Hot on the heels of the Surly Midnight Special roadplus bike comes the similarly equipped Audax from Bombtrack Bikes. If you’ll excuse the pun it’s a bold move calling the bike Audax. Name a bike after a specific discipline and it had better be good at it!
The most arresting feature of the Audax are the roadplus (650b x 47c) tyres. While gaining in popularity, 650b road bikes are still a rare sight, and the Audax immediately looks different to the skinny 700c norm.
If you are unfamiliar with Audax, events typically involve visiting controls at a minimum average speed. Miss a control, or take too long, and you’re not classed as a finisher. Riders accrue points on events of 200 or more kilometres so it’s fair to assume the Bombtrack should be ready for the long haul.
Steel is real…
Steel frames have a reputation for both comfort and reliability, vital elements for long days in the saddle.
The Audax is crafted from double butted Columbus Cromor. It features a tapered head tube and a cast BB Yoke to maintain clearance while keeping the chainstays short. The tubing, while smaller diameter than your average alloy frame, is far from spindly. The seat and chain stays particularly don’t look noodly and likely to sap your power.
In keeping with the Audax theme the frame is bristling with all the mounting points you’d need for guards, racks and three water bottles.
The use of a press-fit BB raised alarm bells (we much prefer thread-in BBs for general reliability and ease of use) but over the test period it hasn’t issued a single squeak or creak.
The gear cables run externally with neat threaded adjusters on the down tube. The rear brake hose is routed internally however, this seems an odd feature. If you convert to hydraulics the hose could be tricky to fit and it still leaves your gear cables exposed. That is unless you decided to upgrade to Di2 for which the various ports for internal routing have also been included.
Construction wise Bombtrack have opted for tig welding, in common with most mass production frames. The welds are by and large neat and uniform with only a couple having a sharp look. Nothing to worry about structurally, just not as smooth as the rest. The front end is held together by a tapered head tube, a relative rarity on steel frames. This allows the fitment of a tapered, carbon steerer, fork. The EXT fork fitted here looks sturdy enough to take anything in its stride.
To complement the bosses on the frame, each fork blade has a triple boss anything cage mount allowing extra water and kit to be carried. The fork runs brake hose internally and like the frame, has mudguard mounts and uses a 12mm thru-axle. In a further nod to long audax rides the crown is drilled for a dynamo light bracket.
Hey good lookin’
Before moving on to how the Bombtrack rides a quick mention on how it looks. Here at Advntr towers, the Audax raised a collective “Wow, this is pretty!” as we unpacked it.
The deep and lustrous black paint contrasts nicely with the orange highlights and the tan-wall WTB tyres.
What we didn’t realise is just how popular it would be with other riders. The main test for the Audax was the Bryan Chapman Memorial, a gruelling 600km round trip from Chepstow to Menai Bridge and back again. At every control, and as I rode along, countless riders commented on how good the Bombtrack looked, that the tyres were to die for ,and that it looked a proper bike. If you buy an Audax, prepare to be sociable!
Those wheels then…
We’ve already been won over by Roadplus as a great platform for the UK’s battered tramac and off-road forays.
A highlight of the Audax is that it comes with Hunt’s excellent Adventure Sport 650b wheelset and WTB Horizon tyres in TCS flavour.
This was genuinely the easiest tubeless set-up I have ever done. The rims are pre-taped so all I had to do was remove the tubes, pop in valves and sealant then inflate with a normal track pump. A couple of confident pings and it was good to go.
The combination of steel frame and 35-40psi 47c tyres lets the Audax glide over broken tarmac like it isn’t there. Off-road there is a limit to what the file-tread can do. On dry singletrack or gravel you couldn’t ask for more. Over the test period, around 800km of riding, the Hunt wheels stayed true, buzzed happily when coasting, and hooked up swiftly when pedalling.
Stopping n’ going
The first outing for the Audax was a 100k DIY Audax from Advntr Towers to Southwold on the coast. The conditions were atrocious, with almost continuous rain showers. The Spyre C brakes and 160/140 rotors consistently pulled the Bombtrack up sharply with only a hint of hesitation.
The stock pads seem rather soft as the lever pull increased markedly over the course of that wet and gritty ride. The Spyres though are incredibly easy to adjust and the biting point didn’t move a mm over the rest of the test period. This includes bringing the bombtrack to a halt on 70km/h descents in Snowdonia!. Just keep an eye on them in the damp!
The drivetrain is Shimano 105 with the only deviation being a KMC X-11 chain. All reliable kit that operates without fuss. The chainset is a standard compact 50/34 paired with a 12-28 cassette. This gives a good spread of gears but I have to confess, after 400km and only a couple of hours sleep, a 32 tooth sprocket would have been a welcome addition!
As mentioned above the Audax takes a PF86 push-fit bottom bracket. Despite my worst fears, the BB got on with its job with no squeaks or rattles. Kudos for Bombtrack for selecting reliable components and installing them in a well aligned frameset.
The devil is in the detail and here the Bombtrack scores highly. While the own-brand finishing kit doesn’t impress as much as the Hunt wheelset, it has an air of quality, rather than of cost-saving.
The bars, stem, and seatpin have a deep glossy finish with subtle branding that complements the paint finish. The bars have an aero section that provides a comfortable perch for long climbs. The shallow drops let you use the lower positions without risk of straining your back or neck on a long stint in the saddle. Helpfully, the flat sections didn’t restrict the space needed for the lights and gps.
The bars are wrapped in black tape with natural cork flecks (again matching the colour scheme nicely!) that’s comfortable without being bulky. A 10° flare gives control without feeling out of place when road-riding.
I swapped the Comp saddle for my personal favourite for the Bryan Chapman. This was purely a precautionary measure, not because I had any specific complaints with the stock saddle.
I’ll get straight to the point on this, Without a doubt the Audax lives up to its name.
For me while an Audax bike should be comfortable for those 200km+ rides, it should also be fun. It doesn’t need to be as excessively sure-footed and stable as a loaded touring bike does. The Bombtrack slots into this middle-ground perfectly.
Over 600km and thirty plus hours of riding, I didn’t feel a single twinge or ache beyond what you’d expect on a long ride. Yet I could spin the Audax out on 70km/h descents carving confident tracks around the twisty Welsh mountain roads.
The riding position is definitely performance oriented, compared to the Surly Midnight Special or my usual ride, the Pinnacle Arkose. Getting into the drops gave you that aero feeling of a thoroughbred racer yet on the hoods, it took single track and climbs in its stride.
Naturally the bulk of the roadplus tyres will dampen responses a little compared to skinny 700c rubber, but that isn’t what this bike is about. The WTB tyres are tough examples of the breed. By switching to something like the Compass Switchback Hill you could lose 100gms from each end, and benefit from an even smoother ride.
At £2100 the Bombtrack Audax probably isn’t a bike that you’ll go and buy on a whim. And at 11kg (size 56) you could spend a lot less on a lighter bike.
Having said that the Bombtrack is in the same ballpark as the similarly spec’d Specialized Sequoia and Surly Midnight Special but has advantages over both. The Audax manages to be a jack of all trades without seeming to compromise anywhere. It’s fast enough that you’d be happy taking it for a quick blast, while still being a reliable steed for an all-dayer and beyond.
If you’re torn between an all-road or gravel bike the Audax has that covered as well. It’s up for whipping through the trees and bridleways when you decide to stray from the roads. As I prepare to box up the Audax for return I realise it’s a bike I’m going to miss a lot!
Bombtrack Bicycles Audax£2100.00
Last modified: 28th May 2018