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TESTED: Airborne Lancer

lancer

Since 1997 Airborne have been busy carving themselves a niche as manufactures of high quality yet affordable frames. They keep prices down by getting their frames built in the Far East, and the new Lancer is their cheapest titanium frame yet.

Frame and Fork

The £500 Lancer replaces the long running Valkyrie as the entry-level model, the Valkyrie now being focused on audax duties. Like some of its bigger brothers, the Lancer is constructed from 3AL/2.5V titanium, and the price is kept down by none of the tubes being butted. Attention has been given to the seat and chain stays, both curving gracefully throughout their length. GAMS (Graceful Arc Maximum Stiffness), an acronym given to the technonlogy employed in the stays, which in layman’s terms means the stays are curved, tapered and ovalised to increase lateral stiffness. All welding is very tidy and neat, and the seat stay bridge, cable stops and thick 7mm dropouts are all CNC machined.

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We’ve got to mention the frame decals, which are some of the best to have passed through the RCUK office, the glitter detail a particular nicety – design and image has been a priority for Airborne since their early days.

Holding up the front end, the Reynolds Ouzo Pro carbon forks matched the frame perfectly, nice and direct, although we occasionally felt – particularly on rougher backroads – that they could offer some more compliance to better match the smooth ride of the frame.

Wheels

We really like the Shimano 550 wheelset, and there really is nothing bad that can be said about them. Sure they could be a bit lighter, but considering their price they are a top budget performer they’d even match up nicely on a higher spec Ultegra 10 bike. They’re able to take loads of abuse around the rough London streets on our daily commute and always an important consideration, they look good. The Continental Ultra 2000 tyres they were wrapped in didn’t win many votes, we found them to be slow and draggy – an upgrade to Conti’s GP3000s would be a better racing option and would reduce the overall wheel weight, a good set of tyres makes a massive difference.

Components

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It’s a full deck of black Shimano 105 and as you’d expect there really is nothing to fault about 105, it just works. For those on a budget it’s perfect. 105 chainsets are available as either double or triple, ours came with double which works perfectly. The new 105 10 would be a great match although the all-black components look pretty stealth, we thought.

All the finishing kit comes with Airborne’s own Flyte brand stickered on the stem, handlebar, seatpost and saddle, all good value with a nice quality feel – we didn’t get on with the saddle though, but of course this is a personal thing. The bars and stem were oversize, as seems to be increasingly the norm, and the FSA Aheadset worked fine we also prefer the non-Integrated approach on a titanium frame, not only does it look more appropriate to narrower gauge tubes it also, arguably, works better.

Ride

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The word that sticks on our lips when trying to sum up the ride of the Lancer is reassuring. In high speed sprints and flicking through fast turns it felt stable and readily poised for another attack or a sudden change of direction. Even at lower speed it remained composed and confidently manoeuvred through traffic or tight turns, and never gave us cause for concern.

Tipping our scales at about 19lb, the Lancer isn’t particularly heavy, but weight could easily be shaved of, and the frame would certainly benefit from some lighter components. It climbed admirably, the stiff chassis ensuring all power was transferred into getting you up the hill, but we couldn’t help feeling how much better it would ride if only it were a few pounds lighter, something to bear in mind if you’re planning to build one up.

We were actually quite staggered that a bike with relatively plain tubing could feel so frisky. Usually a plain tubeset (most notably an aluminum one) does loose most of that spring and light feeling that butted bikes enjoy, but not so on the Lancer. The work on the rear end of the frame is impressive too and shows how far the Airborne welders have taken their titanium art. Compared to some far more expensive ti bikes of 5 years ago the Lancer is a quantum leap in construction technique. Which all raised a few discerning eyebrows, especially when you realise how cheap it is…

Conclusion

lancer

For the price, we whole-heartedly recommend the Lancer. As a frame only option it represents a fantastic platform to build your dream bike – OK it might not have the kudos of a high-end manufacturer, but we’re amazed to say that the modest Lancer happily competes against some of the more expensive titanium frames on the market. The Lancer also shows us how good bikes are these days, at all price points.

So for somebody desperate to get their hands on a titanium frame (and there are plenty of you) the new Lancer offers a wallet-friendly price, while still offering a ride far beyond its price tag would suggest. There isn’t much bad to say about the complete bike set up on our test Lancer either – Cyclesense buit a really sensible spec, although perhaps a less aggressive fork would suit riders after all day comfort. Put a full Ultegra 10 group on it and the Lancer would be a superb titanium racing bike for a great price.


RCUK VERDICT


Good:
Fantastic value for money matched by equally fantastic ride



Bad:
er… saddle, tyres, that’s about it


Specification

Frame sizes: 52, 53.5, 55, 56, 57.5, 59, 61.5
Size tested: 56
Frame tubing: 3Al / 2.5V seamless titanium tubing
Fork: Reynolds Ouzo Pro carbon fork
Headset: FSA Ahead
Crankarms: Shimano 105 double
Chainrings: Shimano 105 53/39
B/B: Shimano 105
Pedals: none supplied
Chain: Shimano 105
Freewheel: Shimano 105
F/D: Shimano 105
R/D: Shimano 105
Shifters: Shimano 105
Handlebar: Airborne Flyte
Stem: Airborne Flyte
Tape: Cork
Brakes: Shimano 105
Wheels: Shimano 550
Tyres: Continental Ultra 2000 700 x 23c
Saddle: Airborne Flyte
Seatpost: Airborne Flyte
Extras: none
Colour: Ti
Weight: 3.5lb frame only – 19lb complete bike
Price: frame only £500.00
Frame, fork and Aheadset £650
Complete bike as shown £1150


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