If I were to watch Top Gear (which of course I don’t – dirty stinking cars polluting the planet, etc), I would compare my relationship with the B’Twin Triban 3 to that of James May and the Dacia Sandero.
For years TG’s ‘Captain Slow’ has hankered after the Sandero because it represents the absolute zenith of economic motor transport – a family-sized hatchback for less than £7,000. For very similar reasons, I, CA’s ‘Second Lieutenant Lard Arse’, have been yearning to get my hands on the B’Twin Triban 3.
At a sneeze shy of £300, it comes with a mainly Shimano 2300 STI set-up (no budget bike favourite down-tube levers or crazy butterfly shifters here), all built onto a fine-looking alloy frame, and even features a carbon fork. In the value-for-money stakes alone, it is by far the most impressive machine we have ever tested.
Part of the reason it can be so cheap is because of the company that makes it: B’Twin is an independent French brand available exclusively through the Decathlon range of sports superstores – think Halfords and Boardman but with a hint of garlic.
B’Twin designs and engineers all its products at the ‘B’Twin Village’ just outside Lille, so on the Triban 3 you find own-brand wheels, brakes, even tyres. Our test bike was set up nicely yet, because Decathlon have a real presence on retail parks around the country, if the one you buy isn’t running so smoothly, you know where to go and complain.
That’s not to suggest that I imagine you’ll be complaining about much. Sub-£300 bikes can be complete howlers, but from the get-go this is a very different beast. It feels like a real bike, not a ‘bike-shaped object’. Of course, there’s no avoiding the fact that this is a relatively simple aluminium frame, so top-end alloy and carbon offerings have nothing to fear in the comfort stakes, but it feels noticeably more pleasing to ride than either the GT or the Pinnacle.
It also offers a nice mix of both those bikes’ handling characteristics – it’s almost as manoeuvrable as the GT, but just as sure-footed as the Pinnacle. You’ll find yourself really flying on descents – at a far greater rate of knots than you ever thought possible or safe on a £300 bike.
That security is testament to the neutral frame, which plays a big role, but kudos also has to go to the B’Twin brakes and tyres. As with the Pinnacle, those 2300 levers aren’t able to convert a staggering amount of stopping power, but the calipers, pads and rubber do a fine job of making the most of what they get. The B’Twin wheels aren’t anything to get the blood pumping, but they are strong and straight. Incidentally, the all-up bike weight of 10kg is pretty impressive – remember, it’s £300!
It wouldn’t be a French product without a little quirk and the main one is a real beauty: this bike is fitted with a triple chainset and, almost unbelievably, a Shimano Sora front mech. So you have a huge amount of gearing options.
I thought a triple might push the set-up’s abilities to the limit, but don’t you believe it – gear changes are as secure as you’d ever need, and that little inner granny ring will have you spinning up walls.
Another little quirk concerns the frame’s provenance. While the bike may be designed and engineered in France I was fully expecting the frame to be of Far East manufacture. It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, to discover the little sticker at the back of the seat tube says that says it’s made in Italy. I don’t know what that means in terms of quality – Far Eastern bikes are simply superb these days – but in the image stakes, some brands would play far more on the ‘Made in Europe’ factor.
But I suppose image is a moot point at £300, so let’s focus on the practicalities. Essentially what we’ve got here is a fully-fledged road bike for the price of an aftermarket wheelset (and an unassuming aftermarket wheelset at that).
It holds its own among machines that cost two or three times as much, and it’ll hold its own at any cycling event. Don’t think it’s possible to buy a great sports bike for £300? You’re wrong.
B’Twin ‘Fast Reliable Comfortable’
45, 48, 51, 54, 57, 60, 63cm
Prowheel Ounce triple chainset; Shimano 2300; B’Twin brakes
6061 aluminium with carbon fork