Project Commuter - Bike Magic

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Project Commuter

Do we need to talk about how great commuting is? Probably not, but for those who haven’t dumped public transport yet, try giving it a go. The winter may not be the ideal time to begin, but let’s face it, how much does it really rain? So, to save destroying our best bikes, we’ve taken the opportunity to build the ulitmate commuter.

There are many options for a commuting bike, from ragged old MTBs with once fresh decals peeling off, to brand-new flat-barred road bikes, to the annoying small-wheeled folding bikes that seem to undertake and overtake far too much for our liking.

Simplicity is the key, and we kept our brief just that. We opted for singlespeed to keep both the cost and maintenence down, and because a commute through London doesn’t really require a full complement of gears. It also opens up the opportunity to cobble something together from that box of odds and sods you knew you had saved for a reason.

So, with a box of bits from Cotic, Ultimate Pursuits, Upgrade, FSA and Mavic, we built Project Commuter.


The frame (always a good place to start) is the new Roadrat from Cotic. Cy Turner wanted a road frame that drew inspiration from his MTBs, something fast and which MTBers would feel at home on. “Dogsbody” dropouts make it geared/singlespeed compatible, it runs 700c wheels, is disc brake ready and costs £255. The deep gloss black paintjob is drop dead gorgeous, and not bad considering the price – the perceived value is way beyond its price tag. The discreet decals not only look smart but don’t grab a thief’s attention – we hope, we’re not actually going to put it to the test by leaving it outside the office…

Oval bars and stem

No fuss with a singlespeed setup

Carbon is a bit over the top

A comfy saddle is a must


Going singlespeed

Convert an old frame: Vertical dropouts make chain tensioning a little trickier than the horizontal dropouts on a track or singlespeed specific frame. This can be solved by using a chain tensioner, such as an old rear mech or a DMR Singulator to keep the chain tensioned. The Roadrat has proper track ends, so tensioning the chain is just a question of moving the wheel back and forth. The disc mounts are slotted to, so you can maintain brake alignment.

Gear ratios: The traditional way of measuring bike gears is in “gear inches”. The number tells you how big a wheel you’d have to run on an Ordinary (aka penny farthing) to get the equivalent gear. Track riders such as Chris Hoy will typically run something above 90in, but for the streets you want something a lot easier to spin.

We opted for Mavic CXP22 black rims built around DMR Revolver singlespeed hubs, laced with double butted black spokes. Which all suits the black frame very well. The rims are 6061 aluminium, semi-profiled, single eyeletted and have a handy wear indicator. The hubs will take a stack of abuse as they’re more commonly intended for those used to flinging themselves through the air on bikes which are too small, but they look good and double-sealed bearings should last well. The rear is zero-dished for extra strength, and accepts screw-on freewheels or track sprockets.

Rims: £44.95 each. Front hub: £39.95. Rear hub: £44.95.


As this bike will be used around the streets of London, a pair of puncture resistant tyres is a must. Vittoria’s Rubino Pros are a good choice. They’re good value (£14.99 each), they shouldn’t puncture that easily thanks to PRB puncture protection, and with 120TPI casing and Kevlar Endura 3D Compound promise good performance too.


The FSA Vigorelli track cranks (£256.99) look the business, but are a overkill for such a bike. They are incredibly stiff and the carbon centre improve the aero performance, though of questionable value riding to work, we hasten to add. We’ll be speccing a more down-to-earth crankset in a future update, but for now they’re staying on. Attached to the rear hub is an 18t singlespeed freewheel, and connecting the whole setup is a YBN chain. Combined with the 49t chainset we’ve got a 74in gear.


We were going to stick on some disc brakes as they fit perfectly with the low-maintenance ethos behind this bike, but we decided to fit more afforable V-Brakes. These we had lying unused in the office so they went straight on. Lots of power and simple to setup, they’re ideal. We upgraded the stock pads with better performing Aztecs.

Wishbone stays with rack mounts

Solid DMR hubs

Vittoria tyres

Cotic’s own rigid fork

Contact Points

From the excellent Oval range of components, we picked an M400 flat bar (£32.99) and an R700 stem (£49.95). We decided on a flat bar from the outset as opposed to drop bar setup, purely because for most commuting a flat bar is easier, safer and more comfortable. And the Roadrat is designed with flat bars in mind. 2014 T6 aluminium is light, a comfortable width at 580mm (though it may yet get some attention from the junior hacksaw) and a 5° bend is just right. It’s held in place by a 25.4mm stem of 90mm length. While it keeps the steering nippy, this is a little short – a longer stem will be going on soon. FSA supplied saddle and seatpost from their K-Force range, both items of the lightweight variety. The saddle has a slim carbon shell, ti rails and minimum padding, weighing just 150g. The carbon post is, like the cranks, overkill on such a bike, but has a handy amount of layback. Two bolts make adjustment a breeze, and once broken in the saddle turned out to be comfortable.

How does it ride?

First impressions are very good. For nipping in and out of double deckers and taxis the setup shows its agility, while it’s not adverse to piling on the speed in huge, lovable chunks. We’ll be swapping bits over (stem, post and cranks to begin with) to try some other components out, and see what improves the setup further.

Watch our for a more in-depth review soon…


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