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Kinesis Racelight T2 winter bike – review

The Kinesis T2 has earned the nickname 'old faithful' during its time at RoadCyclingUK - it's a reliable and dependable all-weather training and commuting machine, though the frameset strikes us as a better bet than this £999.99 off-the-shelf build.

The aluminium T2 is by no means a new frame and has been part of the Kinesis range for a number of years now, earning a reputation in that time as a versatile workhorse for winter riding, commuting and light touring.

Kinesis framesets are typically sold as just that – a frame and fork – and, while the Sussex-based firm has offered a frameset (be it the T2 or elsewhere in the range) as part of a ‘build kit’ in the past, this is the first time they’ve sold a complete machine which is ready to ride from the moment it leaves the shop floor. In this build, based around a Shimano Tiagra groupset, the T2 will set you back a penny under £1,000 – which ensures it dips under the Cycle to Work mark.

In its time with us the T2 has seen us through the first half of winter and battled the regular commute on London’s jam-packed roads – and it’s revealed itself as a fun ride, with predictable but refined handling, and built up with reliable (if not earth-shattering) components well-suited to the demands of riding through the foul weather that winter often serves up.

The chassis

We covered the key features of the T2’s chassis in our first look but let’s use this opportunity to re-cap. The T2 sits at the base of Kinesis’ range of Racelight road frames, alongside the GF_Ti titanium chassis, four-seasons 4S aluminium frame and the super-light alloy Aithein.

The frame is made from double-butted 6061 series aluminium alloy tubing and the T2’s understated, round tubes give it a clean, classic and unfussy look – though Kinesis have refined the profiles with flared ‘anti-roadshock tuned’ seatstays designed to boost the comfort of the rear end, and chainstays which are ovalised as they join the bottom bracket to improve stiffness.

This is a winter training frame at heart so there are mudguard mounts front and rear (utilised in this build), and rack mounts at the rear, which ensures the T2 can be called into touring duty if required – and it’d be an excellent companion on a multi-day tour. There are also two bottle cage mounts, as you’d expect, and all cables run externally. Internal cable routing may look pretty but we’d much prefer to change an externally-routed cable, rather than having to fish a cable out of the downtube. We’ve been there.

As for geometry, the T2 is available in six sizes (48, 51, 54, 57, 60 and 63cm). Check the geometry table carefully – those numbers refer to the seattube (measured centre-to-centre), and not the toptube. Our 54cm has a 55.6cm virtual toptube, paired with a 15cm headtube, 99.8cm wheelbase, 73.5 degree seattube angle and 73 degree headtube angle. Those numbers translate to a setup which is reasonably low and long – the T2 is certainly not a tall sportive bike – and the head and seattube angles are a little steeper than what you’d expect to see on a bike like this. All that contributes to the T2’s engaging ride, while keeping the handling more sedate than an out-and-out race bike. It’s a well-balanced geometry for a bike which is likely to see lots of winter training miles.

Finally, as far as the chassis is concerned, the frame is paired with a carbon fibre fork (with a straight-through alloy steerer) and it does a good job at soaking up road buzz. You can also opt for a full alloy fork for £65 less (£934.99 for the complete bike) but the carbon upgrade is a worthwhile investment.

The ride

How does the T2 fare our on the road? In short, it’s a lively ride, which is just how we like a winter bike. If you’re determined to ride through winter, regardless of what the weather throws at you and you want a machine equipped for the task – like the T2 – then you’ll want that bike to inspire you to get out on the road, rather than serving up dull, inspiring handling. Luckily, the T2 has enough personality about it to ensure it’s a willing companion out on the road. The handling still has a spark to it, thanks to those geometry numbers we just ran through, though it doesn’t require the attention of a race bike, and that’s a good combination for ticking off the miles.

The aluminium frame does a decent job at converting pressure on the pedals into speed, though the overall weight – approximately 10kg for our 54cm test bike – is felt when the road rises. That’s an acceptable weight for an aluminium-framed winter bike with mudguards but the T2 can take a little encouragement for the most intense efforts, though there’s a wide spread of gears – thanks to a compact 50-34t chainset paired with a 12-28t cassette – to tackle the steepest gradients.

The frame doesn’t have the bite 4S (Kinesis’ upscale ‘four seasons’ frame – the T2 is very much a winter bike) or, say, the De Rosa Milanino Training (another more expensive option which, like the 4S, fares just as well out of winter) but, as an all-weather all-rounder, it’s a machine which gives enough back, particularly considering the affordability of the frameset, to wind it up and give it a bit of welly if required, whether it’s the winter club run sprint or a hill effort – even if that’s not the T2’s raison d’être. It’s a machine which encourages you to sit in and happily tick off the miles, rather than attack every rise in the road.

Finally, as far as the ride is concerned, the T2 does a decent job at dealing with road buzz and it’s comfortable enough as a companion on long winter rides. The carbon fork helps in that regard, as do the 25mm tyres and 27.2mm seatpost.

The components

A winter bike requires reliable components which do the job without breaking the bank – if you’re investing in a winter bike then why would you want to subject expensive, high-end components to the endless sludge kicked up from the road at this time of year? And that’s what Kinesis have achieved in this T2 build.

A Shimano Tiagra groupset is at the heart of the build, though there are two key deviations: the compact 50-34t FSA Omega chainset and the Tektro R317 long-drop brakes. Tiagra may sit towards the bottom of Shimano’s gruppo line-up, above Claris and Sora, but it provides impressively light and responsive shifting given its price and it’s just fine for a winter bike. Still, it’s not as refined as Shimano 105, which is next in line up the food chain, and the exposed cables are a little unsightly. A self-build would leave room in the budget to upgrade to Shimano 105 (which we’ll come on to). The FSA chainset works to the same effect – it’s a reliable and affordable piece of kit – and the combination of the compact chainrings with a 12-28t cassette provides a good spread of gears for steady winter riding. FSA also provide the fuss-free finishing kit: an aluminium handlebar with a compact shape, an aluminium stem and an aluminium 27.2mm seatpost.

We were less bowled over by the Tektro R317 long-drop brakes. They provide plenty of clearance for mudguards and fat winter tyres (Kinesis say there’s room for 28mm rubber) but come up short in terms of bite. That improved once the supplied pads wore in, and a pad upgrade would likely reap further rewards, but if you want to upgrade calipers then we’ve previously been impressed by Shimano R650 and TRP RG957 stoppers.

Rolling stock comes in the shape of Shimano R501 wheels wrapped in 25mm Freedom tyres. The wheels are a popular and affordable option on bikes like this as they’re reliable and the cone hubs can be serviced, but they come with a considerable weight penalty and that can be felt. Still, they tick the box as a heavy-duty wheelset for winter riding.

The tyres, meanwhile, have proved comfortable and grippy in the dry, but that drops a little in the wet, and we were cautious on wet, slippy corners. We haven’t experienced any punctures during our test period (though, as ever, there’s a certain amount of luck involved there), but on the flip side it’s a fairly sluggish rubber. Freedom also provide the saddle, which we got along with fine – whether that works for you is down to personal preference.

Finally, mudguards are the making of any winter bike and this build comes with Future Forms ‘guards which provide good protection at both the front and rear.

All in all, it’s a solid winter spec sheet made up of reliable and affordable components – but that leads to our main conundrum with the T2. It’s also available as a frame only for £239.99, which strikes us as cracking value, with the carbon fibre DC07 fork an additional £139.99. If putting together your own build and using this bike’s £999.99 retail price as a budget, that leaves £620 to construct the rest of the build. By our reckoning, that’d allow you to upgrade to a Shimano 105 groupset and leave plenty left over for wheels, faster tyres, finishing kit and mudguards, giving you the option to select each component yourself.

That’s more a reflection on the ludicrously low price of some groupsets, sold online at near cost price, but it’s food for thought if you have the inclination to use the T2’s excellent winter frame as a basis for your own build. If not – and there is also an attraction to an off-the-shelf package – then the complete bike put together here by Kinesis delivers a spec which is pretty much on the money for winter riding.

Conclusion

The Kinesis T2 serves up a lively and refined ride, which belies the frame’s affordability and is combined with reliable and dependable components. That makes the T2 an excellent winter trainer and commuting machine, which can turn its hand to a little touring if required, but we’d be tempted by putting together our own build.

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