“Bicycle from a bike shop” – so goes our advice concerning bike purchases. In this article we are going to contradict ourselves: the sports giant Decathlon’s own brand carbon frame road bike buckles the trend, providing us with a fine surprise.
I did not pay close attention to Decathlon’s bicycle lineup in recent years. I considered them to be simply a sportswear outlet, and we had unfavourable experiences with such brands previously. Nevertheless, when B’Twin offered some models for our annual bike test, I became curious, and asked for a top-of-the-line carbon road bike. I wondered why this brand was so popular in France, other than the fact that its a domestic product.
At Decathlon, they emphasise the high level of development of their bicycles, which is very surprising for a chain store brand. The practice is, that these companies simply import frame from Far-East, finishing them with their graphic design. But if we closely inspect the B’Twin Ultra 900 CF, we immediately see the amount of work behind it. Every bicycle’s heart is the frameset, it determines almost everything, and this is also the component that the manufacturer has the most influence on. So it’s important to build a good foundation, since there is no sense putting top-of-the-line components on something that is lacking in some regard.
With the B’Twin Ultra 900 CF, we are in a good position that the frame is exactly the same design as on the their top-of-the-line models, except for paint. Hence now we will be able to experience how a top class carbon frameset from Decathlon performs. Looking at the manufacturer’s web site, we find the types of carbon fibers they use for the frame and fork, which they claim to have the best weight/dynamic ratio on the market. But what’s even more important is the weight: only 850 grams in size M!
The frame features most of the modern technologies, such as hidden cable routing resulting in a clean appearance, a press fit bracket for greater stiffness, an integrated seat post design (more of an engineering scoop than having a real measurable advantage), and direct mount front brake mount.
Like all manufacturers, Decathlon has also came up with a proprietary terminology for its manufacturing technology (Evo Dynamic Carbon Technology, etc.), which is displayed on the down tube. In addition, the “Made in Flanders” logo proudly announces where the bike is from, and it’s refreshing to see that neither the word China nor Taiwan is written on the frame. (This does not mean that the raw frame itself was not made in Far East!) My favourite UCI sticker is also found on the tube, which allows the use of this bike at the International Bicycle Federation’s competitions. Thses days we find such a logo on a lot of road bicycles, but in the case of the Ultra 900 CF, it’s more than just a fad!
Concerning the component selection, there does not seem to have been much reflection by the manufacturer: they have simply chosen the complete range of one of my favorite groups sets, the 5800 Series by Shimano. There is very little compromise on quality, nevertheless the price of the new 105 group is not prohibitive. The 2×11 gearing is powered with the now-popular semi-compact 52-36T crank, and the 11-28 cogset at the back makes a rather sporty gear range. Still it allows climbing most of our country’s roads with even sub-average effort. As a small extra, there is a built-in front chain keeper placed next to the small ring, which protects the frame from a possible chain drop.
French bicycles can have no other wheelset than a French one, so the bike rolls on the new, wider rim (17c) Mavic Aksiums, on which Mavic Yksion 700 × 25mm tires are mounted. Here we can also note a modern “fashion” choice from Decathlon, by including a wider rim holding the trendy 25mm width tires optimally. The Aksium is an entry level model from world-famous wheel manufacturer, so it’s clearly not very light. But of course it can be replaced down the line along with the tires if you want to shave off a few hundred grams – or possibly half a kg!
The attentive bike design is apparent in the case of the accessories as well: the full carbon seat tube has an angular profile (hence it cannot be inserted obliquely). Though I have not measured its weight, it is certainly not heavy! The aptly-named “Endurance Road” saddle immediately looked familiar. At the bottom it says “Selle Royal”, which is the same manufacturer which manufactures my favourite saddle, the Fizik Antares. So the shape of the saddle was the same as my own, only with slightly thicker padding and a different finish.
The handlebar and stem are top quality own-brand pieces with a particularly comfortable bend. If we take a closer look at the B’Twin Ultra 900 CF specifications on the website, we can see that bicycles are fitted with different stem lengths and bar width for the frame sizes. This is quite important, since narrower and shorter position is required for smaller riders than lanky ones.
Before reporting on the ride itself, I would like to add some thoughts about setting up a bike, which I find to be pretty delicate matter – especially in the case of road bikes. In my case all body position parameters have to be set to about + -2 mm for proper riding experience. This is unfortunately not possible with a lot of test bikes, though I am pretty much average in statue and body proportions. Such problem was not experienced with the Ultra 900 CF, I could set the handlebar and the saddle exactly to my ideal position, which also means that this bike has a sufficiently sporty geometry, well suited for racing. There was a minor difficulty with the saddle tilt probably caused by too much thread locking compound, but eventually I managed to level the saddle horizontally.
After the previous tangent, the reader may wonder why I gave the review such a title. When I started riding with the bike, I immediately felt comfortable, it had the familiar race geometry for road riding, it proved to be rigid and efficient but still comfortable at its back. Cornering was also excellent, it took the bends steadily and was always well controlled. Typically this is the exactly the kind of road bike I would like to call my own, and I have said this about very few bikes so far!
I admit being so pleased with the bike that it saw the most riding during our Croatian test camp. I put a lot of training kilometres into it, and even installed my power meter on it… I got soaking wet on two occasions, I road more than a thousands meters of elevation on one ride, so all-in-all I have a lot of experience riding B’Twin Ultra 900 CF. The Shimano 105 groupset made its way into the mountainous country without being noticed, with the 36/28T smallest gear I sometimes suffered on the over 10% gradient “walls” of which there are not too many in Hungary. But in Croatia these are more or less a common sight.
One thing the owner of the bike should pay attention to is the seat post. It is advisable to use carbon grease, otherwise the frame will be noisy, just like in the case of all such designs. To add a negative comment to the otherwise rave review, I would soon replace the tires with a lighter and more adherent type, because Yksion does not really stick well – neither in dry weather, nor in the rain. The other weakness of the bike is the bar tape, which is pretty basic, hard and slippery, although the B’Twin gloves I tested made it somewhat more comfortable. Nevertheless, I would still like to see a softer type on the bars. Both of these upgrades can be had quite cheaply, especially when you find some bargains in Decathlon!
For the half million HUF price tag we get a high-quality, full-range, carbon-wheeled, full 105 equipped top-notch racing bike. Even if I think hard, I cannot name another brand’s model that would provide such enjoyment for such a small amount of money – even if we find it on sale! In this case we only get a B’Twin logo on the frame and not an established big brand name with a long-standing tradition in road bikes, but it’s worth considering how much a few letters on a frame sticker is actually worth…
Weight (measured): 7.98 kg
Price: 499 990 HUF
Learn more about the bike on the Decathlon website.