For the price, it's near impossible to fault, and can rival far more expensive machines. Fantastic to ride, easy to live with, good value, and beautiful to look at. What more could you want?
Easily tuneable to fit your body
Easy to live with
A tad heavy compared to a carbon bike
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Price £3,299 (£100 upcharge for iridescent plum colour)
Groupset: Shimano 105 Di2
Wheels: Hunt 4 Season Disc
Tyres: Continental GP5000 S TR
Bar Stem: FSA Gossamer / FSA Energy
Saddle: Fizik Terra Argo X5
There are many and varied reasons why people pick one road bike over the countless others on offer. Price is obviously one, performance on paper another, while I think anyone who says a great number of bikes aren’t purchased as status symbols for the Sunday club run is kidding themselves. I’ve been using the Fairlight Strael for a good few months now as my long-term test bike, meaning I’ve used it in its ‘stock’ spec (although there isn’t really such a thing for a Fairlight), as well as using it to test out various wheels, tyres, saddles, bars etc. etc. ad nauseum.
I get to ride the absolute best of the best. I get to ride bikes that would set you back enough for a deposit on a house (...just, depending on where you live), and even with bikes like the new Pinarello F7, the Canyon Ultimate, and even the otherworldly fully custom titanium Sturdy Fiadh I really struggle to find a bike that is as complete a package as the Fairlight Strael in the best road bikes segment. It’s nearly faultless.
This is echoed by my colleagues, who agreed with me on giving it the Editor’s Choice nod after testing it back to back against a slew of other similarly priced road bikes in the Cyclingnews Awards. While I’d also encourage you not to click away to rival sites, it’s also a bike that has been extremely highly rated by my friends/professional rivals at Cyclist, Cycling Weekly, BikeRadar and Road.cc.
It’s also worth noting that the brand’s gravel offering, the Fairlight Secan, I also deemed worthy of a 5-star rating. There are a great many similarities between the two, which we will go into, and while adaptability is one of them the Strael certainly isn’t as versatile in the broadest sense. It is a bike lover’s bike, rather than those who crave a status symbol. If, like me, riding a properly dialled road bike is a joy almost unrivalled then the Strael, in whatever spec you can stretch to, should be near the top, if not at the top of your list; it’s that good.
The rear dropouts are beautifully worked out, and protected by a stainless steel plate
A 105 Di2 groupset is hard to fault, especially at this price point
A waxed gold chain isn't stock, you'll have to do that yourself
Dynamo routing is something I wish I could make use of though, but constant wheel swaps make it impossible
Design and aesthetics
Given that I’m in a relatively privileged position of having both the Fairlight Secan and now the Fairlight Strael to test back to back I get asked very often “which one should I get”. As such I think the best place to start is the geometry differences between the two before we dive into any construction notes.
The Strael is very much a road bike, while the Secan has the geometry of a racy gravel bike. Very racy, but gravell-y nonetheless. What does this mean in terms of numbers? For a 56R frame (Fairlight offers both regular and tall frames in each of its sizes), the Strael has a marginally shorter reach (by 3mm) and an 8mm lower stack, so it’s going to pop you in a lower position, assuming the same spacer stack. The seat tube is 25mm longer on the Strael, basically making the top tube more horizontal, as you don’t really need to get it out of the way so often as you do when riding gravel; this also adds to the classic aesthetic, but more on that later.
The head angle is a full degree and a half steeper, and in combination with 12mm shorter chainstays and a fork with 5mm less offset results in a wheelbase, that’s a full 34mm shorter. This does noticeably speed up the handling compared to the Secan, but a much larger BB drop (77mm for the Strael, 68 for the Secan), adds some stability back in to compensate.
Dom at Fairlight kindly offered to sort me out with a bike fit so that the test bike fit me properly, so I was able an absolutely identical position on both bikes for the sake of a belt and braces test. This is where we need now to talk about specs, as there isn’t really a ‘stock’ option. As each bike is built to order it’s much easier to spec exactly what you want. I was provided with the nominal 105 Di2 level package, with Hunt 4 Season Disc alloy wheels and Continental GP5000 S TR tyres. Speccing narrower 38cm bars and a shorter 90mm stem to account for my elegant, long legs and short torso was the matter of a few drop-down menus, something which is much harder with a totally off-the-peg purchase, and even harder still if you’ve got an integrated cockpit.
The construction, too, is very similar to that of the Secan, in that you have a frame made of custom-drawn and butted Reynolds 853 steel (the strongest non-stainless option from the Birmingham brand). The top tube is still ovalised horizontally, and the downtube is ovalised vertically at the head tube join, and horizontally at the bottom bracket to add stiffness in the places where it is most needed. A 68mm BSA threaded bottom bracket is no shock on a steel bike either, and anything else besides a threaded T47 option would be very unusual indeed.
In a world of fiddly wedges, a proper, external seat clamp is a delight
Sensible, year round wheels and brilliant tyres help the frameset shine
Normal, round bars mean actual real estate for mounting stuff to, something that's lost with modern cockpits
Plus, they're so much more easy to tune your setup with, and cheaper too
Diving in from the macro-scale steel to the details is where, for me, the frame shines. The rear dropouts are beautifully machined by Bentley Components in Yorkshire and have an added faceplate on the outer to avoid any damage to the frame itself. The brake mount, being machined separately and as a standalone piece, means there is a vastly reduced chance of the mount being askew, resulting in brake rub.
You also get Di2 routing ports, braze-ons for shifter cables and external brake hoses, eyelets for mudguards and even mounts for a pannier rack. There’s even a set of bottle bosses under the downtube, which I’ve found excellent for storing my tools and tubes in a wee canister. It’s all so refreshingly sensible, and in a world of ever-deepening integration seeing a round seatpost and an external seat clamp is enough to bring a tear to my eye. There is absolutely nothing proprietary, and it’s designed in such a way as to be almost entirely futureproof. The BSA bottom bracket has been around since people were using whale oil to fuel lamps and is compatible with a huge variety of crank systems, and the headset strikes a similar chord. Having restored numerous classic bikes in my time this has all the hallmarks of a frame that could easily still be in use in 50 years time, which is a delight in a world of disposable consumerism.
Ah, aesthetics then? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but anyone who says skinny steel tubes are ugly needs their eyes examined. This is cycling heritage, the kind we all pine over when looking at historic Colnagos, brought bang up to date with modern riding tastes. Aesthetically too it has a chamelion-esque quality of taking on the form of whatever it is adorned with. With the Hunt wheels it came with it has the look of a very British all-year road bike, even more so with full mudguards fitted. With a set of Hunt Limitless 48 wheels, or Roval Rapides, it wouldn’t look out of place at a crit. I’m yet to slap on anything larger than 28mm, but I dare say if you maxed out the 36mm (slick) tyre clearance it would exude the correct vibes for someone to come up and ask you what ‘spirit of gravel’ means.
My favourite aesthetic guise however is a combination of deep-section wheels, mudguards, and a third bottle cage under the downtube. “I’m fast, over any distance, in any weather”, it says, writing cheques my legs cannot cash.
Proper mudguard mounts and pannier bolts add proper utility. Top Tip: Valve washers make great mudguard spacers
High end steel really can mix it with carbon and alloy
It's a very pleasant place to be for hours on end (yes, those are leather-topped Crocs, thanks for asking)
I did swap out the stock Fabric Scoop saddle. There's nothing wrong with it, but I prefer this one
The included washers behind the bottle cages show a clear attention to detail
Plenty of clearance for wider rubber, though I never really needed to go over 28mm
A joy. There’s no other way to put it.
The 105 Di2 gearing is honestly as good as anyone realistically ever really needs. It’s not as good as Ultegra, but it’s barely perceptible unless you’re back-to-back testing, with the major difference coming in the braking. What’s more, the Strael to me is a bike that works year-round, and so speccing a more bling groupset I think would actually begin to be detrimental if it stops you riding it in the winter; this isn’t a bike to mate to a turbo in the dark months. If anything the dynamo routing almost asks to be used in the cold and dark, though I didn’t make use of it as I swap wheels too often to commit to a dynamo light on a long termer.
The Hunt 4 Season wheels are an entirely sensible choice for a 105 spec machine, especially one that has genuine all-season capabilities, and at this price, it’s hard to expect more - this is a bike that all told will still give you a bit of change from £3,300, and you’re getting electronic shifting in that too. They’re alloy, and have a relatively narrow 19mm internal width by modern standards, but perform solidly. Given that they are paired with extremely good Conti GP5000 tyres it paints a picture of a spec sheet that has been tailored to improve what will maximise the riding experience. Given that I’ve had bikes twice the price come with tyres far worse than these says a lot. What’s more, if you are prone to fits of upgrading, they make great winter wheels for when you want to save the flash carbon rims for a sunny day.
For the price, it’s the best road bike I’ve ridden, and better than many more expensive options, especially as a machine to actually live with. While the wheels don’t necessarily set the world alight they are entirely capable when you view them as a £300 option, and if you do want to upgrade them you can spec better sets. The handling is sublime, and really is a bike that deserves decent tyres. I’m loath to attribute ride quality purely to some magical properties that steel has, but ‘steel is real’ claims aside it has a sense of purpose that favours seated, extended high-tempo efforts, rather than the waspish, darting qualities of a superlight carbon machine. It’s stiff, sure, and to be honest, it is going to be heavier than carbon options, but I’d take the hit on the scales for the extra confidence the frameset imbues.
The cornering is sharp, and especially with good tyres you can really pick your line with confidence. As you’d expect, it feels more alive still with a set of extremely premium wheels, but that just illustrates its upgrade potential.
Slap on some race wheels and it feels every bit the race bike
Or, my favourite, is a combination of race wheels and full mudguards, for long days out in the mulch
So it’s a joy to ride, and a joy to behold, as well as adaptable to the point of being reasonably practical for anything from a crit race to a light tour. Here’s where I’m going to get a bit misty-eyed and nebulous: It’s a proper road bike, the likes of which we really see very few of anymore. The days of dreaming of seatpost upgrades and carbon handlebars have been burned on the fire of aerodynamics and integration, and that makes me sad. Given it’s made of mostly round tubes I know it hasn’t been designed by an engineer obsessing over fluid dynamics and drag coefficients. It’s been designed, and specced for that matter too, by someone who knows how to make a bike sublime to ride. I don’t use a computer for the most part, so I don’t really know how much slower it would be over an aerodynamically optimised bike, but especially at this sub-£4k range I suspect the difference would be minimal, especially if you spec some narrow bars that you may not otherwise be able to do with other bikes. Whatever the penalty, however many seconds slower it might be over 40km at 30km/h at a specific yaw angle… well that’s more seconds you’re going to be enjoying the ride.
A final note on fit that pertains more to the market as a whole, but is very much relevant here. Having a bike that fits you is going to do more to improve your experience than a set of carbon wheels. A great many bikes that I test, usually at prices around that of this bike and above, do not fit me very well out of the box. I make do, but it’s not always optimal, ever more frequently I am unable to modify the fit beyond the saddle fore/aft due to the use of single-piece cockpits. Having a round seatpost, and a separate bar and stem with dimensions you can spec at the point of purchase easily is a bike fitter's dream. If you’re going to make the leap and buy a Strael (or a secan, or Faran, or to be honest any bike for that matter) I’d suggest getting a bike fit first so you can have it made up to your dimensions. Initially, I wanted to liken it to a bespoke suit, but suits, however, custom or well-fitting, are still restrictive. Having a bike perfectly set up for you is like slipping into your favourite pair of jeans.
This is made all the more easy having been able to test the Strael back-to-back against many other bikes in the same price bracket. The only thing that really matches it to my eyes is the Canyon Ultimate CF SL 7 eTap, wherein you get some very good DTSwiss wheels, electric shifting, and a power meter for a similar price. That’s a different proposition though, very much a racing-oriented machine and for the generalist, I’d suggest (and did, in the awards) that the Strael is a better choice for more people.
In short, you’ll struggle to find a more complete package. A well-built frame that could last you a lifetime, that’s also repairable, along with electric shifting, some of the best tyres on the market, and solid year-round wheels in a package that’s tunable to fit your personal proportions for £3,300 really is excellent value for money.
A great many bikes that I test ride are great to ride, and of them, I am genuinely sad to see a smaller number leave my possession. A much smaller number still meet the requirements of ‘A Bike I Would Buy’. I have this as a long-term bike, and so have a bit more time to play with various setups and see, but this falls very much into that category.
If I was in the market for a new bike this is what I’d be buying. If I was in the market for and had two grand more to spend I would buy this and some fancy wheels, rather than a more expensive bike.
It’s almost flawless, from the handling characteristics, the aesthetics, the finishing details, and the spec list, all the way through to how easy it is to live with. The only drawback is a slight weight and aero penalty, but that’s a hit I’d happily take.
|Design and aesthetics||Gorgeous, well thought out, and beautifully finished.||10/10|
|Build||For the price the spec is almost impossible to fault.||10/10|
|Performance||It's not aero, but it doesn't claim to be either. In all other aspects it's faultless.||10/10|
|Weight||Yes, a little weight penalty over alloy or carbon.||9/10|
|Value||The spec, the price, and the potential longevity make it a great value bike.||10/10|
|Overall rating||Row 5 - Cell 1||98%|
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