Saturday, March 12, 2016

Spyderco Roadie Review

Knife knuts throw around the term "Spyderco Ugly" to describe all sorts of knives that don't look exactly like other knives.  When they first came out, the hole, the clip, and the hump all made Spydercos look avant garde compared to the stale stuff that was in circulation.  Fast forward 22 years and we have another "Spyderco Ugly" knife, the Roadie.  It looks like some kind of crazy pelican or bird, with its pronounced hump towards the end of the knife and its amorphous, jelly bean handle.

Over the years lots of things that were jarring to the sensibilities of the time turned out to be great.  Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, with its jarring percussive sound, was painfully different from the sweet melodies of Sibelius and Chopin pieces of the day.  There were, famously, riots in the audience.  Similarly, Tucker automobiles were seen as curiosities at best and weirdo machines at worst.  But decades later many of their features are standard on automobiles today.  It seems to me that sometimes genius is hard to swallow, it's greatness is precisely because of how far it varies from the norm.  Genius, sometimes, is not incremental but spastically different, it is a jump, a leap, guided by rarified intuition, into a place that few could have imagined based on what had come before.  Spyderco Ugly is just that sort of difference and the Roadie is just that sort of leap.

The Roadie is yet another exhibit in the argument I have been making off and on for a long time, that Sal Glesser is not just a great knife designer, but a great designer, period.  The Roadie is unlike any slipjoints before and it is better because of those differences.  It is a knife of compact dimensions but enormous utility.  It is a knife that anyone, soccer mom or Marine, could carry, use, and appreciate.  It may be Spyderco Ugly, but I am beginning to think that terms actually has two different meanings--one, it is a label of greatness and high utility and two, it is spoken by Luddites that do not see that greatness.

Here is the product page. The Spyderco Roadie costs $47.95.  There are five different colors--orange, red, blue, black, and gray.  Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Roadie, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: Another Spyderco Home Run

Design: 2

The Roadie came out of the almost passed TSA regulation that was going to allow knives on planes.  Alas, the regs failed, but the Roadie was already in the pipeline, and thank goodness--this thing is a gem.  The only other knife that made to mock up stage was, weirdly enough, an Emerson.

The Roadie's genius comes in three forms--the handle, the blade shape, and the deployment method.  Each is surprising and together they add up to a damn fine little knife.  You can get four fingers on this knife if you have medium sized glove hands and yet it still would fit nicely on a keychain.  Then you have the blade shape.  On a bigger blade it might be awful, but there it urges you to place you fingers correctly and cut, cut, cut.  Then there is the "double dent" in Spyderco parlance that fixes all sorts of problems associated with slipjoint deployment.  Any one of these things would be sweet, but all together they show you just how good Spyderco is at designing products.

And then there is the fact that this design, unlike some of the Spyderco-fied collabs we have been treated to recently is a Spyderco through and through--weird, different, and great.  The knife is so useful and small, yet it is completely 100% unoffensive, even to the most anti-knife person on Earth.  The Dali Lama himself would carry a Roadie.   


The performance ratios, as a whole, are very competent.  The blade:handle is .69...good, but not insane.  But the blade:weight is BONKERS good at 2.09 (2.09 blade in a 1 ounce knife).  Only the Al Mar Ultralight Hawk does better at 2.19.  

Fit and Finish: 2

This is an Italy made knife and like many of the knives from that region of the world there is little to complain about.  Everything is well finished, though nothing has that warmth that something like an Al Mar possesses.  Its clean, well made, but clinical.  That's not a slight, per se, its just an indication that the Al Mar caliber of knives gets a bit more hand work and up close and personal time.

Grip: 2

I am still not convinced with certainty that there is not a bit of close up magic going on here with the grip on this knife.  It seems very hard to squeeze this much useful real estate into a knife this small, but it does work and it does make things seem spacious.    


Of course the choil matters.  Choils are great.  They make all knives feel bigger in the hand than they really are (choil haters, you can suck it).  But the trick with the Roadie, so far as I can tell, is the spine of the knife.  How is it possible that the spine of a knife can make it feel bigger?  Well, in this case the spine almost acts like a choil too, placing your hands into a specific position so that you can have a bit more grip on the knife and more sure idea of where the point is going.  The end result is a knife that feels much larger in the hand than it really is with a grip more like a good fixed blade than a tiny folder.  Super awesome job Spyderco.

Carry: 2

Something this slim, this light, with such a rounded shape is just great to carry.  The Roadie, of course, tucks into a jeans coin pocket, but it also is a true pocket knife, dropping into a main pocket with the promise, thanks to the FRN handles, to play nice with others.  

Steel: 2 

The steel is N690Co, which is a non-powder steel commonly found on Italian made knives and is widely used in Europe and Africa by custom makers.  My Gareth Bull Shamwari runs N690Co and I have found it to be an excellent all around steel.  It is not as great at edge retention as some powder steels, like M390 or ZDP-189, but it is a very competent package.  From my experience, this steel ranks up there with 14C28N and 154CM as one of the very best non-PM steels.  

Blade Shape: 2 

As mentioned before, the blade shape here is great.  Not only does it coax your hand into the right place (and I do mean "coax", unlike finger scallops you can use the blade however you want), but it is also pretty darn useful in cutting.  There is just enough belly to do rocking cuts, but really this knife shines because the tip is exactly where you want it to be.  In one of his videos, the truly great Spydercollector talked about a small EDC knife has making everyday objects seem like they come with a zipper.  I feel like the Roadie does that.  Packages zip open.  Clam shell packs zip open.  Tags zip off.  But unlike pointier shapes I am was never surprised where the tip went.  Oh and before I move on, yes, it is ugly, but no I don't care.  Randall this ain't.

Grind: 2 

This is the closest thing I have to a complaint.  In order to accommodate the double dent, the knife had to have a very thick blade stock.  This, combined with the short blade height, meant that I was very worried that it would be a poor slicer.  This was all just theory testing.  In practice, the Roadie was perfectly fine.  One of the things I am doing a lot right now is skinning grapes.  My one year old eats grapes in the same way and in the same volume that a monkey does, but the skins are a choking hazard, so I spend about fifteen minutes a night skinning grapes.  This is about as delicate a task as I can imagine and yet the Roadie did fine.  It didn't pop an apple either, though the short blade made it difficult.  It's not as good a slicer as, say, the La Francaise I have in for review from Perceval, but it is as good as just about any other knife I have.  The Perceval, just as a bit of a preview, is BY FAR the best cutter I have ever used--it's better than my wife's $200 kitchen knives.  So saying the Roadie falls short of that standard is like critizing a baseball player because he is not as good as Willie Mays.  

Deployment Method: 2 

BRILLIANT.  This complete reimagining of the nail knick is great, highly functional, and sticks with the Spyderco circle motif that is their distinctive brand identity.  I could write more, but it just belabors this point--the deployment method is fantastic.

Retention Method: 2 

I have done this once before, see Fallkniven U2 review, but I think the question for retention method is, at the top level, "Should the knife have a clip?" not "Is this clip good?".  Here the right design choice, unquestionably, is to have the knife be clip-free.  Dropping a clip on here would be very, very bad.  the knife would lose its shape, it would add weight, and it would mess up the magical in hand feel whereby a tiny knife feels huge.

Lock/Blade Safety: 2

I think you probably know where this is going, but I don't think you need a lock on a knife.  It's nice, but it is not strictly necessary in a pure EDC knife.


Here the choil makes it virtually impossible for the blade to close on your fingers and because the knife is so small, it's very hard to use the knife without the choil.  Even with the less than Herculean back spring, I feel like the Roadie is safer than some traditional slipjoints because of the choil.  There is also something of a half stop too, so this is about as safe as you get.  Lock not needed.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20, PERFECT

This is such a thorough rethinking of the slipjoint we are all familiar with that it is hard not to see it as a bit revolutionary.  The Pingo was good, no was great.  This is better.  The myriad ways in which the Roadie is surprising makes it a delight to carry and use.  If you want a knife that can go anywhere and do virtually all EDC tasks you'd be hard pressed to find something more portable, people friendly, and capable than the Roadie.  This is going on the Top 5 list with the next revision.  Its that good.

And more interesting, this is a knife with a form so good that eventual updates and sprint runs will be great.  I foresee a titanium handled version with premium steel, like the Pingo and there the small size means that the titanium will only add an incidental amount of weight.  At what will probably be 1.5 ounces, this is still a great knife.  With a powder steel it will be better.  But that's the thing, as is, it damn awesome.  I can't find a flaw.  

I love the Roadie.  And it makes me love Spyderco again, after a few years of stale offerings, sprint runs of evergreen stuff with new steel, and some pretty lifeless collabs.   It may be Spyderco Ugly, but that is really nothing more than a guarantor of quality.


  1. I would disagree on the point of a clip. While the knife may not require one per se, I think it's hard to say that you couldn't slip a small wire clip on, like the one found on other small spyderco knives such as the Dragonfly or Squeak. While it's fair to say that a clip carries the potential risk of ruining the grip or the like, it's absolutely unfair to declare that the knife is superior in it's clipless form without ever having an iteration that uses a clip. Furthermore, as with most clips, a wire clip would be removable - there would be no downside to including a clip, even if it wasn't required. Look at the Olight S1 - abysmal clip, but the ability to remove it nullifies any potential disadvantage.

    On an unrelated note, this sort of sheepsfoot/wharncliffe style blade with a slight belly has to be my all-time favorite utility shape in any blade, but especially in small ones, where you're primarily using the tip for most tasks (opening boxes, etc.)

    1. I agree with the idea that you don't know until you try it with a clip, but I think because of the small size it would really impact the handle. Something like a Mad Blacksmith city dweller clip could add some retention while not affecting the grip at all.

  2. I have been interested in the roadie because of both your and Kyle Ver Steeg's recommendations.

    But I'm hesitant to buy one because, as a dragonfly owner, I just don't know if I would ever carry it. What are your thoughts on this? I live in a place where a df2 is definitely not considered threatening. So is the roadie unique enough (or better in some way) that it's still worth a look?

    1. The Roadie is unique enough and cheap enough that it probably warrants a purchase. They do fill the same role but both are so damn amazing.

  3. I'm in for a CS or Ti version! The standard handles are rather too utilitarian for my tastes.

  4. SImilarly, I wondered why Tony decided this knife was better w/o a clip than with one, while the Al Mar Hawk would be better with one (and so got dinged two points).

    What say you, Tony? Btw, do you still own the Hawk and did you ever get a clip made for it?

    Back to Spyderco and ugliness: I do find the bump and hole uglier than a flipper or thumb stud, but my main fear with a Spyderco is that the hole makes the blade weaker. Seems even more of a concern with a blade like this, that doesn't have the extra steel made possible by a bump. IMO this blade would be improved by removing the hole. That'd make it stronger and the round opening divot would still make it recognizably a Spyderco.

    PS, I don't completely hate the bump. I do own a Spyderco hawkbill in H-1 and the bump and hole in that seem more harmonious with a claw-shaped blade.

    1. The problem with the Hawk is the Falcon. It has a clip and it works fine in the hand. Maybe the same would be the case with the Roadie, I just don't know. I do know that rounded handles like the Roadie and the U2 make clips more pronounced in a grip than flat handles like the Hawk.

      I wouldn't worry so much about the hole. I have seen very few Spyderco knives with broken blades that broke at the hole.

    2. Thanks Tony. Good thoughts about flat vs round. And great review.

  5. Nice review. I suspect that, even with it's tricks, the Roadie would still prove just too small for my hands, but I agree entirely with your assessment of Spyderco ugly.

    Also, thank you for taking the time to do all this. I check this site regularly and, while I have very different preferences and opinions, I appreciate the quality found here.

  6. You have an annoying knack for this, Tony. The Spyderco Roadie wasn't on my radar, but just last week I was thinking about getting an Opinel No. 4 as a keychain knife. Now I have to take a long, hard look at the Roadie. I can already feel the money flying out of my wallet...

  7. I've got one too, Tony, and I'm every bit as impressed as you are with it. I don't miss a clip at all; the only clip I could see actually working well on this knife would be one of Jon Graham's deep-carry clips for his Razels.

  8. My issue with the Roadie is it always felt as if the blade was going to open unintentionally. If it had a better detent to hold it closed I'd still one one ... Or three.