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Our Steel Touring Bicycles: Technical Specs

Posted December 5th, 2011

Friedel's touring bike by Robin MatherAndrew's touring bike by Robin MatherWe bought our our Robin Mather steel-framed touring bicycles in 2006 and took them on a 3-year world tour.

The top photos show the bikes as they originally looked, near the start of our epic tour.

After such an adventure (50,000km of pedalling), the bikes needed some work. In 2011, we rebuilt them to the specs listed below. You can also read more about the rebuilding process.

First, we’d like to share some thoughts on the rebuild:

1. These are meant to be sensible, basic touring bikes. Some people might say the components are a bit boring but we focused on simplicity and reliability. After all, these are not our only touring bikes.

2. If we were planning an extended tour (3+ months) in the near future, we would have plumped for more parts from Shimano’s Deore LX or XT range.

3. Many parts were cleaned and reused from the original bikes.

4. We’ve mixed and matched some parts from our Santos Travelmaster touring bicycles. For example, Andrew built a front wheel with dynamo hub (just like on Friedel’s steel bike) but that now sits on his Santos Travelmaster and the steel bike has the front wheel that came with the Travelmaster.

5. Total rebuild cost was about €500 for Andrew’s bike and €750 for Friedel’s bike. The most expensive things were the new paint job (€250) and – on Friedel’s bike – the dynamo wheel (€275). Originally, the bikes cost £1,500.

6. The current photos don’t show the totally complete bikes. One day we’ll take a picture with all the racks and accessories on the bikes. Nonetheless, we’ve listed everything that we plan to put on the bikes at this point.

We’re still not real ‘tech-heads’ so it’s possible that we’ve made a mistake or forgotten something on the list. If you have questions, get in touch and we’ll do our best to answer.

Bike #1 – Andrew’s Bicycle

Rebuilding our touring bikes

Frame & Fork

Handmade from steel by British bike builder Robin Mather. This is a classic touring bike from top to bottom. Robin does beautiful work. It’s just a shame that he hasn’t been building bikes for several years now. The cost at the time (2006) for the custom frame and fork was £755.

Transmission

  • Bottom Bracket – Shimano BB-UN55 (68mm) new
  • Crankset – Shimano Alivio 42-32-22 with 175mm cracks (M431) new (similar to this crankset on Wiggle)
  • Rear Derailleur – Shimano Deore M531 (bought in New Zealand in 2009; the original Deore derailleur was nearly dead after about 40,000km)
  • Front Derailleur – Shimano Deore M530 original
  • Cassette – 9-speed Shimano Deore XT CS-HG50 new
  • Shifters – Shimano Deore M510 original

Wheels

Chris King Cane Creek 40 EC34Steering

Brakes

  • Front & Rear Brakes – Shimano Deore LX M580 V-Brakes original
  • Teflon casing new

Seat

  • Seatpost – Selcof Team original
  • Saddle – Brooks B17 original

Racks

DMR V8 Pedals

Pedals

Accessories

(more on GPS systems for bike touring)

Bike #2 – Friedel’s Bicycle

Rebuilding our touring bikes

Frame & Fork

Handmade from steel by British bike builder Robin Mather. This is a classic touring bike from top to bottom. Robin does beautiful work. It’s just a shame that he hasn’t been building bikes for several years now. The cost at the time (2006) for the custom frame and fork was £755.

Transmission

Shimano Acera Crankset 44-32-22

  • Bottom Bracket – Shimano BB-UN55 (68mm) new
  • Crankset – Shimano Acera 44-32-22 with 170mm cranks new (arguably a bit low brow but half the price of the Alivio equivalent on Andrew’s bike; we can now do a good comparison!)
  • Rear Derailleur – Shimano Deore M531 (bought in New Zealand in 2009; the original Deore derailleur was nearly dead after about 40,000km)
  • Front Derailleur – Shimano Deore M530 original
  • Cassette – 9-speed Shimano Deore XT CS-HG50 new
  • Shifters – Shimano Deore M530 (Bought in Turkey. The original M510 shifters failed after 17,000km of use )

Wheels

  • Front Hub – SON Dynamo new
  • Front Rim & Spokes – Sputnik Rigidia & Sapim 14-15 double-butted spokes new (self-built)
  • Rear Rim & Spokes – Sputnik Rigidia & Sapim 14-15 double-butted spokes new (self-built)
  • Front and Rear Tire – Marathon XRs new (more on tires for touring; the XR is no longer manufactured but we had 2 leftover)
  • Rear Hub – Shimano Deore LX T660 new
  • Front and Rear Fenders – SKS 53mm trekking mudguards new

Steering
Ergon GC3 Grips

Brakes

Seat

  • Seatpost – Selcof Team original
  • Saddle – Brooks B17S original

Racks

Pedals

AccessoriesThe Ding Dong Bell

Why We Won’t Be Buying The Gekko fx Folding Trike

Posted September 13th, 2011

We spent last week testing the Gekko fx, the “nimble foldable touring trike”, if you believe the manufacturer’s hype.

Gekko fx

Why a trike? Because we could rent one for a reasonable price from Maia Ligfietspunt (curiosity is a pretty good reason) and because the idea of having a bike that doubles as a chair in the evening when camping really appealed to us!

Why the Gekko fx? We could have rented any number of other trikes (an IceTrike, for example, or a Kettwiesel) but since we live in a top-floor apartment and we often take trains with our bikes, a trike that folds quickly and can be stored compactly is obviously appealing. Apparently, you can fold the Gekko fx in just 10 seconds (more on that later).

Unfortunately, the Gekko fx didn’t live up to our expectations. If you don’t want to read any further, the short answer is that we won’t be buying one. You can skip ahead to our complaints, or keep reading to find out first what we DID like.

The Good:

1. Very comfortable - We instantly felt at ease in the seat and the positioning was natural. A quick release on the back of the seat makes adjusting the angle quick and painless.

2. No charge on the train (in the Netherlands) - Instead of the usual €6 bike fee, our trike was treated as a normal folding bike, even though it’s twice the folded size of a Brompton.

3. Amazing cornering - This trike handles beautifully. You can accelerate into corners with an ease and speed that we never feel on our normal touring bikes. Fun!

4. Surprisingly visible - Almost the first thing people do when they find out you’re riding a trike is warn you to be careful of cars but we found the Gekko fx was so different that every car driver was looking straight at us. We always easily made eye contact at intersections, and we didn’t feel vulnerable, despite being much lower to the ground than on a normal bike.

5. Adaptable to diversions and construction – We deliberately didn’t avoid things like construction areas and barriers while testing the trike but we were always able to work our way around obstacles without much trouble. We never had to get off the trike, just to go around something.

As you already know, however, not everything about our Gekko fx test was good. Here are the things we were less thrilled with.

The Mediocre:

1. It’s not THAT easy to fold - After some practice, Andrew could fold the Gekko fx in about 30 seconds. However, this required quite a bit of arm strength. Friedel’s time was longer and less elegant (maybe she would have improved with more practice). If you’re a reasonably strong guy, you’ll manage this just fine. If you can’t lift and flip 16kg of bicycle, you’ll struggle a bit more.

2. Awkward going up and down stairs - We hoped that a folded trike would be almost as portable as a folding bicycle but we found the Gekko fx awkward to lug up a set of stairs. Mostly, we did it together, so that neither one of us would throw our back out. It may fold, but it’s no Brompton. Our normal touring bikes weigh about the same as the trike (16kg) but we can carry our touring bikes up the stairs without any problems.

3. Only Small Bags Please – For the price (about €2,300), we ideally wanted this trike to be set up for at least light touring. That is to say that we wanted to put 2 large Ortlieb bags on the rack but even our small Ortlieb panniers were a tight squeeze on the derailleur side of the trike. To really tour with the Gekko fx, we’d have to fit a higher rack or buy special bags designed for recumbents, and that’s an extra expense on top of an already high retail price that we’re not sure we want to pay.

 

P1030329

And finally….

The Bad:

1. Difficult to Roll – When the trike is folded, there are some small wheels that theoretically allow you to roll it a short distance, such as along a train platform. We didn’t find this easy at all. The trike nipped at our heels and was unstable even going over a small bump in the surface. Going from one end of a platform to another is not an experience we want to repeat, and if there’s no lift, you’re going to have to lug it up and down stairs (see our point above).

2. It fell apart! – This was the real clincher for us. Maybe we should put it higher up in the review, but in the tradition of saving the best (or the worst) for last, here’s our story of disaster. While riding down a small side street, the wheel began wobbling erratically and we lost all control of the trike. Mercifully, we were going slowly and no cars were around at the time. When we managed to stop, we spotted the problem immediately.

Gekko fx falls apart

The strut that connects the steering controls to the wheel is held together with a simple bolt, and that little bolt came loose. When it did, we lost control. Thank goodness we weren’t going down a hill or turning into traffic at the time! When we returned the trike, we found out that this had happened before and despite the owner’s best attempt to secure that bolt, it kept on coming loose.

Our personal opinion is that this is probably a design flaw – or at least a ‘feature’ of the design that would keep us from buying this particular trike. We prefer our steering to be put together more solidly, and not reliant on a single bolt. We know all too easily how those bolts can come loose, but on standard touring bikes the damage is normally limited to mudguards and luggage racks – not crucial operating parts.

So, Gekko fx, we’re sorry to say you’re not the trike for us. We’d still like to try more trikes but we’re looking for something more robust.

Our Second Test Ride On Recumbent Bikes & Trikes

Posted September 4th, 2011

One day. Six different bicycles to test out, and a bright summer’s day with beautiful blue skies.

If it sounds like a perfect combination, that’s because it was. After our first test of recumbent bikes a few weeks ago, this time we were on our way to Maia Ligfietsen in the Dutch city of Dordrecht. To get there, we biked 30km and then took the Waterbus ferry. What a gorgeous ride and a bargain for just €4.

P1030171

We were on a mission to test the Gekko fx folding trike in particular (Friedel’s current obsession), but someone hadn’t returned it on time, so instead we got to test some other bikes.

We started with the fun Pino tandem, from another renowned German bicycle maker, Hase. It’s not a bicycle we’d ever buy (unless we win the lottery) because we can’t see ourselves using it that often, but it’s a blast to ride. And with one person sitting low down in front, everyone has the perfect view.

P1030246

Maybe we’ll rent it for a short tour next summer…

While we were testing the Pino, Alicia was trying out a folding Brompton bike.

P1030219

We briefly tried it and found it a little twitchy to ride but Alicia told us that she soon got used to it. There’s no doubt that a Brompton is ultra practical in Europe for hopping on and off public transport, and the folks from Path Less Pedaled have certainly gone far on them.

Trevor, meanwhile, was still trying to find his perfect recumbent bike. He tried one from Nazca but it was the GreenMachine from Flevobike that really made him fall in love.

P1030282

Andrew hopped on briefly and loved it as well. It’s a beautiful bike to ride. If only that price tag weren’t so steep - €3,800 (about $5,500 U.S.)!

In the afternoon, we turned our attention to some trikes. Not the Gekko fx that we wanted to test, but the Scorpion fx from HP Velotechnik for Andrew and the Kettwiesel from Hase for Friedel. We both had a lot of fun in these ultra-comfortable trikes, and we discovered a few leg muscles that we don’t normally use.

P1030293

Turning around took a bit of practice…

What a fun day.

P1030280

Followed by an equally fun over-crowded boat ride to a campsite on an island.

P1030298

It’s just too bad the campsite didn’t tell us they were planning an all-night party, with the main music tent set up right beside our tents. Not exactly what you expect from a Nature Camping Site (campgrounds that are supposed to be quiet). We packed up and left at 9pm, and we’ll be asking for our money back…

Next up? Well, the bicycle store has kindly offered to let us borrow the Gekko fx for a few days at home, so Friedel will be trying it out on her daily commute plus some shorter rides over the coming days; possibly including an S240. After that, we’ll put together some more thoughts on touring on a recumbent tricycle.

Review Of Our Santos Travelmaster 2.6 Alu Touring Bicycles

Posted February 20th, 2011

On the TransAndalus TrailIf the last 60,000km of bike touring has taught us anything, it’s that – within reason – the bicycle you ride doesn’t matter so much.

People have pedaled the globe on all sorts of contraptions from penny farthings to bikes with tin panniers. Our cheap second hand bikes have given us about 5,000km of happy cycling. You don’t need to spend a lot to have fun.

That said, we do have a soft spot for nice touring bikes so it didn’t take us long after moving to the Netherlands to notice that many Dutch bike tourists ride a Travelmaster from Dutch manufacturer Santos. After a year of living and cycling here, we’d talked to enough Santos riders to be convinced that these touring bikes were worth a serious look.

Off we went to the showroom (conveniently located not far from our house). The next week we placed an order for Santos Travelmaster touring bicycles, with 26″wheels and black anodized aluminum frames.

Keep reading our review of the Santos Travelmaster touring bicycle.

Santos Travelmaster Review

Posted February 19th, 2011

If the last 60,000km of bike touring has taught us anything, it’s that – within reason – the bicycle you ride doesn’t matter so much.

People have pedaled the globe on all sorts of contraptions from penny farthings to bikes with tin panniers. Our cheap second hand bikes have given us about 5,000km of happy cycling. You don’t need to spend a lot to have fun.

That said, we do have a soft spot for nice touring bikes so it didn’t take us long after moving to the Netherlands to notice that many Dutch bike tourists ride a Travelmaster from Dutch manufacturer Santos. After a year of living and cycling here, we’d talked to enough Santos riders to be convinced that these touring bikes were worth a serious look.

On the TransAndalus Trail

Off we went to the showroom (conveniently located not far from our house). The next week we placed an order.

Delivery time was quick (7-10 days for standard frames, more if you want a custom colour) and soon we were cycling home on our very own Santos Travelmasters, with 26″ wheels and black anodized aluminum frames. Santos also sell the Travelmaster in a steel version but we decided to go against our traditional instincts and try the aluminum frames.

Now, with about 1,000km of touring and 300km of daily commuting under our wheels, we can offer up a few thoughts on these bikes. It’s safe to say that we’re not disappointed.

They’re Solid Bikes

Our Travelmasters are robust, comfortable and reassuring to ride. In a word, they’re solid.

Friedel notices the difference most when she stands up to climb a hill. The frame on her old bike had a noticeable flex when standing up to pump the pedals. This doesn’t happen with the Travelmaster. We’re not sure if the difference comes from the change in frame material or the design. (Sheldon Brown has an interesting article on frame materials for the touring cyclist and sources of riding comfort). Regardless of the reason, the added stiffness is welcome.

It’s not just the frames either. The responsive steering really showed through when we faced washed out roads in Spain. Despite being assaulted with mud, the Magura hydraulic brakes also impressed us. They stop on a dime. V-Brakes will stop you too but the Maguras seem to require a little less trigger power for the same braking action.

A washed out trail

Other things we like:

  • 4 mounting points for bottle cages, pumps etc…
  • Clearance for massive 2.25″ expedition tires
  • A mounting hole in the crown of the fork so you can fit a front light

Our gears are a pretty standard mix of Shimano LX and XT components. For those considering Rohloff, Santos keeps the derailleur hanger on the Travelmaster frame. That’s handy for repair emergencies or if you simply change your mind about which gearing system you prefer. (Note: Santos have an extensive overview of Rohloff hubs, including pros and cons, if you’re researching this option)

Quality accessories such as Ergon handlebar grips, Tubus racks and a sturdy kickstand are standard but the nicest thing of all is that almost everything can be tweaked to fit your preferences.

Already have luggage racks? Tell Santos to build a bike without them and save yourself a bit of cash. Want butterfly handlebars instead of straights? No problem. There’s plenty of choice in frames as well, from modest black to flashy orange and hot pink.

The number of options available made us feel like we were in the ultimate pick-and-mix candy store for cyclists.

DSC_5513_pt

Aren’t You Worried About An Aluminium Frame?

A lot of people have asked us this, which is understandable since we have traditionally been big advocates of steel as a material. Since Santos also sell a steel Travelmaster, why didn’t we get another steel frame?

The idea behind the question is that welding steel is a skill found in any country, so it will be easier to get your bike repaired if the frame cracks. Depending on where you are when disaster strikes, it might not be possible to find someone with the more specialist skills needed to weld and heat-treat aluminum.

There’s some truth in this theory but in the last year (even before getting the Santos bikes) we’ve started to view the steel versus aluminum debate in a slightly broader light. Before we bought these bikes, we asked ourselves:

  • Does Santos have good enough customer service that they would send replacement parts if necessary?  Yes.
  • Are the bikes are solid and well designed, so cracks from use (not a crash) are unlikely? Yes.
  • If we’re in a bad crash, how likely is it that the frame will be repairable, no matter what material it’s made from? Not likely.

We did get some welding done to our steel bikes during our 2006-2009 world tour. Much of that was repairing small mounting points for luggage racks that had corroded away. With aluminum, hopefully the bike will be less prone to corrosion in the first place.

There’s always the small risk that we encounter a situation where we wish we had a steel frame, but we’re hopeful that Santos customer service would come into play in that case. Couriers deliver just about everywhere these days. They even send new wheels to Khartoum.

Santos Bike In Andalucia

They’d Be Perfect If…

If we’d thought to ask when ordering the bikes, we’d have requested Schrader valves, not the standard Presta. We like being able to fill our tires at any gas station, without having to worry about carrying (and probably losing) an adapter. We also suspect that Schrader valves would be more easily found in far-flung countries (this is just a hunch).

Finally, we’re reserving judgement on the pedals. It’s a small thing in the overall scope of the bike, but several of the reflectors have fallen off (Santos is sending us replacements) and in the last few days both sets have started squeaking. Maybe all the rain during our bike tour of Andalucia and winter commuting in wet conditions did some damage. We’ll add a bit of grease and hope that helps.

On the whole, however, we’re confident our Santos bikes will be coming along on our bike tours over the coming year. We’ll aim to give a longer-term review, after a year or so of breaking them in.

Cost: Not cheap but worth it if you’re in the market for a top-end touring bike. We paid about €1,800 each, with Shimano LX / XT components and Magura hydraulic brakes. Add about €1,000 if you want a Rohloff speed hub.

Tell me more: Cass Gilbert has a nice comparison of a Santos Travelmaster with a Thorn Sterling and Harry & Ivana also share thoughts after 16,000km on their Santos bikes.