Introducing the Bikes
Updated: Oct 8, 2018
Bristol Bicycles' Burrington Tourer: click here for full spec.
(Oli) Five months in this feels like an overdue post. One I've been meaning to write since we first met the team in the shop back in Bristol, when under the expert guidance of Jake and Matt we were taken through the nuts and bolts of our then-new bikes.
On the morning of January 12th we arrived to a cup of tea and two bare frames on stands. That evening we rolled out on two brand spanking new touring bikes. As crisp and fresh as the January day. Now we've done a lot of riding & it could be argued that there's no better time to shine a light on the bikes than mid-tour. After all, with over 7000kms on each bike we know them pretty well.
So here it is, to misquote Neil Young; "I rode through the desert on a bike with no name.." And as with every other environment so far it was still great. The desert of Uzbekistan was our most recent challenge but to reach it we rode through storms in Turkey, mudslides in Macedonia, gravel in Croatia, mountains in Switzerland, & snow in Germany. It's been a varied few months & generally speaking the bikes have kept going even when we've wanted to pull over & curl up under a tarp.
In my opinion there is a (complimentary) comparison to be made with the groundbreaking Ford Model-T. Although the Model-T was a car not a bike, and it was in production a century ago, there are certain similarities in their core design principles. Not least the fact 'you can have it in any colour so long as it's black'.
Bristol Bicycles' mission is to hand-build decent bikes that are affordable to the many. By deciding to manufacture frames in chunky aluminium rather than a thinner tubular steel they are able to keep production costs down & include a basic set-up which comes with an assortment of quality components as a result. The choice of aluminium is an economic choice as I understand it; so as not to compromise on strength the frames are thicker & certainly no lighter than their steel counterparts.
The company recently turned ten (happy birthday guys!) & I guess over the years they've really honed their craft. By carefully choosing where to simplify details Bristol Bicycles are able to create a great touring set-up at a lower retail price than most other companies' equivalent.
The bikes all come with Shimano components (cassettes & chains, cables, brake levers, hub), strong wheels that are each hand built & greased in-house & a strong steel front fork. Their standard Mitas Stop-Thorn puncture resistant tyres carried us over 4400 kms without a flat. They would have kept going but with tougher road surfaces ahead we decided to swap them out for a thicker option.
But back to black for a moment; from an aesthetic point of view the select choice of black, black or black, is totally fine by me. Especially matt black; the absence of colour means the geometry really sings out. Like deep dark ink on white paper. In my opinion the Bristol Bicycles black looks brilliant & provides an elegant base from which to embellish.
And just as we found in-shop, the Bristol Bicycles website has a select handful of customisable options on top of the standard set-up; from handlebars & mudguards to disc brakes, kickstands & racks. You basically choose whatever best facilitates your routine. We opted for robust simplicity in the hope of giving ourselves an easier time fixing & sourcing anything in the event we needed to whilst on tour.
For sakes of total openness there are a couple of small details that I should mention which in my opinion aren't ideal in a long distance tourer. The proximity of lug positions for water bottle cages on the frames; these are slightly too close to each other to fit two large bottles simultaneously. I presume the positions came directly from non-touring models such as the Park Street for which one position or the other would be fine, but on a long tour you want to carry as much water as possible as easily as possible. In a touring bike it feels counterintuitive for one position to preclude use of the other but it's a minor grumble to be honest; no matter how much water you can carry on your frame you always end up strapping more to your racks.
Wheel size is a widely debated topic amongst touring cyclists and it's here that devotees of the 26" will find the Burrington Tourer wanting as it comes with the larger 28" wheels more typical of western road touring bikes. The further east you go the less you find parts suited to the larger western size wheel. Having said that there aren't many places in the world you can't order a new tyre or wheel if you really need to. And chances are if your wheels are in bad shape you could probably do with a couple of rest days yourself - so sit back and recuperate while your new tyre or wheel is couriered over. Personally we've found the wheels have been great on most surfaces; they aren't the thickest but this means you can cruise nicely on asphalt without too much resistance. Now in Tajikistan, at time of writing, we are about to embark on more gravel-heavy roads through the Pamir mountains & have decided to strip off the mudguards & beef up the tyres to a thicker grade. And let's face it, that's the real trick with touring; to remember you probably don't have to pick your perfect bike straight off as you'll be getting to know what suits you gradually over a long period of time, so you can customise your bike as you go. We're looking forwards to seeing what the team back in Bristol think by the time we return.
Having ridden steel frame tourers & alloy road racers in the past I can't hand on heart say it's my favourite ride ever (NB: Ruth probably would say it is for her) but it probably is the best all-round bike I've ever had the pleasure of riding and there's not much I'd swap it for on this all-encompassing kind of tour. Certainly nothing as affordable, as well built, or as good looking. In my opinion steel is marginally more forgiving on the body when rolling over the rough stuff. If you want to bomb it downhill drop handlebars & a more streamlined overall position will definitely deliver on the need for speed. And if you love crunching off-road corners at any sort of extreme angle then you're probably better off sticking to a more mountain-bike, bike-packing set up. We've definitely received the occasional curious glance & raised eyebrow from lovers of Surly, Thorn, Co-Motion & other big dogs of the touring scene but let's be honest; we're half a year in now & we're still riding. We are two ordinary people who've undertaken an extraordinary long distance adventure by bicycle & so far this pair of Bristol Bicycles have totally delivered.
So to sum up a long-winded, long overdue introduction: Bristol Bicycles are a small but dedicated outfit in the centre of Bristol. They're a truly lovely team who make truly lovely bicycles and we are really very pleased with them.
25/9/18 Post Pamir Update:
Not all of the Pamir Highway is a total boneshaker. For an entire day between Alichur & Murghab you'll find yourself cruising on Grand Prix worthy tarmac & able to enjoy the views, scarcely concentrating on the road surface at all. And there are, of course, other stretches like this too.
Needless to say, whatever your choice of route, there are long sections that will punish any bike. Whether it's days of washboard & gravel, steep sandy climbs, or twisting, boulder-peppered, scree-descents on a scale that would challenge any MTB. Let alone a loaded tourer.
We went into this part of the trip having read accounts of fractured frames, broken racks, cracked rims & shattered derailleurs. In Dushanbe we'd witnessed cyclists finishing up their tours, nursing wounded bikes, held together with gaffer tape and cable ties. In a place like Pamir we appreciate that anything could happen. Its wildness is part of its exclusive charm. It's so spectacular that were it any easier to reach, or smoother to ride, I've no doubt it would soon be a great deal busier. The washboard & gravel keeps the visitor numbers down. But as a consequence there's an increased chance that a bike or part will fail. For a month, give or take, you will be putting your bike and gear to the test. And of course an issue could arise with any bike whatever the quality & however well maintained. It's probably fair to say it's as much to do with luck, or bad luck, as anything else.
And with that in mind we began a fairly rough & remote Pamir route content in the knowledge we might well have to be pragmatic & improvise a fix here & there. Or in the case of a irreparable failure; push for a few days & then hitch. But fingers crossed it wouldn't come to that. We expected it to be the toughest part of the trip in as far as riding was concerned. And in some ways it was. We got thrown off and bruised, a cable snapped, & I bent a front cassette ring. But after a month we realised we were nearly done; we were through what might prove to be the toughest part of the entire trip & everything was still in one piece.
We are thrilled to report the bikes rode amazingly; continuing to feel robust & comfortable in a landscape that can see many a big-name bike shaken to pieces. All in all, we couldn't be more pleased with how our bikes handled. We had removed the mudguards, beefed up the tyres, &
And a further testament to their quality; we bumped into a third BB Tourer. Back on the main M41, on the approach to Alichur, we spotted the silhouette of another cyclist behind us & stopped to wait. We thought it might be Chris, a German friend we'd made in the Fann Mountains. It wasn't. The cyclist introduced herself as Mig & after a minute or so of general roadside chat I glanced down & exclaimed "that's a Bristol Bike!" We were amazed & delighted; we hadn't even seen another back home in the U.K. So what were the chances our paths would cross at 4000+ metres on a pass in Tajikistan? Who knows, who cares; they did! And several thousand kilometres into her own journey, Mig spoke about her bike with a love & regard we could wholeheartedly echo; 'No real problems, feels great, totally happy with it!'
So there you go; not just one, but three well-used Bristol Bicycles' Tourers, in fantastic condition, making their way slowly around the world. Complete with three happy riders & not an issue between them.