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Verdict: 
Stunning value for money race bike that's a joy to ride, whatever your performance goals
Weight: 
9,160g
BTwin Ultra 700 AF
9 10

Often when we're reviewing bikes under a grand we highlight areas where upgrades are needed or even welcomed – but there is none of that with BTwin’s Ultra 700 AF. It's a cracker straight out of the box, offering one of the best ‘bang for buck’ options you're likely to find for 750 of your British pounds.

That's not to say the Ultra isn't upgradeable. With a stiff, performance-orientated frameset, it could easily accommodate some bling upgrades without overshadowing the main component.

> Find your nearest Decathlon store

> Buy this online here

BTwin, if you haven't heard of it before, is the in-house brand of French sports superstore company Decathlon, which concentrates on the 'value for money' ethos for many of its goods. Don't confuse value for money with cheap, though – the Ultra 700 AF is a quality piece of kit.

What’s it made of?

At its heart is a triple butted aluminium frame, which comes with a lifetime warranty, internal cable routing and direct mount brakes; pretty up to date, then, with current trends.

BTwin Ultra 700AF - full bike.jpg

BTwin Ultra 700AF - full bike.jpg

Our medium Ultra 700 AF has a head tube length of 147.5mm paired with a 548mm top tube, giving a position somewhere in between that of a full race bike and a shorter, more upright so-called endurance bike.

In reality that means you can ride the BTwin at a real old lick without have to scrunch yourself up into a ball to get into an aero position. It's a quick bike too, with very impressive stiffness for an entry-level alloy frame.

BTwin Ultra AF 700 - riding 2.jpg

BTwin Ultra AF 700 - riding 2.jpg

BTwin hasn't gone down the route of oversizing the bottom bracket junction, keeping with a standard sized press-fit unit, but the frame doesn't seem to lack anything because of it. Really stamping on the pedals on a steep climb or in full-on sprint mode will find the smallest hint of flex at the BB, but we are talking minor amounts here and not something you'll pick up on unless you're really looking for it.

BTwin Ultra 700AF - bottom bracket.jpg

BTwin Ultra 700AF - bottom bracket.jpg

BTwin has oversized the front end, though, using the now pretty standard tapered head tube – 1 1/8in at the top flaring to 1 1/4in at the bottom. It's all about adding stiffness by increasing the cross sectional area; firstly it gives you a larger weld area so you can increase the diameter of the down tube, plus the alloy steerer of the fork is bigger, with all of these tweaks allowing for better resistance to steering and braking loads.

BTwin Ultra 700AF - head tube.jpg

BTwin Ultra 700AF - head tube.jpg

As a result, the handling on the Ultra AF is very direct with a positive feel to it, something it manages without being overly twitchy at the front end. The steering has a very neutral feel while still being responsive, which is ideal on a bike that's likely to be bought by those getting into the sport.

For those with a bit more experience, or riders who just like a bit of an adrenaline hit, the BTwin maintains that positivity as the speed increase. It may not have the precision of some thoroughbred race bikes but it's not going to be found wanting until you are absolutely pushing it to its limits – and for this price range it still comes up better than I was expecting.

Harsh criticism?

Comfort is often cited as a reason to avoid aluminium alloy bikes and it's true, the Ultra AF can feel a little on the harsh side at times, though it is still far from uncomfortable. It's just not as refined as some, but still manages to tame road buzz to a minimum.

Up front the Ultra Evo Vario fork uses an alloy steerer but does have carbon fibre legs, which offer more damping than an alloy version ever would.

BTwin Ultra 700AF - fork.jpg

BTwin Ultra 700AF - fork.jpg

At the back end BTwin has removed the rear brake bridge as it's not needed because of the AF using direct-mount brakes; more about that in a minute.

BTwin Ultra 700AF - seatstays.jpg

BTwin Ultra 700AF - seatstays.jpg

The seatstays have been slimmed down too, which promotes a bit of flex, especially as they aren't constrained by a brake bridge joining them. These are all minimal things, and you could go further by swapping to a carbon seatpost and running the 25mm tyres a bit softer – plus it looks like some 28s should fit without too much trouble.

Speedy and sedate

Adding all this up then, what do you get? Quite simply, an all-round mile muncher that's got a kick for some speed work – I can't see any reason why you couldn't race it, after all it is UCI approved. It's fun to ride when you want it to be, and sedate and easy to live with when you want to take things a little more steadily.

BTwin Ultra AF 700 - riding 3.jpg

BTwin Ultra AF 700 - riding 3.jpg

That term 'value' constantly rears its head whichever way you look at the Ultra. Shimano's 105 11-speed groupset is rare to find on a bike at this price, and even though BTwin has cut costs a little by fitting an RS500 compact (50/34) chainset, it's still a very well-specced bike. The shifting is a little less crisp without the 105 series 5800 chainset, but you'll only notice it if you ride the two side by side.

BTwin Ultra 700AF - chainset.jpg

BTwin Ultra 700AF - chainset.jpg

A nice touch is that even though our test model came with Shimano's pretty much de rigueur 11-28 tooth cassette, the bike has a long cage rear mech, which gives scope for a bigger spread of gearing to be used – a 32t large sprocket, for instance – and you'd only need to change the cassette. It's something new riders might want, so makes a lot of sense.

BTwin Ultra 700AF - rear mech.jpg

BTwin Ultra 700AF - rear mech.jpg

BTwin has decided to spec the Ultra with direct-mount brake callipers; these are fitted to the frame and fork directly with two bolts rather than threading a single fixing through and attaching at the rear with a nut like traditional dual pivots.

BTwin Ultra 700AF - front brake.jpg

BTwin Ultra 700AF - front brake.jpg

This creates a stiffer brake body and junction between that and the bike, and offers more powerful braking for the same amount of rider input. I've used direct mounts a few times and the results have been minutely noticeable, but the Ultra AF seemed to respond very well to them, with heavy braking easily picking up the rear wheel as your body weight lunches forward.

Wheels and finishing kit

As far as the rest of the kit goes, it's all provided by BTwin. Wheels are often the first point to upgrade on bikes at this price, but again the Ultra doesn't really need that. Admittedly some lighter wheels would lower weight and increase acceleration or benefit climbing, but it's not something you need to do straight away.

BTwin Ultra 700AF - fork crown and rim.jpg

BTwin Ultra 700AF - fork crown and rim.jpg

The 28mm-deep alloy rims with 20 front and 24 rear spoking patterns never feel like they are holding the bike back. They stayed true throughout testing and the bearings certainly didn't grumble after wet rides.

The 25mm Hutchinson Equinox tyres also roll well and offer decent levels of grip. Again you could upgrade, but I'd wait until these wore out first.

BTwin Ultra 700AF - tyre.jpg

BTwin Ultra 700AF - tyre.jpg

The alloy seatpost, stem and handlebar are all in keeping with the Ultra AF, offering solid performance without being overly flashy. They do the job they are designed for, nothing more, nothing less. The shallow drop handlebar makes getting into and maintaining plenty of riding positions achievable for even the most inflexible of us too.

BTwin Ultra 700AF - bar drop.jpg

BTwin Ultra 700AF - bar drop.jpg

I really liked the BTwin saddle, too – very plush without being squidgy.

BTwin Ultra 700AF - saddle.jpg

BTwin Ultra 700AF - saddle.jpg

Overall, the BTwin Ultra 700 AF is an absolute blinder of a bike, even without taking the whole value thing into account. When you ride it, it never feels like any compromises have been made to deliver the package. Okay it's a little on the weighty side according to the scales, but out on the road it never feels like that.

> Check out our guide to the best £500-£750 bikes

The Ultra is a great bike to ride, offering a really stable footprint but managing to be exciting at the same time, which means you can go out for a long, steady cruise or a short blast, whatever your level of fitness or experience, and come back with a grin on your face.

> …and some great bikes for under £1,000

I've mentioned value quite a bit but there are a couple more things to add: BTwin offers a lifetime warranty on the frame, fork, stem, handlebar and seatpost, and the bike even comes with a set of clipless pedals and cleats.

Verdict

Stunning value for money race bike that's a joy to ride, whatever your performance goals

road.cc test report

Make and model: BTwin Ultra 700 AF

Size tested: M

About the bike

State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.

FRAME

Our new B'TWIN ULTRA frame is derived from the Evo Vario concept. Aluminium is an ideal choice for obtaining an excellent propulsion-to-comfort ratio. The variable thickness tubes considerably reduce the weight and ensure excellent performance on all surfaces, even very rough terrain. The design is aerodynamic, the cabling is integrated into the frame and the rear brake is positioned under the chainstays.

This frame is UCI-approved.

Weight: 1400 g in size M.

FORK/SUSPENSION

Our new B'TWIN ULTRA Evo Vario fork is mounted exclusively on the B'TWIN ULTRA Evo Vario frame. The combination of carbon and aluminium offers perfect synergy between the B'TWIN ULTRA Evo Vario frame and fork. We have achieved a damping effect on very uneven and bumpy terrain such as paving or cobblestones. Aerodynamic design with brake located as close as possible to the fork. Weight: 550 g in L .

DRIVE TRAIN

Shimano 105 11-speed drive train.

Shimano 105 SS double, front derailleur

Shimano 11-speed rear derailleur

Shimano RS 500 chainset.

Shimano 11-speed rear derailleur.

Shimano RS 500 chainset.

CHAINSET / CASSETTE

Shimano RS 500 50x34 chainset.

Crank length varies according to size of bike: XS, S: 170 mm / M: 172.5 mm / L, XL: 175 mm.

SHIMANO 105 11S 11 x 28.

11/12/13/14/15/17/19/21/23/25/28

BRAKES

Shimano 105 direct mount brakes (fork and chainstay): their double pivot technology offers precision and power. Centring is always perfect with DPB technology, and they are made from cast aluminium and covered with a powder coating that withstands frequent washing.

HANDLEBARS/STEM/STEERING

The compact B'TWIN handlebar is scaled to the size of the bike. The compact shape is becoming increasingly common in the peleton, as it allows you to keep your hands low on the handlebars without compromising comfort. Weighs 320 g in size 420 mm. The stem is also made out of 6061-T6 aluminium. Scaled to the size of the bike. Weighs 140 g in size 110 mm. The steering uses long-life, sealed bearings, with a 1 1/8in diameter at the top and 1 1/4in at the bottom.

WHEELS

The wheels were developed by B'TWIN's engineering office. This pair of wheels is designed for all-terrain use, with 20 spokes at the front and 24 at the rear. The rim is 28 mm high. Very versatile profile and hubs fitted with long-life cartridge bearings.

Weight: 1.790 kg per pair.

This wheel is used by the B'TWIN U19 RACING team in training and competition.

TYRES

Hutchinson Equinox 25 C for higher performance and added comfort.

SADDLE / SEAT POST

B'TWIN Comp Ergo Chromo saddle: chosen for its comfort and efficiency. Weight: 257 g.

B'TWIN Competition aluminium seat post.

Diameter: Length: 31.6 mm;: 350 mm. Weight: 240 g.

PEDALS

B'TWIN Comp VPR76 clipless pedals (come with cleats).

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?

BTwin says: "Replaces the highly acclaimed Alur 700. Upgraded with Shimano's 11s 105 groupset & R500 crankset and 25mm tyres for 2015. This unique triple butted UCI approved racing frame with a lifetime warranty remains at it's heart with full internal cable routing, ESR ready, powerful direct mount brakes and carbon forks really sets this bike apart."

The Ultra 700 AF is more than an entry level racer; the geometry is slackened off a touch but it is still a responsive, fun bike to ride at speed.

Frame and fork

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
8/10

Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?

Triple butted tubes, internal cabling, tapered head tube... there is a lot going on and it all comes together to create an excellent frameset. Although not the most refined alloy frame out there, when you consider the overall price it's hard to knock it. The paint finish is hard wearing too.

Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?

BTwin doesn't state the alloy grade but the use of triple butting (three differing tube wall thicknesses along its length) helps to bring down weight and add comfort.

Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?

The Ultra 700 AF sits somewhere between a full race bike and an endurance bike, which gives it a fast ride with positions accessible for a large range of riders.

How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?

Decathlon doesn't quote any stack and reach figures (the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube) but with a quick tape measure the ratio comes in at around 1.45, which puts it well in the sporty yet comfortable camp.

Riding the bike

Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.

A little harsh on rough road surfaces but not what I'd class as uncomfortable.

Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?

Yes, a tiny bit of flex around the bottom bracket, but barely noticeable.

How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?

It responds well to a hard effort.

Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?

No.

How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral and responsive, a very balanced yet fun bike to ride.

Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?

The Ultra 700 AF is a very solid feeling bike with really good feedback levels letting you know what the tyres are doing.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?

The comfortable saddle took the sting out of rough road surfaces.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?

The wheels are stiff and the handlebar/stem combo provides a tight front end.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?

The whole bike is a competent package with no one component standing out.

Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for acceleration:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for sprinting:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for climbing:
 
8/10

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
9/10
Rate the drivetrain for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for value:
 
8/10

Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?

Shimano 105 is brilliant, and although you don't get the 5800 chainset you do get the excellent direct mount Shimano brakes.

Wheels and tyres

Rate the wheels for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels for comfort:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels for value:
 
8/10

Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so, what for?

For an own brand set of wheels the BTwin's are hard to fault. Light enough to provide a spirited ride without sacrificing reliability. The frame does suit deeper section wheels if you are considering an upgrade.

Rate the tyres for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the tyres for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the tyres for weight:
 
7/10
Rate the tyres for comfort:
 
8/10
Rate the tyres for value:
 
7/10

Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so, what for?

For budget tyres with a minimal TPI count they are actually very responsive and offer great rolling resistance.

Controls

Rate the controls for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for comfort:
 
7/10
Rate the controls for value:
 
8/10

Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?

The BTwin stuff is simple but offers decent performance for the money.

Your summary

Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes

Would you consider buying the bike? Yes

Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
9/10

Use this box to explain your score

A solid scoring round from the Ultra 700 AF which highlights just how 'very good' it is, but when you take the value into account things step up a league. At £1250 you'd go, "hmmm, impressive", but at £750 you're thinking, "that's bloody amazing!"

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 37  Height: 180cm  Weight: 76kg

I usually ride: This month's test bike  My best bike is: Mason Definition

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.

11 comments

Avatar
kitkat [427 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Thanks for the review Stu. You've not made mutch mention of what the chainstay mounted brakes are like to live with day in day out. Other reviews go to town on how terrible they are for adjustment, cleaning and even the increased amount of brake to rim contact when giving it some

I'd be keen to hear your experiences especially after a good muddy ride through country lanes

Avatar
unconstituted [2355 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Love how clean the rear end looks with the brakes moved down like that. I have my brakes off at the moment (upgrading them and waiting on new ones arriving) and that was my first thought - 'wow bike looks good with the brakes off'.

Avatar
a1white [47 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
kitkat wrote:

I'd be keen to hear your experiences especially after a good muddy ride through country lanes

My thoughts too. Seems like the most impractical location to mount the rear brake. As soon as you get any rain, its performance will be immediatly compromised. Looks good though!

Avatar
vonhelmet [843 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
a1white wrote:
kitkat wrote:

I'd be keen to hear your experiences especially after a good muddy ride through country lanes

My thoughts too. Seems like the most impractical location to mount the rear brake. As soon as you get any rain, its performance will be immediatly compromised. Looks good though!

The immense aero gains will of course make up for it.

Avatar
Judge dreadful [261 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes

I had a tough decision to make last week. One of these, or the even more impressive 720 AF.

having ridden both, I went for this.

 

It's superb.

Avatar
Judge dreadful [261 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
kitkat wrote:

Thanks for the review Stu. You've not made mutch mention of what the chainstay mounted brakes are like to live with day in day out. Other reviews go to town on how terrible they are for adjustment, cleaning and even the increased amount of brake to rim contact whien giving it some

I'd be keen to hear your experiences especially after a good muddy ride through country lanes

 

it uses the same brake setup as my 720AF. The thing you have to be very careful of, is the rear brake outer cable, which emerges from the frame,  and loops under the BB. That can get mighty close to anything pointy uppy, you ride over, or big steep speed humps. I've not found that the positioning (on the chain stays) has made life particularly difficult, in terms of adjustment, or braking performance.

Avatar
kitkat [427 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
Judge dreadful wrote:

it uses the same brake setup as my 720AF. The thing you have to be very careful of, is the rear brake outer cable, which emerges from the frame,  and loops under the BB. That can get mighty close to anything pointy uppy, you ride over, or big steep speed humps. I've not found that the positioning (on the chain stays) has made life particularly difficult, in terms of adjustment, or braking performance.

Thanks! what about cleaning or would you like to answer that in February?  1

Avatar
Judge dreadful [261 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
kitkat wrote:
Judge dreadful wrote:

it uses the same brake setup as my 720AF. The thing you have to be very careful of, is the rear brake outer cable, which emerges from the frame,  and loops under the BB. That can get mighty close to anything pointy uppy, you ride over, or big steep speed humps. I've not found that the positioning (on the chain stays) has made life particularly difficult, in terms of adjustment, or braking performance.

Thanks! what about cleaning or would you like to answer that in February?  1

I've not had that to contend with just yet, thankfully.

Avatar
gonedownhill [146 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Interesting that it comes fitted with the long cage rear mech even though the cassette specced doesn't require it. 

What is the advantage of a short cage mech anyway? Just allows a slightly shorter chain and subsequent weight saving  or is shifting supposedly better too?

Personally I would like to swap my 11-28 for an 11-32 once the former has run out, but it'd cost me £45 for a new ultegra rear derailler which I can't really justify.

Avatar
kil0ran [328 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
gonedownhill wrote:

Interesting that it comes fitted with the long cage rear mech even though the cassette specced doesn't require it. 

What is the advantage of a short cage mech anyway? Just allows a slightly shorter chain and subsequent weight saving  or is shifting supposedly better too?

Personally I would like to swap my 11-28 for an 11-32 once the former has run out, but it'd cost me £45 for a new ultegra rear derailler which I can't really justify.

 

Better chain retention over uneven ground I believe (its why wide-range mountain bike mechs are clutched)

You could drop to a 105 cassette and save a few quid, works well for me (Ultegra mechs and levers, 105 chainset)

Avatar
kil0ran [328 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
Judge dreadful wrote:
kitkat wrote:

Thanks for the review Stu. You've not made mutch mention of what the chainstay mounted brakes are like to live with day in day out. Other reviews go to town on how terrible they are for adjustment, cleaning and even the increased amount of brake to rim contact whien giving it some

I'd be keen to hear your experiences especially after a good muddy ride through country lanes

 

it uses the same brake setup as my 720AF. The thing you have to be very careful of, is the rear brake outer cable, which emerges from the frame,  and loops under the BB. That can get mighty close to anything pointy uppy, you ride over, or big steep speed humps. I've not found that the positioning (on the chain stays) has made life particularly difficult, in terms of adjustment, or braking performance.

This is the main reason I avoided this frame and the predecessor (Alur 700) - completely bobbins setup for commuting. A pity as otherwise it looks a great frame (particularly in the B'Twin racing colours)