Wanda, Koga (Signature) WordTraveller: Reviewed

A few weeks ago a woman contacted me on social media and pointed out that her husband was holding back on buying a new bike until I published a review of the Koga WorldTraveller bicycle that I purchased back in the early summer of 2019. I have to admit that I have promised a review on several occasions but never actually got around to writing one. Well, finally, here it is. Much to the relief of the husband concerned… Let’s start with a video that will put the whole buying-a-new-touring-bike thing into perspective:

OK. I’ve now promised, so I’d better deliver. Here is the review…

As noted above, I’ve now been riding the Koga WorldTraveller called Wanda for just over two years. The initial motivation for investing a sizeable chunk of cash in the new bike (and it was sizeable – you’ll have to visit the Koga website to work out how much I shelled out…) was a planned trip to Japan in the summer of 2020. Well, that clearly never took place in 2020 and won’t take place in 2021 either. 2022? Perhaps… But that doesn’t mean the bike has been resting idle. Far from it. The first expedition with the Koga was along the EuroVelo 12 here in Yorkshire, followed by a trip around the Isle of Wight, a cycle from Santander, Spain to the end of the Douro Valley in Portugal, a four-capital tour of the United Kingdom in the coronavirus summer of 2020 and a jaunt around the Yorkshire Dales in early autumn of last year. Indeed if you’d like to see Wanda in action, that trip to the Dales might be a good place to start. Here’s a film I made about the three-day cycle:

There are more films of Wanda in action on the CyclingEurope.org YouTube channel.

Although you can purchase Koga ‘Signature’ bikes direct from Koga themselves, I would recommend going via a dealer as they will be able to advise you on what choices to make. And when it comes to Koga dealers in the UK, David Stainforth of CycleSense in Tadcaster is difficult to beat.

I’ll make some more general comments about the bike at the end of the review but I thought I’d use the following image from the initial video above to organise my comments:

Some areas merit more comment than others, as you will see, and some comments will no doubt see me veering off on a tangent that is not particularly specific to the Koga WorldTraveller bike itself. I will also give each component area of the bike a score out of ten. On with the show!

Aluminium Alloy (6061) Frame

One of the first things that people notice when they see the Koga WorldTraveller is just how robust the frame looks. And it is. In fact, over the past two years, many people have assumed that it is hiding a battery and that I must be riding an eBike. This is obviously not the case (although you can buy a Koga WorldTraveller eBike – more details here) but, combined with the ‘look’ of the Rohloff hub (see below), it is an understandable mistake to make. This can be a little frustrating if I am passed by someone on a hill as they bask in their smugness at not only cycling more quickly than me, but cycling more quickly than someone on an eBike… Little do they know that they should only be smug on one of those counts. The frame’s chunkyness (if such a word exists) gives it strength. I think… Combined with the wide tires, it’s a very comfortable thing to ride. Lots of bounce, although I do suspect this has more to do with said tires. A point of vanity, as you may have noticed in the initial video above, is that I have my website, CyclingEurope.org, embossed on the upper bar. I’m not a fan of tattoos but in this case I’ll make an exception. The weldings are beautiful and merit comment and because the bike that I have comes with a belt rather than chain, the frame contains a little removable piece that allows for replacement of the belt when needed. Very neat!

Score: 9/10 (If it didn’t look like an eBike, it would score 10)

Brooks B17 Saddle

They are a Marmite topic of debate. I love them and they look so good. I don’t think people appreciate that in order to stop things rubbing (i.e. your back side), you need to reduce friction. Spongey saddles may keep you bouncing along but what you need is a bit of slide. A well-maintained Brooks saddle gives you plenty of slide and minimal friction. Don’t forget, however, that the wax they supply should be applied on the underside of the saddle with just a little on the top. Common mistake to make.

Score: 10/10 (Can’t be bettered)

Tubus Pannier Racks

Well made and, so far, have had no issues with the racks. They have plenty of places upon which to place your panniers, irrespective of which make of pannier you are using. The rear pannier has two upper bars so you can opt for either a higher or lower position for your pannier. As far as I’m aware, these are about as good as it gets with pannier racks. They have become a little discoloured after only two years but is that a big issue? I think not.

Score: 9/10 (I’ll knock off a point for the discolouring)

Ryde Andrea 28″ Wheels

I don’t really have much to say about the wheels aside from not having had any issues with them in the past two years. They look as good as they did upon delivery and, with a multitude of spokes, they are as strong as you can get I imagine. Having had issues with spokes before, I hope I’m not tempting fate by handing the wheels a maximum score. Fingers are crossed.

Score: 10/10

Rohloff 14-Speed Hub

Well if you ignore the vast expense, what’s not to like? I first saw a Rohloff hub up close and personal a few years ago at the Bike Show in Birmingham. The display model had been sliced in two and you could see all the internal workings. It blew my mind. I have no idea how you can possibly put everything that normally requires a chainset, cogs, derailleur etc… into such a small space. (This chap does!) But that’s why I’m a French teacher and not an engineer… It has worked perfectly for two years. Well, I say ‘perfectly’… It very occasionally misses a gear but a twist of the shifter gets things sorted within seconds. There is no maintenance required by me although when the bike went in for its annual service last year, I seem to remember that the oil was changed. The sound of the workings is sublime and the ability to grind to a halt and change gear whilst stationary (at traffic lights for example) is cool. It’s the the bit of the Koga that puts it in the same league as an Aston Marin. If James Bond were ever to ride a bike, he’d have one fitted with a Rohloff hub. No doubt whatsoever about that. I thought I might have had an issue with the hub last summer when I noticed that there was sometimes a pool of oil on the ground after the bike had been stood up overnight (apologies to the folk at the YHA hostel in London…). I wrongly assumed this was a leak from the Rohloff. Turned out it was water draining through the cable housing that is next to the hub. How could I have ever doubted it? ‘Reassuringly expensive’ is a term invented not just for Stella Artois but also for the Rohloff 14-Speed Hub.

Score: 10/10 (I’d happily score it higher)

Gates Carbon Belt

When I was talking to David Stainforth prior to buying the Koga, the carbon belt was something that got discussed at length. If truth were to be told, however, I think I was secretly hoping he would persuade me to include the carbon belt on the specification when we finally placed the order. As with the Rohloff hub, it wasn’t cheap but I think I got to the point where I thought ‘what the hell!’. When will I next buy such an expensive bike? Perhaps never. In for a penny, in for many pounds… The lack of required maintenance is, for someone who isn’t very interested in fiddling with the bike, a big plus. No oil is required. In fact, it’s prohibited! When I took the bike to Spain in 2019, I did experience some squeaking of the belt and I found that throwing some water on it sorted the problem, for a period at least. Since returning from Spain, I’ve lubricated the belt with silicon lubricant. A quick spray every few weeks and the squeaking isn’t an issue. Yes, it’s true that if the belt does break and you happen to be in the middle of nowhere, you are in trouble. If I ever were planning to go to the middle of nowhere I would probably carry a replacement belt. That said, Gates designed these belts for motorbikes originally. How often do they actually break without outside intervention of a sharp object? I hope never to find out.

Score: 9/10 (The squeaking was annoying)

Shimano PD-T8000 Pedals

Over the years I have dabbled with SPD’s but I think I have finally come to the conclusion that, when cycling, I prefer to wear a solid pair of trainers or, when it’s hot, my Merrell sandles. These are all incompatible with SPD pedals which isn’t a problem for the PD-T8000 pedals as they have a flat side for people like me who think that SPD’s are just an invention too far. I may change my mind at some point in the future, but I doubt it, especially when I remember the extent to which the metal plates on the shoe can so effectively transfer cold to my feet. I’ve had no issues with the pedals. They get a top score.

Score: 10/10

Shimano XT Hydraulic Discbrakes

I first used discbrakes on a Cannondale bike that I rode a few years ago (remember ‘Dale’?). My main criticism of the brakes was that when going downhill they could be painful on the hands on the drop handlebars. They used cables. The Koga’s brakes are hydraulic. What a difference! Wonderfully smooth… Very easy and not painful to apply even on the steepest of Pennine hills. Yes, the brake pads are not easy to replace; I’ve only done that myself once and it did take a while (I usually ask for the brake pads to be changed whenever the bike needs a service using the expression ‘oh and while you are at it, could you…‘ to casually hide my fear of anything technical) and all brake pads are not equal! Some can be very noisy. It’s also difficult to see if the pads are worn down and whether they need changing. But these are criticisms of the brake pads rather than the brakes themselves which are excellent.

Score: 9/10 (Would get a 10 if Shimano invented a way of easily changing the pads…)

Son 28 Dynamo Hub

This is one of the things on the Koga that is a bit of a luxury but it does make life easy. No more batteries to change in the lights (see below) and a drip, drip of energy via the USB connection into my iPhone. I don’t think the charge would ever be sufficient to recharge the iPhone from low charge to high charge, especially if you are using the phone during the day to track your ride, check directions, take photos or capture video etc… but it does a decent job of keeping it topped up. I dare say this is an area in which technology will continue to improve, but probably at the battery end rather than the hub end. This, I suppose, future proofs the device. It’s a very useful thing to have and as far as I’m aware, the Son 28 does as good a job as any available dynamo hub.

Score: 10/10

Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour Tires

When I bought the bike, I didn’t opt for the Marathon Plus tires and I can’t remember why that was the case. Was I mad? I’ve used Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires for many, many years. Indeed on the three long trips across Europe, I only ever suffered one puncture and I put this down to the Marathon Plus tires. So why did I opt for Schwalbe Almotion tires when I bought Wanda? I replaced the Almotion tires earlier this year as I thought the tread was wearing a little thin and I had a slow puncture on the rear wheel. The tires – both Almotion and Marathon – are very wide, and standard Marathon Plus tires don’t come in such a wide format. The Almotions were ever-so-slightly wider than the Marathon Plus Tour tires that replaced them but the tread on the Marathon Plus Tour tires is just gorgeous. (How often do you hear people refer to tire tread in such terms?) I’m never going back. They make for a super-comfy ride.

Score: 10/10 (Marathon Plus Tour), 8/10 (Almotion)

Busch & Muller Lights

Combined with the Son dynamo hub, they are great. Very bright and they do what it says on the tin. However, I can’t understand why the rear light cuts out when you stop cycling. The front light remains lit. Not so with the rear light. Bearing in mind that when you are stationary the rear light is probably more important than the front light, it’s a design fault that gives the lights the lowest of any of the scores on this page. When I have been cycling at night (which isn’t very often – usually on the commute home from work), I have always attached a battery rear light as well. Which is a pity.

Score: 7/10. (Due to that pesky rear light cutting out)

Koga ‘Denham’ Handlebars

I love the wideness of these bars. It’s difficult to appreciate just how wide they are so here’s a picture taken in Northern Ireland last year as I cycled north along the Antrim coast:

As you can see, they are almost as wide as the carriageway… OK, not quite but they are wide! And that’s what makes them so wonderfully comfortable. (I note that I have used the word ‘comfort’ or ‘comfortable’ several times so far – you can clearly see where my priorities are…) There’s also plenty of room for the accessories on the ‘dashboard’ so as to speak. The name ‘Denham’ comes from the fact that they were designed in cooperation with Alee Denham who is a brand ambassador for Koga (see comments below) and one of his main innovations with these handlebars are the small bars protruding forward from the main bar. To be honest, I rarely use them. The position of my wonderful Crane Bell on the left doesn’t help. They are, however, useful for hanging things on. I’m sure Alee didn’t have that in mind when he slaved over their design…

Score: 9/10

Alee Denham appeared on episode 008 of The Cycling Europe Podcast which was dedicated to the purchase of a new touring bicycle.. Here is the full description of that episode:

“The Cycling Europe Podcast returns with a new touring bike special. Andrew P. Sykes visits CycleSense in Tadcaster, Yorkshire to pick up his new Koga Signature WorldTraveller bicycle and chats to the owner David Stainthorpe about his purchase. We hear from Koga brand ambassador Alee Denham from the website CyclingAbout.com about his experiences of cycling across South America on a Koga WorldTraveller bike. Andrew also chats to the master frame builder Richard Hallett about his life as a bespoke bicycle manufacturer and to one of his very satisfied customers, Andy Johnson. We hear an extract from Andrew’s first book – Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie – in which he wrote about buying his first touring bicycle, a Ridgeback Panorama. Finally, the author reflects upon his first ride on his new touring bicycle, a bike called Wanda.”

Nothing beats referring to yourself in the third person…

So there you have my thoughts after riding the Koga Signature WorldTraveller bicycle for the past two years. It’s a great bike to ride. Expensive, yes, but worth every penny.

What was the overall score?

Out of ten, I give it… 9.3

Would I recommend it?

Of course I would.

Since 2009, CyclingEurope.org has established itself as a valued, FREE cycle touring resource. There’s now even a podcast, The Cycling Europe Podcast. If you enjoy the website and the podcast, please consider supporting the work of CyclingEurope.org with a donation. Thanks if you do!

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