I’ve spent the last month riding almost exclusively on the Civilian Luddite – a steel framed, rigid forked, single speed 29er. On paper the Luddite looks like a good ride and a great value. I don’t know of any other $1,000-ish bike that comes with name brand rims, BB7 brakes, and a full carbon fiber fork. Be sure and check out the On Test post here for all the nuts and bolts details. How does it perform in the real world, when rubber meets dirt? Read on to find out.
Quick note: I own a Vassago Jabberwocky. It’s also a steel frame single speed 29er with a rigid carbon fork. It’s a lot different than the Luddite however, so throughout the review I’ll be making comparisons between the two.
The Luddite’s frame is steel. Big steel–the tubes are larger diameter than most other steel mountain bikes. This is one reason the bike is heavy (the frame is over 6lbs I believe). Those big tubes make for a stiff frame however–there is no flex to be found here! It’s not the smoothest riding steel frame, but it’s not harsh either. It is burly and should handle whatever abuse you throw its way.
Designed by Tyson Hart. There are very few logos on this frame, and that’s a good thing. Less is more.
I really like the versatility of the Luddite’s frame. If you decide that single speeding isn’t for you, the bike is ready for gears whenever you are. All the cable stops and guides are in place on the frame, and the rear wheel is not single speed specific so it’ll take a standard cassette. Adding to the versatility, the 44mm head tube will take any fork steerer tube you might want to use, straight or tapered. Of course, if you’re a single speed purist, you probably don’t like the look of all those un-used cable guides.
A look at the head tube badge on the oversized head tube, and the beefy crown of the carbon fork.
The sliding dropouts on the frame make chain tension adjustment a breeze, especially if you swap the rear cog to tailor the gearing for certain trails. I’ve always hated the look of sliders (my Jabberwocky has track end/horizontal dropouts) but after using the sliders, I certainly see the appeal. They’re easy to use, they keep the disc brake fixed relative to the axle (unlike the Jabber), and they never creaked. It’s easy to drop the wheel out too, since you don’t have to adjust chain tension or get the chain off the sprocket before the wheel is out of the frame. In other words, sliders are easier to live with than track ends, but they don’t look as good (in my opinion anyway) and are heavier. I wish the tension set screws didn’t require a box wrench to turn; a knurled knob you could use tool-free would be better. I also find it strange that there’s only bosses to mount one water bottle cage. There’s plenty of room to get another one on the seat tube.
It’s easy to find faults with some of the parts on this bike but when you consider the price those faults are really minor. The Kenda Nevegal tires are my least favorite item on the bike. They’re heavy, and really slow rolling. I swapped the rear tire out for lighter and faster rubber after the first two rides, and the bike felt much faster. The Avid BB7 brakes were one of my favorite parts spec’d on the Luddite. This was my first time on the BB7s, and I see now why people like them. Tool-free pad adjustment makes it easy to keep them dialed in, and they are pretty powerful. Hydraulic brakes do offer more stopping power with less effort and better modulation, but I still really liked the BB7s, especially when you consider their cost vs. the cost of good hydraulic sets. I actually wouldn’t mind putting these brakes on my next build.
The sliding dropouts are easy to use, and the BB7s are really good brakes for the price.
The carbon fork was my other favorite component. It does exactly what carbon is best at–lots of stiffness and vibration dampening. It’s hard to explain how something can be both stiff and compliant/comfortable at the same time, but if you’ve ever ridden a carbon fiber road bike you already know what I’m talking about. It is a rigid fork, and you will feel big bumps and hits, but it really does ride comfortably for a rigid and dampens vibrations and trail chatter really well.
The one problem I had with the fork however was keeping the wheel centered. The quick release kept slipping on one side resulting in a slightly crooked wheel. It looked like there was a little paint on the face of the dropout, so a few seconds with some sand paper would probably solve the issue.
The carbon fork has a tapered steerer tube and is all around beefy, but still really comfortable, for a rigid.
None of the other components really stood out, either good or bad. They aren’t fancy or lightweight, but they work. The saddle was comfortable, the bars are a nice width, and all the components did the job they were supposed to do without any issues.
My biggest complaint is the weight of the bike–with pedals my size large was over 27lbs, which is a lot for a bike with no gears or suspension. But, this is a budget-oriented bike, and all the components are solid and reliable. You know the old saying: light, strong, cheap–pick two. For reference, my Jabberwocky is 23lbs, but cost over twice as much as the Luddite.
On the non-performance side of things, this is a good looking bike. Every ride I received compliments on it and everyone seemed to like it. The simple, clean, uncluttered look is universally appealing it seems. Most people really dig the mojito color too. Several people actually asked if it glowed in the dark! It doesn’t, but it does sort of look like glow paint.
Fit & Handling
Most single speeds, especially rigid ones like my Jabberwocky, have a very XC-race type riding position–long top tubes, low handle bars, and a stretched out riding position. The Luddite is different. It offers a lot more upright, almost trail bike-like riding position. There are both good and bad things about this. For me, the bad was that it just didn’t feel fast. I couldn’t get the bars as low as I like, and I wasn’t as stretched out as usual. I just couldn’t seem to get in a position that really let me put the most power to the pedals as possible. I could have swapped the stem for something a little longer with more angle, and swapped the riser bar for a flat bar, but I stuck with the stock components for the review.
There was one other downside to the tall front end: there isn’t much stand-over clearance. I could stand over the top tube, but not without touching it. I’m sort of an in-between size guy though. Most folks my size (5’10″) will choose the medium size frame, but I like longer top tubes (for the stretched out position) so I choose the large. On a medium I would have had some clearance, but the fit would have been even more upright.
The upright riding position is more about fun than speed.
There are good things about the riding position though–this bike is fun! The Luddite likes being jumped, pumped, and flicked around the trail. The shorter reach and taller front end make picking the front wheel up to get over obstacles or wheelie-drop off ledges effortless, very much unlike my long and low Jabberwocky. Handling is good–the Luddite feels right at home in tight and twisty singletrack but nice and stable at speed. Cornering with rigid forks is always fun, as long as the corner isn’t too rough. There is no suspension dive or resultant changing geometry so it is very predictable–set your line through the turn, stay off the brakes, hold your line, and rail!
Despite the hefty weight, the Luddite easily takes to the air.
How to Make it Better
There aren’t any real problems with the bike–sure, lots of parts could be swapped for something lighter, but then you’ll be spending a bunch of money. If you’re going to do that, you might as well build up a bike from scratch. If I were to buy the Luddite I’d make just a few changes, and then ride the snot out of it. I’d swap the tires for sure, and then either convert the stock wheels to tubeless or buy a set of lighter tubeless wheels. Those two changes could be done without spending too much, and would really drop a lot of weight off the bike where it will make the most difference.
The Luddite, and all Civilian bikes, are only available through online retailers: Competitve Cyclist, Huck N Roll, and Real Cyclist. The Luddite is like every other direct-to-consumer/mail order bike–you get better parts for your money compared to something of similar cost you’d find at the local bike shop, but you don’t get the support and other perks of buying from a local bike shop. If you have any issues with assembly, set up, tuning, or warranty issues – it’s all on you. Of course you can take it to the local shop for tune ups, but you’ll have to pay for them. For more on the LBS vs. The Internet check out a few previous blog posts: Why Buy From Your Local Bike Shop? Five Big Advantages and Five Reasons to Buy MTB Gear Online.
Who’s It For
If you are a looking for a lightweight single speed race bike, or you’re the type of rider who really enjoys beating your buddies to the top of a climb, the Luddite is not the bike for you. It’s just too heavy and the riding position isn’t the most efficient. However, the Luddite is the perfect bike for someone who wants to taste the rigid single speed kool-aid without dropping a whole lot of cash and is used to riding a trail or all-mountain style bike. You get the no maintenance, no thinking, point-and-pedal ride of a single speed and the connected feel of a rigid fork but with a more upright riding position and more playful handling than most race-oriented single speeds. The Luddite is the rigid single speed for riders who are always looking for the fun line, not necessarily the fastest.
Special thanks to Civilian for providing the Luddite to review. Check out their complete line up on their website here. This fall I’ll be reviewing one of their cyclocross bikes, so stay tuned to the Singletracks blog!