VeloClub is CyclingTips’ membership program which brings us closer to our members, and connects likeminded cycling enthusiasts.
by Jason Rolfe
April 28, 2017
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
In this edition of Bikes of the Bunch, Jason Rolfe shows us his new aluminium bike made by Bowman Cycles that looks like a high-end product yet has a very modest price tag.
To be perfectly honest with you, I can’t really remember where I first saw the Palace:R or the Bowman brand, but I was intrigued with the way the bikes seemed to stand out from the rest. I think I saw an Instagram photo then Googled up the brand and the rest, as they say, is history.
Once I started to look into Bowman Cycles, I found out that it was a small framebuilder from my original home county of Kent in the UK. I was looking to replace my current bike (Giant TCR Advanced) but didn’t really want to fork out heaps of cash (read: financial controller declined my request). I also didn’t want to downgrade and go for something cheap.
With that said, I like to get value for money with everything I buy and am always on the lookout for a great deal. This frame seemed to be too good to be true, so I did a bit more digging.
As with any product these days, a quick Internet search will find you heaps of reviews. Everything I read on the original Palace frame was very positive. Aluminium seems to have come a long way in the last few years and the Palace:R takes advantage of the newest stuff to reduce the gap between aluminium and carbon.
Every review talked about the handling and lively feel of a bike designed for hard riding. The Bowman motto is even “Ride with Spirit”, so all the planets were starting to align:
• Bargain price – Tick
• Developed in my old home county – Tick
• Something a bit different – Tick
• A bike with spirit – Tick
This was starting to look like the bike for me.
The frames are designed and developed in Kent and built in Taiwan. I was a bit concerned that I was going to get ripped off with either a dud or the frame not turning up. I emailed Bowman Cycles and their response came back within a few minutes. I asked a few more questions over the next couple of days and couldn’t find a reason not to buy one! Before you know it, I was checking availability of a black and jade Palace:R in my size and it didn’t take me long to pull the trigger.
Ordering and the build
I ordered the frame the next day and was told from the outset that the expected delivery date was about a month or so away, so I sat back and eagerly awaited the arrival of my new toy. Ordering and payment was a breeze and the easy correspondence with Graeme from Bowman Cycles made the process very simple.
After about two weeks I got an email saying that my frame was coming early – oh, happy days! This news was a double-edged sword, as I had not yet put any real thought into how I was going to build the bike up, so had to get my skates on and make a quick decision on what I was going to do with my current bike. I was fortunate to find a buyer for my old carbon frame within a week or so.
The frame landed as I was rapidly ordering some new bars, stem, pedals, seatpost and threaded BB (goodbye PressFit). I actually got more for my old carbon frame than I paid for the Palace:R, so the whole change-over only cost me a few hundred dollars for a handful of parts.
Once I got all the parts together I didn’t have to think long about getting the bike built by someone who knew what they are doing (my mechanical skills are limited to changing brake pads, and more recently, swapping over cassettes). Matt Wikstrom is based very close to my home and has been servicing my bikes for years, so he was the obvious choice to do the build for me. He seems to know a thing or two about bikes and how they are put together, and I don’t think he’ll mind me saying he loves to talk about them as well!
I dropped the parts off to Matt the night before the build and had planned to pop round a couple of times in the morning to monitor the progress. Turns out I had to go round earlier than expected after Matt had called me to say he was missing some parts – I had forgotten to drop off the groupset!
I got to see Matt building the bike from the ground up and was impressed with the raw nature and simplicity of putting the thing together. Matt had asked me for a few accurate measurements for the build, like the reach, my setback and drop etc. I only knew what a couple of these were, so I guessed the rest and handed Matt a scrap of paper with some scribbled measurements.
Before long, Matt had texted me a photo of the complete bike and it was a breathtaking sight. Wow, had I created this weapon?
Frame: Bowman Cycles Palace:R, T6 triple-butted 6069 aluminium
Fork: Toray HM, full carbon, tapered steerer
Groupset: Dura-Ace 9000, 50/34T cranks, 11-28T cassette
Wheels: Roval CLX64
Tyres: Specialized Turbo
Brake Pads: Swissstop Black Prince Evo
Handlebars: FSA Energy Compact Wing Pro 42cm
Stem: Ritchey Comp 120mm
Saddle: Fizik Arione
Seatpost: Ritchey Comp, 27.2mm Aluminium
Seatpost Clamp: Bowman Cycles
Pedals: Look Keo Blade
Bar Tape: Deda Surf Mist
Bottle Cages: Arundel
Frame Weight: 1.1kg
Bike Weight: 7.7kg with all the fruit
Most of the components came from my old bike so a simple swap made the decisions about the parts very easy. Dura-Ace has been my groupset of choice for a while now and I just can’t fault it – just ask most of the pro teams. I have only recently been using the compact groupset and have discovered 50/34 is the new 53/39.
I bought all aluminium components to maintain the theme and the traditional look of the bike. I have used the FSA bars on a previous bike and love the way they feel. The wheels are a recent acquisition — a swap for the Bora One 50 tubs on my TT bike — and I love the way they look with the matte black of the frame, plus they bring a little of the new to the traditional feel of the bike.
I didn’t want to get too worried about the weight of the bike by spending two or three times the money on expensive carbon components just to save a few hundred grams. And let’s face it: most of us cyclists could easily lose a few kilograms if we really tried. Besides, do those few grams really make that much difference to the coffee shop sprint?
I was a little apprehensive when I first took the bike out for a spin around the block, but after the first lap, I felt exhilarated I had to go around again for another. This bike can go!
My riding style since I have had the Palace:R has been described as that of a “stabbed rat”, which I think is a compliment. This may just be new bike euphoria but I like to think it has something to do with the Palace:R.
I am not one for detailed clichéd descriptions but I know that I feel like a kid again when riding this bike on my usual Swan River loop in Perth. It’s stiff in all the right places without that chatter you used to get on the old aluminium bikes. It feels really at home punching out of corners and rolling along the flats, yet it climbs like a demon. The compact groupset means I can leave it in the big dog for the river loops and only drop it down for the occasional foray into the Perth Hills.
Aluminium may not be for everyone — especially if you have a spare few thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket — but this bike basically does everything a high-priced, highly marketed, production line “Italian” carbon bike does at a fraction of the cost. The only difference, is that this bike also has “Spirit”!
I am definitely punching above my weight with this bike and it has to be the most exciting bike I have ever ridden. In terms of bang for your buck, I don’t think you can do better… What more can you ask for?