The first time I saw a Bowman it was the original Palace, hanging in the Rapha Clubhouse in Soho I remember thinking the finish was classy and understated. It was in the back of my mind for a while when it crossed my path a second time, this time in a Road.cc review taglined
‘Absolutely awesome frame that is a showcase for aluminium; one of the best high-speed handling frames out there’.
Okay, now my interest was sparked.
Around the same time I joined Regents Park Rouleurs and shortly after received an email from the club saying we were getting team frames made, none other than the Bowman Palace. Awesome, having never ridden one I was already excited based on the above.
Around the time Bowman were refining the 2nd iteration of the frame dubbed the Palace:R so we decided to hold out and wait citing a number of refinements over the original. Having taken delivery in mid-February, 4000km of riding, 5 criteriums and 3 road races later I feel I can offer a rounded view on what the Palace:R has to offer.
|Frameset||Bowman Palace:R 58cm|
|Groupset||Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2|
|Power Meter||Verve Cycling Infocrank Classic 24mm 53/39t aero chainrings|
|Wheelset||Parcours Passista Carbon Clincher|
|Stem||Deda SuperZero 120mm -6deg|
|Handlebar||Deda RHM02 40cm|
|Seatpost||Thomson Elite 27.2 / 330mm|
|Saddle||Specialized Romin Evo 143mm|
|Finishing Touches|| Kogel Ceramic BSA bottom bracket
Kogel Full Ceramic Jocket Wheels
As a limited club run we were lucky enough to have a custom colourway made for us, something which Bowman are now offering in advanced orders (8 or more frames). Ours are matte black with fluorescent yellow rear and detailing. The top tube also has our nicknames on, a story for another time.
You won’t recognise any of the big brand tube sets on the Bowman Palace:R and for good reason. Founder and Designer Neil is a true engineer and that reflects in every single tube used for the Palace:R, each shaped and butted for an exact purpose. Simply put buying an off the shelf tube set from the big names like Columbus or Reynolds creates limitations in design. Bowman deal directly with their tubing supplier in Taiwan to offer bespoke tube sets for each of their frames.
From the side the seat stays look super slender yet from behind they’re wide, a feature which allows them to offer vertical compliance yet remain laterally strong. The flattened shape smooths out imperfections on the road whilst retaining stiffness from side forces, when climbing or sprinting for example.
The seat tube is 27.2mm in diameter, a welcome industry standard allowing you to choose from a myriad of seat posts. As it extends downwards towards the bottom bracket it morphs into a huge rectangular shape not far off the full width of the bottom bracket, a design Bowman have branded FlareSquare. This design allows the Palace:R to use a threaded BSA bottom bracket whilst retaining huge amounts of stiffness, a welcome quality in the part of the bike which is responsible for transferring your power into momentum.
The downtube is oversized as is common on many modern bikes. Triple butted to retain strength at the bottom bracket and steerer and thinned out in the middle where weight isn’t adding any tangible benefit. The advantage of connecting the steering and power input with a strong downtube translates to a bike which feels very well connected. If you’ve ever ridden a bike that’s flexy through the middle you’ll understand the feeling of steering and feeling like the bike doesn’t respond and change direction very quickly. The Palace:R will dart wherever you point it. It’s hugely confidence inspiring. An RPR team mate told me ‘I couldn’t corner before, I kind of can now’.
The headtube is now a single forged piece which if nothing else means it has a really nice hourglass shape. Aesthetics aside there’s less chance or error or imperfection in the manufacturing process and you can trust it will perform exactly as expected. The steerer is tapered 1 ½ inch lower to 1 ¼ on the top. This is another standard that is quickly becoming the go to. The larger lower bearing increases stiffness in the steering column and places less load on the bearings. The result is yet more directness to the steering
What better way to test the ride on the Palace:R then to race it at the very circuit which created it. The Crystal Palace Crits on Tuesday nights are a staple for many of the local racers in London. In the middle of the park lies a circuit laiden with tight technical corners, blind sections, a 300m uphill drag and a super-wide bumpy final sprint. It’s a circuit where shear strength will not prevail. Having the bottle to hit a blind corner at 30mph simply allows you to stay with the lead bunch, anyone else is turning themselves inside out trying to make up the time they lost braking. It’s a rollercoaster ride and I see why so many respected racers speak so fondly of it.
Bowman say that handling is at the heart of all their bikes particularly the Palace:R given it was designed specifically to race this circuit. The first hairpin has a super wide run with a deceptively late entry, most turning in too soon and missing the apex. After a few laps I’d worked out where to be and how fast to do it. 21mph, 22.5, 24, 25, the confidence grew lap after lap. The bike always felt planted and was as predictable as you could ask for. Point it and it goes there.
Sweeping through the off-camber corner 2 and down into corner 3, Deadman’s corner, named so because it’s blind with hedgerows on the inside and a drop off on the outside. Drift wide on the exit and it’s a trip down the verge and cross country. For many it’s a mental battle getting round it at speed, not helped by the bump in the circuit as you turn in, enough to unweight you and your nerves. On the early laps you can tell the riders who have ridden it 100’s of times as they disappear behind the hedge at full speed. After getting a feel for it I was doing the same, rounding at 30mph no problem.
Straight after the circuit has a 300m drag. At around 3.5% most of the selections were made here. Anyone who backed off round deadman’s corner are trying to make up ground whilst the race leaders are charging up here. Not easy. Most laps required 30 seconds at 600-700w to stay with the front selection. Rounding the final left hand corner and the circuit dips down onto the final few hundred meters to the finish.
I was happy to come away from my first outing here with 5th place from a stacked line up. The bike is certainly not to blame for any shortcoming in results. The Palace:R fits perfectly on its home circuit.
The Palace:R is a testament to what can be achieved with aluminium. In the age where carbon rules the top end road bike market this bike performs as well and better than frames costing far more.
I’ve previously ridden top end offerings from Cervelo, Canyon, Giant and Specialised and can honestly say the Palace:R is the best frame I’ve ever ridden. Turning up to races where people are on frames costing 5 times as much there is no feeling of disadvantage on this bike, in fact given how at home I feel on it quite the opposite.
When stamping on the pedals the Palace:R responds very quickly. The stiffness is excellent and in a race situation it allows you to attack with confidence.
Through the bends it feels sure footed and is confidence inspiring. It’s responsive without being twitchy, you feel like you can adjust your line without being put in the bin for it.
When looking for a negative I can’t find one with the bike, it’s exceptional. You won’t find more bike for £700 anywhere else.