cutting down flex. Combined with the straight seatpost it helps shorten the stretch between the saddle and the wide, flared bars. 

Wheels: Halo’s Vapour MT wheels are the only set here available to buy aftermarket, and it shows in their quality construction and low weight. Their wide profile nicely supports the 38c twin rail tyres, which roll quickly considering the healthy amount of grip that they provide over loose surfaces. 

The ride

First impression: The Darwin winds up to speed quickly despite its big tyres. Pointed at the rough stuff, it provides a thud-dampening ride that insulates the rider, yet doesn’t feel stodgy. Promising.

On the road: The Darwin’s wide tyres roll surprisingly readily thanks to a cunning ‘twin rail’ design which sees only the two eponymous strips in contact with the road during normal use. This means their 38c width doesn’t unduly delay the progress of what is otherwise an impressively light, flexible set-up. Agreeable to ride on smooth surfaces, the Darwin really comes into its own when the road deteriorates. Here the flex helps keep hands and backsides fresh where some of the other bikes would leave them numb. While it lacks the hooligan tendencies imparted by the Specialized’s tapered head tube, brawny fork and bolt-thru hubs, it’s still tons of fun to mess about on. For riders used to conventional gearing set-ups the purposeful shifting provided by the 1x11 will be a revelation. With large jumps between the sprockets, it’s absolutely obvious when you’ve moved up or down a gear. Our one grumble, which we saw coming as early as our first scan of the spec sheet, is the relative lack of power provided
by the mechanical disc brakes. 

Handling:  The sprightliest machine on test, the Darwin’s light, springy frame is complemented by a pair of equally responsive wheels. Combined with a very stable geometry, it’s quick-rolling but possessed of the sort of confidence-inspiring mannerisms that suggest it’ll take care of you if you come a cropper. The long top tube is combined with stubby stem which helps keep the steering direct, especially useful when navigating more difficult sections of offroad terrain, while the flared bars provide plenty of leverage and a comfortable spot from which to cover the brakes. With its thin tubes and conventional, skinny front end there’s some flex apparent when pushing the front of the bike, but it’s not a significant disadvantage. Potentially larger or stronger riders, or those using front panniers, might have more of an issue, although for our part we found the compliant ride more than an adequate pay-off. 

Ratings

Frame: Skinny and flexible, taking the edge off rough trails. 8/10 Components: The 1x groupset gives large jumps between gears. 8/10 Wheels: Top quality wheels support the 38c twin rail tyres well. 9/10 The Ride: Flexible, light and capable of withstanding big bumps. 8/10

Geometry

Claimed Measured
Top Tube (TT) 570mm 565mm
Seat Tube (ST) 535mm 540mm
Down Tube (DT) n/a 655mm
Fork Length (FL) n/a 410mm
Head Tube (HT) 180mm 175mm
Head Angle (HA) 71 71
Seat Angle (SA) 73.5 73.5
Wheelbase (WB) 1061mm 168mm
BB drop (BB) 72mm 71mm

Spec

The Light Blue Darwin
Frame Tig welded Reynolds 725 steel
Groupset SRAM Rival 1x11
Brakes Avid BB7
Chainset SRAM Rival 144t
Cassette SRAM Rival 10-42
Bars Genetic Flare
Stem Gusset Staff
Seatpost Genetic 27.2
Wheels Halo Vapour MT
Saddle Gusset Black Jack
Weight 11.12kg
Contact lightbluecycles.co.uk

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