Spa Cycles has a bit of a cosy name to it, but the Harrogate-based outfit has been “serving the touring cyclist” for over 40 years – and you don’t manage that long flogging bikes in Britain – or probably anywhere – without doing something seriously right. Spa has also been a long-time believer in titanium and my Spa Elan mixes the modern with the traditional for what Spa calls its “new do-anything bike”.
There’s an old-school reinforcing gusset under the top tube, a threaded bottom bracket shell, only 10-speed Shimano 105 and hand-built wheels. All that contrasts with the TRP disc brakes and the wide, tubeless, gravel-friendly tyres.
The triple-chainring setup won’t appeal to everyone, but it shows that in this era of 1x some people still think three’s best.
The advantage to the system is that it allows you to keep a consistent cadence – ideal for touring, sportives and big days out – over just about any topography.
TRP’s hydraulic disc brakes.David Caudery / Immediate Media
The 50/39/30 rings and 11-32 cassette offer a high top gear and a very low 30 x 32 bottom. The downside is that there will be a fair number of ‘redundant’ gears.
Triple too retro? Shimano’s newest groupsets don’t have triple chainsets but 11-speed 105 and Ultegra compacts are options, as is Spa’s own ‘super compact’ that goes down to a tiny 40/24 – or you can go down the SRAM Apex 1x route.
The brakes are TRP’s HY/RD discs, which pair cable actuation at the levers with hydraulic reservoirs – a hybrid design that works very well. Not quite as light to operate as full hydraulics, but they offer excellent power, very good control and modulation.
If you want to go fully hydraulic, the Spa Elan is also available with a Shimano 105 5800 compact double and R7020 hydraulic brakes, presently costing £1,990.
The wheels are a treat, combining Kinlin 26 TS rims, Bitex 106 hubs and Sapim Race spokes. Handmade by Spa’s own spoke key fettler Bobby Stevens, these come tubeless out of the box rather than just tubeless-ready.
All bases are covered with a 11-32 cassette and a low 30 x 32 bottom gear.David Caudery / Immediate Media
The Kinlin rims make the most of the tyres’ 35mm width too, expanding them to a voluminous 38mm when inflated. Go figure?
The Schwalbe G-One tyres are easy to fit, and their micro knobs run fast and smoothly over tarmac and bomb along well on gravel, though the knobs’ uniform height means you might lose traction if cornering quickly on looser surfaces. But they’re a good choice for hard-packed gravel, grit and road riding, smoothing out even the most pitted and pock-marked roads superbly.
As befits a do-anything bike, I tried it over numerous surfaces. The frame is designed to make the most of titanium’s stiffness and I found it niftily quick on my 16-mile commute.
The Elan, with its tallish front end, has slightly upright geometry, but it’s not so extreme that you can’t get in the drops and put the hammer down.
If you’re buying the Elan for full-on touring – it has rear rack fittings – or if you have less flexibility in your lower back, you can run the bar at the same height as the saddle.
Elan’s geometry proved comfortable on long days in the saddle.Russell Burton
The saddle itself is a Brooks Cambium. I’m not generally a big fan of Brooks’ leather saddles (1,750 miles wasn’t enough to wear one in – life’s too short for that!) but even with the basic FSA aluminium seatpost and titanium frame I found it a very comfortable combination.
The gentle sweep and slight flattening of the FSA’s Wing Compact bar proved excellent for my hands, too, ideal for long days when you just turn the pedals for the sheer pleasure of it.
If you were buying a carbon endurance bike at this price it might be a little lighter, but the Spa more than lives up to its Elan name, delivering style, spirit and flair with an enviable balance of comfort and performance.
A lifetime frame guarantee, quality handbuilt wheels and a high degree of customisation round out an impressive product.
Seat angle: 72.5 degrees
Head angle: 71.5 degrees
Seat tube: 48cm
Top tube: 55cm
Fork offset: 4.6cm
Bottom bracket height: 28.4cm