Spot Brand Bicycles Rocker 29″er: Final Review: by Grannygear
The time spent on the Spot Rocker SS 29″er has been illuminating. Yeah, there’s a word you don’t hear every day in bike reviews. It has confirmed a few things I had wondered about and laid to rest (well, mostly) doubts about the efficacy of the Gates Carbon Drive V-2.0 AKA Centertrack. And as the time draws near to ship the bike back, I am thinking I will miss this one. So, on to the final thoughts and impressions.
I have been riding moderately priced steel single speed bikes lately (like the OS Bikes Blackbuck) with a couple of Alu frames tossed in there and I wondered if spending twice+ as much on a frame like the Spot gets you enough of an improvement to make it ‘worth it’. While worth is in the wallet and imagination of the buyer, I think there is enough of a difference to notice. The Spot Rocker has a very nice balance of that smooth, classic steel ride and a peppy feel when pedaled. It does not have the super stiff power transfer that most carbon frames have these days but it gets very close to some of the better aluminum frames I have pedaled hard and beats them all as far as ‘smoove-ness’. The handling is very middle of the road. It was not quite the single track magician that the OS Blackbuck is, but it is better all around to my liking. There were times it really surprised me as to how fast I could go on rough double tracks on the Rocker. That 100mm Reba fork and 15mmQR axle system kept it pointed straight ahead and the extra travel (typically I run 80mm forks on single speed bikes) was fine for fast stuff. I ran the Reba a bit stiff in set-up and that allowed me to barely use the compression damping in exchange for a slightly rougher ride.
I let Ed the Tall, single speed rider of note, take a good loop on the Spot and he was very impressed, thinking that this was the first scoot that made him consider getting off his beloved Selma (2010 vintage). That is high praise as the Selma of old was a very, very good single speed frame in my opinion.
The only time I missed things like tapered head tubes and oversize hydro formed tubing was when I was at near zero RPM on a steep climb. Then I could feel the bike winding up from the handlebars to the rear axle. There were also a few times I could feel some flex in fast sweepers, but that never bothered me, instead it just felt like a good spring…lively and ‘twangy’ in a good way. While very manipulated tubing and oversize everything have their place, they can also deaden a ride and remove some of that intangible feel that good steel has. Everything is a trade off.
So while the Spot Rocker has a high end tubeset and hand made in the USA construction, it is not a true custom frame. You get what you get for dimensions and angles, etc. It might be said that you can get a full custom frame for the cost of an ‘off the rack’ Spot (well, maybe). So why would you not go for the full custom? Well really what many people are looking for in a high end frame is not truly a custom fit as the average person can do fine with seat post and stem changes to a stock frame, but rather they desire a better than average performance (plus the bragging rights of owning a nicer bike). Consider that a company like Spot has the resources to do frame testing (like CEN) that is outside of the capacity of some small builder in a shed somewhere. And further, while there are true artists in the field of handmade bikes, there is nothing keeping anyone from popping up a website and building frames…and taking your money….and taking a year to deliver….if ever. This frame is tested and ready to be purchased. You know what you are getting and when you can get it.
So, all day geometry, a weight of 24.5lbs w/SPDs without one piece of carbon on the bike, a smooth ride, great manners and snappy pedaling, and a classic and classy look with the steel tubes and pearl paint (but at a high cost) sum up the Rocker (plus the ability to run the belt).
The components were a standard Spot build and the Truvativ, Avid, and Rockshox bits and pieces plus the Sun Ringle Charger Pro wheels were trouble free and solid stuff. No issues, no surprises. I might have run a carbon bar for added stiffness when pulling hard, but that would have been about it. I ran the wheels tubeless as delivered and that was eezy-peezy.
Now, the belt. It is no secret that Guitar Ted and I have been outspoken skeptics of the belt as a viable option for hard core single speed use. Fitment issues, limited gearing, finicky set-up, and high cost were show stoppers. But this experience (and what Guitar Ted has found with the Trek Sawyer) has won me over to the Gates Carbon Drive with one caveat (save that till the end). The good things have been very good – smooth operation with no issues with the belt crawling off the pulleys, no set up problems or slippage (ratcheting)…just forward motion. The one bad thing has been noise. By the third hour of riding I had a squeaky belt sound at the down stroke that was really annoying. It reminded me of a dry chain, and while it was not likely stealing any efficiency from me like a dry chain would, it was a mental thing.
So I made a call to Gates and it turns out that this is a known but not universal issue. If your soil conditions are very dry and powdery, it may or may not make noise. Guitar Ted had no issues at all in wetter Iowa, but we are very dry right now and everything gets coated with fine dust. The answer was to spray the belt with silicone spray. I did that and it would last for about 2-3 hours than the noise would come back. I was also told that at about 300 miles of use, the noise would go away.
Now spraying the belt is an easy thing to do, but it detracts from the care-free nature of the belt. If I have to think about doing ‘something’ to the belt before I leave the garage, then it is not maintenance free, is it? So that is a strike against it in my opinion. On the other hand, in different conditions like the sloppy mud, rain or any kind of wet or snow, then this noise would not be there and the belt would not be affected like a chain would. I bet if this had been spring riding and not summer, I never would have had this issue. There has to be a solution, whether it be a change in coating or surface texture to a part or some external treatment…something, as this is the only issue I had that was not positive. Bummer. A wart on the nose of the prom queen.
The Rocker is a unique choice in a world of me-too carbon and fat tubed aluminum. It is a fine partner for all day rides and looks good to boot. After all these years, that ‘old stand-by’ steel is still relevant and has become the ‘new stand-out’ in the crowd rather than the norm. How interesting.