In my first impressions of the Redline R530, I promised to come back in a few weeks with a full review. It’s been more than a few weeks, but finally, I’m ready!
I’ve had a chance to ride the R530 for a couple months now; I’ve put 300 or 400 miles on it so I feel I’ve got a good grasp of what this bike is capable of — where it shines and where it doesn’t.
As mentioned in my first article about the bike, this machine comes with a couple of components not usually seen on commuter bikes…in particular, the Shimano roller brakes. In addition, this bike comes stock with a rear rack, fenders, a good kickstand, full chainguard and even a handlebar-mounted bell! Apparently, someone at Redline is listening to what folks want in a city bike. Styling-wise, the bike has a very European flavor, with full chainguard and a very upright and commanding rider position.
The parts spec, for the MSRP of $589.99, is quite adequate — a buyer gets a lot of functional value for that price. With the rack, fenders and chainguard, this bike is truly a “turnkey” commuter option. The only accessories needed would be front and rear lights (which often come stock on similarly-spec’ed but far more expensive bikes). And Redline didn’t skimp on hardware: all mounting bolts for the rack and fenders appear to be stainless steel. Because I am totally out of storage room at my house and my wife was tired of a bike in the kitchen, I was forced to store this bike out in the elements…and am happy to say that no rust has appeared anywhere! The same goes with the chain — I’m not exactly sure of the brand (I suspect KMC), but it is completely rust-free. The chainguard is partly to thank for that, but in addition, the chain itself has a matte silver finish that shrugs off grime and corrosion. Good stuff.
The R530 frame is welded from 6061 aluminum. The welds are clean and the frame is sleek, with a deep, glossy paint finish and subdued graphics. The bike looks classy and modern at the same time, with strong echoes of that functional “Euro” look. The top tube is radically sloped and the headtube seems really high — good for a nice, upright riding position. One small nitpick I have with the frame is Redline’s choice of a threaded 1 1/8″ headset — when it is time to replace the bearings, threaded headsets of that size can be somewhat difficult to source without a bit of searching.
Folks who live in fear of “harsh-riding” aluminum frames need not be worried, because comfort-wise, this bike has few competitors. With some tricks, the rider is pretty well isolated from the frame. As I mentioned earlier, some might think the standard suspension seatpost and 50mm-travel front suspension fork are somewhat “gimmicky” for a bike like this, but I feel they really take the comfort level to a whole new dimension for a bicycle of this type. The SR/Suntour fork does its job well enough…soaking up small bumps and smoothing the ride. The saddle and ergo-shaped grips add to the comfort level for most folks, too. I personally didn’t like the cushy, gel-filled saddle, but everyone else who rode this bike raved about it. I’m cursed with a narrow, bony butt, and I just sank too far down into it, irritating my “tender bits” (sorry!). A quick swap with something a touch firmer did the trick for me. Saddles are such a personal choice that I can’t knock a bike for coming stock with one I don’t like, though. In my opinion, a cushy saddle like this makes a low-travel suspension seatpost seem like overkill…it’s probably not necessary to have one in order to keep comfort levels high.
Riding position was excellent also — no hunching or stretching required. Because the bottom bracket is pretty high and the handlebars rise up quite a bit from the radically jacked-up headtube, standing up on the pedals is a treat. I felt like the Pope addressing the St. Peter’s Square crowds from his apartment balcony! All this upright positioning comes at a cost, though; there is NOWHERE to hide from headwinds and your body will catch any breeze like a sail, reducing efficiency. There were a couple times when I got quite tired riding this bike around, desperately wishing for a way to get more “aero”. This is no time trial rig, though — Redline made this bike as an around-town cruiser, not a race machine.
Shifting and rear braking were flawless. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to try a Shimano Nexus hub, you’re really missing out. Shifting is effortless; just a quick twist of the shifter gives you clean, crisp gear changes. And, you can shift while standing still or under some load — good for getting a jump off the line at intersections or whenever you need a higher or lower gear right now. The Nexus hub is maintenance-free and easy to adjust, too. In fact, I can’t think of an easier-to-adjust shifting system. For adjustment of the shifting, refer to an article we wrote a while back that addresses the simple steps needed to get the shifting performance spot-on.
Shimano’s roller brake assembly handles the rear braking — the brake is quite powerful, low maintenance and easy to modulate. There’s plenty of range between gentle feathering, firm stopping and a tire-smoking lockup, and I really liked it. These roller brakes are immune to wet weather, too — unlike rim brakes, which lose power in the rain.
You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about front braking…yet. But here it is — Shimano’s front roller brake stinks! In my “first impressions” article, I griped about the lack of stopping power from the front brake, thinking it was the way I set it up or something. Val Kleitz of Seattle Bike Supply (Redline’s U.S. distributor) informed me that Shimano built this brake with safety in mind by employing an internal clutch they refer to as the “Power Regulator”. Well, Shimano regulated most of the power right out of this brake — I get nothing more than a dribble of anemic friction, allowing me to slow down a bit but not nearly enough for serious panic stops. If 70% or so of a bike’s braking ability comes from the front, why is this roller brake so weak?
It gets worse, too — the suspension fork that comes on the R530 is designed specifically for this roller brake (there’s a mounting point for the brake’s reaction arm built right into the fork), and other braking systems are not compatible. No V-brake bosses…no disc mount. You’re stuck with this brake.
The important thing is that the front brake is not very confidence-inspiring by itself. When used in tandem with the rear brake, though, stopping is not affected. Just be sure to rely more on the rear than the front (which may be counterintuitive to some riders).
The wheelset that comes on the R530 is bulletproof, so far. Stout 700c Weinmann Taurus 2000 double-wall rims are some of my favorites…no spoke hole eyelets, but these rims are beefy and tough as nails. No truing has been needed, even with some curb-hopping, lengthy traverses over cobblestones and a couple of trips down the stairs at full throttle. Kenda 700×38 tires and Slime-filled inner tubes keep the punctures away, and the wheels seem to roll quickly and smoothly.
Puncture-proof tires and tubes are a really good idea on this bike for a very important reason: changing a road-side flat is a fiddly process, at best, especially on the rear-end of this bike. As I mentioned earlier, the bike comes stock with a full chainguard. Well, part of this chainguard must be removed in order to pull the back wheel out of the frame. Luckily, Redline designed the chainguard with a small, removable “window” to access the frame’s dropouts. Here’s one of the spots where it gets fiddly: the two screws holding this portion of the chainguard on are incredibly tiny and easy to lose. Here’s a picture illustrating this “window” (red lines indicate the portion that is removed):
So, to remove the back wheel, you will need at minimum a small screwdriver and a 15mm wrench. If, like the bike I’m reviewing, the brake cable is really tight, you may also need a 10mm wrench to loosen the brake cable pinchbolt in order to release the brake’s cable stop from its keyhole slot. Not a quick process, in any case. Have no fear: if you lose one (or both) of the chainguard screws, the bike is still completely rideable! If you manage to hang onto those screws, be careful when reinstalling them — the plastic guard is a touch brittle and I slightly cracked the guard right at the screw hole. What I’m trying to say is, if you get a flat, be prepared to take it slowly and carefully when replacing the tube (or call for backup from a friend who can get you to work on time).
One last thing…although the pedals are comfortable and wide enough to ride in dress shoes, they become slippery when wet despite thick rubber treads. I’ve become spoiled by grippy BMX platforms (almost all my bikes have ’em), so you may consider swapping the stock pedals out for something with more traction.
So, is this the perfect commuter bike? For shortish trips around town (less than 10 miles or so), the Redline R530 serves admirably, especially if one is new to bike commuting. It’s comfortable, it’s easy to shift and it is low maintenance. Over longer distances, though, the upright position will take a lot more energy out of the rider — this bike is just not efficient enough for long rides. I think this bike is best in an urban setting: short commutes, errand and grocery runs, fun cruising and path exploration. I’m pretty sure this is what Redline intended its use to be; they didn’t set out to make this bike a cross-country touring machine. Overall, this is a great bike for the price; it’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for a capable around-town fun bike that also has a bit of versatility in terms of hauling a load, the R530 is tough to beat.
— stylish design
— commanding riding position
— fully-equipped with crucial accessories straight from the dealer
— great wheelset for the price
— comfort galore
— good overall value for the price
— Riding position sacrifices aerodynamic efficiency
— anemic front brake
— quick flat fixes are out of the question
— saddle/pedal swaps may be called for to get the most out of this bike
Check out Redline’s complete line of road, cyclocross, fitness, MTB and BMX bikes by visiting their website.