Tokyo Fixed's new Road Rocket lives up to its name, delivering a fast and lively ride with a very nicely finished steel frame that is an serious debut into high-end road cycling market for the London shop.
With quick handling, fast riding, comfortable on the longer rides with a decent dose of stiffness for spirited riding, the Road Rocket is a very interesting and well executed road bike from the shop that should no longer be known as just as fixie specialist. They do road bikes now too.
Steel, once the only choice of frame materials for bicycles, had until very recently fallen by the wayside when it comes to performance bikes with the advent of more advanced materials like aluminium, carbon fibre and, to an extent, even titanium. But there will always be a special place in the heart of discerning cyclists (or just space in their sheds) for a high quality steel bike.
So it's always good to see new steel frames coming to the market and when London bike shop Tokyo Fixed showed their new Road Rocket earlier this year, we were straight on the phone to arrange a test ride.
Run by Max Lewis, Tokyo Fixed has become one of the coolest bike shops in London. Inside the shop is a dizzying array of bike products hanging from every available inch of wall space, everything from exquisite track frames to fully built Enigma titanium road bikes to all manner of bags, clothing and helmets. And shelves stacked with books, pedals, lights. You could spend hours in here and still not unearth all the gems they offer.
It's clear then that Max, and the staff who run the shop, are extremely passionate about cycling and bringing the coolest products to the cycling consumer. Part of their plan for growth is offering own-brand frames, as an expression of their love for the two-wheeled sport.
While it might be easy to pigeonhole Tokyo Fixed as a fixie specialist, that wouldn't be fair to them. Yes most of their frames up until now have focused on fixed wheel riding, they've ambitions far beyond this realm. The new Road Rocket is a sure sign of their intentions.
Max has a clear eye for style and fine taste in tubesets. He handpicked three tubesets from renowned tubing manufacturer Columbus: Spirit, Keirin and MAX.
These three tubesets combine to create a stiff yet comfortable road bike. MAX tubing for the chainstays and downtube, which contributes to the stiffness the frame so clearly provides when you press on the pedals. A thinner Keirin top tube is used and the remainder of the frame is Spirit. The combination of thinner and fatter tubes gives the Road Rocket undeniably elegant proportions.
Choosing the three tubesets in this manner gives the bike a good balance of stiffness and comfort. Comfort is one of steel's virtues. The inherent flex of the material allows a small degree of 'give' which over rough roads can lead to a comfortable ride. Beefing up the downtube and chainstays stiffens the frame in the two key areas that are subject to the high forces at play during hard pedalling - out of the saddle climbing and sprinting - forces that can cause steel frames to twist and deform.
Furthermore, the MAX tubes are ovalised and tapered along their length and the triple butted downtube is a whopping - for steel anyhow - 40.3mm at its fattest point. Bigger tubes also mean bigger junctions at the head tube and bottom bracket.
Closer inspection shows that the frame is very finely put together. Small welds at the junctions between tubes are neat and tidy. The paint finish too is glorious, though I'm personally not a huge fan of the slightly dull grey finish. Like saddles, paint colour is a personal thing.
Decals are kept on the quiet side with just the downtube and head tube decals. Cable guides for the front and rear mech are welded to the down tube with integrated cable adjusters. The rear brake is routed along the left side of the top tube.
Weight for a bare 56cm frame is a claimed 1.7kg (3.7lbs). That's about on the money for a steel frame. With the bike on the scales with our sample Shimano Ultegra build kit an all-up weight of 8kg (17.6lb) is very good. So good in fact that it's lighter than some carbon bikes I've ridden this year. Still think steel is heavy?
For the fork, Tokyo Fixed wisely opted for a model from Columbus to keep the frame and fork package Italian throughout. The Minimal fork is made from carbon fibre and weighs 360g with a 1 1/8in straight through steerer. You won't find any tapered head tubes here thank you very much.
Tokyo Fixed offer the Road Rocket in five sizes. Geometry for the 56cm features a 73.5 degree head tube and 74 degree seat tube with a 14.3cm head tube.
Tokyo Fixed will sell you the frame (£775) or a frame and fork package (£900) or with a choice of Shimano Ultegra (£2,400) or SRAM Rival (£2,250) and Force (£2,450) build kits.
I tested the Shimano Ultegra build, which included a smart Easton EA50 handlebar, stem and seatpost. Easton kit is really good stuff and though EA50 isn't their fanciest offering, it's solid and dependable kit and doesn't do too badly on the scales. I found the handlebars too wide but bar width is very much a personal thing.
The wheels are a highlight, coming as they do from Strada. The West Sussex-based wheelbuilder has a good reputation for building nice wheels and the Velocity A23, which use their own rims on their own design hubs with Sapim CX spokes, complemented the frame and fork beautifully. It's nice to see no corners have been cut in the build; speccing a £500 wheelset is a very smart decision that will pay off in the long run for potential customers.
With a quick engaging freehub and a light and crisp feeling over my usual training roads, they're a smart choice. Onto the rims were fitted a pair of Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX 23mm tyres - though they list Continental GP4000 tyres on their website.
A comfortable Fizik Arione saddle completes the build kit.
There's something in the way the Road Rocket rides, the way it floats along the road, that is a reminder that there is still very much a place for steel in this world of high-tech carbon fibre and computer-designed aerodynamic bikes.
Steel, and in particular the Road Rocket, offers a ride that is well balanced between stiffness and comfort. It's never going to compete with a well designed carbon frame when it comes to sprinting for road signs, but it runs them very close.
The handling lets what is otherwise a very sorted frame down. The steering is extremely light and there's a high degree of front wheel flop when even making small steering adjustments. It's most obvious when out of the saddle, sprinting or climbing.
The reason for this fast steering is the geometry. The Road Rocket has a fork rake of 45mm. This influences trail, which is the distance from the centre of the contact patch between the tyre and the road, and an imaginary line drawn straight through the steering axis (the head tube) to the road. The Road Rocket's trail is 53mm. Less trail gives a bike faster handling and more trail increases the stability.
After some time on the Road Rocket I learned to live with it, as you soon adjust your riding response to the quickness of it. However, having ridden several other test bikes since the Rock Rocket went back I'm reminded just what well dialled geometry feels like. The Road Rocket isn't that dialled.
Some may prefer slightly faster handling. But it's not for me. Which is a shame because I really wanted to love the Road Rocket. Everything it stands for, its British design and roots, flying the flag for steel, its looks even won me over. But I just couldn't grow to love its handling.
Ignoring the handling traits, Tokyo Fixed have designed an elegant, sublimely smooth and fast handling bike that will suit anyone who fancies a steel road bike. If you can overlook the quirky handling, the Road Rocket is worthy of consideration.
Elegant, sublimely smooth, fast - shading in to quirky - handling road bike
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Make and model: Tokyo Fixed Road Rocket
Size tested: 56
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
With the Road Rocket we went ahead and indulged by designing our dream road frame. We have used our favorite tubing (Columbus MAX chain stays and down tube, Spirit seat tube and head tube and a skinny Spirit Keirin top tube & seat stays) to deliver performance in all the right places. The Spirit tubing is known as the lightest tubing in the Columbus range. The MAX tubing used is famed for its stiffness when you put the power down. The down tube has an oval shape which hugs the head tube vertically and hugs the bottom bracket horizontally, matched with colossal chain stays, the result is a speed machine with minimal bb and head tube flex.
The Road Rocket is a credible contender against titanium and carbon frames with all the comfort and durability steel brings.
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?
Tokyo Fixed was born in Tokyo and bred in London. The hearts of our bikes are in our London store where we do what we love; build custom bikes. We have used our extensive experience from dealing with the finest cycle brands to produce a range of beautifully crafted and classically inspired steel frames.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The three Columbus tubesets are elegantly combined with smooth and neat welds and finished with a smart paint job.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The Road Rocket uses Columbus Spirit, Keirin and MAX tubesets.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Geometry is a touch steeper than the norm for faster handling, with a 73.5 degree head tube and 74 degree seat tube.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The Road Rocket measured up well with the 56cm offering a good fit. Five sizes are offered from 51 to 59cm.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Steel offers a unique ride feel and this was apparent in the Road Rocket.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The MAX downtube and chainstays give the frame just enough stiffness to not take away from the comfort of the bike and made it fun and fast to ride.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
For a steel bike yes.
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? The steering was a touch on the fast side
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling was generally very good, but I found the steering a touch on the fast side and it does take some getting used to.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I was impressed with all of the components, especially the fine Strada wheels - a real highlight.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
I had to change for a longer stem, and I would have preferred a narrower handlebar.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? Possibly.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Perhaps.
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67
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, mtb,
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.