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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.