…which, alas, still involves spending money.
Much of my time over the past couple of weeks has been spent poring over the Koga Signature website (see posts passim). I think it’s fair to say that I have now reached a point of having convinced myself that it is indeed a good decision to invest in a new touring bicycle. Note the use of the word ‘invest’ rather than ‘buy’. The latter implies cost (which, alas, can’t be avoided…), the former implies the acquisition of an asset that will be put to good purpose.
Believe it or not, today marks the fourth anniversary of me setting off on my long quest to cycle the length of the European continent from southern Spain to northern Norway which was subsequently immortalised in the travelogue Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie (available in all good bookshops etc…). The first long continental ride was in 2010, the second in 2103, the third in 2015. A fourth long ride is now overdue.
Which brings us back to the investment, the new bicycle. Reggie Ridgeback, the eponymous hero of Crossing Europe…, Along The Med… and Spain to Norway… is now in retirement. He hasn’t been ridden for over two years, supplanted by a Cannondale CAADX 105 cross bike that has served me well since the autumn of 2016. But ‘Dale’ (the Cannondale…) is no touring bike. I did go through a brief period of exploring the possibilities of entering the cutting-edge world of ‘bike packing’. I even invested – that word again – in some suitable bags but it was all a bit of a faff. More time was expended in working out how to pack the bags and subsequently doing so than was ever spent in hitting the open road and actually doing any bike packing. The purchase of (sorry, ‘investment in’) a new tent last year which was incompatible with the minimalism demanded by bike packing was, perhaps, the final nail in that particular cycling coffin. What’s more, despite my extensive research prior to purchase of the Cannondale into gear ratios (for about 6 minutes I considered myself to be somewhat of an expert but two and a half years down the line, I have regressed to being utterly befuddled by the charts), Dale has never come close to being able to attack the steep hills and valleys of the little Switzerland that is the Calder Valley of West Yorkshire, the place where I live. The thought of contemplating – let alone climbing – the Alps, Pyrenees, Peloponnese, Mont Ventoux or the coast of Norway – all of which were conquered courtesy of the teeth of Reggie’s granny cog – on the Cannondale, brings tears to my eyes and shooting pains to my legs. There are reasons why touring bikes are called touring bikes and the principle one is that they allow you to crawl up steep hills without invoking a cardiac arrest. You just need to be patient.
So, wishing to conquer continents in the future (and write more books about doing so) but not having a bicycle which is up for the challenge is somewhat of an issue and it brings me to only one conclusion; I must ‘invest’.
The cheapest (perhaps that should be ‘least expensive’) option would be to replace Reggie with another off-the-peg Ridgeback Panorama. I might even be able to get away with continuing to call him Reggie or perhaps, in a nod towards the truth, Reggie II. But the world has moved on and much of the technology I could only dream about in 2009 when I purchased Reggie the first has become a little more mainstream; disc brakes (which, admittedly, now come as standard with the Ridgeback Panorama), hydraulic cables, front hub power generation (with USB connectivity), LED lights, Rohloff hubs and even carbon belt drives.
I first drooled over a Rohloff Speedhub in 2011 and wrote this for CyclingEurope.org, noting that Mark Beaumont had used one of them to help him cycle the length of the Americas earlier that year. I remain in awe and ignorance as to how it is possible to pack into such a small space the technology required to replicate the gearing ratios of a standard derailleur and chain set on a touring bike. Yet, after cycling those 20,000 km around and across Europe, I know just how much anguish has been expended in listening to metal being mangled upon metal as I set off in the wrong gear and place undue pressure on the chain. I also know how much money has been spent in replacing and readjusting Reggie’s chainset over the years. The comparison of my Ridgeback Panorama to Trigger’s broom is nowhere more appropriate than in that area of the bike. Actually I don’t know how much money has been spent replacing and readjusting but I can imagine, fearfully. The Rohloff Speedhub and carbon belt combination were the future in 2011 and remain so in 2019 but one which has moved a little more into the mainstream. It makes sense to embrace the future, even if the cost will make me wince.
I’ve been aware of the Koga brand as long as I’ve been aware of the existence of Mark Beaumont. There’s a sponsorship combination that has clearly paid off for the manufacturers! The first mention of Koga bikes on CyclingEurope.org came in December 2010 (I still haven’t completely discounted the suggested name…) and there have been several others since. I’ve also always dreamt of a bespoke bicycle – one that is made specifically to my requirements – and the string of posts on the subject is testament to that. Several visits to Bespoked: The Handmade Bicycle Show saw me pining over a range of beautiful bicycles from manufacturers across the UK. Yet the lure of the Koga remained strong and still does today.
The Koga Signature programme appears to combine the dependancy of a large-scale manufacturer with all the associated research, development and after-sales service with the flexibility of a small-scale bespoke manufacturer who is attentive to the needs of the individual. OK; I’m open to the criticism that I have been lured by the marketing but the logic does, nevertheless, seem to be solid.
It turns out that my bespoke requirements are the standard ones demanded by most other prospective purchasers of a ‘bespoke’ Koga as when I start to configure my personalised bicycle via the online tool, there’s not a great deal to modify from the ‘standard’ bespoke ‘World Traveller-s 2.0 Rohloff Discbrake‘. As the name reveals, it comes with Rohloff hub, carbon belt drive and disc brakes. It’s the smaller stuff that I would modify; the front pannier rack (to the Tubus Ergo with integrated kick stand), the saddle (to a Brooks B17 Standard), the front light (the B&M Lumotec IQ2 Luxos U – a name worthy of an award in itself – comes with an integrated USB socket and is a cheaper option than having a USB inserted in the stem) and the colour of the hubs themselves. I can’t imagine why the default option is a rather lurid blue. As for the wheels and handlebars…
Let’s start with the simpler of the two, the wheels. My only requirement here is that the tyres are at least as robust as the Schwalbe Marathon Plus that have served me extremely well in the past ten years, on the long continental rides seeing me suffer only one puncture. As for the exact specifications of the tyres and rims, I will gladly bow to the judgement of Dave at CycleSense, my local Koga distributor (as mentioned in the previous post). It’s worth noting that you can (ahem) ‘invest’ in a Koga Signature bicycle entirely online via the website but there are clear advantages to doing so via a retailer, notably the elimination of a delivery charge and the after-sales service that is offered.
Which brings us to the handlebars. Where does one start..? It is surely the topic of discussion on CyclingEurope.org that has used up – by far – the greatest number of pixels. For long-time readers, you will remember that one of the first changes I made to the Ridgeback Panorama back in 2010 prior to cycling to southern Italy was the handlebars. I removed the drops and replaced them with butterfly bars, a decision that I have never regretted and I remain one of the butterfly bar’s most ardent supporters. However… by making the change, I did also have to modify the gear shifters and, looking back, this probably caused no end of issues with the smooth operation of the derailleur. I was, in effect, running a mountain bike gear set-up on a bicycle designed for a drop handlebar shifters.
So the option of having butterfly bars on a Koga Signature bicycle would be a welcome one, and indeed the option exists. Joy! But hang on a moment… the butterfly bars are, apparently, incompatible with the disc brakes on offer. Rim brakes? No problem… But this (unwelcome) change would mean a different frame which in turn would require a change to derailleur etc… etc… It’s simply not an option (although I don’t quite understand why). What is an option is one of the following:
The Atalanta bars are similar to the butterfly bars but are quite ugly. The Touring bars I think I could grow to like, perhaps even love.
So that’s where I stand. I plan to return to see Dave at Cyclesense in Tadcaster on Monday 15th and he will hopefully guide me through the final decision-making process prior to me… investing. (And buying.) You have seven days in which to offer your advice, especially if it involves recommending the colour…