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Santos Travelmaster Review


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.

What Next?
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18 Responses to “Santos Travelmaster Review”

  1. It would be really great if they had an agent in Australia. Or even better, a dealer.

  2. Ingrid says:

    To change to Schrader valves, you simply drill the hole bigger. We made it that way and many others too.

    • friedel says:

      I know… we just have to do it. We simply didn’t think about it when we ordered the bikes. Maybe one of these days…

      • Patrick says:

        When we ordered our Thorn Nomad bikes a couple of weeks ago, they tried to tell us that drilling for Schrader valves would be a “downgrade” and tried to get us to stick with presta! Not sure what these manufacturers have against Schrader!

      • sz says:

        Check whether Schrader fits before reaching for the drill.

        I’m just a few days away from ordering my Santos Travelmaster, and Eric (from the well known bicycle shop in Amsterdam) told me that standard Travelmaster rims (Rigida Andra 30) have large enough valve holes for Schrader. (Schradel valve’s diameter is 8mm, while the valve hole on the Rigida Andra 30 rim is 8.5mm)

        What pedals do you have? (that’s probably one of the last open details that needs to be decided).

      • friedel says:

        Ours are definitely Presta drilled rims! Just double check with Eric what you’re ordering if you want a particular type of valve.

        I looked on the pedals but didn’t see a brand name that was immediately obvious. They are not SPDs but pedals with cleats, which we now prefer to SPDs, clips, straps and other systems, but that’s a personal thing.

      • sz says:

        Thanks for the warning. After a second look on the Rigida webpage I think I misunderstood their specs.

        I don’t care about the valve itself. I used to prefer Schrader when I had a 6EUR pump from Aldi (just what the hell was I thinking?!), which was useless, it could barely inflate the tire to a level that was just enough to ride to the nearest gas station. After that pump’s head fall apart (on a tour, with a flat tire, of course ;) I invested in a decent pump which can handle all three common valve types, and never went to a gas station again.
        However, I do care about the size of the valve hole, because I’d like to be able to fit a Schrader tube when nothing else is available.

  3. stijn says:

    Hi Friedel. I must say I was a little bit surprised when I found out you bought new bikes, as I thougt you’r old steeds looked superb! They had a great classic English touring geometry. I never realised you’d been rusting away from underneath you on your three year trip. It’s quite astounding to see the wear on a bike when its ridden hard day in day out. In hindsight this is also one of the reasons why I chose aluminium for my fourth touring frame. My personal experience is that aluminium is holding out much better then steel. One other reason I’m personally less favourable about Santos touring bikes range, as I don’t think they have the right geometry for touring. IMO the top tube length they come with is to short. The only way to compensate for this is with a longer stem, which is not what one would want on a touring bike. Btw, having had a look at the rims on your bikes, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second about drilling out the valve holes to 9mm. When ever you make it to Boxtel, I’ll do it for you! Regarding your pedals, personally I swear by SPD pedal’s but that’s not everybody’s cup of thee. Also I usually take the reflectors off and in most cases I stick with Shimano (have you seen these: Shimano PD-MX30?).. Right! the sun is out, I’m off riding!!… :-))

    • friedel says:

      Regardless of our old bikes (and we still like them – they’re not exactly rusting away but we did have some minor rust issues), I think it’s always fun to have new ones :) We are going to bring our old bikes back here this summer and fix them up, maybe repaint them.. then we’ll have both aluminum AND steel touring bikes!

  4. Thanks to Freidel and Andrew for the review.

    Andrew-Just a quick answer in reference to the availability of our bikes in Oz.

    As an independent and privately owned SME manufacturer, our primary focus to date has been on growing sales in our home Benelux markets and neighbouring European countries.

    We are though currently exploring options to make our bikes available outside of Europe due to increasing numbers of enquiries and plans may be announced in the future should we decide to embark upon that route.

    Michael.

  5. Shane says:

    Pleased your happy with the bikes, its always nice to be happy after spending so much money.

    After a month searching for the worst roads in Uganda, and despite the foot incident, it turns out my new bike is “Shane Proof”. Just a shame it wasn’t KLM proof…..

    Now time for the serious work:)

  6. Doug W says:

    Nice write-up!

    I always get a chuckle when the question of strength comes up regarding road/touring bikes. Though the frames are obviously built differently, it is absolutely amazing the beating aluminum mountain bikes take. I’m talking huge drops and absurdly rocky, steep terrain. I can’t imagine a touring bike ever seeing half the abuse aluminum mountain bikes put up with. And though they do crack on occasion, it takes a whole lot of punishment that not even 90lbs of panniers on bumpy rutted roads can mimic.

  7. ted edwards says:

    Guys Just catching up and like your new bikes.I am constantly wondering whether I should change my recently built Roberts Drop Bars for either straights or butterfly bars.Everyone says that drops give you a choice of hand positions do you think thats a fair comment or do you feeel that that it is a price worth paying for a more upright riding position.Stay safe you two. Regards Ted

    • friedel says:

      Ted, are you having problems with your bike at the moment? If you’re comfortable on it, I’d say stick with what works! If you’re not, then sure – try the options. We have never owned a bike with drop bars, so it’s really hard for us to say whether one is better than the other. I do feel that I have a lot of hand positions with the bar ends and ergon grips but it’s true that you can’t quite get down low as you can with drops. This summer, we hope to rebuild our steel touring bikes. Maybe we’ll put drops on them so we have a chance to see how we like them.

    • Actually butterflies give you the most choice of hand positions, just not too much height positions.
      I sometimes hate my butterfly when fighting the winds, but normally enjoy the upright, comfortable and relaxed position.

      Note that if you are on a constant slope (or flat), so you do not need to change gears every second, and are not too nervous, then you can even ‘lie down’ on a butterfly. Elbows on the outside, hands meet in the middle; that’s what I do very often, it makes me as low as on a drop bar and also stretches some back muscles.
      Cheers, Harry

  8. Welcome to the Santos club :)

    You will love them. Our TravelMasters have been rock-solid for 26,000km including many unpaved ones and most of them with too much weight!

    One special mention is for the Santos wheel-builders. In 3 years, we broke only one spoke between us. My wheels never have needed any adjustment and are as straight as when we cycled out of the factory.

    They are costly, but if I see all the trouble that fellow cyclists had on their bikes.. so you need to decide whether you rather work more beforehand to earn enough to buy them or work more during your trips to service other bikes.

    Cheers from Patagonia,
    Harry & Ivana

  9. James says:

    I can pick up my new Travelmaster on Saturday! :0)

  10. ralph says:

    wondering if you have anyone selling Santos in OZ yet ? also not much comment about what I consider the MOST important part of any bike eg what sort of saddle do you provide or recommend as this is the primary contact point besides the pedals so would love to hear what’s available and also type of tyres eg solids or ? anyway thanks for any info or reply

    regards from an old around OZ DIRT road biker

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