Hamilton and Alonso, Mancini and Tevez, Kate Moss and pretty much any pretty popstar of the last decade. Great on their own, but a bit of a disaster together. That pretty much sums up On-One's Pompetamine. Dropping Shimano's hot new Alfine 11 speed hub into the classic Pompino singlespeed frame promises so much but ends up being a sluggish and disappointing hybrid.
When I first saw this bike in sneak preview pics last year I, like pretty much anyone else, hopped up and down making excited 'gimme' noises. The combination of Shimano's fab new Alfine hub, combined with custom STI levers from Versa and the well proven Pompino frame seemed like a recipe for a fantastically versatile bike. On-One clearly think so too, they brand it as a "fast, durable and reliable workhorse machine that's equally as happy on rough tracks and green lanes as it is on smooth city streets..." oh and it's also good as an "urban commuter, tourer, expedition or multi purpose cross bike". That's a lot of hats for one bike to be wearing. Sadly, none of them fit very well.
The heart of the bike is Shimano's Alfine 11 speed hub. Dave has covered the hub in some detail here, so I won't bore you with a whole load of cutting and pasting. Shifting was mostly smooth, although there were occasional disconcerting moments where the hub would drop into neutral mid-shift and the cranks would flip round half a rotation without feeling like they were connected to anything. It's odd, but you get used to it. The biggest advantages claimed for the Alfine hub are the lack of servicing (it just needs an oil change every 5000 miles) and the commensurate increase in reliability over a derailleur set-up. On a relatively short test it would be hard to argue with either of those points.
The Pompino frame has been around since the beginning of the off-the-peg fixie boom and it's a no-nonsense, bombproof piece of kit made out of good old 4130 cromo tubing. Sounds ideal but it's more usually built up into a flickable urban fixie with pin-sharp handling courtesy of the short wheelbase. These aren't characteristics that you would look for in a long distance bike. I found that even though our test bike was the right size (medium, and we measured it just to be sure) it felt far too small for me and the handling was twitchy at low speeds. There's also a generous amount of toe overlap, even without mudguards. Now, speaking of mudguards, Pompinos are usually seen with just a plastic mtb style guard fitted on the seatpost. There's a reason for that, toe overlap at the front and rear facing dropouts on the back, which make removing the wheel if not impossible, at least a major pain in the proverbial if you fit proper full length mudguards. Regular poster STATO suggested an elegant solution - drill some track-ends and screw the mudguard bolts into them. It's neat, but should you have to mess about buying extra bits and taking a drill to them in order to use a bike for its intended purpose? On a bike which is sold as being ideal for touring or commuting, that's really not good enough.
On-One have a comprehensive parts list for you to pick from and the bike came with some nice kit. The FSA Wing bars are lovely, flats on top give a nice resting place for your hands and the shallow drop is easy to reach. The flat bits do compromise bar space though, so if you like to salad up your bike with computer, lights, GPS and other modern clutter you might want a more traditional round profile. The one piece of kit that you can't swap out are the shifters, which are custom made to operate the Alfine hub. They operate very simply, with a variation on the standard STI theme. Behind the brake lever is a long lever for downshifts and a shorter lever for upshifts. It works well, shifts are crisp, there's a positive clicky action to the levers and they are easy to get used to. The hoods aren't the most comfortable, but they're good enough. I'll be interested to see how robust the shifters are, long term, because they do feel a little plasticky - although there was no sign of excessive wear and tear during the test period. The biggest criticism I have is that there is no gear indicator. It's a surprisingly useful feature even on a derailleur bike where you can just look down. On a hub gear bike I'd argue that it's even more valuable and it shouldn't be hard to fit an in-line indicator. Braking is taken care of by Avid BB7 discs, my personal favourite. They are superb, easy to set up, powerful and reliable in all conditions.
Our test bike came with a 45t chainset and an 18t sprocket on the back, which is ok for flatter terrain but wasn't low enough for serious hills or load hauling and I found myself constantly trying to click down to a lower gear that wasn't there. It got me up Cheddar Gorge on the Tasty Cheddar audax, but I would have died like a dog on the Dartmoor Devil. The build list has plenty of other options to give a better range and we didn't spec the test bike, so no marks lost there.
When considering a hub gear, one thing that usually gets raised is the delicate issue of how one copes with a rear p*nct*re. In the spirit of scientific enquiry I tested this on the Pomp. Removing the wheel is actually easier than you might expect, although slightly more fiddly than a derailleur set-up. All you have to do is push back a spring loaded tab on the side of the hub and remove the end of the cable. Oh and then release the cable from the arm on the hub. Getting it back in is another matter though and this is where I start to get a bit grumpy with the whole thing. Returning the cable is straight forward, getting the wheel in the dropouts is a bit fiddly (spacing is tight and the nuts have flat anti-rotation surfaces which have to be aligned in the drop-outs) but getting the chain tension correct, while keeping the brake discs aligned, is an absolute pig. The BB7 brakes can be dialled in, but there isn't enough adjustment to allow for a wheel that isn't properly centred. Ideally it's a two person job, one to pull the wheel back and maintain tension, the other to make the lateral adjustments and do the nuts up. Doing it in nice warm living room was awkward enough, I'd hate to be doing it in the dark on a wet winter evening.
Out on the road I found the Pompetamine to be hard work. For a start it's heavy, very heavy, at over 12.5kg -to be fair it's not like On-One don't warn you, claimed weight for the standard build is 12Kg. I took it on an evening ride with the chaps from the local bike shop and spent even more time than usual dangling off the back. I can usually hang on when riding my Dawes Century, which is no lightweight, but the Pompetamine makes you feel like you've had an extra helping of slow pudding. Once you add in the sluggish tyres (25mm Schwalbe Marathons, great for avoiding punctures but stiff and slow) and some lag from the hub it makes for a frustrating ride. It's harsh too, stiff tyres and a short steel frame don't give much cushioning.
I swapped out the tyres for some Gatorskins, which did improve things, but overall it's not much fun. That's the real deal killer for me. I put over 500 miles into the bike, audaxing, commuting and solo but in the end I rode it because I had to, not because I wanted to or because I enjoyed it. As a final hurrah I took it on a hundred mile cross country journey to the road.cc offices in Bath. I wondered if a long ride would change my mind about the bike. It didn't and I was glad to give it back, which is as damning as it gets.
Lots of people were excited about this bike, including me and it garnered plenty of attention when I took it out. The Versa shifters make the Alfine hub a viable proposition but it needs a better suited frame. Sadly, the Pompetamine seems like a missed opportunity.
Frame and hub are both great individually, but not so great together.
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Make and model: On-One Pompetamine Versa 11
Size tested: Black
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame is 4130 cromoly
Shimano S500 Alfine Chainset With Single Chain Guard
Avid BB7 Mechanical Disc Brake (Road)
FSA Wing Anatomic Aero Handlebar
Selle Italia Flite XC Saddle
On-One Twelfty MTB Seatpost
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?
"fast, durable and reliable workhorse machine that's equally as happy on rough tracks and green lanes as it is on smooth city streets..."
"urban commuter, tourer, expedition or multi purpose cross bike"
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Nice paint work and looks very smart.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
It's good old cromoly, sturdy and reliable, if heavy.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Head tube - 73 degrees
Seat tube - 73.5 degrees
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The bike was the right size for me (medium) as defined by On-One, but it felt far too small. The cockpit was cramped and I had to set the saddle as far back as possible, which put me too far back from the cranks. A larger size might be a better fit.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It's a harsh ride. The undersized compact frame and stiff tyres don't have much give at all.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It's too stiff. A change of tyre (Schwalbe Marathons swapped for some Conti Gatorskins) helped a bit.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
No, it always felt a bit sluggish - a combination of hub lag, dead tyres and sheer weight.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
Yes there was. It wasn't much of a problem (at least, I managed not to get caught out) but with mudguards on it could be a serious issue.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Quite lively
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
A very short frame, stumpy stem and almost no rake on the fork mean that the handling is pretty sharp. Nice on a flickable urban singlespeed, not ideal on longer rides.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Tyres were far too stiff and unyielding. I'd also swap out the stem for a bit more reach.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Fatter, more supple tyres would help.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
It feels like the bike is losing power somewhere and that comes down to the overall weight and the hub, so there isn't much that can be done.
Snappy handling can catch you out
Too heavy and gearing is wrong for hills on this build
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The 45/18 chainring/sprocket combination is set-up for fast, flat cruising. On any serious hills I was finding myself in bottom almost straight away, with nowhere left to go. I'd either go for a 39t front ring or the 20t rear sprocket if you want to use the Pomp for touring or any hilly rides.
Tyres (Schwalbe Marathon) are very stiff and don't give much cushion
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
I'd swap out the tyres. The Schwalbe Marathons are a logical choice but they are heavy, slow and stiff.
Versa shifters are pleasant to use.
Hard to say on a short test, but shifters don't look or feel as robust as Shimano
Ok, but hoods aren't as comfy as Shimano
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The Versa shifters are what makes this bike possible. I liked their operation, with a long paddle for downshifts and a shorter paddle for upshifts, which felt crisp and positive.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
FSA Wing bars are nice and Avid BB7 discs are a long time favourite.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? No
Would you consider buying the bike? No
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Maybe
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
Feels like a clumsy compromise, the hub needs a more suitable frame.
Age: 42 Height: 5' 8 Weight: er....85kg
I usually ride: Kona Dew Drop, Dawes Century SE, Carlton Corsa My best bike is: Guess SC1 scandium
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, Audax and long distance solo rides