Review: Wabi Lightning Single Speed

Wabi Lightning Full Bike Drive Side

No matter how many bikes I have, I always keep a single speed around.  Their simple nature always appeals to me whether I’m commuting, on a training ride, or just cruising around with friends.  I tend to find that the less I have to think the more fun I have.

While I do have my own single speed currently, the prospect of testing a lightweight Wabi Lightning was too good to pass up.  Want my thoughts on the bike?  You know where to find them.

Wabi Lightning Top Tube Paint Sparkle

Just look at that pretty paint shinning in the sun

Richard at Wabi Cycles was kind enough to send me the Lightning for review.  It’s a Scandium framed orange beauty.  I’m a sucker for the bright colors, and when the sun hits this one there is a little bit of sparkle thanks to some metal flake.  I have never owned or ridden a bike that caused so many people to stop me and compliment it or ask about it.  I even had a cute girl talk to me on my commute one day because of this bike.  That is a big plus right there!

The Wabi Lightning is a pretty simple bike.  There is no BB30, no tapered head tube, and no fancy internal cable routing.  In fact, there aren’t even cable stops on the frame as it comes stock set up fixed with only a front brake.  Do I miss these things on the Wabi?  No, not really.  This bike isn’t the one I grab when I am going to go hammer a road ride, or do some climbing.  It is the bike I take to the bar, the one I lock up at work, and the bike I take when I just want to cruise around my friends.  As the Scandium frame is fairly stiff already, I don’t really need a BB30 to ride down to the store.

Wabi Cycles sells direct to the consumer via their website.  This allows them to keep the retail costs of their bicycles lower.  When ordering, you are presented with a few options allowing you to customize the fit and style of your bike.  My Lightning was set up as follows:

  • Frame Size – 58cm
  • Color – Dreamcicle Orange (pearl black is available for those that don’t want to stand out as much
  • Saddle Type – Relaxed
  • Stem Type and Size – Aluminum 110mm
  • Handlebar / Lever options – Bullhorns with Bar End Levers (+ $20)
  • Crank Arm Length – 175mm
  • Chainring Size – 48t
  • Rear Cog type Size – 18t Fixed
  • Freewheel – 18t (+ $15)

The full specifications can be found here, and geometry here.

Wabi Lightning Fresh Out of the Box

Fresh Out of the Box

A few days after placing your order, a box full of bike shows up.  Some assembly is required, but all the hard stuff is done for you.  It took me about 15 minutes to tear off the padding and fully assembly the bike.  Not sure how to exactly to set up the bike?  No worries.  Wabi has a video to help out.

Wabi Lightning Fixed Cog

While Richard at Wabi loves to ride fixed, but my preference is more towards freewheeling, so for the entirety of the test I left it setup as such.  This was in part due to how hard the tires were to mount onto the rims.  The Wabi comes with Kenda Koncept 23c kevlar bead folding tires, and set up with the fixed cog in place.  Being that the tires are dictional I had to flip it when setting up the bike.  It was seriously one of the hardest tires I have ever mounted onto a rim.  That aside, the tires roll well, and have performed to my satisfaction.  They work fine in both dry and wet conditions, and the narrow 23c tire lends a racy feel to the bike.  No flats either!

Wabi Lightning Freewheel

As for the rest of the bike, it has been nice having it in the stable to choose from.  I often find myself pulling this bike for rides on warm sunny days.  It just seems to fit the bikes personality.  I’ve also taken the bike out for long rides, short rides, wet rides, and hilly rides.  It has proven to be a good all arounder, minus a couple of gripes (read: 31.8mm bar and no fender mounts)

It is the lightest bike I have currently.  In it’s recommend configuration (top mount brake lever and front brake only) it comes in at a claimed 15.1 pounds for a 55cm frame.  With bar end brake levers, both front and rear brakes, the additional freewheel, and some Crank Brothers Candy 1 pedals it ups that to a sill low 17.1 pounds (as weighed by me).

Being so lightweight, combined with the road racing inspired geometry, the Lightning’s handling is quick, but not twitchy.  I have no problem making a quick line correction to avoid a pothole, but at the same time, riding no handed wasn’t an issue.  The ride quality of the Scandium frame is not the smoothest however.  You will feel the bumps in the road, especially with the tires at 110 psi.  This is not a deal breaker by any means however, and given the bikes performance oriented nature, I wouldn’t expect a silky smooth ride anyways.  It isn’t as stiff as an aluminum race bike however, and your teeth should stay in your head just fine.  If you are looking for something a little more plush check out the steel framed Wabi Classic, or the Wabi Special.

Wabi Lightning Seat Stay Welds

The Frame Welds Are Quality All Around

While talking about the frame, it’s worth mentioning that there are no rack mounts or fender eyelets.  For me, this isn’t really an issue as I have another bike equipped to carry a load and keep the wet stuff off of me.  Plus, I carry everything on my back most of the time anyways.  However, this is something to keep in mind if you live where the rain falls often and this is going to be your only bike.  There does seems to be enough clearance with 23c tires mounted for something like the CRUD Roadracer 2 fenders should the need arise.

Wabi Lightning Front End

Up front, the carbon fork (with alloy steerer) helped kill some of the road buzz.  I was pleased by the riding characteristics of this fork.  At just over 200 pounds, I have been know to flex a fork or two, but the carbon blades are laterally stiff, yet yield a somewhat vertically compliant ride.  This kept things nice and comfy when putting in long miles (I did put in a few training rides on the bike and it was very nice).  One potential issue some might find is that the steerer tube is sent to you un-cut.  Once you have your stem position dialed in, cutting it may be a challenge for some.  This could mean a small expense when you take it to your local bike shop to cut the steerer tube for you.  For this review, I left mine un-cut.

Good News Update: From Richard at Wabi:

“I will cut the steerer if the customer wants me to. They
have to know what position they want, of course, but I do offer that service at no charge.  Part of the custom fitting process.”

Wabi Lightning Seat Tube Logo

Branding is Kept to a Minimum. There is Just One Seat Tube Logo and One Head Tube Logo

One very nice surprise on this bike is the fact that Wabi specs a lightweight wheelset (also sold separately for $170).  At 1745 grams, the single speed wheelset spins up quick and handle well.  In fact, these wheels are a big part of why this bike is so fun to ride.  They consist of Jalco GX410 32h rims (410g each), Joy Tech hubs with  sealed cartridge bearing with a flip flop rear, and 14/15g double butted stainless steel spokes laced up 3 cross with brass nipples.  It should be noted that the weigh includes axle nuts, rim tape, and lock ring for the rear wheel.  This weigh destroys the 2000+ gram 36 hole wheels I had been riding, and it will come in much lower than anything you are going to find on a single speed bike from the big manufacturers.  Out of the box the wheels were true and remained so the during the entire review period.  I did make a conscious effort to avoid nasty stuff in the road however, but not out of fear of damaging the wheels.  More so because I didn’t want the jolt that would have come from the pothole or debris.

Wabi Lightning Rear Brake

Another nice surprise is how well the Tektro R530 brakes worked.  After riding some long reach Tecktro’s on my old Salsa Casserole and being very unhappy with their performance, I had little hope for these brakes.  However, the R530′s with stock pads grip very well.  With both a front and rear brake in place, short stops are not an issue.  I find this very comforting when riding in traffic downtown.

Wabi Lightning Top Cap Stem

The Anodized Matching Top Cap is a Nice Touch

Not everything specced on the bike was to my liking however.  For starters, I would love to see a 31.8mm bar and matching stem.  I am a bigger rider, and when powering up the hills the 26mm bar was just to flexy. I emailed Richard over at Wabi about this and here is his response:

“I’ve heard from customers about the 31.8 bar. I’ll have to admit that this is mostly an aesthetic issue- I really don’t like the look of the 31.8′s. That said, if I were to do a geared road bike, 31.8 it would be.”

As you are able to customize several options when ordering the bike, it would be nice to see a 31.8mm bar included in that list.  It’s fine if it costs a few dollars more.  I would gladly play the difference.

Wabi Lightning Saddle

While we are on the subject of the cockpit, the seat post and saddle were not to my liking either.   I have had the same model Kalloy post in the past and it failed on me multiple times.  The first time I would assume user error, but after two more failures of the clamping mechanism, I think it was just the seat post.  I didn’t want to take any chances, so for the review I set the bike up with a carbon Specialized post I had laying around.  I tried to use the saddle it came with as well, but my preference for saddles is very specific and this one just didn’t work for me.  I run a wider saddle with a full cutout on all my bikes, and again, for the review I put on a saddle I know works for me.  That all being said, these are just personal preferences and had no bearing on the performance of the bike.  For many, the stock setup will work just fine.  I am just to darn picky, that’s all.

My last gripe, while minor, is that I would love to see chain tensioners included.  I know not everyone is with me on this one as it can complicate / prolong changing a rear flat on the roadside.  However, I like being able to center my rear wheel perfectly, and get just the right amount of tension on the chain when using a tensioner.  That being said, it is a super cheap upgrade one could add on after the fact.

I wouldn’t consider any of my complaints about the complete build a deal breaker.  To be honest, I expect to change out the cockpit on most bikes I purchase or test.  Things like stem length, bar type, and saddles all boil down to a personal preference, and the stock parts on the Wabi didn’t meet my preference.  They may work just fine for you.  And if not, they can be changed out on the cheap later on.

So to sum it all up, I had a blast riding the bike once I tweaked the setup to my liking.  Would I recommend this bike to someone looking for a single speed ride?  You bet I would.  The bike is quick, nimble, great for training rides, great for cruising around, and on top of all that, its pretty.

The Wabi Lightning comes in at $900 (my set up ran $935), plus a flat rate of $30 for shipping to the lower 48.  For that price, you will be hard pressed to find anything that performs this well and is as lightweight.

 

Comments

Richard - 10/04/11 - 6:33pm

Thanks for the nice write up on my Lightning, Nick, just wanted to add one comment about use of the Lightning (or other light fixed gear). Several of my customers routinely use their Lightning in group/geared rides, quite successfully. And the Lightning is a great hill climber. Fixed climbing is a great way to improve your climbing in general by the way. You have to learn how to manage hills and work on your form- there’s no bail out option, so you improve form and strength, if done correctly.
Keep up the good work!

RYB - 10/05/11 - 3:15pm

The bike seems great and the paint looks awesome.

Hey Richard, have you ever thought of expanding your line to include a cyclocross bike? I feel that there is a growing SSCX market that is hungery for quality & cost effective options.

Richard - 10/06/11 - 12:32am

Had some requests and am considering a cross model, so stay tuned

mitch - 10/07/11 - 3:09pm

i have a scandium sscx, the kona major one, which i love but is now out of production… i see them everywhere at cross races because they are stiff, light and cheap. i would like to see a sscx frame set for sale in the future! especially with fender mounts for single speed commuting!

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