I’m sometimes asked for advice about what sort of bike to bring on one of our trips. I am always happy to offer an opinion…..though it is usually ignored. Perhaps my advice is useless (a distinct possibility!!) or perhaps they get to the bike shop and are beguiled by something shiny and feather light. Of course, half the problem is that MY advice relates to what is needed on the trip and THEIR choice is probably influenced by other factors. Probably they are selecting a bike that must serve multiple purposes and this will inevitably entail many compromises.
I am fortunate in that I can justify a bike for the sole purpose of the sort of long-distance riding I do: trips of 1-4 weeks duration at 50-100 miles per day, sometimes without luggage but sometimes with rear panniers. I mostly cycle in the ‘civilised’ world and don’t need something that can be mended with a hammer in countries with names ending with ‘stan’.
I have not found an off-the-shelf bike that I regard as ideal and so I have created mine over a number of years, trying to achieve perfection through the bringing together of diverse parts. If I had thought of doing this a few years ago I could have got a nice book/TV deal but sadly Robert Penn has beaten me to it (“It’s All About the Bike” )
So have I succeeded in assembling my perfect bike? No, of course not; I doubt if the ‘perfect’ bike exists but I can say that what I have comes close enough. So, here is what I have chosen and why:
Lynskey Sportive Titanium. This is a compromise, but one I am very happy with. All three words are important:
- Titanium – As light as aluminium but as strong and springy as steel. It is virtually indestructible (note: only ‘virtually’ – I did destroy the first one!). If you ride an aluminium or carbon bike you have no idea what you are missing. If you ride a steel bike you understand the comfort but are wasting a LOT of effort hauling dead weight. As an added bonus, titanium doesn’t corrode so can be left unpainted. This means no scratches to worry about!
- Sportive – The frame is designed for brisk all-day riding. The geometry is more relaxed than a ‘racer’ but still sufficiently compact and responsive to allow fast progress and some enthusiastic cornering. Touring purists will be appalled at the choice but for carrying modest loads (my loaded panniers seldom weigh more than about 15kilos) it is an excellent choice. The only limitation is that the frame clearances preclude fatter tyres AND mudguards (one or the other, but not both). I just leave the mudguards off and have resigned myself to getting wet and being hated by the rider on my back wheel.
- Lynskey – They are a small American manufacturer, building frames with a degree of pride and craftsmanship. The welds are a thing of beauty!
I use inexpensive generic carbon forks. They have never let me down but do worry me a bit. The best thing about them is that they will not take front carriers, thus forcing me to always pack light! I think to sleep properly I must one day fit steel forks (the very springiness that makes titanium great for frames makes it terrible for forks!).
No compromises here! The brief was very simple – I need wheels that will carry me, my fully loaded panniers and an occasional 6-pack of beer without breaking, and still fit in my ‘non touring’ frame. The solution was a pair of hand-built wheels (this is nowhere near as expensive as it sounds):
- Rims – Mavic A719 ‘touring’ rims capable of taking 28-32mm rubber
- Spokes – 36 x heavy gauge
- Hubs – Sminao Dura-ace (an unnecessary luxury but I had a pair kicking around the garage)
- Tyres – Continental Gatorskins 700×28 (the fattest my forks will take but comfortable, even on mediocre cycle paths)
I use the ‘Marmite’ of saddles – a Brooks (a B17 Narrow to be exact). These saddles divide the cycling world; many (myself included) will not entrust their pert behinds to anything else, the rest….well they are just wrong! I used to suffer badly from a mixture of bruising and soreness after 4-5 days riding but since fitting the Brooks everything is wonderful. This is attached to a Lynskey titanium seatpost – a £100 luxury that cannot be justified but will never break!
Handlebars and Stem
I used to have carbon components but last year, in New Zealand, my bike fell over while parked at the curb and the handlebars snapped. I now use cheap aluminium drop bars and cannot tell the difference.
This is where I go seriously off-piste. The conventional wisdom is that for touring you need a triple chainset with a bottom cog at the back the size of a dinner plate. I disagree. By using a lighter bike, by not hauling 4 panniers filled with crap, and by exploiting recent advances in ‘standard’ gear ratios I find that I can manage with a double chainset from the Shimano Ultegra range. Mine is a 10-speed and I have had to cheat a bit to get:
- Front 50/33 (I replaced the standard 34 tooth chainring with a 33 tooth version)
- Back 12-30
I find that this is enough and there is a weight saving by removing one chain ring and using the lighter Ultegra components.
The newer Shimano 11-speed setup supports:
- Front 50/34
- Back 11-32
and this gives equivalent gears without the need to tinker with the small chain ring. An upgrade to this is on my list.
My madness goes further because I am using Di2 electronic components. The big downside of these is that, should they go wrong, they are not mend able at the roadside and parts may be harder to source BUT I offer the following arguments in their favour:
- They don’t go wrong. I have been using them for 4+ years and they are VERY reliable
- They are becoming much more commonplace and parts are getting easier and easier to find.
- Once they are set up (a simple task) they stay adjusted…….forever. No tinkering with indexing and no putting up with clackity gears .
- Every change is perfect, every time. The sheer joy of this on a 1000 mile ride is worth the slim chance of a breakdown.
The battery last up to 1000 miles and a spare weighs next to nothing.
I have a tiny Tubus titanium rack – about as minimal as you can get and still carry full-size bags and I use this with Altura Dryline panniers. These are completely waterproof and don’t have the annoying rolltop closure that Ortleib insist on using. At the other end of the bike I have a matching bar bag. This was enough carrying capacity for an 8 week crossing of the US, including carrying full camping gear!
So, there you have it. By no means the usual choices for the sort of riding I do but I am very happy with them. You might take a completely different approach but maybe some of the thought-processes behind my choices might help with your own selections.
The next outing for this ‘rig’ will be a short jaunt along the Mediterranean coast of France, doing the final reccie for our inaugural Perpignan to Nice ride which runs in April. There are still a few places if you fancy a lovely kickstart to the season!