The Pilgrims, an aluminium, disc brake-equipped road bike from British brand Bowman Cycles, offers a fast and characterful ride on the road but, provided you make use of the wide tyre clearance available, isn't restricted to the smooth stuff and will accommodate any desire to go exploring bridleways and countryside trails.
The aluminium frame, with its tapered head tube and enlarged profile main tubes, offers a crisp and alert ride. It's also very responsive, reacting instantly when you demand an increase in speed. It displays a noticeable get-up-and-go when you spin up the cranks, with definitely no lack of willing from the frameset.
The geometry, longer in the wheelbase and slacker angled than the company's Palace crit race bike, works a treat. It's great on the road, where it simply feels like a very good road bike, of a similar mould to the Cannondale Synapse or Giant Defy, but with space for wider tyres than either of those two bikes.
Take it away from the road and into the woods, and it pops and boosts along the trail. The quick steering and hydraulic disc brakes allow plenty of fine control, and the front end has plenty of stiffness for being aggressive behind the handlebar. You can ride it like a cyclo-cross bike, but it's noticeably more stable over rougher ground and deals with obstacles better. The Pilgrims crosses ground, whether road or dirt, with no shortage of speed or pace.
Wider tyres give the Pilgrims the grip and traction to push further into the unknown, away from the confines of the road network. Sizing up from 23 to 30mm tyres makes a considerable, and very noticeable, difference to the Pilgrims' capability in exploring the many bridleways around where I live. Running the 27mm tyres at about 60psi provides a bit of necessary cushioning, to overcome the occasional tendency for the stiffness of the frame to become annoying on chattering surfaces. It simply doesn't have the refinement of a carbon fibre bike.
Best of all, because the Pilgrims' speed and performance isn't compromised on the road, I can link up these bridleways with my regular roads and inject a bit of variety to my rides without dragging a slow bike along the road.
Disc brakes make perfect sense on a bike like this. I've seen first hand just how good bikes like the Synapse and Defy have become with the addition of disc brakes. Discs allow generous tyre clearance (up to 35mm on the Pilgrims, wider than both the Synapse and Defy) but the geometry hasn't been compromised as a result. The discs provide the benefits of extra control, confidence and durability. Wider tyres and disc brakes, it's a great combination for British riding.
The Pilgrims frame follows the Palace, the company's debut model, in that it's also made from aluminium. This one gets a triple-butted 7005 frame, with stylish custom shaped tubes. The T-shaped top tube, curved and tapered head tube, profiled down tube and wide, flattened seatstays give the Pilgrims a muscular appearance.
Cable routing is internal on the main frame, with modular ports that will accept any current groupset configuration, including hydraulic disc brakes. The cables to the rear mech and rear brake pop out at the bottom of the down tube and route along the underside of the BB86 press-fit bottom bracket and along the chainstays. Here Bowman has invested great effort to ensure the cable/hoses are carefully pegged in place with a very neat cable routing device. Simple and does the job.
The rear dropouts are most generously described as looking very purposeful. The rear brake calliper is mounted on the chainstay, the now default location for disc brakes on road frames. The frame will take mudguards and Bowman has developed its own 3D printed mudguard attachments (we've just taken delivery of a set and will do a feature of these in a future article) which means the frame and fork can be fitted with traditional full-length mudguards. The frame takes 32mm tyres with mudguards fitted.
Bowman has developed its own carbon fibre fork, with a regular quick release and external cable/hose routing. The Genesis Datum I tested earlier this year had a very tall cyclo-cross-inspired fork, with generous tyre/mudguard clearance but creating a very high handlebar position. Bowman has gone for a shorter fork and less tyre clearance (but still takes a 35mm), but it does mean the position and fit is more akin to a road bike. The Datum benefited from thru-axles, and that's something I'd like to see Bowman look at for a future update.
The Pilgrims is offered in a painted or anodised finish. The frame tested here is a 56cm black anodised. On the scales the frame is 1,563g and the fork (uncut steerer tube) is 412g. The complete bike as pictured weighs 8.2kg (18.08lb). That's with a SRAM Rival 1 hydraulic disc drivetrain, new 3T Discuss wheels with 27mm Challenge Paris-Roubaix tyres and inner tubes, 140mm Shimano rotors, a 3T carbon handlebar and seatpost, USE stem and Fabric saddle. (I also ran it with Stan’s NoTubes wheels and Schwalbe tyres, as photographed.) It's reasonably spendy but not extravagant, and I reckon you could probably go sub-8kg if you made some careful component choices.
Bowman may be a small company but with the Pilgrims it outguns more expensive rivals from established bicycle companies pushing into the rapidly growing disc brake-equipped 'roadplus' market. It pushes the highly regarded Defy and Synapse very close, and bests them with wider tyre clearance. And at £750 for the frameset, it's one of the least expensive options, though it does mean you have to assemble the bike yourself, or pay for a bike shop to do it for you. That aside, the Pilgrims is a splendid example of the new breed of disc brake road bikes that really suit UK cyclists looking for an affordable, versatile and durable option.
Latest Bowman aluminium frameset impresses with versatility and affordability
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Make and model: Bowman Cycles Pilgrims
Size tested: 56cm
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Bowman says: "Open your riding up to new adventure. Passing roadside paths and trails we query, 'Where does that go?' Quash the curiosity with extra tyre clearance and RoadPlus geometry that allow you to make your own tracks. On the black stuff the same geometric tweaks makes for rock solid descending and year round, mile crunching dependability."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Triple Butted, Custom shaped, 7005 – T6 Aluminium frame
Tough anodised or painted finish
Full carbon-monocoque, 1:1/8th-1.5' steerer, disc specific fork
CNC finished, Tapered, headtube
Clearance for 33-35c tyres
Full mudguard compatibility with removable – 3D printed -Guard Bridge and Fork
PF86 bottom bracket shell
Modular Cable Routing – full mechanical and Di2 / EPS compatibility
FlatStay compliant seat stays
27.2 seatpost for improved comfort
FSA, #42 ACB headset (included)
Triple butted custom shaped 7005 aluminium frame with oversized main tubes and flattened seatstays, and a carbon fibre fork with a tapered steerer tube.
Very fast and fun bike with big tyre clearance and all the benefits of disc brakes.
I've been pounding over my regular roads and lots of bridleways and woodland tracks and it's taken all the punishment.
Just over 1,500g is on the money for this sort of aluminium frame and you can build an 8kg bike with some decent kit.
The Pilgrims needs bigger volume tyres at a lower pressure to help cushion the ride, because it is sometimes overly stiff on really rough roads.
Any quibbles about comfort or weight fade away when you look at the price – it's competitive.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
British designed, it's no wonder the Pilgrims works so well on British roads, with a decent turn of speed and the capability for tackling epic distance rides over a multitude of terrain.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Space for wide tyres and a lot of performance for the money.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The ride can be spoilt occasionally by the high level of stiffness in the frame.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
If you want a thoroughly modern disc brake-ready road bike designed in Britain for British roads and riding, but don't want to spend big, the Pilgrims gets a thumbs up.
About the tester
Age: 31 Height: 180cm Weight: 67kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
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: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.