Hailing from the Netherlands – where they know a thing or two about riding practical bikes long distances – the Santos Travel Master is a very impressive, well-rounded tourer. Everyone who tried it felt immediately at home with the way it handles, both loaded up and unladen.
Santos may be an unfamiliar name to UK tourers, but with bikes as well designed and finished as the Travel Master, we expect this to change soon.
This is a no-compromise bike built for travelling wherever you choose, be it around the highlands of Scotland or in some far flung, off-the-beaten-track locale.
Ride & handling: surefooted when loaded, engaging unladen
Although the Travel Master 2.6 has the looks of a mountain bike, thanks to a low slung top tube and big tyre clearances, the geometry is definitely drawn for touring.
It’s shorter in the top tube than an equivalent mountain bike frame, which, together with a generous, 150cm length headtube, immediately lends the bike a distance-friendly upright position.
In fact it’s a bike that feels unassumingly comfortable right from the off.
Steering is neutral without being dull and perfectly balanced for long hours in the saddle.
When we loaded it up with camping kit, the Santos really came into its own, tracking superbly without any hint of high speed wobble on fast descents, with a predictable feel at slow speeds too.
Stripped of racks and a kickstand, the Travel Master was a pleasant surprise. It’s an engaging ride unladen, and even coped well with riding singletrack in the local woods.
The Rohloff Speedhub offers 14 evenly spaced gears over a 526 percent range - similar to a mountain bike triple.
The spacing itself is fixed but the range can be changed in a complete block by fitting different sprockets and chainrings.
As a system, it’s a delight to tour with. There’s almost no day to day maintenance to worry about, very little wear on the chain and far less chance of damaging the bike while it’s in transport.
Being able to change gears at a standstill is a real advantage on a heavily laden bike, and one that we’ve found good for those who suffer from sore knees too.
On the downside, the lowest seven are annoyingly noisy and don’t feel as ‘clean’ as a derailleur system, although they do quiet down as the hub beds in.
Other minor gripes include the need to ease off pedalling pressure when shifting, as gears can occasionally stick.
Mind you, within the context of constant fettling of a derailleur system, this really isn’t much of an issue.
Just like the extra weight – by the time you allow for the modifications in the frame, there’s close to a kilo in it. Again, it’s far less noticeable when loaded up with a full complement of panniers.
Our bike was built up with a 42T front chainring and a reversible 17T sprocket at the back, which suits faster rolling, tarmac based touring well.
Fit some knobbly tyres and head to the like of the Himalayas, and you’d want to drop down to a 40T or so, though this will cap your top end speed too.
Frame: stiff, resilient and well very finished
Undoubtedly a tourer, yet the aluminium frame is also a touch longer than the 2.6 Chromo, and a touch shorter on the headtube, giving a slightly more sporty position than the steel version
Traditionalists have long preferred no-frills chromoly steel over aluminium tubing, citing advantages such as baggage handler-proof robustness and general riding comfort.
On the other hand, aluminium frames are stiffer, making them better at maintaining steering characteristics when loaded with luggage, as well as being that bit lighter too.
Knowing that both have their advantages and disadvantages - as well as their devout followers - Santos offer the choice of both.
The use of plain gauge, heat treated, 7005 aluminium ensures the Alu version is strong, able to handle heavy loads without any ‘shimmy’ – vagueness or wallowiness in the steering – and more resistant to day to day knocks than the butted variety.
The Santos is extremely put together, with a hard-wearing anodised finish.
Immediately noticeable is the massive, triangulated downtube, which helps tracking under heavy load.
Harking back to its mountain bike heritage, there’s a Crud Catcher mount and the frame is suspension corrected, with a meaty, open-ended throat gusset for stress dissipation.
Further marking it out for touring, its longer chainstays add both pannier clearance and stability, with a host of mounting points for three bottles and a rear wheel lock.
Our Rohloff-specced model came with an eccentric bottom bracket for tensioning the chain. Interestingly, Santos has chosen to bolt a mini torque arm rather than use Rohloff specific dropouts.
Although this isn’t as neat to look at, it does mean that in the event of a wheel failure, you could source a local wheel and derailleur to get you back on the road if you carry a spare hanger – after all, although Rohloff’s quality and backup service is superb, nothing is infallible.
With a 450mm axle to crown, the chromoly fork is longer than a normal touring bike, which means the frame can be run with an 80mm suspension fork for roughstuff travel, though it will need to be a V brake compatible one, as there are no disc tabs on the frameset.
Any compromise in comfort is easily made up by running wider, bigger air volume tyres – we love the fact that the frame and fork have clearances for 2.4in tyres, or 2.35in Schwalbe Big Apples with mudguards.
Although the overall proportions are definitely set up for touring, the aluminium frame is also a touch longer than the 2.6 Chromo, and a touch shorter on the headtube, giving a slightly more sporty position, as well as trimming back around 500g.
There’s a whole range of colours to choose from and if you really don’t want to bump into your own doppelgänger, there’s also four colours of decals to choose from in seven designs…
Equipment: everything you need for the long hauls
Ergon grips are excellent at dissipating road buzz
Our Travel Master featured a custom build, hiking up the price considerably from the basic, Deore-themed spec, and adding a few weeks to the delivery time.
Upgrades included the Rohloff 14 speed hub and a-fit-and-forget Chris King headset.
Magura’s hydraulic rim brakes offer superb performance and are great for Europe and the States. It would have been good if the frame had featured open-sided cable guides, allowing a mechanical V brake system to be swapped in should your travels take you to the likes of Asia or Africa.
Likewise, we’d have preferred a Shimano-compatible crankset over the Truvativ, as a replacement bottom bracket will be easier to find.
Front and rear Tubus Cromoly racks are the best that money can buy, with the added bonus that they’re both light and repairable in the field.
Ergon grips are excellent at dissipating road buzz, while an adjustable Ritchey stem allows some variety in the handlebar height.
Our model came fitted with flat bars – we’d recommend risers to take the stress off wrists.
Elsewhere, the Pleitcher kickstand may add close to half a kilo to the overall weight but proved incredibly practical.
The supplied bottle mount felt secure but unfortunately wouldn’t fit any bottle other than Santos’s own, a brushed aluminium model with a protective closure to keep out muck.
Perches are a personal matter, and we also didn’t get on with the ultra plush, sofa-like Terry saddle.
The bike was put together, carefully greased and setup throughout.
As we’ve mentioned, the cheapest custom option opens at £999, though Santos also offer a higher level pre-specced models at £1,199, which includes SKS mudguards and Tubus racks.
Wheels: tough rims, solid build
The frame also has clearance for 2.35in Schwalbe Big Apples complete with mudguards on the tough Rigida rims
We’ve tested Rigida’s tungsten carbide rims before and been extremely impressed with their ceramic-like coating. It’s almost impervious to wear, as long as you use ceramic compatible brake pads.
To accommodate the Rohloff’s large flange, Santos have their rims custom-drilled, allowing for a more direct angle of exit from the spokes. That reduces the chances of one snapping at the end and they’re thick, plain gauge Sapims for good measure.
Normally, we’d like to see 36 hole wheels on a touring bike but the Rohloff is amply strong with four less spokes thanks to its dishless build.
Oddly our bike came with a 36 spoke front wheel. This may be stronger than a 32-spoke wheel, but we’d prefer them to match so the front rim can be used to repair the rear wheel if disaster strikes.
Complete front wheels are easy to find, but the shorter spokes needed for the Rohloff get harder to find the further you are from civilization.
Taking the wheel out is relatively easy - couplings allow the gear cables to be separated, with a standard quick release to remove the wheel.
With cold hands, it’s more fiddly to use than Rohloff’s disc compatible EX box system, but we’ve noticed the shifting feels lighter too.
Schwalbe’s 2in Marathon Supremes are light, fast rolling, durable and comfortable too, though you’d want Marathon XRs or Extremes for gravel roads.
Santos’ custom options
Santos offer a particularly detailed build program that allows you to customise the Travel Master just the way you want it.
Not only do you get a choice of wheel sizes – 26in and 700c – but you also get to choose frame material – aluminium or chromoly.
On top of this, there are a whole host of bike building options to suit your pocket, from drivetrain to finishing kit, as well as a range of 24 colours to help you stand out from the crowd.
We tested a 26in aluminium model, with setup highlights including a Rohloff hub, a Chris King headset and Magura HS33 hydraulic brakes, pushing the entry price of just £999 to £2,579.
In tune with Santos’ custom approach, our bike came via MSG Bikes (www.msgbikes.com), who include the Bikefitting program and an ergonomic fit to make sure you’re comfortable during those long touring hours in the saddle.