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Verdict: 
Likeable urban runabout let down by some poor spec choices
Weight: 
13,900g
Contact: 
Bobbin Dark Star
5 10

You won't be demolishing unstable planets on the Bobbin Cycles Dark Star, but if fun and stylish urban transportation is what you need, it's a solid choice. However, a few tweaks to the spec and setup would make it a better pothole-basher and easier to live with, without diminishing its street cred.

With its steel frame, upright riding position and shiny black paint job, the Bobbin Dark Star evokes the bikes grandad rode to work at the factory, brought bang up to date with disc brakes and wide-range derailleur gears.

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Its narrow handlebar and quick handling suit it for life in the modern streets. It has the agile handling you need to play dodge-the-pothole while the 56cm handlebar is wide enough for decent control but won't impede cutting through motor traffic. A pair of very nicely shaped, comfortable Duracork grips sit on the ends of the bar.

Bobbin Dark Star - riding 4.jpg

Bobbin Dark Star - riding 4.jpg

At a frankly hefty 13.9kg (30.5lb) the Dark Star's no lightweight, though, and that makes itself felt when you hit an especially steep hill or you're trying to get back up to speed from the lights. Fortunately it has a wide gear range with a very low bottom gear. You won't be dashing up any hills Chris Froome-style, but you'll get up them comfortably enough.

Bobbin Dark Star - drivetrain.jpg

Bobbin Dark Star - drivetrain.jpg

That weight seems to be mostly down to the frame and wheels. The frame is billed as combining high-tensile and chromoly steel, but Bobbin says the seat tube, seat stays and chainstays are chromoly; the rest, including the fork, is high-tensile steel. The wheels are built around 32mm-deep alloy rims, a design that can't be made light without spending more than the budget of a £550 bike. A bit more money in the frame and fork, and shallower rims, could knock off a chunk of weight.

Bobbin Dark Star.jpg

Bobbin Dark Star.jpg

Nevertheless, in the right environment the Dark Star is lots of fun. It zips engagingly through traffic, and turns almost instantly, which is handy when some gaping chasm of neglected tarmac opens up in front of you. And when you need to slam all-on because someone has unexpectedly stepped or driven into your path, the disc brakes are there to bring you quickly to a stop. It's a confidence-inspiring ride.

The Dark Star's riding position is very upright thanks to its short stem. That's good for seeing where you're going in traffic, and the pothole-spotting I was just talking about, but it gets fatiguing for anything but short trips. For longer rides you want your weight distributed fairly evenly between your bum and your hands; the Dark Star's super-upright position puts it all on your bum.

Bobbin Dark Star - head tube.jpg

Bobbin Dark Star - head tube.jpg

Bobbin bills the Dark Star as 'suited to distance commuting and trips out of town'. Those are situations where I definitely want a longer riding position, and not just for the comfort that comes from better weight distribution. You don't need a drop-bar full stretch but fighting a headwind in the Dark Star's bolt-upright stance is just no fun.

Bobbin Dark Star - riding 3.jpg

Bobbin Dark Star - riding 3.jpg

The standout feature of the Dark Star is the braking. The Tektro Auriga hydraulic disc brakes bring it to a halt with considerable authority. It's more common to find cable discs on bikes around this price, so the superior stopping power and lack of fuss of hydraulics is very welcome. The Aurigas have an enviable reputation for reliability, and can be inexpensively improved by fitting sintered pads when the original ones wear out.

Bobbin Dark Star - rear disc brake.jpg

Bobbin Dark Star - rear disc brake.jpg

The Bobbin Dark Star has a well-chosen set of gear ratios, with a 50/34 compact chainset driving a 12-32 8-speed cassette. That gives a wide range with a very handy low gear for lugging shopping up hill and a high gear you won't spin out unless you're descending a steep hill with a following wind, in which case I suggest you just enjoy the ride.

Bobbin Dark Star - cassette.jpg

Bobbin Dark Star - cassette.jpg

The Dark Star's gears are Shimano's entry-level Claris parts, with mountain bike-style trigger shifters. They're basic, but they work perfectly well. Put it like this: we'd have been very happy indeed to have 8-speed shifting that worked this well and cost this little back in mountain biking's early-90s Bronze Age.

Bobbin Dark Star - bar and shifter 1.jpg

Bobbin Dark Star - bar and shifter 1.jpg

Here's the Dark Star's gear chart:

  12 14 16 18 21 24 28 32
50 112.5 96.4 84.4 75.0 64.3 56.3 48.2 42.2
34 76.5 65.6 57.4 51.0 43.7 38.3 32.8 28.7

 

The Dark Star needs a saddle that works better with the combination of regular clothes and its upright position than the own-brand seat it comes with. It's not that the saddle is especially bad, but a smoother shape would be better and a little more padding might help too.

Bobbin Dark Star - saddle.jpg

Bobbin Dark Star - saddle.jpg

There are some welcome concessions to practicality in that the bike comes with a kickstand and you can get a version with mudguards (our sample is the £550 version without them; the bike you find widely advertised for £610 has them) or fit your own. However, it lacks other things I like to see on a practical bike, such as dynamo lights, a rack and a Dutch lock, or at least the bosses for one. That extra £60 for mudguards is a bit bonkers too. You can pick up a set of SKS Longboards for £26.

Bobbin Dark Star - kick stand.jpg

Bobbin Dark Star - kick stand.jpg

More than 25 years since Dia-Compe introduced the modern threadless headset, it's puzzling to find a threaded headset and quill stem on the Dark Star. A threadless headset can be adjusted with just a 5mm Allen key, where a threaded set needs a pair of thin 32mm spanners, which most people are unlikely to just have kicking around.

Bobbin Dark Star - stem.jpg

Bobbin Dark Star - stem.jpg

Bobbin founder Tom Morris told us: "We use a quill stem and threaded headset because of the ease of adjustability."

Okay, it's fairly easy to adjust handlebar height with a quill stem, but the big practical problem is that replacement stems are harder to find than those for threadless headsets. If you want to change the stem length on your Dark Star, you're not going to walk into just any bike shop and find a replacement.

I'd also like fatter tyres. The Kenda tyres fitted are nominally 32mm wide, but they measure 30mm across and they're stiff and heavy. I'm a big fan of Schwalbe's Marathon Supremes for urban riding and countryside pootling; they roll quickly and their puncture resistance is excellent for a fast-rolling tyre. There's clearance for them in a 37mm width which would suit the Dark Star perfectly, and provide a bit of welcome cushioning.

Bobbin Dark Star - seat stays.jpg

Bobbin Dark Star - seat stays.jpg

Conclusion

At its heart the Dark Star is a very nice little steel-framed urban bike, with easy-to-use, wide-range gearing and the all-weather stopping power of disc brakes. It has spot-on handling for round-town riding – nippy and quick-turning – and nice touches such as rack and mudguard mounts.

But the barebones spec leaves me unsatisfied. I want a town bike to come with a full set of practical accoutrements: mudguards, rack and kickstand (preferably a centre stand) and, in a perfect world, hub dynamo lighting. And good tyres are essential; they make a huge difference to the feel of a bike.

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These deficiencies really take the shine off what could be a thoroughly modern take on grandad's factory bike. It's not quite a bomb, though, so at least you won't have to try to teach it phenomenology.

[Editor's note: for those wondering WTF Stevenson is on about at the top and bottom of this review, Dark Star is a classic 1974 low-budget science fiction movie, directed by John Carpenter, who went on to make Halloween, Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China and The Thing.]

Verdict

Likeable urban runabout let down by some poor spec choices

road.cc test report

Make and model: Bobbin Dark Star

Size tested: 56cm

About the bike

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

TIG-welded steel. Mostly high-tensile steel, with chromoly seat tube, seatstays and chainstays.

Frame: Cro-Mo and Hi-Ten steel

Fork: Rigid, Hi Ten steel

Headset: Chrome plated steel

Drivetrain Components: Steel/alloy, double 50/34, 170mm crank

Pedals: Alloy

Handlebar: Alloy

Stem: Alloy quill stem

Grips: Brown duracork

Saddle: Bobbin vinyl saddle

Tyres: Kenda whitewall 700 x 32c

Bottom Bracket: Steel, cartridge

Front Hub: Alloy 36h

Rear Hub: Alloy 36h

Extras: Kickstand

Rim: Alloy 36h

Brakes: Tektro Auriga disc brakes

Wheels: 700c alloy

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?

Distributor Moore Large says:

"The Bobbin Dark Star cuts through the cityscape with a technical set-up suited to distance commuting and trips out of town. A great alternative to a boring old hybrid, it features a nimble steel frame, 16 gears and smooth hydraulic disc brakes.

"The Dark Star features a Cro-Mo and Hi-Ten steel frame complete with mudguard and rack mounts. With flatter bars and a wide range of gears, it'll get you up big hills, while the 700x32c tyres can tackle unruly city streets or country lanes."

Frame and fork

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
7/10

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

Tidy steel frame, finished in shiny black.

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

The seat tube, chainstays and seatstays are chromoly steel; the rest is high-tensile steel, including the fork.

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

Saddle-to-bar reach is very short, because of the short stem.

Riding the bike

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

It's ok. With a better saddle, longer stem and fatter tyres it'd be quite a bit better though.

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? Very lively – the Dark Star turns on the proverbial sixpence.

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

The quick steering makes it very nippy in traffic, though it can be a bit of a handful if you're navigating, say, very narrow bike paths.

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

The grips are very nice; the saddle needs improving.

Rate the bike for acceleration:
 
5/10

The overall weight means it's not exactly nippy away from the lights.

Rate the bike for high speed stability:
 
8/10

Once up to speed it bombs steadily along.

Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
 
9/10

The nippy handling makes it very easy to chuck into corners.

Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for climbing:
 
5/10

It's heavy, but the low bottom gears make climbing strightforward, even if not rapid.

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
7/10
Rate the drivetrain for durability:
 
7/10
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
 
6/10
Rate the drivetrain for value:
 
7/10

Wheels and tyres

Rate the wheels for performance:
 
5/10
Rate the wheels for durability:
 
8/10

While they're not light, they are tough and should last well.

Rate the wheels for weight:
 
4/10
Rate the tyres for performance:
 
4/10

They're really very ordinary.

Controls

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

Your summary

Did you enjoy riding the bike? On the whole, yes, but a few changes would have meant I enjoyed it a whole lot more.

Would you consider buying the bike? Not in this spec.

Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Not in this spec.

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
5/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
5/10

Use this box to explain your score

The Bobbin Dark Star is a real curate's egg. The frame's decent, and the brakes and gears are very good. But the outmoded headset and stem, indifferent saddle, bottom-of-the-range tyres and lack of practical extras really drag it down. Sort out those deficiencies and it'd be a 3.5 star bike even at another £150.

Overall rating: 5/10

About the tester

Age: 48  Height: 5ft 11in  Weight: 85kg

I usually ride: Scapin Style  My best bike is:

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, mountain biking

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

12 comments

Avatar
Nick T [1091 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes

Amazing to see that it's still possible to build a 14kg bike in 2017

Avatar
Welsh boy [390 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes

Over priced, by about £350 in my opinion.

Avatar
nortonpdj [187 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes

Summary: decent brakes, entry level Shimano transmission, but the rest is heavy overpriced rubbish which lacks basic equipment.

How can that be "two and a half stars"?

Avatar
Flying Scot [974 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

Surely a £350 bike in the sale....

Avatar
beezus fufoon [866 posts] 1 month ago
4 likes

so basically it's bobbins!

(reviewed by a northerner too, can't believe you missed that one John)

Avatar
Bmblbzzz [159 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes
Nick T wrote:

Amazing to see that it's still possible to build a 14kg bike in 2017

Something that I don't think even Surly have managed!

Avatar
Dr_Lex [454 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes

Also need a pair of spanners to get the wheels off. 

That extensive rear brake hose really grates, and the contrasting colours of chainring to cassette isn't helping dispel the thought on reading the review that this bike is the result of a rummage in the bargain component bin.

Avatar
Redvee [354 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

Why run the brake hose down the down tube for the calliper on the seat stay? Surely it would be neater along the top tube and down the seat stay.

Avatar
madcarew [447 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes

You can get a high tensile steel frame bike with entry level equipment that weighs just under 13kg from halfords for under two hundy. This is about 300 quid over priced.

Avatar
Langsam [59 posts] 1 month ago
1 like
Redvee wrote:

Why run the brake hose down the down tube for the calliper on the seat stay? Surely it would be neater along the top tube and down the seat stay.

 

i think *anything* would be neater than the abomination that is its current routing - just dreadful, what was the mechanic/assembler thinking?

Avatar
Nick T [1091 posts] 1 month ago
1 like
Redvee wrote:

Why run the brake hose down the down tube for the calliper on the seat stay? Surely it would be neater along the top tube and down the seat stay.

With the wierd kink on the pipe it looks like they even had to clip it to the seat stay in order to stop all that excess falling into the spokes/rotor, total nonsense

Avatar
matthewn5 [1063 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

Why put the rear brake outside the rear triangle? Makes it a right faff fitting guards or a rack, things you'd want to have on a commuter.