As I am doing a tour on my bike I thought I should give you a tour of my bike. If you don't find this piece boring then there is likely something wrong with you; it's one for the bike nerds etc.
My trusty steed is a Thorn designed by a specialist touring frame-builder in Somerset. The bike is called 'Ripio', which refers to the difficult trails of broken rock that you come across in the Andes. It is a purpose-built off-road touring derailleur mountain bike. Andy's flagship bike is the 'Nomad' and comes with a Rohloff internal gear mechanism in the hub. This is a highly over-engineered German system that is 99% reliable. The sealed nature of the hub gives the bike a single-speed look but it has 14 even gears which match the effective gearing of the standard 27 speed MTB. As it is so durable it is also expensive. It can do 100,000k with very little lubrication and as it is sealed it eliminates prospective damage that might occur to a rear-mech in transit and also protects your moving transmission from the elements; this saves on replacing parts. Despite its cleverness I stuck to the typical mountain-bike derailleur as it is what I know, plus it's cheaper to start off with when one considers all the other items I had to pay for pre-departure. The Nomad also comes with frame couplings to make the bike even more compact for transporting. Useful but unnecessary for what I am doing.
Bike selection took me a fair bit of time. After doing some research I knew I wanted the Nomad but that I was paying for more than I needed. There were no production bikes out there that seemed to be anywhere near what I was looking for. Production bikes might be capable of doing a certain amount of touring but they will not withstand the load of the panniers on the bike. In addition, they are typically built using lighter aluminium tubing which poses problems for the frame should it not be able to handle the road/load. If anything were to occur it would be game-over or at least until you managed to buy a new frame. If one was to tour with a production bike one would have to take a trailer system such as the extra-wheel. I considered this but it just seemed like extra hassle considering the flights I have to take. Transporting a bike is aggro enough without adding a trailer to the mix, especially in an age where airlines are weighing everything.
Andy (frame designer) takes his bikes on 10 week tours every year so he is testing them and thinking about them all the time. I was fortunate that I spotted Andy on Fox front-suspension forks as it prompted me to ring him to establish why he hadn't gone with rigid forks. His response was that his tours are relatively short so he prefers the suspension as it takes him 5 weeks to harden up for a rigid fork. He of course mentioned that the first batch of the newly designed Ripios were coming into stock the following week. Bingo, the Ripio was exactly what I was looking for.
Having ridden it I was very concerned about the weight; the fully built bike with front and rear racks is weighing in about 16kgs. This is very heavy as mountain bikes go. The frame, fork and racks are all steel. Steel is heavy but it provides the assurance that it your frame suffers any damage that it can be mended by a local welder anywhere in the world. Aluminium, titanium, scandium and carbon tubes do not provide me with any option but to trash the frame. The tyres are heart-breakingly heavy coming in at almost 2kgs for the pair, however, I had no choice on the tyre selection. The nature of the roads in developing countries is such that you have to go with the worst case scenario and then some.
I am glad to report that I made all the right decisions with regards the bike as far as I can tell. I have been on some crazy roads. While they are not as technical as some of the uphill sections in Three-rock they are incredibly bumpy, ridiculously rocky and often washed out due to mountain streams and road-damage post monsoon season. One is unlikely to manage a loaded touring bike in Three-rock anyway.
You can see from the gap between the wheel and the seat-tube that this bike has been manufactured with extra-long chain-stays. This allows for proper heel clearance for the 'big-footed' rider when cycling with the pannier bags on the rack. Normal stays would require compromises of sorts for such a rider. This picture also shows you the Rigida Andra Carbide CSS rims with XT hubs. These are 36 spoke wheels both front and back and are virtually bomb-proof. The Carbide coating strengthens the rims and also prevents them getting that black greasy finish that gets your hands filthy when touching them. The consequence of using such hard-wearing rims is that I had to beef up my brake pads to SwissStops. I realise that I could shave a few grammes by sawing off the protruding rack-stays ... some other time.
This is a nice shot of the Thorn MT Tura rigid forks and the tyre tread. Going rigid allowed me to put on front racks, which I need considering the length and diversity of my trip. Obviously a rigid fork is going to be a little bit lighter than a front-suss but it also allows for greater feel of the road. Front-suss masks the road surface until it hits the rear wheel by which time it is too late to brake. As most of the load is over the rear wheel (bodybags ... er, I mean body and bags) it means that you want to be able to control the speed at which you hit bumps. In the case of bumps you hope that nothing gives but if something does then it has to be either the frame cracking, the wheel buckling, the racks snapping, the bags popping or the rider diving. Best not to push the limits in a country where road surfaces are not dependable I think. The tyres are Marathon Schwalbe XRs and I have a Smart Sam Alpencross as a spare (as advised by Andy). The spare is a knobbly and will allow for more traction on the front when on very loose gravel. So far the XRs have done the job, the rear will wear very well under load and I have been hammering the bike on some crazy roads without a puncture so far.
The bars are Easton and the bar-ends are BBBs with an ergonomic cap for one's thumb. It is necessary to have more than one position and the bar-ends are great for working the front-end. I have SLX shifters and XT brake-levers. The best part is the Thomson stem which I thought was necessary. The allen bolts are to the front so this provides a nice flush finish which saves on any knee-bashing when working the front-end hard out of the saddle. Hitting the patella with the stem can be quite sore and can cause inflammation, not that one is yanking the bike; the weight of the bags keep things very much on an even keel. I put on a VDO Z1 computer, as it has an altimeter and a thermometer (apparently) although I'm a bit lazy when it comes to quantitative stuff these days so I haven't spent time getting to know it properly yet. I put a bell on as I thought it might be useful but it is in fact totally useless here in the din of Kathmandu.
This is a better shot of the flush finish on the Thomson stem. It also gives you a better impression on the tyre tread. The head-set is an FSA Orbit. You can see that the tubing is Reynolds 725 chrome-moly. It is quite narrow compared to modern production bikes, this means that the 2.25" tyres can throw up a lot of dirt onto the rider. Always good for making an impression with the locals. I have used v-brakes to keep things simple. They quickly alert you to a buckled rim and should have no capacity to fail/leak unlike modern hydraulic disc-brakes. As they are XTs stopping-power is immense, even when the bike is loaded.
The transmission is Shimano's SLX. The crankset and is only 48 grammes heavier than an XT for 100% more strength. As bottom-brackets are disposable these days I have taken a spare plus the necessary tools. It is never nice to ride on a worn BB and as they can wear without notice it made sense to bring a spare. I am using a KMC chain with spare power-links as opposed to taking a spare chain in event of failure. There are three bottle-cages although it is not necessary to use the third where water is easily obtainable (saves on weight). I did not take the usual water bottles as I knew I would not be able to refill them from taps in developing countries. Using regular water bottles works out quite well as it is very dusty here and so the cap keeps the rim clean unlike on the usual racing bidon. My absolute water carrying capacity is effectively three*1 litres or maybe even 1.5 litres in the cages (although likely too heavy for the down-tube cage underneath) and then two*1.5 litre bottles, one in either rear pannier. The pedals are Shimano 530s, these are dual platform and clipless although I am likely to ship my bike shoes home to save on weight. They are too hot for the climate I am currently in so I will wear flops. Durable steel pedals are a must as you never know when you might need to throw your bike on top of a bus. Anything plastic on a bike is not likely to survive the bumpy roads. In addition I am not using a kick-stand so the weight of the bike is on the pedal and rear pannier when I lie it down on the ground. Kick-stands are either too strong or too weak. Too strong and they buckle your steel frame, too weak and they snap.
The following shots are not good ones of how I am carting my baggage but I will describe the set-up as best I can. I have 6 bags on the bike and in one of the panniers there are two further bags. These two extra bags are a ruck-sack travel cover to put all my panniers in so that I have one check-in bag for flights and a 'Ground-effects' cordura bike-bag, again necessary for flights. Both bags are easily stowable but account for 1.5kg of dead-weight on the road. I have two 20 litre rear-panniers and two 10 litre front-panniers. In addition I am using an Ortleib X-plorer as a rack bag, which is doubling up as my mud-guard. This is a dry-bag for my sleeping bag and tent and while heavier than a regular dry-bag it is more durable and comes with regular shoulder straps which converts it into a normal backpack. This is again useful for flights as it allows me to take 10kgs on as hand-luggage and save on excess baggage. I have put a handlebar-bag on also. It works a treat as it stores all my valuables and doubles as a padded camera bag and map-holder. It is necessary as I can easily remove it and keep my valuables on my person at all times. If the bike was to go walk-about then at least I have my passport and cash so that I am not stuck.
I think that is about it. The Thorn Ripio is a far-cry from gliding up mountains on my 7kg Cannondale Caad 8 Alu race bike with DurAce componentry and super-light HED Ardennes wheel-set. However, it gives me great confidence in terms of the terrain I have had to fight my way through and it is an incredibly well thought out bike. I would call it a tank but it doesn't have the same nimble turning-circle of one so I have to call it a tanker. Hardly flattering but undefeatable considering I am not riding in deep enough waters to be torpedoed.