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The Spa Cycles Audax Mono is built for big rides. Based on the company's well-regarded Audax frame, it is a ridiculously comfortable bike that will eat up the miles, climbs incredibly well and will keep you in control on the steepest of descents. And if you want to dip your toe into the slightly eccentric world of long-distance fixed-gear riding, then its combination of build quality and excellent value make this a great choice.
If you like your long-distance bike served up with some gearing, check out our guide to the best touring bikes.
It was 6am as we rode out of Chepstow and dropped towards the ruins of Tintern Abbey to follow the road along the River Wye. We were setting out on the Brevet Cymru, a 400km ride across Wales and back that I was hoping to finish in a little under 24 hours. Propelling me along this genteel opening section was the flywheel spin of the fixed-gear Spa Cycles Audax Mono.
It had arrived at 10am the previous day and – after some light assembly – I had just enough time for a 4km dash around the block to test it out. The consensus on my cycling WhatsApp groups was that it would be 'A Very Bad Idea' to tackle some of West Wales' steepest inclines on a bike I'd hardly ridden.
But its Mediterranean blue frame glinted enticingly, so what could I do? I loaded it up with saddle bags and hoped my legs were up to the challenge.
And as we climbed steadily towards Hay on Wye, we were treated to stunning views of blue skies and cloud inversions that clung to the base of the Black Mountains.
I had been riding a Specialized Langster fixie for almost a year. It's a great bike that flies up hills but has proved too aggressively angled for the kind of long distance riding that I love. At the end of my first fixed 400k ride to York, I was in real discomfort, but a friend on his Spa Cycles Mono was looking irritatingly fresh. Its geometry is designed for this kind of riding, and I was keen to test one out.
Its Reynolds 725 double-butted steel frame offers an excellent balance of weight and strength. It comes with a pair of handbuilt wheels (crafted and signed by Spa Cycles' own 'in-house magician' Bobby Stevens). These are laced rather than radial, and what they give up in terms of aerodynamics is more than compensated for in comfort and compliance.
You can order your bike with a steel fork but I went for the carbon option, with its promise of lighter weight and added shock absorption.
The frame allows clearance for 28mm tyres with mudguards on. And that combination of wheels, carbon and steel delivered an impressively smooth ride as we headed to the coast, ironing out some of Wales's lumpiest and least-cared-for roads.
I bumped into another Audax Mono rider who was tackling the route with loaded pannier racks. He'd ridden to the start the previous day, bivvied overnight and seemed to be carrying his full camping setup with him.
'What do you think of the bike, Dai?' I asked him.
'I bloody love it,' he replied.
With eyelets for mudguards and panniers, this is a do-everything bike that would work for winter training, all-weather commuting and just this kind of light touring.
There are two initial challenges when you start riding a fixie. The first is remembering that you can't freewheel. You will forget at some point and experience a spine-jarring jolt as the pedal continues to revolve.
The second is learning how to tackle hills – but that's far less of a problem than you might imagine. Without a derailleur, fixed-gear bikes are lighter, and you have to attack each incline, so there's no choice but to ride fast.
And while you can't drop into a lower gear, you still have plenty of options. You can sit back in the saddle and push to recruit your bigger leg muscles. You can stand and use the handlebar for leverage; weave across the road to create a shallower gradient or lean over the bar and drive your knees forward as though you are running. And when the climb gets too much you can always get off and push. Think of it as your 'granny gear'.
I had to do just that as I took the Audax Mono up the steepest part of Cheddar Gorge on one ride, and I still beat my PB by almost a minute for the 3.6km climb with 153m of ascent. I did the same riding across the bruising 5km Machynlleth Mountain Road in Wales a month later and picked up another PB.
It took a while to learn how to get the best out of this bike, but when I did my climbing jumped to another level. In fact, in the two months that I've now been riding the Mono, Strava tells me I've beaten PBs on almost every hill I've ridden it up.
Hills mean that you do need to decide on your gear ratio. The team at Spa Cycles are super helpful and we decided on a 42-tooth chainring with a 16-tooth sprocket. This translates into roughly 73 gear inches (this is how far the bike moves with one full revolution of the pedals). That allowed me to get up all but the most ferocious of inclines and easily cruise at around 30kph on the flat.
And because this frame is based on a standard road bike, the bottom bracket is lower than you might normally expect on a fixie. So they also recommended a shorter crank length of 170mm, to prevent 'pedal strike' on corners. To be honest, I'm too tentative a rider for this to be a real risk, but the whole setup worked incredibly well.
While climbing really isn't the problem, coming back down again definitely is. You need to keep spinning your pedals, and on a long descent that can be really challenging. So you need brakes that you can trust as you hone your technique.
My Audax Mono came with Tektro R737 callipers that open wide to accommodate big tyres. Bob at Spa Cycles suggested a pair of drilled TRP-RRL brake levers that feel great when you're climbing out of the saddle and reassuringly positive when you're descending.
These levers add a modern twist to an otherwise traditional bike. They scored very well in our review from back in 2015, but they did nudge the price of the build over the £800 mark. It felt like a good investment, though, and coupled with the FSA Wing Compact handlebar, with its ergonomically flat upper, the comfort levels just kept improving as I grew into the bike and tweaked its setup.
As we rode through the night on the return leg towards Brecon, there was one issue that almost brought my adventure to a halt. That was the searing pain in my undercarriage. I'd been warned that the Spa Cycles Navigator saddle was a bit love it or hate it, and after 300km of riding it was clear which camp I fell into.
It was a cacophonous dawn chorus that got us to the finishing line for that 400k ride, delighted to be able to finally get off that saddle. The following week I changed to an old tried and tested one. And just a few weeks later I was back on the Mono to tackle a mountainous 600k – my final qualifier for the 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris this summer. I finished in pretty good time, with not a hint of pain and a sense that this bike could genuinely take me anywhere.
My only slight concern is that mudguards and rear-facing dropouts do make it difficult to take the back wheel off when you get a puncture. I found myself removing mudguards at the side of the road in the rain and I really wished I'd practised this at home. I was entirely unaware of the easy-to-unclip mudguard releases that would have saved me from undoing bolts. It was a good lesson to learn.
People will tell you that riding fixed gives you a 'Zen like' connection to the bike. I was riding with a number of experienced fixie riders so I asked if they felt that was true.
'No, it's bollocks,' one told me, with a grin.
But there is something different about the experience. When you hit the flat, the flywheel effect of riding fixed can feel like you've always got the wind behind you. There's a fantastic feeling of connection with the bike. As you start up from traffic lights, you get immediate engagement and no worries about chain slipping or gear selection. And no matter how far you ride, you never have to worry about adjusting your derailleur, just the occasional check of chain tension.
And for a bike that oozes tradition, the Audax Mono is incredibly nippy. It's so positive and fun to ride that it kept enticing me out the door for forays over the Mendips and to hone my technique on the winding descents of Monmouthshire. I genuinely can't remember the last time I had this much fun on a bike or learnt so much in such a short space of time.
I really think everyone should have one of these in their bike collection.
There are plenty of options if you're looking for fixed gear frames, but only a handful seem to offer scope for mudguards and eyelets for pannier racks that are ideal for long distance riding. Surly's excellent Steamroller framset (£675), for example, for some reason only allows for one rear mudguard.
There are a lot of cheap fixed gear bikes out there that might be worth looking at if you just want a commuter, but their wheels and components are seldom up to the demands of long distance riding.
And that is why Monos seem to be appearing with increasingly regularity on audax rides. To get a sense of the value they offer, it's worth looking at the cost of other framesets. You can currently pick up a Spa Audax Mono frame and fork for £375 (regular price £445), which is really good value – although the welding is a little lumpy in places.
In comparison, Condor's Tempo is a genuinely beautiful bike that has a dedicated fan base, but if you want to splash out on handmade Italian steel then it'll set you back £949.99.
And Brother Cycles' Allday frame is another excellent option, and can take you off-road, offering scope for 35mm tyres, but at £599 it's over £150 more than the Audax Mono.
There is a cheaper option worth checking out – Planet X's On-One Mulo frame; this update of the hugely popular Pompino frame costs just £199.99. Like the Brother Allday it can also take you off-road, with a whopping 43mm of tyre clearance.
But both the Brother Allday and On-One Mulo are sold as frames only, while Spa Cycles offer the complete build. And this is why the Audax Mono occupies a real sweet spot in terms of price and build quality.
You can buy the complete bike for under £800 with wheels that are handbuilt to deal with the demands of long-distance riding. It is that combination of build quality and solid components that make this such good value for money.
Plus, if you want advice on frame size or upgrades on components to suit your aspirations or ride style, then you can also call on the expertise of the hugely knowledgeable team at Spa Cycles. That is something you don't get with an off-the-peg frame purchase online. (If I was ordering this for myself right now, I'd want to discuss adding a dynamo hub and lights to give me added flexibility for night riding.)
Overall, the Audax Mono is well worth considering, and guaranteed to take you on some memorable adventures.
Exceptional value and performance on a bike that can unlock long-distance fixed-gear adventures
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Spa Cycles Audax Mono
Size tested: 56
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Reynolds 725 double butted frame
Headset: FA Orbit Equipe
Bottom Bracket: First Components DX-30 110mm
Chain set: Spa TD-2 Single 42T
Hubs: Formula Sealed Bearings
Rims: Kinlin XC-2779
Fixed Sprocket Andel Cro-Mo 16T and 17T
Tyres Schwalbe One 700-28C
ChainL: KMC B1S
Brake Levers: TPR-RRL Black Levers
Brake Callipers: Tektro R737 Black
Saddle: Spa Navigator
Handlebars FSA Wing Compact 42cm
Mudguards SKS CAB Black 35mm
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?
Based on the Spa Cycles Audax frame, this is made for long distance riding, winter training, and low-maintenance commuting.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
You can buy the frame and build the bike yourself or purchase a fully built Spa Cycles Audax Mono for just under £800. Our test bike had a very nice pair of brake levers that took it just over that mark.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The paintwork and look are excellent but there are a few lumpy elements to the welding.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Reynolds 725 Double Butted heat treated alloy – this is part of the ingredients for a really comfortable ride.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Geometry is relaxed to give day-round comfort on really long rides.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
I went down a size – I normally ride a 58cm frame but opted for the 56cm. That gave me far more control and comfort which made it much easier to climb with this fixed gear bike.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
I've ridden a 400k and my first 600k ride on this bike, and the longer ride was really exceptionally comfortable because I'd swapped saddles and tweaked the angle of the handlebar.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It felt like the perfect balance of stiffness and comfort, with good power transfer when needed on climbs and great comfort and compliance on lumpy roads.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Power efficiency just kept improving – especially when climbing – as I learned how to get the best from this bike.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
No issues at all and partly because of the shorter crank length to avoid pedal strike on corners.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Very positive and responsive.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It felt exceptionally good to ride... I'm still learning to descend on a fixie and I've still got a lot to learn here, but the Mono served me well.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I struggle to see anyone really enjoying the saddle on long rides. There are some people who like bullhorn handlebars for climbing and I can really see the benefit here. I would like to add a dynamo if I was to use this bike on any more long distance rides that take me through the night.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Smaller frame than I am used to made a huge difference when climbing.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
It is worth checking chain tension after your first 200km. I was encouraged to do this at the 300km mark on my ride and was amazed at how much slack there was in the chain at that point. Since then I have ridden over 800km and have had no need to tighten again.
Wheels and tyres
Handbuilt wheels add to the comfort and offer exceptional value at this price point.
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?
The wheels are built with Kinlin XC-279 rims and put together by Spa Cycles own in-house wheel builder.
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?
Felt very secure on corners and suffered only one puncture in over 1,200km of riding.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Brake levers (TRP-RRL Black Levers) added a bit of a modern twist; the hoods felt great when climbing and they were very positive when needed on descents. I found the handlebar exceptionally comfortable, when I had sorted out saddle issues.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
You can upgrade components easily and this can be done in discussion with the Spa Cycles team when you order your bike.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? I can't remember the last time I had this much fun and learned so much in such a short space of time.
Would you consider buying the bike? Definitely – I'd be really keen to ride this bike on the 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris this summer.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Definitely worth looking at for anyone with an interest in long-distance fixed gear riding.
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
I think this is exceptionally good value, with its quality components and handbuilt wheels – you would have to work hard to find better value.
Use this box to explain your overall score
This is a superb bike that offers excellent value for anyone who wants a winter trainer, low-hassle commuter or a long-distance adventure bike that's guaranteed to sharpen your cycling.
About the tester
I usually ride: Specialised Langster (fixed commuter) My best bike is: Condor Fratello (new – Audax rides)
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: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, Audax