Words Derri Dunn | Photos Chris Catchpole
After debuting with the smart and sensible women’s entry-level Finesse, British brand Forme has now expanded its women’s line-up to a range of three and rebranded them as the Longcliffe FE. These three bikes, equipped, from top of the range down, with Campagnolo Veloce, Shimano Tiagra and Shimano 2300, are positioned alongside a price-matched unisex line-up of Longcliffes with an extra couple of specifications offered.
Forme, like its competitors, is having to battle to offer bikes that appear competitively specced and ahead of the pack in terms of price, despite ever-increasing component and shipping costs.
With the Longcliffe FE 3.0, Forme claims: “Rather than following suit with many other bicycles and equipping our bikes with a budget wheelset and groupset to fit the price point, we have specifically sourced a mix of the best possible components built on to our Forme-designed frameset, offering performance benefits you usually only find by custom-building your own bike.”
More specifically, it pinpoints the wheels as a particular highlight: “We also feature a handbuilt wheelset using sealed-bearing, polished hubs and Mavic CXP22 rims, Shimano Tiagra rear derailleur and a lightweight Microshift 10-speed lever. A quality wheelset as featured on the Longcliffe 3.0 is far more important for tackling wet, potholed roads than simply offering a bike with a full matching groupset.”
We at Cycling Active certainly approve of this approach. It’s refreshing to see a manufacturer get away from the identikit price point specification and offer something different. And one part of those wheels is certainly very different: quite aside from those sturdy Mavic rims and sealed hubs, the hoops are held together with brazenly flashy purple spoke nipples to match the frame accents. It’s an almost unheard of little extra nod to style in the budget sportive bike market, but one we found charming.
Is the Longcliffe FE 3.0 really a sportive bike? Although it very much looks the part, with its aluminium frame and fittings for mudguards, once on board, the geometry felt unusually long and low. Although its maker claims it has a slightly longer head tube than the unisex Longcliffe, I found myself quite stretched on the FE model. Usually, I’m not a fan of female-specific geometry, as I have a long back and find myself squashed in the cockpit.
Once rolling, my feeling that the bike doesn’t give a lot away to sportive-esque long-distance riding persists. The frame feels very stiff. It’s triple-butted, and certainly has the feeling of strength that Forme has pursued in order to survive the ordeals of British roads and climate, but it’s possibly a step too far. We’d like a sportive bike to soak up a little more of the road surface, rather than feeling as though it’s bouncing off it.
This effect is possibly exacerbated by the tyre choice: the Kenda Kontenders fitted are a mere 23c. We’re more accustomed to finding 25c on a bike of this type. The Kendas have a maximum pressure of 125psi, but I was shocked at the effect of running them this hard. Letting out a few psi made things far more comfortable, but because the wheels, though undoubtedly strong, are not particularly light, the combined effect of narrow tyres and beefy wheels gave a slightly sluggish feel.
The female-specific contact points are the main reason for choosing a women’s bike, of course, and the Longcliffe FE’s handlebar is spot-on — a delicately narrow width and shallow bar profile that was comfortable riding on the bar tops or the drops. Things were slightly less comfortable on the hoods, though, because of the unfamiliar shape of the Microshift shifters.
In fact, those shifters became the chief bugbear with the Longcliffe FE 3.0. They take quite a lot of force to shift, especially from the drops. The double levers take a bit of getting used to if you’re familiar with Shimano STI and require an almighty shove accompanied by a loud ‘clack’ to shift in either direction. Worse, though, was their rattling while riding. With the stiff frame transmitting bumps to the handlebars, there’s even an occasional unsettling ‘clank’ from their vicinity.
Obviously, specifying the Microshift shifters along with the more common groupset deviation of an FSA chainset allows Forme to offer Tiagra gearing at a significantly reduced price — you’ll struggle to find any Tiagra-equipped bike coming in at under £800 in the current model year, so the savings are astonishing.
If you have larger hands and longer fingers (which most women don’t) you may find the Microshift levers a worthwhile trade-off. When we’ve had them fitted on bikes with the old Sora levers, Microshift has felt like a trade-up because they offer a more sensible lever layout, but unfortunately on a Tiagra-level bike it has the opposite effect and feels like a massive step down.
Overall, the Forme Longcliffe FE is a refreshing approach to budget sportive bike design and we love the concept of a British company tailoring a bike to tackle our tough climate and roads. Nevertheless, the tyres and those shifters need to take a really long walk off a Longcliffe.
Forme Longcliffe 3.0 FE £769.99
Frameset 7005 aluminium, carbon fork with aluminium steerer
Gears Shimano Tiagra with Microshift shifters
Chainset FSA Omega 50-34t
Brakes Alloy dual-pivot
Wheels Mavic CXP22 rims, Formula hubs
Tyres Kenda Kontender 700x23c
Saddle One23 women-specific
Size range 46, 49, 52cm
Michelin Pro4 Endurance tyres £39.99
A new set of tyres could really transform the ride of the Forme Longcliffe FE 3.0, making the most of all that frame stiffness while offering more comfort and less drag. Our favourite all-rounders are the Michelin Pro4 Endurance — great for speed, comfort and grip, with added puncture protection for year-round use.