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