56cm Traitor Ringleader
Ringleader Info

Reviewed and Photos by Dennis

Ride it the way you like it. I liked the Ringleader a couple of different ways: as a riser-bar'd winter bike and as a drop bar'd avenue buster. No doubt you'll find some other ways to fit this frame around the type of riding you do and that's all the better.

We were pretty surprised to pull the Ringleader our of the box and find a fillet-brazed steel frame with some pretty cool features for a pedestrian price of $599 for the frame and fork. It's been sitting in a display rack at the shop for the last month and lots of people have commented on how cool it looks.

Traitor sent the 56cm Ringleader with their $480 build kit: Sturmey-Archer's new FCT62 170mm crankset with 42T ring and bottom bracket, wide riser bars, and a 17T on Traitor's Hoopla wheelset with tires and their own black quilted-top saddle. Good solid stuff.

Of course in the spirit of riding our own style we never rode it the way they sent it - although there certainly wasn't anything wrong with that set-up. We just had our own ideas.

The Ringleader came to us in late January and there's no way we could ride it with those Halo Courier 29mm tires unless we headed 500 miles south of here, so the first thing we did was swap out the wheelset to a light Miche hub'd and Velocity Aerohead rim'd wheelset with some of our favorite winter tires - the Kenda Kwik 30mm road grippers. Of course, if you've read our other reviews, you'll know that these tires are high (well at the top really) of our list - they grip like a six-toed cat, they're foldable and light and pretty cheap at $35-40 - here in Michigan you could easily wear out a set every year.

Let's look over the frame and see what we like .... and what we don't like. First off, as a fillet-brazed frame with Columbus Thron tubes it's a hell of a deal. Traitor calls it a Gaiden-Brazed frame / play on the Keirin-based steep angles and short race wheelbase. Fillet-brazing is smooth, joint-less, and unless you're a real retro-grouch that has to have lugs, this kind of construction sure beats a tig'd frame chunky welds. Of course if you like your frames painted black and never wash your ride, then no one else will ever see the smooth welds on a frame like this and you might as well get a cheaper tig welded frame to begin with.

On the other hand if you like nice stuff, then here's the goods ... and you might as well get it white so you can see all the goodness.

The fork is bad- ass for sure with the straight blades and double-ended fork crown. It doesn't take a mathematician to notice that this is one steep-angled frame, and if you're scared of toe-clip overlap you will be better off with a Schwinn Varsity. With a 74 degree headtube and a fork with 28mm of trail, the Ringleader has enough overlap for two bikes, but personally I've never found overlap to be a problem...just get over it and ride.

Of course the Ringleader also turns on a dime and accelerates like a rocket, so you simply get what you want with these angles.

We loved the chrome faced rear fork ends, and the proprietary cutouts at the rear end, tho we didn't have a half-link handy and we'd started riding with those Kendas so we left a bit of room out back.

Winter can either be a drag to ride in or it can be great fun to blast down the sidewalk and up some trails. We did both. Those who've been here for a Symposium know the terrain that we tested this frame on - we rode the snow-covered trails up behind the commons, we rode sidewalks and we rode from one end of town to the other on ice, on snow, and on bare pavement when we could find it. The wide bars and front brake gave a bit more control and and the flat pedals allowed for easy bails when needed and pretty solid footing with running shoes.

Most of our rides back in January and early February were 30-45 minutes hammer-fests in 15-20F weather. We had fun on the Ringleader- the 74 degree angles short wheelbase and sticky Kenda tires brought a smile to our faces.

Of course the snow doesn't fall all year, even here in Michigan, so we swapped out the flat bars for some drops and a different wheelset with a 16T cog and Dennis logged ten to twelve rides in March across town, out the Peninsula, and up and down some Leelanau County hills with this setup.

You'll need to adjust your own stem and saddle position, of course, but the Ringleader was certainly tight and quick enough to race your local track as well as the street. Keep in mind that you're likely to need a frame on the smaller side if you're going to ride stoplight sprints or on the track, but the 56cm Ringleader measured, rode and felt like a 56 . Heading out on a hundred mile road ride on a track frame sized for the velodrome is likely to be an ass-busting ride ... unless you're about 22 and don't know any better. Yeah, I'd like to ride Bloomer Park on this 56cm frame, but give me a good laid-back road conversion for a ride out to Glen Haven and back.

But, enough about the subjective stuff, let's get to what I didn't like. (and know that there's hardly a frame out there that I love as much as Katy - there's always something I don't like) For me, it's the seat cluster construction. Maybe you think the butt-crack design is pretty cool, and yeah, it is different and unique, but I think it's unnecessarily complicated. The seatpost bolt could be prone to failure - yeah it's sure sexy, but we all prefer a conventional thru-bolt design. I've seen and broken too many seatpost bolts in my days, and the open back promotes water and grit to find it's way into the seat-tube.

Either keep the Ringleader for dry sunny days or be prepared to periodically remove the seatpost and get out the junk that's found it's way in there. And be easy on that seatpost bolt.... grease the threads and follow Traitor torque specs to avoid complications.

But that's the only thing we didn't like.... we liked the low key graphics, the cast headtube badge, that hot straight fork and the quick steering. We wondered a bit about the faded black front fork treatment and wondered why Traitor didn't paint up the rear the same way. Ha Ha Ha. We even went so far as to buying a $4.99 can of Krylon Short-Cuts in gloss black to do the deed.

But with the crappy winter weather up here and the salt residue from the roafd on everything, we'd wash the Ringleader after every ride and then forget and we never quite got around to fading out the rear end to match the front. We expect that most of you will do just that, but not before blasting around town for a couple of days first.

Ride fast and far ...
katy and dennis