Although relatively new to these shores, Santos are well established in their Dutch homeland, with an impressive range of mountain, road, city and, of course, touring bikes.
Their Travel Master is a bike that stands out from that crowd because it presents you with a plethora of options. You can pick between a steel or aluminium frame, 26in and 700c wheels, Rohloff hub gear or derailleurs, and custom or standard builds. There’s also a palette of 24 different colours to choose from, meaning it’s unlikely you’ll come across your doppelganger on whichever set of roads you choose to travel.
Our Cr Mo 2.6, as the name suggests, sports a chromoly frame and 26in wheels, making it ideal for the rigours of expedition travel. Such steel frames are comfortable yet resilient to bungling baggage handlers and bus rooftops, while 26in spares can be sourced the world over. It also comes ﬁnished in a no-holes-barred expedition build.
Ride & handling: Reassuringly stable when laden, but pleasingly snappy otherwise
Our bike included a custom ﬁt from MSG Bicycles, requiring two visits to the shop: one when the bike was ordered and another at collection. We asked for a sporty but comfortable touring position and the ﬁtting process was comprehensive. In fact, the bike required no further adjustments – not even to move the seatpost.
On paper, the Travel Master is a seriously well kitted out adventure-touring bike, and a two-week tour of the bumpy, dusty back roads of Cambodia provided ample opportunity to see how it performed in the real world.
In a nutshell, we were impressed. Heavy-duty tourers are built for the long haul and handling proved reassuringly stable when loaded up with 30kg or more of cargo. Yet when lightly laden, we felt a pleasing snappiness to the handling that suited more involving tracks and trails.
For the dry, warmer climes of South-East Asia, we trimmed some weight (and £150 off the price tag) by removing the front rack, mudguards and chain protector, and replacing the 2.25in Marathon XR tyres with lighter, grippier Extremes. The large tyre volume and compliant fork helped take the edge off pothole-strewn roads and we never felt any hint of wallow in the frame.
Long, bumpy days in the saddle mean comfortable contact points are just as important, but thanks to the bike ﬁt and comfy Ergon grips, no tweaks were needed. The elegantly curved, long chainstays maximise clearances and prevent clipping your heels on panniers or the frame.
In fact, we can think of little to fault this bike, bar its price tag. Thankfully, there are more affordable options available – a similar TravelMaster with full Shimano XT and hydraulic brakes would set you back £1,900, while the entry-level build costs £1,350.
Frame: Good attention to detail, including every mount you could need
The TravelMaster 2.6 comes riddled with eyelets and brazed with mounts for every eventuality: that means you can have four bottle cages, a dynamo light, racks, mudguards (including a Crud Catcher) and even a wheel lock. Santos steer clear of disc brake tabs for their touring models, but you can choose between mechanical V-brakes or hydraulic Magura HS 33s.
The quality of the ﬁnish is extremely high and there’s some neat detailing. We particularly like the fact that while the custom Rohloff dropout and eccentric bottom bracket make removing the rear wheel easy, there’s also provision for a derailleur hanger in case of emergencies. As reliable as the Rohloff hub is (with an impressive customer service reputation to match), it’s reassuring to be covered for every eventuality.
In terms of geometry, the chromoly frame is a touch shorter than the aluminium one, giving a more upright position. However, both sport similarly long chainstays for pannier clearance and lowered bottom brackets for stability. Ours came with a matching rigid fork, although the frame is suspension corrected for 80mm of travel. There are massive tyre clearances all round.
Equipment: No-holes-barred expedition build, including supremely effective hub gear
The Rohloff hub is well established in touring circles as an expensive but supremely effective system, encasing 14 evenly spaced gears in a protective hub that’s safe from dust and grime, limiting external damage.
The range is similar to a mountain bike derailleur setup, with no dropped chains or slipping gears to worry about. Gears one to seven feel slightly less efﬁcient than the larger ones, but this is easy to forgive since the hub can tackle river crossings, thick mud and layers of red dust without skipping a beat.
A ﬁt-and-forget Chris King headset keeps steering buttery smooth, with Shimano XT brakes, an adjustable stem, a tough SKF square taper bottom bracket, a titanium nitride-coated chain, SKS mudguards and top-of-the-line Tubus racks making for a packed spec list.
The Ergon grips' paddle-shaped design spreads out the force at the contact point and is great for minimising tingly ﬁngers. Likewise, the Cane Creek bar-ends fall nicely under the hands and provide an extra position to ride in. Our route through Cambodia was relatively ﬂat, but when we did hit steep hills in the mountainous north-east of the country, the extra leverage was a real bonus.
Second only to a reliable frame, decent wheels are required for touring while heavily laden. An added bonus of the Rohloff hub is that it enables a dishless build, which means that despite the fact the Rigida wheelset has only 32 spokes (albeit tough, plain gauge Sapims), it’s far stronger than a traditional 36-hole setup – and you don’t need a cassette removal tool either.
Rigida’s tungsten carbide coating means there’s little rim wear to worry about, though you’ll need to run them with ceramic-speciﬁc brake pads, so carry spares.
It may be heavy and ungainly, but we found the Esge kickstand that came with the bike made a big difference to day-to-day practicalities in Cambodia, from stopping to take photos to loading up the bike. It also saves on pannier scuffs and wear, and means you’re not constantly on the lookout for a tree to lean your bike against. The front lowrider also includes its own mini stand, providing extra stability when the bike is fully loaded.