The expedition touring bike is the big, sturdy brute of the bicycle world. These top-quality machines are ready to take whatever you can throw at them.
Some are made by craftsmen, turning out a dozen or so bikes a year from their garage. Others come with a brand name like Thorn or Koga.
Regardless of their pedigree, these are bikes you should be able to ride around the world, over mountains, through rivers and down rocky tracks with every confidence that they can handle the terrain and the week’s worth of food you’ve loaded on the back luggage rack.
Frames are often made to measure and the wheels will almost certainly be the 26” standard that is most easily replaced anywhere in the world. Across the bike, the focus should be on high quality components and there should also be an element of beauty.
Custom paint jobs and beautiful welding work are to be expected on this level of bicycle.
The Santos Travelmaster: a high-spec expedition touring bicycle. Photo by Dennis Koomen
Expedition bikes are also where you’re most likely to see the latest technology, including the Rohloff Hub – a nearly maintenance-free and sealed gearing system.
Because everything is enclosed, the Rohloff is great for trips down dirty, dusty roads. It also lets you shift without pedalling (if you want to change gears at a stoplight, for example) and a wheel built with a Rohloff is very strong because the wheels don’t have to be ‘dished’ or arced as they do on bicycles with derailleurs.
The Rohloff Hub – a very nice but expensive addition to your touring bike.
On the downside, the Rohloff costs an extra $1,000 U.S. and in the unlikely event that something does go wrong, you’ll probably have to send the hub back to the factory to be fixed. The customer service is, by all accounts, wonderful but how will you feel if the worst happens? It could mean interrupting a tour and waiting for your wheel to make the journey to the plant in Germany and back.
Our personal preference is to deal with the quirks of a derailleur, which we can fix and which every bike mechanic the world over understands but plenty of cyclists are completely in love with their Rohloff hubs. It’s not really a case of derailleurs versus Rohloff but being aware of the pros and cons to both, before you make a decision.
If you do go for a Rohloff hub, try and make sure a separate derailleur hanger is also fitted to the frame. That will allow you to retrofit a derailleur if the hub can’t be used for some reason.
One final thought on expedition bikes in general: plan ahead if you decide to buy one. They are often made to order and it can take weeks or even a few months before your bike is ready. Starting to look six months or even a year ahead of your departure day is not too soon.