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The Light Blue Wolfson Ultegra frame uses an absolutely beautiful Reynolds 853 steel tubeset that highlights exactly how good modern day steel alloys have become. Its fast, punchy, stiff character makes it huge fun to ride whether you're out for a quick blast or for the whole day.
The Light Blue brand has been around since 1895 when John Albert Townsend hand built cycles for the wealthy members of Cambridge University. Production ceased around the time of the First World War, but the brand remained within the Townsend family.
In 2006 it was resurrected by Ison Distribution, a company formed by Lloyd Townsend, and since 2009 The Light Blue has been working with Reynolds Technology, one of the most respected steel bicycle tube manufacturers in the world. The Wolfson is one of its latest creations.
You don't need to look at the spec sheet to understand the Wolfson is designed to be ridden fast. On our 53cm test model the head tube length is a mere 140mm which, when paired with an effective top tube length of 550mm, gives you a long and low position, great for getting aero and putting that power down.
Look a little closer, though, and you'll notice some mudguard mounts hidden away on the inside of the seatstays and fork legs. And the extended chainstays to make room for those full guards, resulting in a longer wheelbase than any race bike.
Pair these opposing factors with the steep seat angle of 74 degrees and the relaxed head angle of just 71.5 and things look just a little mixed up. But we've seen geometry numbers like this before , on the Mason Resolution, and the results are just the same when it comes to the Wolfson: a fast bike that likes to be ridden hard and chucked into the bends like a race machine, but with the added stability of that longer footprint bringing more confidence on tricky road surfaces and technical descents.
It's a wonderful package that really allows you to get your head down and keep your average speed high as you just maintain pace wherever you are riding. You lose the slight edge on speed and acceleration over a full-on race bike, but as the distances increase you can start to claim it back bit by bit, especially as the Reynolds frame is so comfortable, keeping you sharper for longer without fatigue.
The inherent plushness of the steel tubes is there, just taking the edge off the bumps and ripples in the tarmac – as if the bike has been covered in a little layer of velvet – though the 853 tube choice has resulted in a very stiff machine.
Acceleration is brisk. Okay, the whole bike comes in at 8.69kg (19.1lb) but absolutely nowhere does it ever feel this heavy, and a cheeky stamp on the pedals will even see the front end lift off the ground a couple of millimetres.
The bottom bracket shell may look tiny in comparison to the likes of the BB86 compatible junctions found on the latest carbon machines, but boy does it lay down the power, whether from a standing start or just an increase in speed. The Wolfson responds to having its neck wrung; get out of the saddle and give it some stick and it'll really shift, with those long chainstays stopping the rear wheel from squirming about underneath you.
Climbing highlights the same thing, the Wolfson liking a bit of out-of-the-saddle action, especially on short, sharp inclines. Again that overall weight doesn't feel like it's troubling you one bit.
Descending is a joy. The Wolfson feels so planted that it inspires huge confidence to push into the bends, helped by the specced Schwalbe Durano tyres. Considering these are basically training tyres, they offer huge levels of grip and low rolling resistance.
Long, flowing bends are where the Wolfson really excels, with the front end just loading up nicely as you adjust your bodyweight and tip the bike in, the rear tracking the front and the bike feeling like an extension of you rather than something you're sitting on. On the smallest two sizes (50 and 53) the fork offset – how far forward the front wheel axle is from the steering axis – has been increased from 45mm to 50mm, shortening the trail figure a touch (trail is the distance between the point where the steering axis would hit the ground and the actual tyre contact patch) and keeping the steering on the quick side. (See here for more explanations of cycling terms.)
Direction changes are smooth, with the bike being easy to lift from one lean angle to the opposite without bother. The non-tapered head tube and fork steerer means the steering isn't quite as sharp as some of the competition, evident on the tighter bends and under braking, but it's marginal and I'd rather sacrifice that and keep the traditional steel lines of the frame with its external headset.
When you just want to get on and cover the miles, that comfort again is the defining factor. Working alongside the tubes is the seatpost. It might be alloy rather than carbon, but there's plenty of the 27.2mm diameter post exposed because of the very compact frameset, promoting flex.
The riding position isn't too extreme, even with that relatively low head tube, and it would make a perfect fast audax machine. And the long top tube does let you drop out of the wind if necessary, especially when paired with a shallow drop bar like the Genetic Sportive specced here.
Whatever riding you're doing, the Wolfson works with you. It's one of those bikes that just feels right, and fun – yeah, most definitely fun.
Reynolds 853 isn't an off-the-shelf tubeset. According to its website there are 500 different tube choices, so the designer or framebuilder can really create a frame to give the characteristics they're after.
The Wolfson uses a bi-ovalised down tube for stiffness. At the head tube end it's ovalised, with the longest sides (so to speak) at the sides, giving a larger surface area for welding and strength to resist the forces from steering and braking. At the bottom bracket that's reversed, with the length being top and bottom for exactly the same reason, resisting twisting from the BB.
The top tube is oval too, but only in the same direction as the down tube at the head tube end.
The chainstays have got some meat on them and are probably the only sort of oversized tubes on the entire bike. They certainly do the job of transferring power.
So if it isn't massive tubes that are providing the stiffness, it must be the material itself. The tubes are drawn rather than rolled and welded, which means there is no seam for one thing, but they are also heat treated. That means the steel alloy is exposed to various temperatures to change its physical structure, which in the case of these tubes adds strength.
Reynolds 853 is also air-hardened, which according to Reynolds means strength can actually increase after cooling in air immediately after welding.
What does all this mean for the rider? That the tube wall thicknesses can be reduced to just 0.4mm in places, maintaining stiffness while shedding weight compared with lesser grades.
Keeping in line with its traditional looks, the Wolfson uses a standard English threaded bottom bracket and external headset. It may look old school but it all works, and replacement parts are easy to source.
As a nod to its all-weather intentions, the Wolfson runs a full outer rear brake cable which sits clipped below the top tube, a rather neat solution. You also get a replaceable rear mech hanger.
It's always great to see a full Shimano Ultegra groupset on any bike, and its super-smooth shifting certainly feels at home on the Wolfson. Gear selection is made up of a compact 50/34 chainset with an 11-speed 11-28 cassette at the rear. It's the perfect spread of gears for the type of riding the Wolfson is intended for – sportives, audax or fast club events – and the majority of riders shouldn't need to change a thing.
The gear changes are as snappy as ever thanks to the redesigned mechs, and those Teflon-coated Shimano cables really make a lot of difference.
One element of the Ultegra group is missing though, and that's the brake callipers, because deep drops were needed to accommodate mudguards. The Light Blue has specced Tektro Quartz R737s which are a little on the flexy side with hard compound pads. To say braking isn't the sharpest would be a bit of an understatement; they'd stop you but just really lack that bite and feel of modulation. I'd make an upgrade here.
The wheels are Halo Devauras, a mid-range set of alloy wheels with an rrp of £380, so none too shabby for a bike of this price. With a weight of 1695g (including the tubeless-ready rim tapes) they aren't the lightest for their price range, but just like the bike, overall they feel snappier and more alert than their book weight would suggest.
They use a wider than standard rim with an internal width of 19mm, which plumped the width of the Schwalbe Durano 25mm tyres out to 27.5mm, great if you like a bit more cushion in your ride. The Wolfson will take mudguards with these 25s as well, 28mm tyres without.
The wheels themselves stayed true throughout testing and unless you really want to fly up the hills they certainly wouldn't need upgrading. It's not often we say that about stock wheels.
The tyres, as I mentioned earlier, roll really well and offer massive amounts of grip, and thanks to the puncture protection belt are one of the best winter tyres out there. They certainly haven't punctured over the test period.
The components are from Genetic, and while they aren't anything flash they do the job and look pretty smart with their gloss black finish. Surprisingly the Wolfson came with a very short 100mm stem, though thanks to the bike's geometry it had no adverse effect on the steering.
On top of the seatpost is the Black Jack saddle from the beautifully named Gusset brand. Its narrow shape suited me, and while it has quite a bit of padding – not something I'm usually a fan of – I found it very comfortable for all types of riding.
The one sticking point I have with the Wolfson Ultegra is the rrp of the overall build. The frameset on its own is a bit of a bargain at £599.99 for an 853 frame and carbon fork, especially when you take into account how well it's finished and that amazing ride. But as far as the full build goes, if I had a bit of a browse I'm sure I could build the Wolfson with exactly the same components for a fair bit less.
The funny thing is, though, if someone had said to me it's 1800 quid all-in before I'd seen the pricing, I wouldn't have questioned it as I would have put the frame at a much higher price.
What a great bike to ride. The Wolfson is just so much fun. It's so composed that it'll really complement any riding style, whether you want to go on the attack or just take it out for a spin in the lanes.
The handling really stands out, as does the comfort, which makes it a real contender if you want to do fast, long-distance rides. Mudguards offer just that little bit of all-round usage.
Yes, the brakes need changing, and maybe the pricing might need some looking at, but on the whole it does little to take the shine off.
Stunning Reynolds 853 steel-framed speed machine with confident handling and oodles of comfort
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road.cc test report
Make and model: The Light Blue Wolfson Ultegra
Size tested: 53cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Tig-welded Reynolds 853
Fork: Carbon with alloy steerer
Stem: Genetic SLR
Handlebar: Genetic Creed
Front Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra 6800
Rear Deraillieur: Shimano Ultegra 6800
Crankset: Shimano Ultegra 6800 50/34
Cassette: Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-28
STI Levers: Shimano Ultegra 6800
Brakes: Dual Pivot
Seatpost: Genetic Syngenic
Saddle: Gusset Black Jack
Wheels: Halo Devaura
Tyres: Schwalbe Durano 25c
Sizes: 50, 53, 56, 59 or 62cm
Colour: Cambridge Blue or Flat Black
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?
As The Light Blue says, the Wolfson is a "clean styled, lightweight, responsive, tig welded Reynolds 853 set-up...ideal for road riding and Sportive events.
"With fast handling, variable size sports geometry and offering suitable clearance for wider tyres and mudguards if required, utilising the concealed mounting points, the Wolfson is the weapon of choice for the modern man of steel.
"The frame features, custom Bi-oval 853 downtube to reduce lateral bottom bracket flex and improve power transfer to the rear wheel. Sloping top tube design allows comfortable bike set ups and rider position options. Lightweight, carbon bladed forks completes the ensemble."
It's a frame that is brilliant for the type of riding intended, a really quick bike with sporty handling while managing to be stable and comfortable too.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Tidy neat welds and a lovely, hard wearing paint job to finish things off. A real feeling of quality to the whole thing.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is made from Reynolds 853 air hardened steel tubing, Tig-welded. The fork comprises of an aluminium alloy steerer with carbon legs.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Long and low to create that racy position, though with a longer wheelbase than a race bike for more stability at speed.
Geometry table here - http://www.thelightblue.co.uk/Sport/5LB5WU50M/Wolfson-Ultegra
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
With a stack figure of 539mm (the vertical measurement from BB to top of the head tube) and a reach of 395.5mm (the horizontal measurement between those points), the Wolfson is very much in the 'racy' category. It's a bike to be ridden fast.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, that unmistakable steel ride quality is there when you first get on it, but once you've adapted you realise just how stiff the Wolfson is. It doesn't sacrifice comfort though.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes, considering the tubes look completely at odds with what we see on carbon bikes for stiffness, the slender framed Wolfson gives nothing away.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Really well, a very punchy ride.
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? Very responsive and really excels on those long swooping curves.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Really positive and confident going into the bends, especially at speed. The higher than normal fork offset of 50mm (most use around 45mm) paired with the slack head tube angle still keeps the steering quick and direct.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The Gusset Black Flag saddle is quite spongy, not something I normally get on with, but here it actually worked quite well. Comfortable for short or long rides.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The alloy Genetic components offer plenty of stiffness without being harsh.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The Schwalbe Durano tyres rolled well with impressive grip levels.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Shimano Ultegra is a brilliant groupset; what knocks the scores down to 8 here is the inclusion of the Tektro Quartz R737 brake callipers. Needed for their long drop to accommodate mudguards, but really lacking the bite of Ultegra callipers.
Wheels and 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?
The Wolfson is specced with Halo Devaura wheels and Schwalbe Durano tyres. Both work well and although neither are the lightest in their class or price range, they suited the spirit of the Wolfson really well. They are both robust and respond well to being ridden hard. Rolling resitance was impressive from the Duranos considering they are intended as a winter training tyre.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The Genetic components aren't anything flash but do a commendable job in terms of weight and performance.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
The Light Blue has specced a decent bike with each of the components complementing one other. You could go more bling if you wanted to drop the weight of the overall bike and the frame would take it.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? I would probably just go down the frameset route.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes, but I'd check the pricing.
Use this box to explain your score
The frameset on its own would get easily get a 9/10; it really is a beautiful frame to ride, highlighting everything that is great about modern steel alloys. The Wolfson is stiff, comfortable and really engaging, plus for an 853 frameset it offers very good value for money at £599.99.
As a complete build the brakes take the shine off a bit, but a simple remedy of an upgrade to the pads or even callipers wouldn't break the bank so it's not a deal-breaker. If you are looking to buy the full bike it might pay to check around, as you might be able to get the same spec for less.
On the whole, a beautiful, fun bike to ride.
About the tester
I usually ride: Kinesis T2 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
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!