State Bicycle Company Undefeated Road review: Back to aluminum basics
A workhorse budget aluminum road racer in need of more appropriate build options.
A workhorse budget aluminum road racer in need of more appropriate build options.
State Bicycle Company came on to the scene in 2009, capitalizing on the fixed-gear craze of the day with a variety of direct-to-consumer options at wallet-friendly prices designed to help bring new riders into the fold. Although the company’s catalog has steadily grown since then, value is still a cornerstone of every model. Topping the performance range is the Undefeated Road, a rim brake-equipped “aluminum crit killer” with a traditional aesthetic and appealing price tags.
Don’t let the lower cost fool you, though. The Undefeated Road rides better than you’d think, but it’d be nice if State Bicycle Company paid a bit more attention to some details and paired the chassis with some more sensible groupsets.
That the Undefeated Road is even State Bicycle Company’s top road bike at all says a lot about who the company is, not to mention the market it’s aiming to serve. There’s no mention of wind tunnel testing or aerodynamic shaping on the web page for the Undefeated Road, no lab test results for stiffness or compliance, no endorsements from prominent current or former professional riders.
Unusually for this day and age, it’s not even made of carbon fiber; it’s TIG-welded from double-butted 7005 aluminum tubing, and the overall profile unapologetically harkens back to a time gone by. Aside from the elegant S-bend on the chainstays and seatstays, tube shaping is virtually non-existent otherwise. The head tube surrounds a tapered steerer, but the seat tube, down tube, and top tube are all perfectly round and cylindrical from end to end.
And have I mentioned the brakes yet? You won’t find any discs here; it’s rim brakes all the way.
As you’d expect, the feature set is similarly straightforward and limited. The cables run through the down tube but are otherwise external, the integrated headset lends a nicely finished look to the head tube area, and — somewhat curiously — there’s a PF86 press-fit bottom bracket shell down below instead of the threaded one you might expect. There are no fender mounts, the seat post is secured with a standard external aluminum collar (a plus in my book), and there are just two bottle mounts in the usual spots. State does cover the Undefeated Road with a rather fantastic rainbow-accented sparkly paint job that positively gleams in bright sunlight, but that’s about as fancy as it gets.
Claimed weight for the frame, headset, and ancillary hardware is 2.04 kg (4.5 lb) for my 52 cm sample. Actual weights are very close to the claimed figures, with my tester tipping the scales at 1,988 g (4.38 lb, without headset), and the factory-cut carbon fork adding another 300 g (0.66 lb).
State offers the Undefeated Road in five sizes and two different SRAM build kits. The lower-end version comes equipped with a SRAM Apex 1 drivetrain and Mavic Aksium wheels for US$1,400, while the upper-end model I tested goes decidedly more upscale with a SRAM Force AXS wireless groupset and DT Swiss P1800 Spline wheels for US$2,900. If you’re so inclined, State also sells the Undefeated Road as a bare frameset — for a whopping US$650.
At least for now, sales are limited to the United States, although State has plans to eventually expand into the UK and EU markets.
Actual weight for my 52 cm complete bike, without accessories, is 8.38 kg (18.47 lb).
I had admittedly modest expectations of the Undefeated Road heading into the review, and for the most part, the bike is what I anticipated it to be. That said, it’s easy to forget that no-frills aluminum road bikes are pretty entertaining, and given the decades-long refinement of the segment in general, I think you’d be surprised at how much performance the Undefeated Road offers.
Aerodynamic shaping may rule the roost when it comes to hitting and maintaining high speeds on paper, but from a visceral standpoint, the combination of low weight and high stiffness is still what makes bikes feel good when you stomp on the pedals. In that respect, the Undefeated Road delivers the goods. The bike isn’t exactly whisper-light, nor is it unusually rigid, but it’s nevertheless light enough (especially with the shallow-profile rims and scant 25 mm-wide tires) and stout enough to feel quick and responsive when sprinting and climbing.
There’s no escaping the realties of science when powering along the flats and diving down steeper descents, though, and the lack of any aero optimization does sap some speed you’d otherwise gain (or retain) with more modern tube shaping or deeper-section rims. However, on solo rides — which is what most of us seem to be doing these days, anyway — I can’t say I ever felt that I was missing out, and it was mostly the bike’s eager personality that I paid attention to most. This bike likes to play.
State has done a good job on the Undefeated’s frame geometry, too. The handling is notably nimble what with its 405 mm-long chainstays and tidy 60 mm of trail from the 72.5º head tube angle and 45 mm fork offset. That’s obviously very quick as compared to the gravel and endurance machines that currently dominate the drop-bar landscape, but for the intended purpose, it feels just right. The Undefeated Road changes direction with just a touch of lean or even the slightest bit of handlebar input, and while some might consider that twitchy, let me remind you that this is how traditional road racing bikes have always been, and provided you’re expecting it, I personally appreciate the agility as it only adds to the bike’s entertainment value.
In terms of fit, the Undefeated Road is, once again, what you’d expect for a traditional road racer. Though not particularly long in terms of reach, the stack heights are fairly aggressive across the board, and my suspicion is that few riders will have issues getting the front end as low as they’d like. Either way, State’s recommended rider heights for a given size should be taken with a grain of salt.
State’s guidelines suggested I’d be best suited to a 54 cm frame, for example, but I decided from prior experience that I’d be happier on a 52 cm with a longer stem (more on the stock stem lengths in a bit). If I were a newer rider, I could have very easily ended up on a bike that was arguably too big for me, so interested buyers who don’t already have a very good idea of their preferred fit might want to consider seeking external advice.
That said, State does offer free exchanges, so while there will still be some hassles associated with boxing, shipping, and then reassembling a replacement, there’s at least some peace of mind that you won’t be permanently stuck with your initial decision.
In terms of ride quality, it’s … OK. Again, I wasn’t expecting to be terribly surprised by anything on the Undefeated Road, and given the chunky tubing, oversized 31.6 mm-diameter aluminum seat post, and 25 mm-wide tires, it certainly falls quite far towards the firmer end of the spectrum. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that State intends for the Undefeated to be ridden primarily on paved roads, not serve double-duty as a wannabe gravel or all-road rig (the company has a new model for that, actually).
The ride quality on tarmac may therefore be rather direct, but it’s better than I anticipated. Naturally, with no obvious design features to promote desirable flex patterns in the frame (or any compliance-focused componentry), the bike bucks quite hard on bigger potholes and chatters on weather-ravaged asphalt. But there’s nevertheless a passable amount of vibration damping to keep road buzz tolerable. I’ve ridden uber-stiff bikes that wore on me even on smooth blacktop, and I can’t say the Undefeated was anywhere near as punishing. For the target purpose, I’d say the Undefeated does just fine in that respect.
There were no surprises with SRAM’s Force AXS 2×12 drivetrain, with the wireless setup offering up consistent shifts front and rear — even when climbing and sprinting — and the 10-33T cassette and 48/35T chainrings providing a very generous amount of total gearing range.
I still found the actual chain movements to be slower than what you get with Shimano Di2, although it’s likely only riders who have spent a decent amount of time on both who’ll notice. Otherwise, AXS might be slower, but I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as slow, and SRAM’s eTap shift actuation style is still arguably the best interpretation of electronic shifting of all the major brands with its intuitive single-paddle-per-side control layout.
As for the brakes, discs obviously have taken over the road bike world, but the rim-brake calipers on the Undefeated Road were a good reminder that they still work well when properly executed and adjusted. SRAM hasn’t updated the Force caliper design in ages, but the dual-pivot layout nevertheless offers plenty of bite on the DT Swiss wheels’ machined sidewalls — at least in dry conditions — and State was wise to spec actual SRAM brake housing instead of cheaper no-name stuff, especially given that the rear brake uses full housing from end to end. Lever action was pleasantly light and snappy with excellent feel, and as it’s always been with cable-actuated rim brakes, everything is refreshingly easy to service.
Speaking of wheels, it’s nice to see genuine DT Swiss product here. While the P1800 Spline aluminum clinchers fall near the bottom of the company’s range, they’re decently light at around 1,700 grams for the set, they use DT Swiss’s reliable pawl-type freehub guts out back, and the bladed stainless steel spokes are a nice touch at this price point. Perhaps more importantly for this application, they came out of the box straight and round, they’ve stayed that way throughout testing, and it should be relatively easy to source replacement parts if and when needed.
Those wheels do deserve better tires, though. Although the Michelin Dynamic Sport clinchers roll better than I’d expected, the wire beads contribute to a chunky 300 g per-piece weight, they’re slightly undersized (I measured 24.85 mm), and the 30 TPI nylon casing doesn’t bode well for cut or puncture resistance.
As well as State executed certain aspects of the Undefeated Road, it was hard for me during testing to ignore other parts of the bike that could have been done better.
First and foremost, State’s two build kit options seem more than a little odd to me. At the entry level, the Apex 1 setup is a reasonable choice. It doesn’t cost much, it works fine, and the 1x format is more intuitive to operate than anything with multiple chainrings. However, the Force AXS build is a curious juxtaposition, unless someone is specifically looking to get a wireless drivetrain while spending as little as possible. Ultimately, US$2,900 is still a lot of money.
Personally, given State’s own mission statement that the Undefeated Road is an “aluminum crit killer”, something like a SRAM Rival 22 mechanical groupset strikes me as a more logical choice. Although sorely in need of an update, SRAM’s mechanical groupsets still work very well, they’re easy to service, and they’re lightweight (especially for the price). And perhaps most importantly for the intended use, if you dump the bike in a corner, a Rival 22 rear derailleur is barely one-tenth the price of a Force AXS one.
Don’t get me wrong — I like Force AXS on the whole. However, offering such a premium build on what is otherwise a very basic aluminum frame just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Whichever way you choose to go in terms of build kit on the Undefeated Road, the finishing kit comes across as more than just a little on the inexpensive side; it’s just plain cheap, and not all what I’d want to see on a bike costing nearly US$3,000.
State attempts to dress up the very basic aluminum stem and handlebar with its in-house “Black Label” laser-etched logos, but there’s nothing premium about it. The stem is admittedly just fine: it’s not too heavy, it clamps securely, and it looks ok. But State uses the same 90 mm length across the board, which is a clear cost-cutting measure. As for the bar, the drop shape is also perfectly acceptable, but the large-radius bend to the drops effectively makes the bar much narrower up top than it should be.
The seating bits are less forgivable. The saddle is an obvious knock-off of the Fizik Arione. It actually looks pretty good, but just like the Arione, it’s narrower than ideal for most people, and unlike the real thing, the flexible shell used here doesn’t provide much support, either. And even if the shape of the stock saddle works for you, you might be challenged getting the position just right given the coarse angle adjustment of the rudimentary single-bolt seatpost, which tilts in frustratingly discrete increments.
In fairness to State, I should remind you that the Undefeated Road is also offered as a bare frameset, so intrepid DIYers could certainly go about putting together their own interpretation of what makes the most sense. But even then, there’s a bit of obvious cost-cutting and lack of attention on the frame itself.
For example, the AXS wireless setup is nice to have, but what’s not so nice to see are all the vestigial housing stops scattered around the frame — including two big holes on the top of the down tube, which State doesn’t even bother to plug. And why the PF86 bottom bracket? The chainstays aren’t spaced so widely as to preclude the use of a conventional 68 mm-wide threaded shell, but press-fit shells are less expensive to manufacture, so perhaps this was another spot where State saved a bit of cash.
State’s decision to use a standard front derailleur clamp — instead of a more expensive removable bolt-on setup — also eats into the rear tire clearance. State officially approves the Undefeated Road for 28 mm-wide tires, but that should perhaps come with the caveat of only working on bikes with 1x drivetrains. Even with the undersized “25 mm” stock Michelins, it’s a tight squeeze behind the front derailleur clamp, and while a true 28 mm-wide tire wouldn’t actually rub, I’m not sure I’d personally be comfortable cutting it that close, either.
And last, but not least, I couldn’t help but notice that State didn’t bother to apply a chainstay protector to the Undefeated Road’s frame at the factory. It’s a small detail for sure, but if you’re a fan of that sparkly paint job, it’d be a bummer to chip it just because someone didn’t think it was worthwhile to include an inexpensive strip of clear vinyl.
Overall, the impression I walked away with here is that State has a very good foundation with the Undefeated Road. The aluminum frame isn’t fancy, but it achieves its stated purpose capably and commendably, and that sparkly paint job really does lend a premium look and feel.
However, especially for a company with such a clearly stated goal of bringing more bikes to the masses, this iteration of the Undefeated Road seems more like a way to score sales from people shopping solely on core spec, instead of appealing to aspiring racers looking for a value-laden way to get into the sport.
Yes, you could go the DIY route and build the thing up yourself — and in my opinion, you probably should. But it sure would be nice if you didn’t have to.