Delivering astounding levels of performance and excellent handling, the Bowman Palace:R is an exceptional race machine just perfect for pushing you up the points table in your local race league or smashing that pb on your favourite loop.
Bowman has taken our Frameset of the Year 2014, the original Palace, and made it better in pretty much every single way.
Refined, Revised, Reborn
That's what Bowman says about the Palace:R on its website, having made small tweaks throughout the frame and fork to make the whole setup a little more refined, chucking another 'r' word in there.
Thankfully one thing that hasn't been touched is the geometry. "Handling is the start point of every frame we design," said Neil Webb, Bowman's head honcho and the man behind the design, when I discussed the original Palace with him.
Heading off from the office on the Palace:R, it took a mile or two to get acquainted with the handling – not exactly helped by the Bath traffic – but I was soon back in the groove, with the Bowman feeling settled and under control.
I'd just delivered the Merlin Nitro SL back to road.cc HQ, a bike that rode very well and was no slouch in the handling department, but it was amazing just how much more direct and quick the steering felt on the Bowman.
With the first technical descent appearing, I just pointed the Palace:R at the first apex and unleashed it. The downhill probably lasts a couple of minutes, though its rough surface, tight bends and heavy traffic make it a real challenge to nail every line just right. The Bowman was in its absolute element.
Hunkered in the drops, I flew into each of the bends, scrubbing a little speed on the way in if needed before kissing either the kerb or the central white line, before blasting out the other side to do it all over again at the next corner.
Even when unsettled by a ripple in the road surface or avoiding a pothole appearing mid-bend, the Bowman just deals with it by you applying a little bit of weight onto the handlebar to tweak its line.
The Palace:R also feels just that little bit more settled on the road than the previous Palace, bringing a slightly more planted feel over rough road surfaces and, with that, even more confidence to push things right to the edge.
With a frame weight of 1,145g and a 355g fork, the Bowman is responsive, especially when it's wearing a pair of lightweight carbon fibre wheels. The Boyd deep-sections you can see in the pictures are very fast indeed, and the Palace:R's stiffness levels made full use of them when it came to massive acceleration and sprinting.
In the interest of keeping the playing field as level as possible, I spent quite a lot of time using the same set of Miche Altur wheels I used on the original Palace for general riding. You lose a little bit of the aerodynamic gain, but the Palace:R was still massively responsive and became even more stable in crosswinds.
The way the Bowman responds to your effort is phenomenal and something you never tire of as you sprint to the next group or just drop the hammer for that village sign sprint.
This translates to a decent climbing machine too. Whether you're out of the saddle or seated, the Palace:R stands firm, that new profiled seat tube obviously doing its job at the bottom bracket junction.
Another thing that has been refined is the comfort levels. Don't get me wrong, the Palace:R is still a firm machine and probably won't be your first choice for long jaunts out into the country, but I did a few three and four-hour rides on it and never once found it uncomfortable. The new triple-butted tubeset could possibly be just absorbing that little bit of extra road buzz. You'll be rattling through those miles at speed, too, so if you are going out for a set time you'll be covering a bit more distance than normal.
My average speed on the Bowman was always higher than normal, irrespective of the type of route.
Frame and fork
Neil discussed all of the updates to the new Palace:R in a video with us a few weeks back, but I'll give you a little recap here too.
The Palace used the same grade of alloy, but for the Palace:R the 6069 triple-butted tubes have been tweaked to create profiles with thinner tube walls but maintaining the same levels of stiffness.
The key thing here is obviously weight loss, as all of these small changes have seen the frame lose around 150g. Stripped down, this 54cm test model weighed a very impressive 1,145g. Well up there with the best in the business.
A key feature of the new frame is the FlareSquare seat tube. It's wide and squared in profile at the bottom bracket, the idea being to resist the twisting forces during hard accelerations. It's something we've seen on what is probably the Palace:R's main rival, the Kinesis Aithein.
Beefing up this area has also allowed Bowman to go for a narrower bottom bracket shell and external threaded bearing setup rather than the original model that used a Press Fit bottom bracket, without sacrificing stiffness. If anything, I'd say the Palace:R feels even stiffer.
Up at the top, the seat tube accepts a 27.2mm-diameter seatpost, which will allow the smallest amount of flex for comfort compared with a 31.6mm.
The Palace:R still uses external cable runs for mechanical groupsets but the guides are removable and replaceable should you want to go internally for Di2 or other electronic gearing.
The head tube is tapered, and inserted into it is a new full carbon fork which weighs 355g, impressive for a fork this stiff. It doesn't suffer from chatter or flex at all under heavy braking or hard cornering.
The frames are available in six sizes from 50-60cm and come in either the black/jade you see here or green on green.
Value and competition
The Palace:R's direct competition is going to be the aforementioned Kinesis Athein and Cannondale's CAAD12. Both are top flight alloy race bikes that deliver in exactly the same places as the Bowman.
Handling and stiffness from these two are pretty exceptional, so the Palace:R really needs to shine to take the crown – which it does by a decent margin.
I own an Aithein, have done for about three years now, and I love it. I don't ride it as much as I'd like, but when I do I get that little grin spread across my face, especially in the twisty bits.
Back when I reviewed the original Palace I had that and the Kinesis on a pretty equal footing, with the Aithein taking it on comfort. This new, refined Palace:R has the edge everywhere – the handling feels sharper, it's more responsive, and as far as comfort goes you can't separate them. The Bowman is 20 quid more expensive at £695, but it's worth the extra purple note.
With regard to the Cannondale, the Palace was marginally better than the CAAD10 when I tested it, especially in terms of harshness, and although the CAAD12 is a more refined beast, the Palace:R in my opinion still takes the trophy. Prices for the CAAD12 frameset online range from £799.99 to £850. I'm a big fan of Cannondale's alloy bikes, but I know which I'd go for.
If you want an alloy bike to race or just... No, scrap that. If you want a bike to race or just get out there and blast around on, then the Bowman Palace:R needs to be right up there at the top of your wishlist.
It's sensibly priced and you are going to struggle to find anything near it that offers such a punchy, thrilling and grin-inducing ride.
I love it. Any bike that can give you goosebumps when you're just planning a ride on it is a winner in my book!
One of the best racers out there just got better and more refined – and it's a bargain too
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Bowman Palace:R frame, fork & headset 2017
Size tested: 54cm
Tell us what the frameset 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?
Bowman says: "Learning from what made the first Palace great, we've refined small details, totally revised the whole tube-set and the Palace is reborn – we give you: The Palace:R."
"A bike as at home on the hairpins of the Col De Soller as it is on dead man's turn at the race circuit from which its name derives, the Palace R is everything you could need from a speed focused road machine."
The Palace:R is a much more refined version of the original Palace.
State the frame and fork material and method of construction
*6069-T6 triple butted frame
*Toray HM, full carbon, tapered steerer fork
*Di2 compatible, removable cable guides
*Forged 1-1/8 to 1.5in tapered head-tube
*FlareSquare seat tube
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
A well built and finished frameset and it's great to see provision for internal electronic gearing wires too.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
50 52 54 56 58 60
top tube (effective) 505 520 535 560 585 600
head tube 120 130 140 160 180 200
head angle 71.5 72 72.5 73 73.5 73.5
seat angle 74.5 74 73.5 73 72.5 72
seat tube c-t 495 515 525 540 560 580
chainstays 400 405 405 405 410 410
bb drop 70 70 70 70 70 70
stack 519 530 542 562 583 602
reach 361 368 375 388 401 404
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Our 54cm model has a stack of 542mm and reach of 375mm, which makes it very slightly taller and shorter than my equivalent Kinesis Aithien frame.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes. The ride quality is more refined than the original Palace, so better on long rides.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The level of stiffness is near perfect.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
A tiny bit.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Lively.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The Palace:R's handling is its defining characteristic; the steering feels razor sharp and so communicative.
How did the build components work with the frame? Was there anything you would have changed?
The build here is quite high-end with its carbon fibre bar/stem setup and deep-section wheels, but the frame isn't overshadowed. The wheels were very fast but also very twitchy in the wind.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Absolutely!
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
If you're after a 'point and shoot' bike for racing then the Palace:R is quite literally one of the best available. All of that performance and stiffness doesn't cost a fortune either.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: Kinesis Aithien
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: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!