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"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a modest fortune, must be in want of yet another bike." Jane Austen, Bikes & Prejudice.
I'm already happily married, have several nice bikes and don't possess even a modest fortune, but I knew from the moment it emerged from the box that the Hewitt Alpine was a bike I was going to love.
I was having dirty thoughts about a Canyon Endurace CF 9.0 SL, as reviewed recently but despite the Alpine having a lower spec and giving away more than 2.5kg to the Canyon, it's the green steel beauty that has moved into our kitchen.
Light and flash is all very well, but you can't beat a bike that puts a smile on your face and is uniquely yours.
Dear reader, I usually do about 500 miles on test bikes before I'm ready to send them back. So far I've done nearly 2000 on the Alpine and it's not going back because, thanks to an act of wifely benevolence, it now belongs to me.
How much more do you need to know?
In a sea of lookalike carbon sportive bikes, the Alpine stands out a mile.
Ok, so it's technically an audax bike, but what is a sportive but an audax without the cake? If you want a distinctive bike that will be fast and comfortable over long distances then the Alpine is well worth checking out.
If you just want to splat down a wedge of cash and walk away with a flash bike to impress your mates, the Alpine isn't for you.
Hewitt sell the frameset and will build it up with pretty much any bits you want, so you'll have to conduct some research before deciding on the final spec.
A bike like this requires attention and commitment and spending hours pondering options is all part of the fun.
Hewitt sell the Alpine as a frameset which can be built from a number of different grades of tubing and dressed to suit your taste and pocket. Frames start from £1050 for Reynolds 631 through to £1800 for Reynolds 953 stainless steel.
Our test bike was built from Columbus Life tubing which would set you back £1350. Life is a race grade tubeset, so it's light, stiff and a touch more responsive than 631.
All Alpine frames are built by Andy Robinson in the workshop at the back of the shop and you can pick and choose every last detail.
Paul sent me some pics of the frame as it was being built, which you certainly wouldn't get from even the very nicest off the peg bike.
Ours came with braze-ons for mudguards, rack mounts, a pump peg on the top tube and cable guides on the head tube.
The Alpine is built to the precise measurements of each customer, hence ours has a 53.4cm virtual top tube (my off the peg bikes are 54cm) and a half degree extra seat tube angle to free up some space on the saddle rail for a bag support.
The Kawasaki Green paint job (by Autostrada) is excellent and really stands out, especially with the (optional extra) white panels.
I picked up a nasty stone chip on a chainstay and it was easy to see how thick the enamelling is.
Speaking of chainstays, although the words 'bespoke steel' evoke something very traditional, the Alpine has modern touches, like oversized tubes, a semi-compact top tube and flattened chainstays.
It's a pleasing mix of the traditional and up to date.
The fork is a pretty generic carbon item, with an aluminium steerer. It does have a nice curve though, which suits the bike better than a straight bladed item.
It's a frameset which has the stiffness to climb well and go fast, but which doesn't beat you up. In fact the defining quality of the bike is the smoothness of the ride, it glides where other bikes would bounce and judder.
Our test bike came with a Shimano 105 groupset, which is plenty good enough for audaxing. You could easily go higher, the frame is definitely worth it, but 105 is a good balance between value for money and performance.
A 50/34 chainset, matched with an 11-28 cassette, gives nearly as good a range of gears as a triple but looks neater and weighs less.
The 105 shifters work nicely, with a positive click from the inner lever, but the exposed mechanism on the underside of the hood can occasionally be uncomfortable if, like me, you ride with a finger curled under the hoods.
One nice thing about the 105 chainset is that as it comes in black it gives the bike a very tidy look.
The brakes are Shimano R650 with 57mm drop, which gives enough space for full mudguards and 28mm tyres. They work perfectly well, although the standard pads are a touch wooden and I'll be swapping them for something better when they wear out.
It's something that I've noticed about blocks supplied as standard, so it's not a criticism of the brakes per se and they worked just fine when I had to dodge a suicidal squirrel on a fast descent!
The wheels are interesting. The black H-Plus SON rims have been appearing on a few bikes now, the Genesis Equilibrium we tested springs to mind, and laced to DT Swiss 350 hubs it's a wheelset that looks fantastic.
I did wonder whether the semi-deep section rims would give a harsh ride, but with a wide tyre bed the 25mm Continental GP4000s inflated to a width that looked more like 28mm.
Combined with the frame the ride quality is exceptionally smooth. The bike also felt fast and climbed very well - on a hilly 90 mile test ride it was much faster than my usual audax machine.
That said, the wheels are on the hefty side. A quick dangle on the fishing scales showed that the front wheel was a whopping 500g heavier than an 11yr old Ksyrium Elite.
I can't honestly say I felt the wheels were slowing me down, but it would be interesting to try a lighter set. My hunch is that lighter wheels would climb even better, but wouldn't be as smooth or as comfortable over a long distance.
I would consider changing tyres though. The Continental GP4000s are just a touch more fragile than I like, deflating from two thorn intrusions that a Gatorskin would have laughed at, but they roll well and tyres are almost as much a personal choice as saddles.
The rest of the kit is decent quality stuff - Deda bars and stem with a Richey seatpost.
To be honest these aren't bits that excite me that much, but the shallow drop on the compact bars suited me very well and you could easily choose your personal favourites.
The saddle was a Selle Italia Max Flite Gel Flow. Initially it was okay, but once the mileage went over 40 miles it was just way too hard, so I swapped it out for my regular Brooks.
Listing and commenting on the various components is all very well, but a bike at this price has to be more than just a dry spec list, it has to be on something that reaches in grabs your heart and makes you start planning epic rides, right? Although I love my trusty Dawes Century SE, which took me on LEL, the Alpine is faster, smoother and just plain nicer.
It's closer to being a race bike than a light tourer and it's an absolute blast to ride.
Fabulous bespoke steel road bike with real character
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Make and model: Hewitt Alpine Audax Frameset
Size tested: 55, green
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Columbus Life steel tubing
Shimano 105 STI levers, 50/34 chainset, front & rear mechs, 11-28 cassette
H-Plus SON rims, DT Swiss 350 hubs
Continental GP 4000 25c tyres
Shimano R650 brake callipers
Deda stem & bars
Selle Italia Max Flite Gel Flow saddle
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?
There's a clue in the name - this is a bike designed for long distances.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Very lovely indeed. Fillet brazing is available for an extra £100, but the finish on our TIG welded frame was very tidy indeed. The paint job, by Autostrada, is fantastic. It's thick, lustrous and very smart, especially with the (optional) white panels.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Columbus Life steel tubing is used for the frame. It's light, strong and has been built into a stiff and responsive bike which remains comfortable. The fork is generic carbon, there's not much to say about it in isolation, but the bike rides like a dream.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Despite this being a custom built bike, the geometry isn't exotic or unusual although the seat tube is 75.5 degrees rather than 74, to free up some extra space on the saddle rails for a Carradice Bagman support.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The virtual top-tube length is 53.4cm rather than the more usual 54cm. I normally ride 54cm frames, but they can be ever so slightly long. The sizing and fit of the Alpine was, unsurprisingly, absolutely spot-on.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Very comfy indeed. In part because of the precise fit (although this is only ever a work in progress) but also because of the forgiving nature of the frame and the wide rims, which maximise the comfort available from 25mm tyres.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
For long distance riding you don't want a bike so stiff that it beats you up, but nor do you want one so soft that it wastes valuable energy. The Alpine is a perfect compromise between the two, thanks to the combination of frame and tyres.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
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? It's quite lively, although not as twitchy as a full-on racing bike.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Sharper and more nimble than a light touring bike, but not as twitchy as a full race machine.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Although the tyres are nominally 25m, the H-Plus SON rims are very wide, which means that the tyres have an effective width closer to 28mm. That translates into a very smooth ride. On the other hand, the saddle was rock hard after more than forty miles and was quickly swapped for my usual Brooks.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
I wasn't absolutely sure about the wheels - there was definitely some brake rub when honking up steep climbs, but I'm a sturdy lad (80kg) so that's not entirely surprising. I'd be interested to try out some lighter, stiffer, race wheels to see if they make a difference, but I wouldn't want to change the way the bike rides.
As an audax bike there's inevitably a trade-off between outright stiffness and comfort, but the Alpine gets it just right.
The wheels aren't especially light, but it responds well when asked.
Very good, even when slamming the brakes on to dodge suicidal squirrels on a sketchy descent.
Climbs very well but I wonder what effect lighter wheels would have.
Full 105 is pretty faultless.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
For a bike which is going to have a hard life, 105 is a good compromise. It's reasonably light, pleasant to use and should last. Lighter (and much more expensive) components wouldn't be at all out of place though. The only thing I don't like about 105 is the exposed mechanism underneath the hoods, which occasionally chafed my middle finger.
Not light, but the bike rides beautifully.
Conti GP4000s are fast, but more fragile than Gatorskins.
Semi deep-section rims look great, but add weight.
Wide rims maximise the comfort available from 25mm tyres.
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?
I honestly don't known whether I'd change the wheels - taking the bike as the sum of it's parts I'd keep them. It's fantastic to ride, climbs well and shifts when you push hard. However, there's no getting away from the fact that the wheels are on the heavy side and lighter wheels would be faster, but possibly to the detriment of the ride quality.
105 hoods have exposed mechanism on their underside, which can rub.
105 is a good compromise between performance and value.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Hell yes!
Would you consider buying the bike? Definitely. In fact, I pretty much have.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Definitely.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
You could easily buy lighter and cheaper, but few bikes will have the class, character and ride quality of custom steel.
Age: 42 Height: 5' 8 Weight: er....85kg
I usually ride: Kona Dew Drop, Dawes Century SE, Carlton Corsa My best bike is: Guess SC1 scandium
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, Audax and long distance solo rides