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Mason has established a strong reputation for high-quality bikes over the years, and somehow with this SLR it has managed to push the boundaries even further yet again. The SLR is a truly impressive machine, beautifully created and finished, while offering a stunning blend of performance and ride quality. In my opinion it's faultless and it should be a shoo-in for our best steel road bikes buyer's guide.
A steel all-road and touring bicycle is how Mason describes the new SLR and I think it encapsulates everything that's great about a modern metal bike, with a passing nod to past tradition.
But there is nothing historic about the way Mason's SLR rides. The ride quality is downright excellent thanks to the custom tubeset, and even with this build, which includes an electronic groupset, hydraulic disc brakes and full mudguards, it still feels nimble, responsive and involving for its 9.9kg weight.
Breaking it down, the SLR is designed with big rides in mind whether loaded or loaded, and it's here that it really excels.
The geometry is backed off a touch from what you'd expect to find on an endurance road bike, which means it is a lovely bike to live with when you just want to sit back and enjoy the scenery.
A reassuring level of neutrality in the steering keeps things calm whether you are on unknown roads or when fatigue is kicking in. You'll get no surprises from the front end even on poor road surfaces or when straying away from the tarmac.
With tyre clearances as large as the SLR can accommodate you aren't restricted to the road either. It's a capable machine on other surfaces, and while due to the slick tyres fitted here, I didn't venture far away from hardpacked surfaces often, on light gravel sections or firm mud and grass the SLR tracks with confidence, allowing you to respond without overreacting.
The wheelbase length also adds to that planted feel, along with the fork rake and bottom bracket height. Basically, everything works very well together in unison.
That doesn't change with the bike loaded up either. With a large bar bag fitted, and a 12-litre saddle pack stuffed full of essentials, the way the SLR behaved didn't change much at all. The steering was a little heavier, but never lost any of its directness.
A lot of this comes down to the feedback afforded by the frameset which lets so much information pass through from the road thanks to the tubeset and full carbon fork.
Even with the tyres pumped up to my hard preference, that feedback isn't muted by endless vibration and road buzz.
The SLR has an extremely supple frame and fork, which really exploits the qualities of the latest steel alloys. The 'steel feel' is often bandied around, but just like any material, you can only exploit those qualities if you know what you are doing with it.
It's not just the responsiveness of the ride that is dictated by the tubing, it's also the comfort.
True, tyre width and pressure have a big bearing on comfort, but they can't mask a poor frame. Run the pressures too low to hide harshness then you lose the involvement of the bike, which you will want to maintain if you're a keen rider. Even on a bike like SLR with no racing aspirations, you'll still want to feel a part of the package, and you truly do.
Having no racing aspirations doesn't mean that the Mason isn't a quick bike. It'll still respond to a kick of the pedals especially when you are already rolling along, and it is no slouch on the climbs either.
Stiffness has also been considered with a tapered head tube and a beefy bottom bracket shell meaning that the SLR has some get-up-and-go when you are out of the saddle, not something that is true of all bikes of this ilk.
I also rode the Mason unladen with a set of 700c carbon wheels and 32mm tyres – this dropped a few grams and showed that the SLR has some get-up-and-go if you want it to.
Descending is also a joy. For the type of riding it is intended for, the SLR still feels relatively quick in the bends and the geometry helps you push on quicker than you'd expect thanks to a feeling of stability and poise.
This gives confidence in the wet too.
Overall, from a ride point of view the SLR is a massively versatile road machine that gives the comfort and confidence of a big-mile tourer, with the fun of something much quicker.
That excellent ride quality and refined comfort I've banged on about is achieved by a custom shaped and formed tubeset manufactured by Dedacciai, which has received a phosphate anti-corrosion coating and that is made exclusively for Mason.
All the various tube shapes and profiles are in place to provide the attributes needed for their position, whether that's for stiffness or comfort, or in some cases both.
Due to relatively narrow profiles of many steel tubes, oversized head tubes (the SLR has a 1 1/8in to 1.5in) and chunky carbon fork legs can often look out of place, but I don't think that that is the case here.
This frame's down tube changes profile along its length, and the ovalised top tube has a purposeful look, making it more akin to aluminium alloy tube profiles – a modern twist to a 'retro' material.
Mason has specced a T47 bottom bracket shell, which is a standard we are seeing take traction on many new frames. In a nutshell it brings the size benefits of a press-fit system, but with the longevity and reliability of threaded mounting rather relying on the tight tolerances required between frame and bearing cups needing to be pressed together. Any gaps here will relate to water/dirt ingress and creaking.
The large diameter bottom bracket shell allows for the SLR to run all its hoses and cables through the shell without restriction as they pass into the chainstays.
The cable and hose entry points can use various blanking plates so that the frameset can use mechanical and electronic groupsets both in a wired or wireless set up while still retaining a smooth, aesthetically pleasing finish.
The rear dropouts also deserve plenty of focus. Due to the small surface area of chainstay and seatstay tubes once heat is applied, and then removed, keeping things perfectly aligned can be a challenge. The SLR's frame builders describe it as: 'Steel bikes are alive when heating and cooling.'
Also, if you have ever met Dom Mason, you'll know also that precision is still too vague a concept, with finishing requiring a precision precision approach.
So, the solution: a TiltShift precision-aligned UK-made BEAR dropout design. The dropouts use a clockable stainless-steel insert that can be tweaked to enable absolute accuracy in alignment during fabrication, which means the frames don't require cold-setting after welding.
It's not just the frame that has seen Mason heavily involved in the tube design, as Mason has also completely designed the RangeFinder AR fork, which is full carbon fibre and comes with a tapered steerer.
Owning the moulds and designs means that Mason can manipulate the characteristics of the ride to suit the SLR's frame.
Both the frame and fork can accommodate 40mm tyres with mudguards fitted and 45mm without.
Exquisitely crafted and beautifully finished is a quick summary of the SLR's frameset, but as we've seen and ridden Mason's bikes in the past, we know that there is so much depth involved in achieving the finished product.
Mason uses different frame builders for different models, and for the SLR Mason has chosen to work with Cicli Barco in Italy.
This is a small family business that has built a large reputation for quality as shown by the TIG-welding on the pre-production SLR frame coated in a layer of Beeswax shown in the photo above.
This weld quality is continued throughout the entire frame, including all the tiniest details such as the cable ports, mounting points and dropouts.
Once coated in the luxurious paintjob and lacquer the tube junctions appear virtually seamless with the whole frameset representing a piece of art, one that would look just as stunning hanging on a wall as it does when built up with components.
Having a bike that looks the business is one thing but for a bike designed for covering big distances, versatility and attention to detail are key, and Mason definitely hasn't scrimped on the number of mounting options.
As you'd expect on a bike of this ilk there are mounting points for full mudguards. Mason hasn't positioned them in the traditional dropout position on either the frame or fork, so if you are fitting them yourself, you'll need to fettle the mudguard stays before fitting.
Their position works very well aesthetically, though, and it keeps the stays clear of the brake callipers or rotors.
Rack mounts are also included on the frame and fork, there are three bottle mounting positions, a chain pip for holding the chain while the rear wheel is out, internal dynamo routing through the top-tube for front and rear lighting, plus a pump peg for holding a full-size frame pump under the top tube.
When it comes to the geometry it's impressive to see a range of eight sizes, large for what is essentially a small production scale.
Across the 2XS to 3XL sizing you'll find effective top tube lengths of 516.5mm to 607.8mm when taking into account the sloping nature of the tube.
As you'd expect, the numbers are slightly more relaxed than those found on the more road-orientated Mason Definition that I reviewed, but not by a massive amount, which is why the SLR still has that fun and lively ride characteristic.
For the 54cm medium model tested here you are looking at a 550.3mm top tube, 165mm head tube and a seat tube length of 540mm.
The head angle is 70.5°, and 73.5° for the seat tube. The overall wheelbase is 1,033.5mm, while the bike has a stack and reach of 588mm and 374.3mm respectively.
At the time of writing the SLR is available as a frameset for £2,150, in a Campagnolo Ekar 1x build for £4,375 or this SRAM Force eTap AXS build for £5,200.
Force sits below SRAM's flagship Red groupset but shares much of its performance and quality albeit at a lower price point.
The biggest benefits over for me over Shimano or Campagnolo's road groupsets are the chainring sizes. Whereas the smallest offering from both of those (not including gravel groupsets) is 50/34T SRAM offers Force in the 48/35T set up seen here.
When paired with the 12-speed 10-33T cassette you get a huge spread of gears, and useable ones at that.
Even on a bike like the SLR I rarely dropped out of the large chainring, only calling on the smaller one when loaded up or on the steepest of climbs.
The 35x33 lowest gear still gives a low enough gear for hauling yourself up tough hills even on tired legs while the 48x10 top end allows you to still have a gear to push against when slipstreaming HGVs bouncing off their speed limiters – it's a win-win.
The eTap shifters have just one button on each, the right (usually, although you can customise your set up via an app) drops the chain from the largest to the smallest sprocket, while the left-hand shifter takes it back up. Push both together and the chain will move to the chainring that is currently sat neglected.
It's a simple setup to get your head around and I found the shifting quick and crisp across the range while the battery life on the front and rear mech isn't really something you need to religiously keep an eye on unless you are off on an adventure.
The hydraulic braking is very good too, with loads of power and huge amounts of modulation.
Whether loaded or unladen you won't be wishing for more stopping power, or control when on lose surfaces.
For the front-end Mason has specced Deda's Zero100 aluminium stem and handlebar, both of which match the frame's overall finish.
The Deda bar has a relatively shallow drop, which suits the SLR's geometry and allows you to use the drops without ending up in too low a position that would be comfortable over long rides.
The seatpost is Mason's own Penta, a carbon fibre post with an aluminium cradle that is easy to adjust to get that Fizik Tempo Argo R3 saddle in position.
Mason also provides its Macro alloy seatclamp.
Mason has had a strong partnership with Hunt Wheels right from the start, so it's no surprise to see a set of Hunt's Allroad Disc 650b wheels on our test bike.
They are a solid set of wheels that coped easily with transitions from riding on the road to hardpacked gravel tracks without any issues. Even on the rougher surfaces there were no issues with trueness or durability, and while tough they are also light enough that they didn't hamper acceleration or climbing on the SLR.
I found them to offer a supple and comfortable ride even when pumped up hard, giving great feedback and plenty of grip.
Ours were set up tubeless and the Barlows held onto their pressure well after a few miles of riding and spun the sealant enough to fully coat the inside of the tyres.
Rolling resistance felt minimal and I had no issues with their puncture protection even with the amount of hedge cutting going on around here.
It's worth noting that Mason offers a range of wheel and tyre options, so you can always spec this part of the SLR yourself.
It's easy to judge value on a bike's specsheet by looking at frame material and components, but on a bike like the SLR that only takes into account half of the picture.
With a £2,150 frameset price I think the SLR is sensibly priced when you consider it's a frame that has been hand-welded to a very high level in a small-batch environment; it's basically what you'd expect from a custom-built frame, but with off-the-shelf geometry.
It has similar tyre clearances to the SLR and uses a combination of Columbus and Reynolds tubing. As beautiful as it is, and I'm a huge fan of Enigma's build quality, it doesn't go to the same level of finish and detail as the SLR.
The Enigma has a frameset price of £2,077, with custom geometry adding £300 to that.
It uses Columbus triple-butted tubing mated to a full-carbon fork and offered a great ride quality. It is a gravel bike, so the geometry is more aimed at that, and it doesn't have the mounting options available of the SLR.
It will still set you back £1,499.99 for the frameset though, which when I think you compare the extra attention of detail in build and design of the SLR shows the Mason's price isn't extortionate.
Most of us buy with either our head or our heart, and whichever category you fall into if you take delivery of a Mason SLR, you will be incredibly satisfied. Either way, you'll end up with a piece of engineering excellence that looks absolutely stunning in the flesh, and every time you throw a leg over the top tube you will be truly stunned by the ride quality and the way it behaves.
Simply stunning from every aspect, thanks to exceptional ride quality and an attention to detail that sets it above the rest
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Mason SLR SRAM Force
Size tested: 54cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Shifting: SRAM Force AXS 12spd.
Chainset: SRAM Force AXS 12spd. 48/35
Chain: SRAM Force AXS 12spd. FlatTop
Braking: SRAM Force AXS HRD Flat-Mount 160mm
Tyres: Choice of premium Schwalbe & Continental Tubeless tyres. 30mm G-One Standard.
Cassette: SRAM Force XG-1270 10-33 12spd.
Wheels: MASON x HUNT AllRoad Disc wheels. Others available.
Handlebar: Deda Zero100 black on black. 126g.
Clamp: MASON Macro alloy ultralight.
Seatpost: MASON Penta carbon, microadjust.
Saddle: Fizik Tempo Argo R3.
Bar Tape: Mason Contact Tape.
Stem: Deda Zero100 black on 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?
Mason says: "The new MASON SLR steel bicycle is the result of our focus on ride quality, long-distance performance, and luxury grand-touring capabilities. A new chapter in Mason Cycles' obsession with high performance steel, designed in collaboration with one of the most skilled and established bicycle frame builders in Italy – Cicli Barco."
The SLR bike that has excellent ride quality for big adventures with exceptional attention to detail.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
This is currently the most expensive build offered on Mason's website with Campagnolo's Ekar sitting below. A frameset is also available.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Incredible build quality and finish.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Frame: SLR custom formed, TIG welded, Dedacciai Zero/Uno.
Fork: Mason Rangefinder AR custom-tuned, full-carbon, thru-axle fork with rack mounts.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry is more relaxed at the front end than you'd find on an endurance road bike, but still maintains a responsive edge for riding on firm surfaces.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
For this style of bike I'd say the stack and reach figures mentioned in the review are comparable to other bikes of this size.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The ride quality is excellent thanks to a well-designed tubeset.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Stiffness levels are absolutely fine. The SLR is responsive in the climbs without any noticable flex.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Power transfer is efficient, thanks of plenty of stiffness around the bottom bracket area.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
A small amount with the mudguards fitted.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The steering is neutral, but still quick enough to be fun whether on the road or away from it. Loading the bike up doesn't massively change the handling charachteristics either.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The large-volume tyres can be used to increase comfort.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Hunt's wheels offered plenty of stiffness, as did the SRAM Force carbon cranks.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The useable spread of gears from the Force groupset helps efficiency at both ends of the ratios.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The spread of the gears on offer from the Force groupset works well with the ride intentions of the SLR.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
A solid set of wheels from Hunt that are light enough to work on the road, while durable enough to cope with off-road trails.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
Impressive grip and rolling resistance from the tyres which exploited the handling of the SLR.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The Deda kit matches the quality of the rest of the bike while the aluminium handlebar is an arguably more reliable option for journeys into the wilderness than a carbon fibre option.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Considering the small batch, hand-built design of the SLR the frame is competitively priced, especially when you look at all of the design details included. It works out similar to the hand-built Enigma mentioned in the review.
Use this box to explain your overall score
I literally cannot fault the SLR. The build quality and finish is to the highest level and the way it rides is stunning, thanks to a well-designed tubeset and geometry. Even the price can't be criticised with all things considered.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 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,
As part of the Tech Hub here at F-At Digital, our senior product reviewer Stu uses the knowledge gained from putting well over a 1,000 products through their paces (including hundreds of bikes) to write in-depth reviews of a huge range of kit. After first throwing his leg over a race bike back in 2000, Stu's ridden more than 160,000 miles on road, time-trial, track, and gravel bikes, and while he's put his racing days behind him he still likes to smash the pedals rather than take things easy. Although, as he spends a fair bit of his time reviewing ebikes these days he's becoming an expert in letting the motor take the strain. He's also waiting for 23mm race tyres to make a comeback!