Neil from Bowman Cycles said: "Handling is the start point of every frame we design," after I'd taken to Twitter singing the praises of the Palace's high speed controllability and feedback. A brief spell in the turbulent slipstreaming air of a 50+mph artic summed up everything about the London brand's first frameset: balanced, stable and hugely responsive to the slightest touch. Above all, though, masses and masses of fun.
The Palace gets its name from the Crystal Palace criterium meets so it's no surprise that it is designed with that style of hard riding and racing in mind. The stiffness of the 6069 grade aluminium frame lets you get the power down and the acceleration is brisk especially form a rolling start where a few surges on the pedals gets you on the back of a group or going for the gap in traffic.
It's the corners where the adrenaline kicks in as you try and see just how fast and hard you can push the Palace into a bend. The short head tube is tapered providing loads of stiffness and that's noticeable in the twisty stuff. The front end feels solid and tracks absolutely spot on, feeling better and better the harder you push it.
The handling is quick without being overly skittish, though you've got to treat it with respect. If you need to change your line at speed the slightest input will do it. Over compensate, though, and you've got a tussle on your hands.
That's in no way a criticism at all; it's how a race bike should handle, bike and rider as one with a smooth change of direction from you changing the bike's position, with pin-point accuracy. Get it right on a fast twisty descent and it's a lovely feeling as the Palace banks from one direction to the next. It becomes addictive.
Don't think it's all power, power, power though as the Bowman will happily cruise along at a more sedate pace with very good manners. It is a stiff frame but not harsh like the alloy bikes of ten or so years ago. Nonetheless if you want to go for big miles it might pay to go bigger with the tyres and drop the pressure a bit. The Palace can take up to 28mm tyres for this very reason, a sensible design choice that shows Bowman see this as more than just a race bike.
With a claimed frame weight of just 1200g for a 56cm the Palace is no slouch in the hills either. The BB86 shell and oversized tubes running through it help lay the power down if you're attacking the climb or it's just at home being spun up there from the saddle.
Frame & Fork
Aluminium tube manufacture has seen massive progress in recent years in alloy composition and the processes used to form various shapes from the metal. It's given manufacturers more customisation which was only previously available with carbon to get the feel of the frame just right.
The frame is designed here in the UK by Bowman Cycles themselves and after plenty of in-house testing this iteration you see here had the button pushed on production out in Taiwan.
The Palace uses a custom triple butted 6069 tube set focussing on power transfer and handling stiffness in the front triangle as you can see by the oversized down tube, tapered head tube and the tapered profile of the top tube.
For comfort Bowman have opted for a 27.2mm diameter seatpost which should allow for a bit more in the way of flex than a 31.6mm version.
The seatstays are a pretty small diameter as well to bring a bit of shock absorption before it travels up to the rider.
The welding looks more noticeable than it normally would because the anodising leaves the welds a slightly lighter shade than the rest of the frame. I like the manufactured look of the frame and structurally it's doing its job; Bowman haven't had to put a rider weight limit on the Palace.
It's available in a 50cm frame up to a 58cm in 2cm increments with that size representing the top tube length.
Bowman supply the Palace as a frameset: frame, fork, headset and seat collar for £650.00. We normally get framesets to test ready built up by the supplier but we were given full rein to put what we wanted on this one.
With the whole crit racing theme in mind we went for a build that can take a few knocks and won't break the bank. At the heart is the 11 speed 105 groupset we recently tested. It's an absolutely cracking groupset for the money and including a 53/39T chainset and 11/28T cassette gives all the gears you're going to need for racing.
The dual pivot brakes now also accommodate up to 28mm tyres so work well with the clearances of the Palace frame.
The Shimano Press-Fit cups for the bottom bracket fitted smoothly and snugly into the frame as well.
The cockpit is an all Deda affair from their entry level alloy range. It all looks good and offers plenty of stiffness and comfort without costing the earth, about seventy quid online for the handlebars, stem and seatpost.
We went for narrow 42cm bars to emphasise the already quick handling of the Palace and it paid off.
Wheel wise we went for a couple of options, the Miche Full Carbon SWR's and the alloy Alturs from the same company. The carbon wheels did smooth out the ride a touch and made the Palace a touch lighter, but I found the Alturs' better stopping rim surface worked better with the Bowman's style of hard, late braking into the bends.
This little lot brought the Palace in around the 18lb mark; not superlight but competitive for the price and certainly gave the whole bike a solid, robust feel.
The obvious competition is Kinesis' well received Aithien, they're both the same price and similar weights and when it comes down to time in the saddle there is very little to separate them. I'd say the Palace has slightly tighter handling and feels much more aggressive than the Kinesis but the Aithien has the edge on comfort though you can go for the bigger tyre option on the Palace. Overall though it really is splitting hairs and it's a nod to the Palace that it matches the performance of a road.cc favourite such as the Aithien.
The CAAD10 from Cannondale is often regarded as one of the best alloy frames out there though it is left floundering a little when up against the Palace. The Bowman does everything just a little bit better, better handling, gets the power that little bit smoother and although they both feel as stiff as each other the CAAD10 is harsher.
Price wise, you're looking at about an extra fifty quid for the Cannondale frameset, if you can find one that is.
Well, what a frame. The Palace sums up to me everything that a proper race bike should be. That raw, uncluttered feeling of some metal tubes and sorted geometry creating a bike that just feels right.
At cruising speed it's mild mannered and very easy to ride and you can cover a lot of miles with very little distraction.
Push it right to its limit and it's a little bit like having a tiger cub in your hands, playful, friendly and under control with a firm grip but stop concentrating and the tables will soon be turned.
I love it. It makes you stay focused and when you just nail that line through a bend the feeling is one of perfection and elation.
As far as cost and weight goes its bang on where it needs to be to take on the opposition and the lack of a rider weight limit is a massive bonus compared to the Aithien.
If this is the future of alloy frames we're all in for a treat.
Absolutely awesome frame that is a showcase for aluminium; one of the best high-speed handling frames out there
road.cc test report
Make and model: Bowman Palace frame and fork
Size tested: 54
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
-The Palace is available as a frameset only-
* Triple butted, Custom shaped, 6069-T6 Aluminium frame
* Tough anodised finish.
* Full carbon-monocoque, 1:1/8th-1.5' steerer, fork
* CNC finished, Tapered, headtube
* clearance for 28c tyres
* PF86 bottom bracket
* Oval, Tapered chainstays
* 27.2 seatpost for improved comfort
* Full external cable routing for ease of maintenance
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
It's a racer's bike intended for crit racing and fast blasts on the road, and boy does it deliver. It's tight, stiff and a really precise machine that compliments a smooth rider.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The mixture of tube sizes and shapes blends well to create a pretty traditional looking frame and the overall quality looks very good too. The anodized finish is tough and should take plenty of scuffs and knocks.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is made from a custom tubeset with triple butted walls. The grade is 6069 which is a heat treatable alloy with good welding and forming characteristics. Also impressive yield strength figures.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
50 52 54 56 58
top tube 505 520 540 560 585
head tube 120 130 145 165 185
head angle 71.5 72 72.5 73 73.5
seat angle 74.5 74 73.5 73 72.5
seat tube c-c 495 515 525 540 560
chainstays 400 405 405 405 410
bb drop 70 70 70 70 70
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The head tube on our 54cm sample was just 145mm so a nice low front end can be achieved for racing duties. The 540mm top tube length was bang on to create a compact, nimble feeling frame.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It was about on the upper level of stiffness I'd want from a bike I would be riding day in day out although it wasn't overly harsh. Quite a bit of road buzz was absorbed. The option of running 28mm tyres is a plus.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes stiffness is high and really allowed you to get the power down.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Excellently; it surges forward under hard acceleration without any feeling of wasted energy.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
Yes there was a small amount but not really an issue.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Lively.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling is simply brilliant: calm and controllable at cruising speed but really comes alive once the speed increases. Minimal input is needed though so there is a period of adjustment.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Going for a 27.2mm diameter seatpost is a good move, using a carbon one rather than the alloy we did would bring even more benefit.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Oversizing the downtube and head tube has created a very stiff platform without going overboard.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The wide shell used for the PF86 BB cups allows large tube junctions to be possible which really lets you get the power down.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
The Bowman Palace is a phenomenal frameset that really harnesses everything a race bike needs to be: exciting, thrilling to ride and above all fun. The cost is it's main key though as to get this level of performance from another material you are often looking at way more money. On the whole there is very little fault to find with the Palace other than maybe the stiffness can become a little tiring over longer rides.
About the tester
Age: 36 Height: 180cm Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: Kinesis T2 My best bike is: Kinesis Aithien
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.