The name of the first model released by Bristol's Snowdon Bikes is apt – the Paradox. It doesn't look it, but it'll take many a drop-bar carbon whippet to the cleaners. And your lower back will thank you.
Founder Tim Snowdon has partnered with Enigma Bicycle Works in the South Downs to deliver this UK-made titanium beauty. Several friends own Enigmas, and this outsourced frame is every inch up to the company's usual standards. What Snowdon brings to the party is insight into the customer's mind, and in my view he's nailed it.
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Not everyone wants or needs drop bars. For some it's health reasons – maybe arm, shoulder or back issues prevent placing a lot of weight forward. Perhaps they want a more upright stance for dealing with traffic, or neck issues come to the fore with more bent-over positions. Maybe they just want to enjoy the view, or prefer thumb/grip shifters...
Because drop bars protrude much further forward, typically 60-70mm over a flat bar, a bike designed for them has to have a commensurately shorter top tube-stem length to maintain the same forward lean and to not handle like it's afloat. Fundamentally, you can't just bung a flat bar on a bike designed for drops and vice versa, and expect sensible results. You need something fit for purpose.
The Paradox answers all these needs, but with absolutely no compromise to the rarified air of the high-end titanium custom road bike build. Sublime weld quality aside, the smaller triangles and use of a large and subtly-bi-ovalised down tube and hourglass chainstays mean this is a bloody fast bike, period.
To get hold of a Paradox (frame only) you start by signing up to £1,850 of spend and then wait two to three months, as each is made to order. You can have pretty much any spec, from Shimano Di2 to SRAM 1X (tested) and everything in between, including triple chainsets.
For an extra £290 you can specify your own geometry, and for another £40 you can ask for rack/mudguard mounts in the place of your choosing. At the same time you can negotiate disc mounts (£undefined), but that will add weight. Likewise, you can go for matt or gloss logos instead of decals, but that will hit you a further £140.
So to fully load a Paradox frame you're looking at £2,320 (or more for discs).
But the important question is, how does it ride?
On the medium frame I tested the svelte 27.2mm carbon seatpost sat a whopping 25cm clear of the collar once set up right, meaning there was a ton of comfort on offer to soak up Hampshire Highway's worst. Technically I should have just been on a large, but that only adds 2cm to the seat tube, so there would still have been 230mm of carbon post sticking out to filter the road noise.
Snowdon recommends 28mm tyres as your limit, or 25mm if you want to fit full mudguards. The supplied 28mm Schwalbe Pro Ones (set up tubeless for this test) actually measure 30mm on the tested Prolite rims, with 2.5mm clearance either side at the chainstays, so you have about 35mm to play with. No, you'll not get a full mudguard installed if running a tyre that fat – I used the excellent SKS Raceblade Pro during the test to stay clean and dry. With 30mm of tubeless tyre underneath grip was never an issue, nor was there any trace of flex or inefficiency anywhere betwixt road and pedals/bar. Put bluntly, this is one of the snappiest bikes off the line I've ever ridden. Stomp>GO!
This is the first flat-bar bike I've reviewed through the prism of someone addicted to going fast in an aero position on drops. I must confess I thought I'd be concluding it would be nice for a nippy commute or for those with chronic back issues. After the first hour I realised I was being schooled in how not to underestimate based on cockpit arrangement – if you pull up to the lights or the start of a descent alongside a Paradox, more fool you if you think it's going to be an easy win.
Fundamentally it rides like what it is – a high-end titanium frame designed to offer relief from harsh road surfaces with its ample seatpost (think Giant TCR geometry), yet is stiff where it counts around the bottom bracket and chainstays to give the feeling of effortless acceleration.
The front end feels perfectly planted carving through fast corners, once you adjust to the feel of the flat bar and a stem probably a few inches shorter than what I'd usually run. Flat bars offer very limited hand positions, and on the test bike this wasn't helped by carbon-bling bar ends that were so slick as to be borderline risky on all but the smoothest of surfaces. But after a few hours and around 800m of fast descending I knew the handlebar arrangement wasn't holding me back.
Out in the North Hampshire Downs I equalled a five-year-standing personal best time on my go-to twisty singletrack road descent – 59 seconds at 54kph, besting times I've set on £5k disc-braked drop-bar carbon rocketsleds fitted with semi-compact chainsets. This matters because I'd pretty much run out of gears on the SRAM Force 1X 42T system and was in a tuck skimming the freshly-trimmed hedgerows.
The massively cowled rear dropouts mated to dead-straight seatstays provide a ton of rear-end stiffness, allowing you to fine-tune the feel of the bike by altering tyre pressure or model.
Comparing segments headed up, down or on the flat, the Paradox often had me close to or maybe only 5-10% behind my personal bests – most of which will have been set during Strava Sniping sessions, maybe while at the peak of training plans (which I am currently nowhere near), usually riding in optimal weather conditions or while drafting others.
> 12 of the loveliest titanium framed bikes
As any fule kno, Strava is utterly pointless except as a vanity mirror cum bike parts wear log, but for this purpose it represents a validation of what my heart was telling me: that the Snowdon Paradox is simply a bloody fast, light bike that will take a good thrashing while leaving you feeling refreshed.
Upright, fast and comfortable – a very good flat-bar option, if you have the cash
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Make and model: Snowdon Paradox
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
The Paradox uses Grade 9 3AL 2.5V Seamless Double Butted Titanium.
It is designed and hand built in England to the very highest standards and comes with a lifetime warranty (see terms and conditions).
The 42mm diameter down tube is bi-ovalised to 40x44mm where it meets the bottom bracket and head tube.
The dropouts are cowled to provide a large welding contact surface and increase lateral rigidity.
The large diameter chain stays are hourglass shaped for increased lateral rigidity.
Machined integrated 11/8 head tube.
English thread bottom bracket.
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?
It's a bike for people wanting a more upright, flat-bar position, but not wanting to compromise on weight, speed or, frankly, beauty.
The Paradox uses the marginal gains concept not just for speed, but also for comfort. Why is comfort important? Obviously you want to feel comfortable when riding, but smoothness also affects performance. Vertical vibrations rob you of momentum and reduce control, they also reduce your body's ability to deliver power efficiently. Remember you are the engine on a bike, if you are not working efficiently, then neither is your bike.
The need for speed
The frame can take up to 28mm tyres. Paradoxically, larger tyres (within reason) roll faster without adding significant extra weight. The smoother ride they offer preserves momentum by reducing vibration. Research shows that the 28mm Continental Grand Prix 4000S II rolls faster than either of its smaller siblings.
Large diameter chain stays that are 'hourglass shaped' increase lateral rigidity giving the bike superb climbing ability and acceleration.
Cowled dropouts further help create a laterally stiff rear triangle by providing a large weld and mitre area.
The finest Grade 9 3AL 2.5V Seamless Double Butted Titanium is renowned for lightness, and durability. Our frame weighs just 1350 grams but will last as long as you do.
Precisely mitred joints. Our tubes are precisely cut, allowing the welder to create a joint that is not only stronger but neater as well. This gives the frame that added snap when accelerating and a great ability to climb.
Subtle tube shaping of the main tube increases lateral stiffness. We do not overdo this.
560/600mm straight handlebars (particularly when used with bar ends) open up the rider's chest and enable them to breath deeper and thus take on more oxygen. This is particularly noticeable on the climbs. And every racer will tell you that races are won and lost on the climbs!
Titanium does not lose its performance over time, so your bike stays as fast as the day you bought it.
Overall rating for frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Cannot fault the frame finish. Exemplary.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Grade 9 3AL 2.5V Seamless Double Butted Titanium
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It's designed for flat bars – meaning it's a longer reach than a drop-bar bike, by a long way.
The standard frame can only be used with flat handlebars. We can make you a drop bar version, which is identical apart from having a shorter reach to allow for the extra length of these bars.
Sizing for a compact frame is less critical than a flat top tube frame but it is still important to get it right. The following sizes are available:
Approximate rider heights
XS 5'0' to 5' 4' 1.52m to 1.62m
S 5' 4' to 5' 7' 1.62m to 1.70m
M 5' 7' to 5' 10' 1.70m to 1.77m
L 5' 10' to 6' 1' 1.77m to 1.85m
XL 6' 1' to 6' 5' 1.85m to 1.95m
Custom frame geometry is available at an extra cost of £300. Please contact us to discuss a custom design.
Detailed geometry in millimetres
Size Effective Frame Seat Tube Top Tube Effective TT Chain Stays Head Tube Reach Seat Angle Head Angle Fork Offset
XS 52 419.0 533.2 553.3 412.0 135.0 399.3 74.5 71.0 45
S 54 439.0 549.6 573.0 412.0 154.4 408.2 73.5 71.5 45
M 56 459.0 568.9 593.0 412.0 175.0 422.7 73.5 71.5 45
L 58 479.0 585.6 613.0 412.0 194.4 432.0 73.0 71.5 45
XL 60 499.0 604.8 633.0 412.0 215.0 440.1 72.5 72.0 45
Medium frame weight is 1350g
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
For me, it felt right once the seat was set back a bit further (50mm) than I'd use on a drop-bar bike. The geometry overall is 'compact' – there's lots of seatpost on show to aid comfort.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Fast, while comfortable. Stiff in the right directions, forgiving in others. Just right.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
As above, just right.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, as borne out by my Strava times.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
No, not an issue even with my flippers.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? With the short stem, it was definitely 'lively' – I could have probably gone for another 20mm or so.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Overall I was impressed, engaging to ride – particularly downhill.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The stiff carbon seatpost kept weight down, while having enough on show and being thin enough to aid comfort.
Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
Rate the bike for acceleration:
Up there with the best – stomp>go.
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
Curving into turns was a bunch of fun.
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
A longer stem would help here.
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
Rate the bike for climbing:
The weight and power transfer, plus open chest thanks to the wide flat bar make for great climbing.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Rate the bike overall for performance:
Rate the bike overall for value:
Use this box to explain your score
At not far shy of two grand for the frame alone, this isn't a cheap bike. That said, it's a bike for a specific need, and it should last you a lifetime. What price a life of comfort, speed and zero maintenance (frame-wise, anyway)?
Age: 43 Height: 183cm Weight: 72kg
I usually ride: Merida Ride 5000 Disc My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo-cross, club rides, general fitness riding, mountain biking, Dutch bike pootling
Joined up thinking, what is that?
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