Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Ultimate Commuter Bike?

The Ultimate Commuter. Not some slightly off-the-wall superhero, but the bike you dream of when struggling to work on a rusty old hack with a squeaky chain and a flat tyre. A quick survey on Facebook and Twitter revealed an imaginative list of specifications for that perfect bike, most of them from the realms of science fiction and many of them designed to inflict pain on inconsiderate motorists. How about a tailwind generator or Boudicca style wheel-spikes to keep Addison Lee minicabs at bay? Fortunately, Mark Meadows of Milk Bikes has taken a more realistic approach to the challenge and with the RDA, might just have cracked it.

For several years, I’ve been commuting on two wheels to my job as a GP. Mountain, hybrid, road, fixed gear and cyclocross bikes have all been pressed into service from time to time and done a reasonable, if not outstanding job. All of them have been found wanting at one time or other – too heavy, too slow, too skittish, no mudguards, no rack. I own what my wife believes to be an excessive number of bikes. As I have explained to her, all of them have a very distinct purpose - from off-roading, through time trialling, to an incredibly niche bike used solely for hill climb races of a certain length and gradient. Despite spending most of my cycling hours commuting, I have never thought to get a bike specifically for that role (apart from a brief flirtation with an incredibly dull hybrid – the less said about that the better). Mark Meadows found many things to upset him about the bikes he rode on his 30 mile commute. With a background in sports equipment design, including an ill-fated attempt to adapt a Toilet Duck bottle as an aerodynamic drinking system for triathlons (!), he decided to use his abilities and contacts in the industry to get the RDA off the ground. Having been brought up on a dairy farm in Zimbabwe, he adopted the name Milk Bikes. RDA stands for “Recommended Daily Allowance” presumably referring to the amount of use the bike should get, rather than its calcium content.

First Impressions

The RDA is a good looking bike. The aircraft grade chromoly tubing is narrower than that seen on most modern frames, giving the bike an elegant air. The finish is excellent with tidy welds, a nice white paint job and subtle decals. Milk bikes provide their own branded alloy seatpost, stem and handlebars. With its compact frame, the bike has the air of a mountain bike about it, particularly when combined with the Velocity deep section rims and disc brakes. It’s the Gates carbon belt drive that will draw the eye of the discerning cyclist however. Looking a bit like a car fan belt, it is completely dry to the touch, with no stretch that I could detect. No chance of getting oil on my trousers with this system, with or without bike clips. Unable to be used with a derailleur, the belt drive is allied to a Shimano Alfine internally geared hub system, with the 8 speed version on my test bike. A dynamo hub in the front wheel for powering the lights, three sets of bottle bosses (one on the underside of the down tube holding a tool kit), full SKS mudguards and a Tubus rack finish the build.

Riding the RDA

As a roadie, I found the riding position to be more upright than I am used to. This gave me better visibility of the road around me (and I suppose made me more visible too) and made for a relaxed ride. My wife couldn’t resist taking it for a spin and found the position to be quite racy compared to her usual hybrid. With no chain slack to take up, pedalling feels very direct – a bit like riding fixed. The thing you notice most though is the silence of the belt drive. The lack of chain rattle or chattering of sprockets can be a bit unnerving until you get used to it. The Alfine gears work smoothly and efficiently, with little or no delay after clicking the thumb shifter. Another bonus of Alfine is the ability to change gears without pedalling – a boon when having to stop suddenly at traffic lights. Speaking of stopping, the hydraulic disc brakes do a brilliant job – something the drivers of Leicester gave me ample opportunity to test. The horrible weather of the last few weeks also made me appreciate the mudguards and overall stability of the ride. The Continental Tour Plus tyres give excellent grip with the bonus of top notch puncture protection. The bike is no lightweight – you won’t be winning any races off the lights – but once you get there, it holds the speed well and feels surprisingly agile on descents and round corners. After several severe soakings in the torrential rain, the belt drive ran wonderfully smoothly, without a hint of a squeak or creak.


I enjoyed my time with the RDA and was sad to see it go. It was great to be able to grab the bike from the garage and not let maintenance worries cross my mind. If you spend a lot of time commuting, need reliability and ease of use more than raw speed and want a well-designed high quality steed, this could be the bike for you. As a roadie I found the 8 speed Alfine did not offer enough gears at the top end and would recommend the lighter weight and broader range of the 11 speed hub. There are a wide range of specifications available including a drop bar version, the most popular being the 11 speed flat bar. At £1450 for a fully assembled 8 speed and £1650 for the 11, the bike falls outside the £1000 limit for the bike-to-work scheme, a fact that may put off some qualifying buyers. The excellent frameset is also available for just £400 and can be combined with a standard chain. It’s the carbon belt drive that really makes this bike though – a whole lot more practical than those Boudicca spikes.

Rating 4.5/5

1 comment:

  1. Nice looking bike - for me, however, there could never be a better commuter bike than my Montague. I don't always ride the whole way to work - sometimes I catch a ride with my roommate for the first few miles or I'll take the train, and then ride the last couple miles, and having a folding bike makes it so easy.