The name Eastway evokes a sentimental longing on the London cycling scene. Eastway was, until 2006, the capital's one and only dedicated cycle race track. Not a velodrome but an outdoor, one-mile tarmac circuit which for 30 years or so drew harder-core cyclists to an expanse of open space in Hackney.
I raced at Eastway once or twice myself. Well, I say "raced" – I could never stay with the main group for more than a couple of the dozen or so laps of a race. But Eastway was great. It was a bit old-school – unpretentious, a repository of cycling wisdom, and the venue for some high-class action. Eddy Merckx once raced there.
The track was demolished in order to make way for the Olympic Velopark. A replacement is supposedly part of the Olympic legacy, but there's no sign of it yet. So there's nostalgia for the track, and the creators of the new Eastway bike brand – Eastway veterans Matthew Pryke and Stephen Britz, who work for bike distributors Fisher Outdoor Leisure – are doubtless hoping to tap into it.
They might be on to something, even if there are potential buyers who don't know the story behind the name. In the years since Eastway closed, cycling around town has continued on its upward curve. The Rapha generation has come along, and if Rapha made bikes and not just clothing and accessories,, I reckon these are the kind of bikes it would make.
Eastway says it specialises in "urban sports cycling". That's an interesting concept. Cycling to work and cycling as sport tend not to be compatible. But if you love the road bike experience and don't want to risk your precious weekend steed on your commute, I'd recommend a look at these Eastways.
There are seven models in the road-bike range, four "sports hybrids" and two cyclo-cross bikes. I tried the cheapest road bike – the £749 single-speed TR1.0. An alloy frame with carbon bladed forks, it's a really good-looking machine and handled beautifully. For a bike in this price range, the wheels struck me as impressive. You can have the best frame in the world but if your wheels aren't up to much, your ride is going to suffer.
The SRAM chainset is also a very decent bit of componentry. I took the bike on some laps round Regents Park and the ride was fast, reassuring and responsive. The bike cornered smoothly, and after half an hour I felt I'd ridden it all my life. The firm ride won't suit everybody. The bike is built for speed, and the thin tyres oblige one to take extra care around pot-holes.
My one quibble was the lack of any bosses on which to mount a bottle cage. This is a bike that serious cyclists might well want to use for a training ride on the flat, but for that they need to be able to carry a drink.
The top-of-the-range road bike is a carbon beauty for £1,999. There are cheaper carbon bikes, and I noted the inclusion of a steel road bike, complete with mudguards, that comes in at £999. Steel is the vinyl of bike frames. The way things always were, and now making a comeback. Smart move, Eastway.
In a crowded market, Eastway won't find things easy. But in an age when cycling "style" can be quite easily achieved with a fancy paint job and an attractive angle or two, I think there's real quality here and that Eastway has found the right balance between aesthetics, practicality and feel. And if the Eastway cycle track is ever re-born, well that would be further cause for celebration.