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Austin Atto review

11 Jun 2021
Verdict:

Great fun to ride, practical to live with, but a few creases need ironing out before this is a brilliant folding bike

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Light • Fast • Zippy • Great fun
Against 
Seatpost tolerances • Seatpost flex

Carbon frame, disc brakes, belt drive, internal geared hub... if Carlsberg did folding bikes then the Austin Atto would probably be the best folding bike in the world.

As it stands, the Austin Atto claims to at least be the world’s ‘finest’ folding bike, and to give it its dues, it does make a solid case. It is a whole heap of fun to ride and practical to live with. But there are niggles.

The Atto’s rap sheet reads like a top end racer, from the Fizik Antares saddle and carbon bars and seatpost to the carbon rims and 11-speed Shimano Alfine hub.

That last item is an important distinction here, as it’s this addition that sets the Austo Atto apart from this review of its single-speed stablemate, and which deviates from the Atto’s headline billing: ‘Folds in less than eight seconds and weighs 7.49kg’.

A practised hand can certainly collapse any Atto in mere seconds, however 7.5kg is the preserve of the special edition ‘Monaco’ version, while the single-speed weighs a claimed 8.3kg. This Atto Alfine weighs 10.3kg.

To put that in context, as we all know a WorldTour bike can’t weigh less than 6.8kg, while a ‘Superlight’ Brompton weighs a claimed 11.3kg. And to put the Atto out on the road, 10.3kg translates to a zippy ride.

Much of that zippy quality emanates from the wheels, which are carbon and noticeably light. They’re also 20” in diameter, which I feel is a nice sweet spot in terms of comfort, momentum and acceleration.

Many folders sport 16” wheels, which though accelerate even more quickly, can feel twitchy in turns and do have a tendency to bump around a fair bit as opposed to bowl over uneven ground.

But speed alone does not a zippy bike make; brakes are crucial, and here the Shimano Deore disc brakes excel. As hydraulic disc brakes go they are proven and dependable, and when stuck onto such tiny wheels they provide incredibly positive, accurate braking.

This, then is the Atto’s strongest suit: it really does feel great to ride. It is rapid off the mark – so much so a friend asked if it was electric – and it will swivel on sixpence, its handling just the right side of fast to be highly reactive but not unstable.

Then, being light and also having 11 gears, the Atto gets up and over inclines like you’d expect a ‘big bike’ to do. It really does ride very sweetly around town.

Buy the Austin Atto now

Easy street

Practically the Atto is very easy to live with. It folds down to 59cm x 82cm x 36cm (versus a Brompton that folds to 65cm x 59cm x 27cm), and though it has gears, since they are internal there’s no stickie-outie bits to bash and upset, and once dialled in, shifting is smooth and should be all but adjustment free.

The Alfine drivetrain is centred around a Gates belt drive, ostensibly a fan belt-looking thing instead of a chain. It is heavier than a traditional setup, but unlike a chain drive it requires no lubrication and hence is a real boon for the trouser or skirt wearing rider.

Furthermore, it is almost silent save for an edifying purr that sounds wonderfully futuristic while helping the Atto maintain some very clean looking lines.

Other nice touches include the Wellgo pedals, which fold up too, and the carbon fibre mudguards, which do the trick, look the part and crucially don’t rattle. Ergon grips offer nice touchpoints, so too the Fizik saddle.

Holding the thing together when folded are some pretty serious magnets too, both neat and effective, and the clamps for the hinges have a satisfying click and clunk and seem robust. There is a lot to like the ‘feel’ of here, both riding and folding down. However, there are just one or two things that concern me.

Creeking concerns

First, the bike has a tendency to creak, and the primary cause was the seatpost. Bottom line, the tolerances between seatpost diameter and seat tube diameter are pretty lax, meeting the unclamped portion of the post moves around a fair bit inside the seat tube, thus creating a creaking sound.

Furthermore, because of this the seat collar is bearing a huge amount of load, and I’d worry at the ability of the seat tube’s clamping area to cope long term, especially under heavier riders – which at 80kg I am.

And then beyond this, the post produces a large amount of flex. In a sense it is supposed to: it is carbon so it can and should bend for comfort, but even so it is a bendy bit of carbon, and being so long the flex spills over into bob as the post gets loaded then springs back.

In most instances the bob was inconsequential and did help to make the Atto more comfortable in certain situations, but on really rutted roads or cobbles the whole thing felt a bit pogo-ish.

Buy the Austin Atto now

Still fun – it had character – but equally not something I’m a fan of overall. It feels like wasted energy, as well as sometimes like the bike has a flat.

Another gripe I have is with the fork shape. It has a pronounced edge running up the outside of the legs, which it turns out is perfectly placed to get whacked and chipped when an absent minded rider hastily undoes the steerer column clamp, whereupon the bars swing down and into the fork with a crunch.

I am very sorry to say I was such a hasty rider, and while it is ultimately user error, I would challenge any owner to avoid doing this by accident at some point, and hence I think it’s something Austin should compensate for.

Folding bikes are, by nature, designed to be used everyday, and carbon is not designed to enjoy impacts. A rubber bumper up the fork leg would do it.

Final report

A lot of the time reviewing bikes I’d err away from getting too hung up on price, mainly as road bikes went into crazy money a long time ago so it’s kind of an old conversation. You pays ya money ya makes ya choice. Commuters, though, are different.

Commuting bikes – as folding bikes are – are more tools than toys and as such they need to embody good value as they need to be accessible because, at the end of the day, we’d all be better off if we rode for utility more.

Thus I think the final judgement on the Austin Atto needs to be have price in mind. And however you cut it, this is a £3,300 fold up bike, nearly one of the most expensive on the market.

It should, therefore, be almost perfect, in the way an S-Works Tarmac or top-spec Trek Madone is almost perfect. But it isn’t, and not by some way.

Yes, the Atto is great fun to ride; honestly I haven’t enjoyed commuting so much in years. But I am pretty disappointed at some of the manufacturing tolerances and standards. Acceptable at half the price maybe, but for three grand it’s reasonable expect longevity and hardiness for a bike for which life can and will be tough.

The Atto is not quite there in this respect. And then there is the competition.

A Brompton is definitely ‘there’ in terms of its robustness, and it starts at less than a third the cost. Then there is actually an established upper tier of competition from the likes of Hummingbird – dearer at £3,945, sure, and four-speed and rim brakes, but it’s also carbon and it weighs a claimed 8.2kg.

Buy the Austin Atto now

Or the aluminium Tern Verge X20, with a 2x10 road-style drivetrain and weighing a claimed 9.9kg and costing £2,650.

There is competition, so if you’re charging top dollar you better be on your A-game. The Austin Atto so nearly is, but until its seatpost niggles and a few design points are ironed out, the report card will read ‘room for improvement’.

Price: 
£3,300