Review: Cross Roadster Gel Pen
In the past couple of years, I've become far more intimate with my writing tools. The act of putting words on paper has become more of a visceral experience, something that I look forward to doing (as opposed to something I'm forced to do). Given my semi-recent hobby of restoring vintage fountain pens, it isn't hard to guess that I'm usually found with a pen in hand that's more than six decades old, sporting a gold nib, and laying down a beautiful wet layer or Waterman's or Noodler's ink. Frankly, I've grown tired of most modern pen designs which are generally contrived to look like all others or to evoke Star Trek in some way. (Think of the recent crop of G2 lookalikes, for example.) Which is why I'm surprised to declare that one of the pens in my current stable is not a fountain pen at all, but a modern gel roller.
I should preface this by saying that not everybody enjoys writing with a wide-barreled pen. I certainly do, although many of my acquaintance think slimmer is better. I find that a wider pen allows me to write a little looser and doesn't require the firm hold that might aggravate carpal tunnel. Make no mistake: the Cross Roadster is definitely a fat pen, about as fat as most people could comfortably use.
I found the Roadster at my local Staples and fell in love with it right away. It's a thick, fairly stubby pen just under 4.5" long; however, with its cap posted it turns into a meaty 5.75". Vaguely bullet-shaped, with a long brushed chrome cap and a sturdy and beautifully-coloured barrel that's well-rounded at its base, it certainly has a look all its own.
The pen seems exceptionally well made. The section (a.k.a., the grip) is fabricated of smooth black PVC-like plastic with silvery stainless steel accents, and it screws easily into a barrel that appears to be made of a rich-hued acrylic. At my local Staples were three variations: black with embedded grey chips, blue swirls, and red and black swirls (a.k.a., "lava"). No two pens at the store had the same pattern, a fact that lent a certain unique quality to each pen. The bottom third of the barrel appears to be solid acrylic, which lends the pen a very strong and substantial feel. No rattles, creaks or flimsiness here. The cap is carefully machined of a brushed chrome and the smooth clip is both firm and elegant. A very minor issue is that one should use a little care to post the cap on the rounded end of the barrel, lest it be a bit loose or perhaps cocked at a slight angle. I'm used to being somewhat delicate with my fountain pens, so this took a few minutes to get used to. The pen feels well-balanced in my hand, with or without the cap.
The design, no doubt, is meant to evoke the roadsters of the Golden Age of automobiles, and there is certainly a classic automotive aesthetic to the pen. (Though, not being a classic car fan, I can't quite put my finger on the exact touches that deliver this.)
An interesting touch to the pen is a small spring embedded in the bottom of the barrel which presses up against the bottom of the ink cartridge. This has the effect of giving the point a slight give and springiness while writing, not unlike a quality set of shock absorbers on a vehicle, and the effect is one of extreme smoothness that isn't effected by every variation in the pressure of your hand.
Speaking of writing, I've very impressed by the Cross gel ink cartridge, which I'm guessing is the same type used for the more popular Cross Ion pens. The point is roughly the same thickness as a G2 0.7mm or a fine nib fountain pen, and the short but wide cartridge seems to hold roughly the same amount of ink as the G2. The supplied ink is a very satisfying black that lays on very wet but dries extremely quickly, usually within a second or two on most papers I experimented with.
The price of $20-25 USD is excellent for the quality of the pen, especially given that its construction is so much better than many pens selling for three times that amount. (Unfortunately I can't find a place online to purchase this -- can anyone find a link?) It's an excellent bargain for anyone who enjoys a wide yet portable pen that exudes both classic style and craftsmanship, and who would prefer the convenience of a gel pen to fountain pens.
Pros: well-constructed; good balance in hand; wide (for hands that like wide); elegant look; quick-drying ink is thick and black; price value is excellent for style of pen.
Cons: not everybody likes a wide pen; a little bulgy in tight pockets; cap can post on the rounded barrel loose or at a slight angle; may not fit thinner pen loops in planners and notebooks; uses gel refills that may not be easy to find.
Verdict: a well-crafted and stylish gel pen that writes beautifully, perfect for those who prefer stockier pens.