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The B'Twin Triban 500 SE is an entry-level road bike that looked full of eastern promise. And it delivers, with only minor reservations. Its ride feel is amazingly sprightly and its component parts are far better than average at this price. The doubt lies with longer term durability, but for so little money that's a minor minus.
I'm sure I'm not alone in this. I'm constantly being asked by acquaintances, or strangers at social gatherings who hear I know about bikes, how much they'll need to pay to get a half way decent road bike.
I'll usually ask a few questions to get an idea of where to pitch in with examples. Some people asking are mountain bikers looking for a change. Some are friends of friends thinking about riding to work after barely touching a bike for years.
Some are neighbours who see me pedalling out early on Sunday morning then see me hours later sitting out front, still kitted up, with a stupid grin on my face, a big mug of coffee in one hand and an even bigger slice of cake in the other.
They think "I want some of that". And they don't just mean cake.
The problem is that, as well as hoping to get a slice of what seems to be good for me, they'll often also expect to score a great road bike for less than they can earn for a couple of days' work, and that's a big ask.
But here's a bike I'll be recommending to some of them.
B'Twin is the bicycle house brand of French sport superstore chain Decathlon. At the last count, Decathlon had 14 stores in the UK, over 500 in mainland Europe and about 50,000 workers. You can see that they might have some advantages in buying power.
My first feelings about the Triban 500SE revolved around the fact that it looks way too cheap to be without gremlins.
There are two versions of the 500. This SE (Special Edition) UK-only version gets a 3 x 8 Microshift drivetrain compared to the £449.99 model, which gets a more upmarket 3 x 9 Shimano Sora drivetrain.
I've had some limited experience of Microshift gears on both mountain bikes and road bikes. They're pretty good in terms of both function and value for money but they're not quite as slick in operation as the Shimano alternative.
So my gut reaction would still be to talk people into spending an extra £70 to get the Shimano Sora bike. I doubt you'll find a cheaper Sora specced bike, and my experience of Microshift drivetrains is that they show signs of wear sooner than Shimano Sora.
But the Triban bicycle family — there are more if you look at the web site or visit a store — is about much more than just drivetrains.
The SE is also equipped with a carbon fork, a decent set of wheels and tyres and a collection of pretty good finishing kit. It weighs in at a surprisingly light 22.4lb/10.08kg, way below average for a bike at this price.
There are no unwelcome shortcuts in the finishing detail and even a first evening blast around a lumpy 15km loop suggested that it rides very much like a race-bred bike rather than like a bike aimed purely at beginners.
There are loads of other bikes in the B'Twin range designed for riders needing a more casual ride posture, but there's plenty of bar and stem position adjustment here, including a bolted spacer that sits directly above the headset and keeps the bearings adjusted correctly if you need to change the stem positioning.
You wouldn't really expect a £380 bike to be seriously competive or durable enough for racing, but the Triban 500 SE comes closer than most.
On long steady road rides it climbs, descends, handles and rolls along very much like many bikes costing several times as much money.
It's never the slightest bit vague in handling when sprinting or cornering hard and it's far more comfy over bumpy roads than I expected for a cheap aluminium frame and 23mm tyres.
The carbon fork, again a bonus on a bike at this price, seems to absorb road buzz more effectively than the aluminium forks that are common on sub £500 bikes.
The sloped top tube, with resultingly generous 27.2mm seat post extension, plus a well padded saddle and padded handlebar tape all help too.
The double auxilliary outward to inward shift levers of Microshift take a couple of rides to get used to, and shifts feel more spongy, less clicky, than Shimano or SRAM shifters, to a point where you're sometimes not sure whether you've shifted or not.
But the hoods are comfy for climbing or cruising and there are cable tension adjusters right by the levers: these proved useful for tweaking the front gear mech cable tension during rides as with triple rings it's close to impossible to get every single gear without ocassional front mech chain rub.
However, in every other way the triple (30/39/50) crankset and close ratio eight speed cassette are very welcome on a bike that's going to be bought by a lot of people who need help on the hills. Our very early sample had a Prowheel Ounce chainset, but Decathlon have now specced a Shimano Claris unit and the first 1,000 bikes will have a Sora chainset because of delays getting hold of the Claris chainsets.
The gear range is equally suitable for average sportif riders, lightweight tourists, commuters and weekend warriors.
From an everyday utility use viewpoint, there are threaded eyelets on the rear dropouts and the fork, plus rack eyelets on the seat stays and two sets of bottle cage bosses.
B'Twin's own brand brakes have metal shoes and seperate pads. They're far better than average on bikes at this price but the lever pull feel is quite heavy compared to higher spec Shimano brakes.
The wheels and tyres appear to be way better than average for bikes at this price.
The 32 spokes are rustless rather than stainless but the eyeletted rims with a wear line are strongly laced to B'Twin's house brand hubs and the tyres are Hutchinson's Equinox 23mm slicks, again a grippy fast rolling bonus on such a cheap bike.
After a few long rides the front hub bearings developed a tiny amount of play. Overtightening the quick release lever initially helped but the play returned, irritating with a rattle on bumpy roads.
The remainder of the components - a compact short drop handlebar, stem, seat post and saddle - are simple black coated affairs but again way better than average.
I haven''t come to expect a lot in terms of frame quality on bikes at this price, but again the B'Twin impresses.
Its 6061 T6 heat treated aluminium tubes are formed to achieve a satisfactory combination of lateral stiffness and vibration absorption and there's enough room for slightly bigger tyres and mudguards.
The straight-bladed carbon fork has an aluminium steerer and dropouts and the geometry is relatively sporty, 71.5 degrees at the head and 73.5 degrees at the seat. There are 48, 51, 54 and 60cm sizes available too and it's worth noting that some of Decathlon's small road bikes have a smaller, 650B wheel option. Check their web site for details.
The 57cm bike has a 57cm horizontal top tube reach and a 52cm seat tube, bottom bracket centre to the top.
Like many riders, I and most other road.cc testers are intuitively slightly wary of superstore bikes. But Decathlon manages to wins fans with more than just low prices.
B'Twin bikes seem to be thoughtfully designed, well specced and very easily mistaken for something that should cost an awful lot more money. The 500 SE is certainly the best bike I've ever ridden at anywhere near £380.
In fact I was doing similar average speeds for my regular road loops as on my own road bike, which is theoretically worth about ten times as much.
The only obvious short term downside is that the drivetrain and wheel parts are much more likely to wear fast than on a higher specification bike. But with a bike at this price that rides so well that's a downside that's well worth putting up with.
Decathlon's B'Twin Triban 500 delivers impressive value and performance, with only minor reservations. Its ride feel is amazingly sprightly and its component parts are far better than average at this price. The doubt lies with longer term durability, but for so little money that's a minor minus.
Impressive value and performance, with only minor reservations.
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Make and model: BTwin Triban 500 road bike
Size tested: 56
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Decathlon lists the spec and its plus points thus:
6061 T6 Triban aluminium sloping frame with integrated head tube. Short frame geometry, 1900g in size 57, robust lifetime warranty frame, available in 5 sizes (51,54,57,60,63). Rear pannier rack ready.
Carbon B'TWIN SPORT forks with aluminium pivot (550 g)
8-speed MICROSHIFT shifters. Very precise, rapid and robust design. Very comfortable ergonomics, levers suit all hand sizes. Very precise front and rear MICROSHIFT derailleurs enabling amazingly-smooth chain crossovers. Cassette: 12 x 25
B'TWIN double brake pivot with pads mounted on brake shoes to facilitate replacement when worn down without modifying the position of the brakes
Crankset / cassette
SHIMANO aluminium 50/39/30 triple chainset works perfectly on all types of flat and sloping terrain.
Two crank sizes: 170 mm and 175 mm depending on the size of the frame.
Handlebar / stem / steering
B'TWIN oversize compact handlebar stem, with part sizes that are proportional to the size of the frame (stem length: 80 mm to 130 mm on a size 63 bike). This gives you the perfect riding position.
B'TWIN double-walled aluminium rims with reinforcement eyelets, 32 stainless spokes, front and rear quick release.
Two wheel sizes:
650 wheel size on 51 frame
700 wheel size on 54, 57, 60 and 63 frames
Hutchinson Equinox (23 mm wide), excellent tyre for training rides at a fast pace. Weighing 290 grams, it is equipped with steel beads, bi-material rubber, and a tread that is harder than the sides, applied over a 66TPI body.
Two tyre sizes:
650 tyres on 51 frame
700 tyres on 54, 57, 60 and 63 frames
Saddle / seat post
B'twin aluminium seat post (29.8 mm diameter), adjusts with Allen key, ergonomic B'twin saddle that is comfortable even on long rides
Flat pedals with toe-clips
Weighs 10.6 kg in size 57 including pedals
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?
This 'Special Edition' model is a cheaper UK-specific alternative to the Shimano Sora equipped Triban 500. It's obviously aimed at riders looking for a low budget bike, but it's doesn't ride like a low budget bike. It's speed, ride feel and handling is excellent, leaving only doubts about the longer term durability of some of its component parts. The front hub bearings had already developed play by the end of the test period.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
For the price, superb. In fact, if the whole bike was twice the price the frame and fork quality would still be acceptably good
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
6061 aluminium frame, carbon fork
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
No geometry spec' listed but measured at 71.5 degrees at the head, 73.5 at the seat. Our 57cm test bike had a 57cm top tube (horizontal).
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Average. More sporty than most entry level bikes.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Surprisingly comfy for its price tag, but we'd fit 25mm tyres at add a little more give.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes. No unwelcome flex anywhere.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Amazingly good for a bike at this price. Only the wheels felt a little clunky at times on rough roads.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Pleasingly neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
No complaints at all.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Great compact handlebar shape. Saddle not great but better than some.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
If there's an obvious potential weak point on the bike we'd say it's the wheels. The front hub developed a loose bearing by the end of the test and the wheels felt a little challenged in stiffness during hard sprints. But at this price that's really a very small downside.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Great handlebar shape. Loads of bar height adjustment. Far better tyres thgan usual at this price, and a far better frame and fork than we've come to expect on a sub £500 bike.
For the price, great.
Wheels not the best for flat out power.
Excellent handling through twists and turns.
Sat down climbing fine. Powerful stood up climbing shows up some wheel flex.
Average. Not as slick as Shimano.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The shift lever action takes a while to get used to but mis-shifts are rare. With the triple up front it was hard to get the full spread of gears without some front mech chain rub in gears at the edges.
Simply average, and the front hub developed bearing play.
Tyres good for a bike at this price.
Average. 25mm tyres would add comfort.
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
It was only really the fact that the front hub bearings developed play that brought attention to the limited durability of the wheels. But bearings can be easily replaced, and you're never going to get a great set of wheels on a bike at this price.
No problems at all.
Superb for a bike at this price.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Decathlon vary handlebars, stem and crank length on bikes of different sizing. A few of their bikes offer a 650B wheels option on smaller sizes too.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes, very much.
Would you consider buying the bike? No.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
I'd be amazed if anyone could find a better bike at this price.
Age: 58 Height: 181 Weight: 78kg
I usually ride: Merlin Ti My best bike is: Ibis Silk SL
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,