The first time we saw the Civilian Vive Le Roi Complete Bike we knew that it was something special. We know it’s not a good idea to judge a book by its cover, but not every book has a dust jacket like the Vive Le Roi — it’s like discovering a McSweeney’s limited edition in a warehouse of ’80s high school textbooks. Nothing in its aesthetic is predictable; in fact, the frame screams NAHBS more than bike store, yet it possesses a hypnotizing power that demands admiration, but more so to be ridden. And so we obliged.
Over four days, we tested this bike in three different arenas: road, ‘cross, and Dante-inspired torment. For the first avenue of experimentation, the Vive Le Roi was put to work on some alpine road climbs and descents. Right off the bat, we noticed that it was as sprightly and responsive as any steel road bike we could remember riding. Even with 32mm Kenda cross tires, the Vive Le Roi was a nimble climber and a fearless descender. The oversized carbon fork was snappy on the way up, and it eliminated the careening tank feeling that’s oh-so-common with steel frames going into bends. But let’s get real, you want to know how the Vive Le Roi handles in the dirt.
Given our 7000 feet of altitude, and the season, there wasn’t much dirt to be had. But in the Belgian cyclocross tradition, snow and mud abounded. On the post-work commute, we took the Vive Le Roi home via fire roads and wet grass. This is where the transformative process began. Upon hitting dirt, our roadie grimace peeled off, and was replaced with a broad smile. The bike came alive as it rose to its true calling. In fact, it performed so much better in the dirt, we felt bad for ever letting it touch pavement. Imagine if you’d had the world’s greatest opera singer working for you as a pizza maker, and just heard him singing late one night by the oven for the first time. All of the bike’s enjoyable characteristics were amplified, and it ate up the mud as it accelerated sprint after sprint. After ten minutes, it was obvious that the carbon fork was integral to the ride quality. Its oversize shape greatly dissipates chatter, vibration, and torsional force from the discs. The whole bike performed exceptionally well in the corners, over wood bridges, and it caught air like a champ. As a straight cross bike, the Vive Le Roi was ruling it, and was so smooth that we were researching new trails to ride it on as soon as we got through the door of the house.
All of this was well and good, but it was time to put the Vive Le Roi through the wringer and get evil with it. During the first break in a snow storm, we decided to take it into the mountainside on some technical, dedicated mountain bike trails. The goal was to make it fail, and thus learn its limitations—it had to have some. However, all we encountered was more awesomeness. These were pretty steep switchback climbs — around 1500 feet of vertical gain in four miles — and the bike climbed better than on paved road. The wheels and high bottom bracket took on jagged step-ups in stride, and the frame’s mud clearances proved to be substantial. However, the descent was the real battleground. We found that the bike performed like a really good rigid mountain bike on the hard switchbacks, and rolled smoothly and predictably on the straight sections. We were surprised to find the Vive Le Roi not over-correcting, nor did it feel scary on rocky 30mph descents. All in all, there were no pinch flats, nothing broken, and only a dropped chain or two on the descent—granted, there was a good deal of air being caught. The Vive Le Roi was tough, really tough, and we had more fun on the mountain than any other place we took it. For the nasty conditions, it couldn’t have performed better.
It’s not every day that you ride a sub-19-pound steel bike that’s as dirt-ready as it is race-ready. The Vive Le Roi Complete Bike proved itself to be the ultimate all-rounder, and made for a great weekend of riding, even if it was 28 degrees out.