Retrospec Harper

82/100
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Facts

Gender
Release Year
Brand
Wheel Size
Numbers of gears
Weights
Suspension
Brake Type
Frame Material

Summary of Reviews

We have read all expert and user reviews on Retrospec Harper. In summary, this is what cyclists think.

11 reasons to buy

  • One of the factors that really appealed to buyers of the Retrospec Harper, is the wide range of color choices and combinations available. The gloss paint and finish is a big draw.
  • Minimal working parts often equate to minimal maintenance. This informs the choice of the Retrospec Harper for many riders.
  • Many consumers described the hi-tensile steel frame as impressively lightweight.
  • The ‘Flip-Flop’ rear hub allows the option of riding in either singlespeed or fixed-gear mode.
  • The Retrospec Harper is cheap, not just compared to other fixies and singlespeeds, but when compared to all other options for a commuter.
  • Reviewers who received instructions, described them as being very easy to follow.
  • The coaster-brake option provided the simplest possible version of this bike, negating the need for brake-setup or assembly.
  • According to many reports, it can be easily assembled within fifteen minutes, from scratch.
  • This bike has room to fit beefier road tire widths. As such, Retrospec has recently responded to customer demand by offering larger 28C width tires as standard, to cope with rougher terrain.
  • Riders were often pleased with the provision of fittings for dual bottle cages, in addition to eyelets for front and rear racks.
  • Commuters were satisfied with the gear ratio, for riding on all kinds of low hills and flat terrain.

12 reasons not to buy

  • The combination of average-quality brake pads (that many reported as wearing out quickly) and painted rims, was a recipe for compromised stopping power.
  • It wasn’t uncommon to find reports of the pedals falling out of the crank thread after low miles. The plastic pedals themselves, are one of the least favorite components.
  • In a number of instances, cranks suddenly snapped.
  • Some buyers received packages with vital parts missing, including the saddle and pedals.
  • The componentry is bargain-basement, with riders reporting breakage of wheels, hubs, tires, chains, and handlebars in under two weeks of riding.
  • For certain people, the saddle was uncomfortable.
  • A large number of reports mentioned a lack of instructions.
  • For every person that found the Harper to be a featherweight, just as many described it as being ‘very heavy’. This is explained by the fact that it is heavy for a fixie, but light for an average commuter.
  • This Retrospec model can not fit both caliper brakes and a fender at the same time.
  • Small sizes (49cm) disappointed riders of shorter statures. Due to non-standard sizing, they were too large for use.
  • For some, the gear ratio was too high for tackling steeper hills.
  • The Retrospec Harper comes with a chainguard, but without mounts to attach it.

Bottom line

The Retrospec Harper is a bare-bones singlespeed / fixie commuter. For the price, riders get what they pay for; basic componentry that usually does the job – and a frame that will no doubt outlast that componentry. The snapping of cranks was a safety concern. However, the stock setup will most likely get the rider from A to B, for long enough to start customizing and improving their ride. At this price, one could hardly ask for more.

Expert Reviews

80/100 based on 1 expert reviews
80
Frank DuCett

In Retrospec: A Harper Review.

Level 2 expert

Short and Fast!

The Retrospec Harper is about as basic as a bicycle can be, other than a coaster brake bike.
For some of us, the Harper is about as good as a bike needs to be.

For starters, the Harper is a fairly well built machine with an excellent paintjob.

The parts selection is mostly non-branded components that function well, doing the job asked of them. The brakes and most other components

Short and Fast!

The Retrospec Harper is about as basic as a bicycle can be, other than a coaster brake bike.
For some of us, the Harper is about as good as a bike needs to be.

For starters, the Harper is a fairly well built machine with an excellent paintjob.

The parts selection is mostly non-branded components that function well, doing the job asked of them. The brakes and most other components on this bike would likely not be found in modern day, professional level pelotons of the Tour de France. However, those parts would very likely suit you well while travelling through some of those same mountains in France.
At your own pace, of course.

Cautionary Notes

1.) If you order a frame size that has always worked for you in the past, please note that this bike has a high bottom bracket. So please consider the “stand over height” before purchasing this bike.

2.) If you are riding any “fixed gear” bicycle at a high rate of speed and your shoelace becomes entangled in the chainring, you could be seriously injured.

3.) If you are riding a version of this bike with only a coaster brake and you lose a chain on a long downhill run… you could be killed.

Frame

A high tensile steel frame is used by Retrospec for the Harper. It is straight gauge and not seamless. This high tensile steel frame seems lighter than some of the other bikes in this category and is a delightfully stiff platform on hard out-of-the-saddle climbs. However, the 39 inch wheelbase and frame geometry demand that you keep extra alert while riding. This bike can turn a corner or change lanes simply by thinking about it.

Wheels

I should disclose that I initially transferred the “stock” wheels from this Retrospec and used them on another, far more expensive bike. It was definitely an upgrade for that bike. The hubs are loose ball, which is good for me, as I enjoy spending quiet time with grease and wrenches.  Believe me, I have those wheels very well-greased and adjusted for a very low rolling resistance.

Freewheel

16 tooth generic that made sounds like popcorn popping and had a dangerous tendency to occasionally not engage while riding in very cold weather. I replaced this freewheel with a new Shimano FS 1200.

Crank set

Generic, alloy and totally adequate.
110 mm BCD, accommodating a smaller chainring than the 130mm BCD chainsets.
The original chainring was a steel 46 tooth, I replaced this with a new Origin-8 alloy 38t.

Saddle

Plastic and vinyl, with steel rails. No noted discomfort.

Brakes

If you were flying down a winding mountain road with professional riders, you would likely not be able to match their stopping power. But if you do get to ride in the Tour de France, don’t worry, they will get you better brakes.

A Thought About Weight

There is no amount of money that even the most wealthy 170 lb cyclist could spend, that could result in a lower total weight of bike and rider than what this bike and I weigh: 174 lb combined.

Performance

The Harper is everything a good single speed should be. It’s relatively lightweight (for a bike in this price range) and simple in both design and construction.

The original 46 tooth chainring looks good hanging on the wall or perhaps for future projects. I replaced the original with a 38 tooth alloy ring.  With the smaller chainring, I spin at a higher RPM, as I do on any other bike I ride. This lower gear helps to level the local hills and likely saves my knees from the stress inflicted by climbing with the bigger 46 tooth chainring.

As a solo rider, I never worry about having to keep up with anyone. My greatest competitor is me! Personally, I am thankful to be free from the derailleur and all those cables, after so many years.

Cornering with the Harper is a joy. I feel confident cornering fast on smooth roads. However, I am concerned about cornering too quickly on a rough road or cobblestones, simply because High Tensile steel is not as responsive as a Reynolds or Columbus frame.
My gear selection limits my top speed but is necessary for me to conquer the local hills.

To summarize performance; the Harper is stiff and almost harsh on bumpy roads but performs all tasks well. Although, it is a bit heavy at 25 lbs.

I became interested in single speeds during a 2009 trip to East Africa, while working there on bicycles. It was there that I came to realize that a good single speed is all I need. You see, the Africans use their bicycles as many westerners use sedans and Ford F-150s.

Pros

Beautiful, professional level paintjob.
Value: a very cost effective bicycle.

Cons

Rear triangle could have been better aligned.
Stem too short for frame size.
Freewheel was noisy.

Specifications

Frame Size: 53 cm.
Weight: 25 lbs.
Crank Set: 46 tooth steel chainring.
Freewheel: 16 tooth.
Fixed Cog: 16 tooth.

Note

Hubs are loose ball bearings.
Bottom bracket has sealed bearings.

Parts Replaced as Defective

Freewheel.

Parts Replaced Due to Wear After 300 Miles

None.

Parts Replaced as Personal Upgrade

Wheels, Chainring, Freewheel.

Conclusion

A single speed is a lot more work than a multi-gear bike. However, I think the rewards and satisfaction found in riding one is far greater than modern bikes with their endless ‘bells and whistles’. It doesn’t hurt that I am also a big fan of the long ago Tours of France, when such bikes were king.

I don’t complain about new bikes costing so much these days, since I have chosen the option of keeping things simple. This makes the Retrospec Harper bike a simple, enjoyable and affordable choice.

Sincerely,
Frank DuCett

My thanks to my friend Tony, for his assistance and editing this review.

User Ratings

73/100 based on 484 ratings
  • 5 star
    51%
  • 4 star
    20%
  • 3 star
    7%
  • 2 star
    6%
  • 1 star
    16%

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Rankings

Compared to other bikes
#65 Best of All Bikes
Bottom 50%

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Comparison

In comparison to averages of categories
Retrospec Harper
82
Average All Bikes
81
Average Retrospec Bike
82
Average Single Speed - Fixed Gear Bike
80