Foffa Bikes Urban Review
Foffa Bikes Urban Review
Foffa Bikes Urban Review
There can be no denying that cycling is more popular in the UK that it has ever been. It is not just people out on a Sunday morning trying to re-enact the Grand Classics either, but regular folks getting out and about, using bicycles as everyday transport. And why not? Bikes are relatively cheap to buy, cheap to run, easy on the environment and cycling is good for you too. A win, win situation all round.
However, the vast majority of mainstream bike manufacturers still seem to think that all we, the cycling public, want are high-end carbon road bikes or mountain bikes with multiple inches of suspension travel. So isn’t it fortunate that the cycle industry is blessed with lots of folks who like to think differently and aren’t afraid to put their ideas into practice. Step forward Dani Foffa.
Dani cut his teeth in the cycle trade buying up old steel road bikes on eBay, doing them up and selling them on. He was good enough at this that he gave up his job in the city, bought a container load of new steel frames and set up shop in East London. From his shop he offered custom builds with consumers choosing the parts they wanted on their build from a set list of options. After having put together some 7,000 builds Dani decided it was time to simplify matters, and in doing so lower his prices. The shop was closed and a set specification for a range of bikes was drawn up and independent retailers signed up to sell the new bikes.
The bikes in question are split into three simple ranges; Urban, Iris, and Single Speed. And I got the chance to take a pre-production Urban out for a spin on London’s streets.
Skinny steel tubes, a one-inch threaded headset, quill stem and hub gears were the things that struck me when I first saw the Urban. It was like stepping back in time for me, back to the type of bike I learnt to ride on; a time before I’d saved enough money from my paper-round to be able to buy a ‘proper’ bike with drop bars, derailleur gears and a shift lever on the downtube. What’s not to like about that a trip down memory lane like that?
Foffa uses 4130 butted chromoly tubing to keep the weight of the Urban’s frame down and the ride lively, and a quick finger nail tap on the tubes gives that lovely hollow ring of a butted tube. The frame, with its 73-degree parallel angles, is matched to a 4130 steel fork.
However, the Urban is not as light as you might expect given the slim tubes’ weight; the problem is the deep section wheel rims. Yes, while the 40mm deep rims might look cool they do nothing to keep the bike svelte. Fear not though, the bike you I was riding around on, the one you see here, was a pre-production sample and the final versions will have conventional box section rims which should drop a fair bit of weight. The hubs that the deep rims are built onto are a generic, sealed bearing front hub and a Shimano Nexus seven-speed rear hub; and these will be staying on the consumer bikes too.
The use of internal hub gears makes a lot of sense on a bike designed for city riding. We may like to think that we take care of our bikes, but other people may well not be so careful. You carefully put your derailleur geared city bike in a dedicated cycle rack and then along comes someone else who happily just throws their bike in next to yours. Oh dear, that’s your derailleur that just got trashed. An extreme example but possible. Then there is the issue of road grime and the stress a chain is placed under as it’s asked to keep skipping across a cassette. Previous experience has taught me that single-speed and hub geared bikes don’t wear out chains anywhere near as quickly as a derailleur geared bike.
I’m going to stay with the wheels a bit longer just so I can reference the tyres. Appreciating that the Urban is not going to be ridden on the smoothest of roads, Dani has specced the bike with a pair of Kenda K193 tyres that, as well as having puncture protection, are sensibly sized at 28c wide. They’re a good choice of tyre as getting a puncture is enough of a pain but if you’re unfamiliar with hub gears getting the wheel out can be a trial. I should also point out that there’s no quick release either, so wheel removal involves some spannering, and realistically how many people carry a spanner around everyday?
Because I was riding a pre-production sample there were other issues too, though I’m happy to report they’ll all be corrected on the production machines. Most notably was the use of linear pull brake levers with the Promax dual pivot calipers. The calipers I didn’t have a problem with, after all they’re a dual pivot design, and with good brake blocks fitted I’ve no doubt the braking should be fine. Dani tells me these will be changing to Tektro callipers. No, my issue was the incompatibility of the levers. The cable pull was all wrong leaving the brakes with very little bite; I couldn’t lock the wheels no matter how hard I tried pulling on the lever. The brake’s modulation was lacking too. But as I said once the production models hit the shops levers with the correct cable pull will be in place.
A smaller point and one that you’ll only notice if you look closely is the lack of eyelets on the rear dropouts. There’s eyelets at the top of the seat stays and, once again, production versions will have them by the back wheel. And a good thing too as Dani has managed to provide enough clearance for a set of mudguards even with the 28c Kenda tyres fitted. Certainly the addition of mudguards will make the bike a whole lot more usable year round. The extra eyelets will also open up the option of a rack on the back too, which’ll make it easier if you want to do your weekly shop with the Urban.
Putting to one side the issues with the bike I was riding due to it being a pre-production sample, the Urban works really well. The parallel frame angles give a ride that while responsive isn’t so lively as to make inexperienced riders feel nervous. The steering is quick enough to dodge through traffic and stable enough that at a red light I was able to easily track stand.
Stood up on the pedals at the lights and I was pleasantly surprised to discover there was no toe clip overlap. When I’d first seen the Urban it looked really compact and I had expected to have the occasional moment catching my toes on the back of the front tyre. Whether this might happen with a mudguard in place I can’t say but if it does it is something you’ll soon learn to account for.
That compact look would also suggest a fairly cramped feel on the bike but again I was wrong. Although quill stems and traditional headsets may have fallen from favour it does mean that raising the handlebars is a simple manoeuvre, and with them raised I didn’t feel cramped as I was not hunched up over them in a racing style tuck.
It’s safe to say that if I was in the market for a bike to ride around on, the Urban would be at the top of the list. Sure there are other bikes that feature discs brakes and more gears, but that simply makes them harder to maintain and more expensive so more attractive to bike thieves. With its retro looks the Urban simply blends into the background. Throw a set of mudguards on and it would become even less attractive and be useable all year round too. In fact replace the front wheel with a dynamo hub and I could definitely see a Foffa Urban making its way into my bike collection.
Foffa Urban RRP £499.99
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