Review: Bombtrack Outlaw (Road Plus Belt Drive Bike)
March 10th, 2017
March 10th, 2017
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Self-proclaimed as a "creature of the urban jungle", the Outlaw is completely new for 2017. Prowling the cities of Britain, it's clear the Bombtrack Outlaw is an unusual beast. The wheels are 650b (27.5”), which is smaller than the usual hybrid or road bike, but they're wrapped in some serious rubber from WTB (the inventors of Road Plus) giving the bike effectively the same overall wheel size as a normal 700 x 28c, but with a whole lot more grip and comfort.
The WTB Horizon 27.5″ x 47c tyres allow you to run lower pressures for added comfort and grip without fear of pinch-puctures or rolling them off the rims. The Horizon comes with wide beige side walls to set off the Outlaw’s rugged appearance and draw a little attention to its individuality. The wider fork and narrow flat handlebar means the Outlaw is clearly set up for car-dodging on the streets. The raked top tube, the matte black paint job, the short back end and clean cockpit gives the Outlaw a distinctive stripped-out café racer silhouette. The motorcycle theme continues thanks to the Gates Carbon belt drive; an alternative to chains that makes the gearing pretty maintenance free. There's no worry of squeaky noises or greasy trouser legs here. What's really unique though is the SRAM rear hub, which shifts gear automatically when you get up to speed and has a built in coaster brake, meaning you can brake by pedalling backwards and locking the back wheel, like a track bike, but it's not fixed so it can still freewheel. In theory, having a coaster brake means the bike could have been as bare as a true fixed-gear track bike, but to make it road worthy in the eyes of the law, a front brake has been fitted, and not just any brake, but a TRP Spyre C flat-mount disc brake with a 160mm rotor. This not only keeps the café racer look going, but it offers safe, predictable braking no matter what the roads or weather throws at it.
Once you're up to speed and pedalling, the SRAM automatic gearing kicks in. It feels like something bites and turns up the resistance, which obviously makes it more capable of higher speeds. This is a tad annoying if you just want to cruise around looking at the birds and bees, but it's great for when you want an extra bit of grunt to up the speed and churn out the miles. It changes quite seamlessly, with no noise or awkward clunking movements, and it changes down just as easily when you slow your speed or grind up a hill. Although it works well, it feels strange to have a machine decide when you want to up the gear ratios, and I'm not sure it's really necessary for most city commuters unless you can get up to speed on long roads or open canals. Personally, I would have been happy continuing the simplicity theme with a single speed that I could spin out and control with my own cadence. The coaster brake is another extra that I probably could have done without. Back-pedalling to slow down or brake does come naturally quite quickly, and the SRAM hub still allows you to freewheel and roll down hills without pedalling, which makes it a nice bridge to fixed-gear riding without going the whole hog, however, the coaster means you can't backpedal your feet into the your favoured start-position. Many times I stopped at lights only to find my 'starting foot' was in the wrong place. You can lift the back of the bike off the ground and pedal your foot around to the right place, which is easy enough due to the Outlaw's low 10.8kg (23.8lbs) weight (for a Medium), but that extra faff doesn't make it a speedy city spinner and I always had to be thinking about the bike before I stopped. The 'Road Plus' tyres offer a lovely cushy feel that left me feeling confident to roll over gravel, rough potholed terrain and up and down curbs without fear of pinch-punctures or denting my wheels. Road Plus seems to be a good choice for riding around purpose built cycle paths that can often be gritty or force you to change from pavement to road. The big fat tyres will smooth the way for you, much like a mountain bike would, but the smooth tread on the WTB Horizons offer much less rolling resistance, and more pedalling for your power.
This is not a casual cruiser for daydreamers, it is a punchy pedaller for switched-on commuters who want fast-paced fun and don't care for potholes or bike maintenance. It is a bike that takes the fastest route to work, whatever that terrain may bring, and won't demand much (if at all) in the way of washing, lubricating or servicing. The tyres deliver a comfortable and confident ride, much like a mountain bike, but with the fast-rolling tread pattern of a road bike. At sub-24lbs (a touch over with pedals) it'll easilly sit on your shoulder up the stairs to your flat, and look pretty good hanging above your leather sofer too, perhaps on some Outlaw-ish cow horns converted into a bike rack. The SRAM rear hub gearing, with the ability to freewheel, is a great introduction to fixie (fixed-gear) riding, but the coaster brake, and the prevention of back pedalling into a start position, doesn't exactly give you the best of both worlds, although it's not the end of the world either. The Bombtrack Outlaw isn't a bike for everyone, and that's not a bad thing. It has a specific niche, and it does it well. I'm not sure what that niche is exactly, as I think a proper freewheel or a full-on fixie would be more suited to the urban rat race, but it seems to shine on rough roads and canal paths where you can really open it up, free from cars and regular traffic light stops, and let the SRAM engage a bigger gear for you to smash through whatever terrain comes your way.