At just, the Triban RC120 may very well be the least expensive bike we’ve ever reviewed at CyclingTips. But in some ways, it’s also one of the most important bikes we’ve reviewed, too. Its highly attainable pricing is appealing to newcomers curious about road riding, yet with the exception of just one or two details, it punches well above its weight in terms of the performance it delivers. Even better, there’s more than enough tire clearance if you want to run it as a light-duty gravel bike, too.
We expected to be underwhelmed by this one, but in the end, the little Triban RC120 ended up winning us all over.
Getting to know the Triban RC120
Triban replaced B’Twin in late 2018 as the house cycling brand of French sports mega-retailer Decathlon. The stated goal at the time was to “make road cycling easy and safe, modern and elegant, smart and innovative.” The entire family of Triban road bikes consists of seven no-frills models — including a few flat-bar variants — with the RC120 sitting right around mid-range in the lineup.
All of Triban’s road bikes are built around the same TIG-welded aluminum frame. The straight-gauge tubes sport prominently geometric cross-sections (seemingly done more for style than function) arranged in a contemporary silhouette with modestly sloping top tubes and slightly dropped seat stays.
That modern profile is really only skin-deep, however. Look a bit closer, and the frame is more of a throwback (although as I’ll discuss later, that’s not necessarily an inherent drawback).
What it is:
Decathlon’s mid-range road bike, bargain priced and ready for upgrades.
TIG-welded straight-gauge 6061 aluminum construction, 9 mm quick-release dropouts, threaded bottom bracket, 27.2 mm round seatpost, external cable routing, carbon fiber fork blades with aluminum crown and steerer, clearance for 700×40 mm tires, front and rear fender mounts, rear rack mounts.
10.94 kg (24.12 lb), size small, without pedals or accessories.
US$800 / AU$949 / £400 / €500.
Good ride quality and stiffness, smart handling, function-over-form build kit, classic aesthetics.
Curiously wide crank Q-factor, non-replaceable rear derailleur hanger, uber-cheap tires, polarizing shifter actuation.
Despite featuring front and rear disc brakes, the RC120 is equipped with open dropouts and quick-release skewers at either end. Sadly, the driveside rear dropout doesn’t incorporate a replaceable derailleur hanger — meaning just one good crash on that side could potentially render the entire frame useless — and those brake calipers use a mix of the older-style post-mount and newer flat-mount interfaces. Up front is a straight 1 1/8″ aluminum steerer tube on the fork instead of a tapered one (the legs are carbon fiber), and the plate-style rear dropout doesn’t include a replaceable rear derailleur hanger.
Up top is a conventional 27.2 mm-diameter round seatpost secured with an external (and replaceable) aluminum clamp, and down below is a standard English-threaded bottom bracket shell. The front derailleur attaches with a perfectly normal 34.9 mm-diameter clamp, and all of the cable routing is fully external with split housing stops.
Just two water bottle mounts are included on the RC120 in the usual locations, but there are also front and rear fender mounts for all-weather riding, plus rear rack mounts if you’d like to do some commuting or light touring.
What’s the frame weigh, you wonder? Sorry, no idea.
Geometry-wise, Triban is playing it about as safe as can be.
The stack and reach proportions provide a moderately upright riding position, but the head tube isn’t so long that you can’t get fairly aggressive if you’d like. Handling is clearly intended to be user-friendly and approachable for newer riders while still retaining some sportiness. Head tube angles are perfectly normal, ranging from 71.5-73° depending on size, but the chainstays are rather lengthy at 425 mm across the board, with correspondingly generous wheelbase figures.
On the surface, it may seem like Triban is using those longer rear ends to create more forgiving handling manners (which it does). However, what Triban doesn’t explicitly point out is that those inflated dimensions also leave plenty of room for larger tires, all the way up to 700×40 mm (officially).
The build kit of the Triban RC120 is about what you’d expect considering the US$800 / AU$949 / £400 / €500 retail price — and no, that’s not a typo.
Microshift provides a 2×8 transmission with a wide-range 11-34T cassette and integrated brake-and-shift levers, while the crank is a no-name unit with steel chainrings and a square-taper cartridge-style bottom bracket. The single-piston, cable-actuated brakes come courtesy of Promax, matched to 160 mm-diameter rotors and fitted with semi-metallic pads.
The wheels are similarly generic, with unlabeled aluminum rims that are on the narrow side at 17 mm (internal width), but tubeless-compatible. Those are laced with 28 straight-gauge stainless steel spokes and brass nipples all around, connected to no-name aluminum hubs with adjustable cup-and-cone bearings. Wrapped around those rims are 700×28 mm Triban Protect steel-bead tires.
Rounding out the spec sheet are a sweptback aluminum drop handlebar and aluminum stem, a single-bolt setback aluminum seatpost, and a Triban “ErgoFit” saddle.
Total weight for our small-sized sample is 10.94 kg (24.12 lb) without pedals or accessories.
The Triban RC120 may be lacking in modern features, but it also serves as a strong reminder of how much of that “outdated” tech still works just fine in this arena.
First and foremost, the Triban RC120 hardly feels cheap in the saddle. It’s surprisingly smooth and composed as it makes its way down the road, with a subtly muted feel and just enough flex to take the edge off of road impacts without seeming mushy. It obviously can’t match the magical feel of a high-end titanium or carbon bike — and none of us would describe the Triban as lively — but it’s certainly not what you might expect looking at the price tag. In fact, the Triban was far from the bottom of the pack at Field Test in terms of rider comfort, even outranking some other bikes that were two (or even three) times the cost.
“The RC120 rides less rigidly than the tubes and cheap frame features would suggest,” said CyclingTips senior tech editor Dave Rome. “And the frame feels like it’ll likely survive a series of hard knocks. Given this robustness, this is one road bike I wouldn’t be too concerned about leaving locked up in a communal bike parking.”
The perfectly average frame stiffness does a decent job of transferring power from your pedals to the contact patches, too. You feel the heft relative to much lighter bikes when you’re trying to accelerate — particularly in the wheels and tires — but it’s not like you’re dragging an anchor behind you. Longer and/or steeper climbs are where the weight becomes more noticeable, but even then, it’s not all that bad. Increases in speed come more deliberately than with something significantly stiffer and lighter, but rest assured, the Triban will eventually get there.
The handling is impressively dialed-in. The conventional steering geometry makes for a responsive front end that’s reasonably eager to dart around obstacles and carve high-speed corners without needing an overly aggressive lean. It’s natural-feeling and intuitive, easily making its way toward the apex with just a gentle nudge. But Triban has cleverly still incorporated a bit of a safety switch into the RC120: namely, that subtly longer rear end. While the standard front-end geometry is fairly sporty and nimble-feeling, the 425 mm-long chainstays temper that initial steering input so things rarely get out of hand — an important trait for those newer to road riding.
Triban has wisely equipped the RC120 with a somewhat tall front end so as to be more appealing to the masses. However, it’s not so tall that it forces you to sit upright. Relocating the trio of 5 mm-thick headset spacers that come stock on the RC120 earn you an easy 15 mm of additional drop, and swapping the tall headset cover for a short one — an easy and inexpensive modification — gets you another 10 mm. Seasoned riders would undoubtedly want more still, but considering the RC120’s mission, our opinion is that the RC120 strikes a smart middle ground.
Some bike brands choose style over substance for their less expensive bikes in an effort to lure potential buyers with sparkle and shine. However, Triban has gone the opposite way, wisely prioritizing function well over form to the benefit of its buyer.
The only real brand name to be found here is in the Microshift 2×8 transmission, and it’s a good place to spend the money. Chain movement is a tad clunky but nevertheless reliable and consistent — at both ends — and the 11-34T cassette not only offers a wide range conducive to newer riders, but also combines with the 50/34T chainrings for a mountain-scaling 1:1 low gear. Spreading that across only eight sprockets unfortunately leaves big gaps in between each one, and the plain black finish won’t dazzle anyone looking for chrome, but it gets the job done and is perfectly well-suited to the application.
The controls drew more mixed reactions, though. In concept, the Microshift mechanical setup mimic the style of Campagnolo’s mechanical Ergopower levers, with each side sporting one main lever tucked behind the brake lever blade to pull cable, and an additional thumb paddle on the body to release it. In fact, Dave noted that the extended thumb paddle even offered better ergonomics than Campagnolo, although the lever action itself felt notably more vague.
Not surprisingly, then, both Dave and I became quickly accustomed to the setup, with both of us having spent plenty of time on Campagnolo mechanical Ergopower-equipped bikes.
However, Velonews senior editor Betsy Welch wasn’t nearly as impressed, nor was pro-racer-on-sabbatical Ellen Noble — and given that any prospective Triban RC120 buyer isn’t likely to have used Campagnolo mechanical levers before, their opinions are probably more representative of how the general public would feel.
“The shifting was weird,” Betsy commented, “and it really bugs me when something is not broken (like standard drop bar shifting design), and then someone tries to ‘fix it.’ But the bike actually shifted ok, once you figured out how to use it.”
Lever design quibbles aside, all four of us were scratching our heads over the crankset’s inexplicably wide Q-factor. There’s just no need we could determine for the arms to be set as far apart as they are.
“The cranks are unusually wide for the bike,” said Dave. “It almost made me feel like I was riding a fat bike — or a horse. But would it stop me from enjoying a nice ride if I were new to cycling? Neigh!”
The mechanical disc brakes were a surprising high point. Disc brakes at this price point are typically pretty uninspiring, so much so that we usually say the lighter weight and greater simplicity of rim brakes makes them the smarter choice for newer riders. But in this case, the lever action was light and crisp with a snappy return, the bite point was well defined, and those cheap Promax calipers actually delivered impressively good power and control. They also use common Avid BB5-style pads, so there’s a wealth of pad compound options out there in the aftermarket, too.
As for the Wheels and Tires? Double Meh.
Kudos to Triban for including tubeless-compatible rims, although since tubeless-compatible tape, valve stems, and sealant aren’t included — nor are the tires themselves tubeless-compatible — actually switching to a tubeless setup would add considerable cost. The wheels are also very heavy, and they weren’t terribly straight or round out of the box. And while the cup-and-cone hub bearings will last for ages with proper maintenance, they weren’t properly adjusted from the factory. As they were, the cones would likely have only lasted a couple of years before pitting — and good luck finding replacements.
The tires were similarly underwhelming. Although marked as 28 mm-wide, the actual width was just shy of 27 mm. The casings are also tangibly thick and stiff. On the plus side, they rolled better than we expected, and grip was actually quite decent (at least in the dry). However, when we installed a set of 35 mm-wide Schwalbe G-One RS gravel tires — set up tubeless — the RC120 practically grew a set of wings. It suddenly felt lighter and livelier, it was more comfortable, and certainly more capable.
Given the cost of such an upgrade, it’s unlikely the typical Triban RC120 buyer would do such a thing. But if I’m a new bike buyer on a tight budget, it’s at least good to know tires like that would fit, and that the rest of the bike would be worthy of such an expense.
But those external-cam quick-release skewers? Kill them with fire. I don’t know how much extra decent internal-cam skewers would have cost at OE pricing, but whatever the premium, their vastly superior hold and easier operation would be well worth the investment given the expected market for this bike.
The rest of the finishing kit was perfectly ok. The saddle wasn’t anyone’s favorite, but it wasn’t terrible. The bar bend was well received by all four of us, and the slightly backsweep on the tops was well liked, too. The single-bolt seatpost head only allowed relatively crude angle adjustments, though, and Triban equips the XS and S sizes (we tested a small) with a laughably short 250 mm-long seatpost.
Nevertheless, it sure could’ve been a heck of a lot worse — and it very well could still be, depending on who’s putting the thing together.
The Wild Card
Remember that unless you’re purchasing the Triban RC120 from a retail Decathlon location, this bike will arrive on your doorstep in a box, and it’s up to you (or a hired mechanic) to put it together.
Consumer-direct bikes are often touted as being ready to ride with minimal assembly required, but rarely is that the case; almost always, some fine-tuning is necessary. In particular, single-piston mechanical brakes can be rather finicky and require a careful setup for peak performance; even small deviations can have outsized impact, and the Promax calipers are no exception.
Our test sample arrived in pretty good shape, but still benefited from a bit of tweaking to enhance the braking feel (some lube in the cable housing worked wonders). Neither of the hub bearings were adjusted properly, either, and new riders may not know the best starting position for the bar angle and saddle position.
Would a new rider with minimal mechanical skills have had the same positive experience we did? Probably not, and that’s definitely something to keep in mind. Consumer-direct bikes are almost always less expensive than comparable major brands on paper, but there are often some hidden costs to consider that narrow the gap, too.
A superb Starter Machine
It’s easy to exceed expectations when you set a low bar, and our modest hopes for the Triban perhaps set it up for success here. That said, even disregarding how we initially thought the RC120 would perform, all of us left Steamboat universally singing its praises as a potential first road bike.
Although there are certainly a few missteps, the Triban RC120 hits its marks. It rides and handles well, the parts are perfectly functional, and the company did well to avoid the most critical easy mistakes (like goofy geometry or poor gearing). Even the external cable routing is ideally suited for someone just starting to learn how to fix their own bike.
I look back on the Schwinn Traveler I had for my first road bike more than three decades ago: lugged and heavy steel frame and fork, 27″ wheels, down tube shifting, crummy gearing, a truly awful handlebar and saddle. Though I have fond memories of that thing for how it got me into the sport, it’s also hard for me not to notice how much better the Triban is — especially that when accounting for inflation, they’re priced nearly identically.
Ellen Perhaps Put it Best.
“My opinion on the Triban evolved pretty greatly over the course of the test,” she said. “At first, I felt it was pretty meh. I was super opposed to the Microshift gearing, and don’t even get me started on the Q-factor being absurdly wide (this being dubbed the horse bike). Then, as I began to think about all of the components on this bike, for the fact that it cost a mere US$800, I started to feel a lot warmer about it.
“The fact that I could recommend this to someone just getting into cycling, and they could ride with me, enjoy themselves, and not be at risk with any aspects of the design made me super stoked. I would recommend this bike to someone just getting into riding.”
If that nets us another cyclist for life, then I’d say the Triban has done its job, and then some.
More information can be found at www.decathlon.pl.