Review: Spot Sprawl – A Classy Belt Drive, Internally Geared Steel Commuter Bike

Spot Sprawl commuter bike review with Gates belt drive and Shimano Alfine internal gear hub

The Spot Sprawl is one of four commuter/street bikes offered by Spot, and it’s the most classic, city oriented offering by far.

Other than a tail light, it has everything you need to get your commute on: The Gates Carbon Belt Drive combines with a Shimano Alfine 8-speed internally geared hub to provide a very clean, quiet ride. Full coverage fenders keep you clean, hydraulic disc brakes provide excellent stopping power in any weather and the built-in dynamo hub-powered front light provides safety/visibility and a bit of illumination.

The frame is True Temper OX Platinum steel, so it’s strong, rides well and should hold up for the long haul. It’s built with a full complement of fender and rack mounts and two water bottle cage mounts. If, for whatever reason, you decide to go with a standard chain and derailleur, the dropouts can be swapped for their Kobe Slider Dropouts that’ll run a regular rear derailleur, too.

FRAME & BUILD

Spot Sprawl commuter bike review with Gates belt drive and Shimano Alfine internal gear hub

The Sprawl comes in six sizes, from 48 up to 60. We tested the 58, which has a 580mm effective top tube and 155mm tall headtube. While Colin preferred the flipped down handlebars (shown here) and racier position, Tyler had them flipped up for a more upright position and wished we’d gotten the 60 in. Spot’s sizing chart shows the dimensions with recommended inseams, which would have put us on the 56 if we paid attention to inseam measurements…fortunately we didn’t. Go by ETT and seat tube lengths on this or you’ll likely end up with a too-small bike. The nice thing is you have the option of running it more commuter style or cafe racer style simply by flipping the handlebar and stem. If you’re looking for a much more upright riding position, go with the next larger frame size.

The spec is pretty decent on the Sprawl. Grips are Dimension hand-stitched leather with a color-matched WTB saddle (that’s probably a bit too padded for most avid cyclists…a Brooks or similar would look outstanding on this bike!). Drivetrain is Shimano Alfine & Gates, Shimano hydraulic brakes, Sun rims with WTB tires, SKS fenders and a Cane Creek headset. We put Ergon’s pedals on.

Spot Sprawl commuter bike review with Gates belt drive and Shimano Alfine internal gear hub

The steel fork has an inside channel for the wire connecting the dynamo hub and Planet Bike light (groove shown here with wire removed, but it comes pre-taped in place). Hose mounts keep the hydraulic brake like running tight on the back of the fork leg. Fender and rack mounts are placed near the dropout and on the sides of the fork leg. SKS’s P35 fenders snap on and off at the dropout mount and are attached at the crown, too.

Spot Sprawl commuter bike review with Gates belt drive and Shimano Alfine internal gear hub

The drivetrain is Gate’s top of the line Center Track model. We had zero problems with it the entire eight months we had the bike, and it still looks good as new despite many miles. It’s amazing how quiet this drivetrain is, something you need to experience to truly appreciate. If you’re building up your dream commuter bike, test ride a belt drive and you’ll likely be sold.

Spot Sprawl commuter bike review with Gates belt drive and Shimano Alfine internal gear hub Spot Sprawl commuter bike review with Gates belt drive and Shimano Alfine internal gear hub

The rear driveside dropout’s frame break is minimal but necessary to let the belt inside the rear triangle. Spot’s sliding dropouts are impressive and rock solid. Fenders mount a little further up the seatstay.

Spot Sprawl commuter bike review with Gates belt drive and Shimano Alfine internal gear hub

Granted, Ergon’s size-large pedals are, in fact, enormous, but there’s a bit of front wheel/toe clearance issue with my size 13 hooves regardless of pedal choice.

Spot Sprawl commuter bike review with Gates belt drive and Shimano Alfine internal gear hub

Seeing as you can order a Spot through a local dealer or direct, you’ll be happy to know it comes well packaged. Fuzzy felt strips protected the important bits, even the skewers. The bike was mostly assembled, just install the front wheel, mount the front fender, bolt on the handlebar and seatpost/saddle and get everything lined up. Just a couple allens and a small wrench and you’ll be rolling in under 20 minutes if you know what you’re doing.

The Spot Sprawl retails for $3,199 and shipping is about $100.

TYLER’S REVIEW

Spot Sprawl commuter bike review with Gates belt drive and Shimano Alfine internal gear hub

I loved the Spot, but did wish for the larger size. I’m 6’2″ and actually wanted to be sitting a bit more upright. I flipped the stem and handlebar to their most upward facing position, but the extra 15mm of head tube height on the 60 would have helped. Reach and ETT felt fine, though.

Fit aside, the Sprawl is a great commuter bike. I used it to get around town and haul the kids to school with the Trail-a-Bike. For a year-round bike, it ticks all the right boxes: fenders, hydraulic disc brakes, belt drive and internal gear hub. It’d be nice to have the Alfine 11-speed upgrade option (a $400 upcharge that you have to ask for, it’s not listed on their website), but 8 gets the job done. Having a front light mounted that never requires batteries is awesome and makes it much more likely that you’ll use it. I turned it on blinking mode even for daytime rides because, well, why not.

The plastic fenders did take a bit to get lined up right and were never perfectly straight, but good enough was good enough, and the anal retentive types could probably fiddle with them enough to be happy.

A number of friends borrowed the bike and all commented on its sharp dress and smooth, quiet ride. And more than one non-cyclist stopped to admire the bike as I was locking it up on various errands.

COLIN’S REVIEW

Spot Sprawl commuter bike review with Gates belt drive and Shimano Alfine internal gear hub

This was by far one of the classiest, comfiest bikes I’ve pedaled.

There aren’t any other bikes in Spot’s lineup that have the aesthetics of the Sprawl . Although many have the features – disc brakes, Gates centertrack belt drive, and internal gearing – the Sprawl rides like a vintage or handmade frame. The 8 speeds and the ratio were more than adequate for basic riding. It packed Alfine’s pizazz without the cost of 11 speeds. I didn’t ride the bike too hard though. If I were taking it on long commutes, the 11 speed may’ve come in handy.

A few features that stand out and are worthy of mention – the frame, the handlebars, and the belt drive system. Together, they make this bike an awesome commuter.

The frame is just dandy. Custom dropouts made for the belt drive make it a show piece. There’s nothing low profile about the Sprawl. The only color they sell is John Deere Tractor Green, and it’s flashy enough to get noticed. OX Platinum is a high quality steel and very resistant to denting. The welds are seamless.

The Sprawl’s handlebars surprised me. Many commuter bikes have handlebars that are impractical or downright uncomfortable. This one didn’t. FSA Metropolis bars come standard and they have two setups. Flipped up, as Tyler rode they have inscribed “High flyer”. Flipped down, they have inscribed “Low rider”. I liked them flipped down. The bike felt like an elegant cafe racer. A flattened section in the bar’s center allowed for additional hand positions.

Spot is a huge proponent of Gates belt drive. This commuter was built around it. Overall, it brought the bike together. Completely silent and grease-free, the whole bike felt cleaner than similar Alfine builds with standard chain drives.

Comments

Jamey - 06/14/12 - 2:06pm

$3200. For a commuter. No breakthrough tech and gearing that are “more than adequate for basic riding.”

Blow me.

Chis - 06/14/12 - 4:14pm

Why is $3200 for a commuter crazy? Is $3200 for a carbon racing bike more sensible? I used to think expensive commuter bikes didn’t make sense but the more time I spend using my bike for transportation the more I realize it’s stupid to spend $3200 on a road bike that can’t do anything except be ridden on smooth roads in good weather. A typical road bike isn’t much fun in the rain due to the lack of fenders (and in many cases the ability to even mount them), can’t carry anything, isn’t very comfortable on rough roads, and can’t be ridden at night without first spending yet more money on lights. If you commute daily and run errands on a bike you’ll probably find your self spending as many (or more hours) on that bike than on your road bike so it makes sense to put the money in the machine you use more. Also mechanically it makes sense for a commuter to cost more because it contains more than a road bike. In addition to everything you’ll find on a road bike a commuter also has fenders, lights, and a rack. Fenders in particular take time to properly install. Internally geared hubs and discs are also more expensive than derailleurs and rim brakes.

gringo - 06/15/12 - 3:30am

nice looking, but for that price I’d expect much nicer fenders, rack and lights.

Jeff - 06/15/12 - 10:03am

I think it is a nice bike with good spec for production, but I feel pretty certain you could get a full custom in color of your choice and with the same spec for the same or less money, of course it would take 6+ months…I think that is the issue some will have with the price, it does seem high for a overseas made stock bike.

dgaddis - 06/15/12 - 11:59am

@Jeff – all Spots are made in the USA as far as I know. Still, it’s a lot of money for a bike that is likely to get stollen and beat and abused.

Joe - 07/25/12 - 11:46am

Regarding cost: I recently plunked down the money (not quite this much) for a transportation bike with the Centertrack drive, 11-speed hub, and hydraulic disc brakes. The justification for me is the promise (we’ll see) of less maintenance. The last time the derailleur acted up on my old commuter, I ended up taking the bike to the shop three times before it was fixed. That’s three car trips to drop it off, three car trips to pick it up, several days when the bike was in the shop, and a couple of weeks when it didn’t really work right. Cost of adjustments is a small consideration, the time and trouble is a big consideration for me. Having a clean drivetrain that won’t get grease on my clothes is also worth quite a bit to me. Some avid bicyclists get around these problems by having a fleet of bikes, and suiting up in special clothes before they ride, but those solutions are expensive, too.

E.B.N. - 09/05/12 - 8:54pm

No custom framesize, you have to choose between sizes. wtf?
No custom painting job, wtf?
Who makes the frames, where do the frames come from?
A frame from Thailand is cheaper, look at On-One, Surly, Salsa, +++, they’re building frames in Thailand at their own specifications, and it goes from 600-800 USD. Still high quality. A local framebuilder are more expensive, and it’s a lot of’em in USA. Support them! ;)
Belt-gear system prices are $150 to $280.
Alfine? wtf? Rohloff is more reliable, and it’ll defend the pricetag better if it already was included.
Alfine 11speed goes for around $450 (ebay, new, without rim/spokes)
Rims, tyres, fenders at this bike is around 150USD. (rim:40-50, tyre=20-50, fenders=30)
Seat/grips around $100-200 if you’re picky, it’s just OEM parts.

I’ll glady pay a lot of money for a custom steel or titan bike, but not 3200 for something a little more unique than a off-a-shelf bike.

Here is a bare urban commuter aluminium bike for $2000, May 2011 , why have it rised $1200 in a year by including a few low cost parts?
http://www.bikerumor.com/2011/05/19/what-makes-a-spot-brand-bike-plus-new-aluminum-and-steel-bikes/

Spotbrand itself says that one can CUSTOMIZE it:
“If you’re cool with waiting a little longer and shelling out some extra bucks, just email us your vision or call us to talk it through. We’ll be ready to go over price and delivery timing.”

Yep, more unspecified $$$. Sadly it’s not illegal to rip off peoples.

BikerX - 07/30/13 - 1:14pm

$3,200 for a factory-built (assuming off-shores, as they’d be pimping “Made in USA” otherwise) bike is ridiculous. For that price why not have something custom built?
This is exactly what I’m looking for in my next bike, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay $3K for a factory commuter. Drop the price by $2K and you’ll have my attention.

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