Touring bikes can be as varied as the terrain they cover. Here we look at light and fast bikes for racking up decent distances in speed and comfort. So why go light? Well, with prudent packing you can cover bigger distances with less effort, enjoy getting up the hills as much as going down them, and indulge in the thrills of road riding and touring at the same time.
Although there's nothing to stop you running your road steed with a saddlebag or seatpost-mounted rack (don't forget to replace your carbon post for an aluminium one if you go for the latter), our bikes this month offer several advantages. These include rack mounts for more on-bike luggage, clearances for wider and more comfortable tyres, eyelets for fitting mudguards, slightly longer wheelbases for stable handling and a more upright, long-distance riding position. Our criteria for lightweight touring is riding with a load of 5-10kg, spread over two rear panniers. Van Nicholas's £1,669 Amazon, comes decked with full Shimano 105 aboard its titanium frame and can be ordered online or through dealers.
Lying at the heart of the Van Nicholas is a desirable 3AL/2.5V titanium frame . While it doesn't come cheap, it's corrosion free, has a long-lasting finish, is resistant to fatigue and offers an impressive strength to weight ratio with a low elastic modulus, which means it can be both light and take the edge out of road vibrations. While it doesn't have the flawless fishscale welds of high-end titanium frames, the finish is good for the price - £809 as a frame-only option. However, where the Van Nic really scores is in all its fittings: three sets of bottle mounts, rack and mudguard eyelets and even a disc mount. Clearances are good, with ample room for 35c cyclocross knobblies. The rear end uses a 132.5mm spacing to accept both mountain bike and road hubs. Elsewhere, there's a reassuring open-ended gusset on the head-tube to dissipate stress and beautifully machined dropouts. The carbon fork also has generous clearances and mudguard eyelets, and the FSA headset was reliable.
To some extent, the Van Nicholas handles more like a road bike than a tourer. It's a light bike and takes some getting used to when loaded, because this inevitably lightens the feel of the front end even more - a bar bag helped to slow things down. What really stood out was the frame's rear end suppleness over longer rides or on rougher tarmac typical to quieter backroads, which is a real back saver at the end of a long day.
While the elliptical top-tube helps lateral stiffness, there's a very slight wallow in the frame towards the upper end of the weight scale. It's not enough to be a worry though - supreme comfort makes up for it. With a road triple, I was expecting to be overgeared on those infamous Cornish rollercoasters. Yet even with baggage, the bike rides fast and the 50t ring proved surprisingly handy, while the 27t at the back helped winching up the other side, even if
I was out of the saddle more than I'm used to being when touring. Braking was a little chattery at slow speeds, but it was still confidence-inspiring on fast descents.
Our Van Nicholas was specced with full Shimano 105 10-speed, which offers simply flawless, feathery shifting and there's a range of drivetrains on offer via the website. In fact, you can have a lot of fun picking and choosing your spec (including crank lengths), and watching the resultant fluctuations in price and weight as you go. A 30/39/50 chainset mated to a 12-27t 10-speed Ultegra cassette (with welcome extra bail-out cogs) provides a sensible set-up for light touring. Unlike Campagnolo, Shimano brake cables don't run under the handlebar, so we'd recommend asking for extra length in the cables if you plan to run a bar bag. Van Nicholas recommend a 400mm seatpost, so it was a shame to see the 300mm one fitted, which was too short and needed to be swapped out. The rest of the finishing kit is also own-branded, and does the job just fine, including offering a good choice of handlebar widths and stem lengths too.
Van Nicholas offer a range of wheels to choose from when ordering, but unfortunately none of them are particularly well honed to touring - we prefer 32- or 36-hole traditionally built wheelsets, because they tend to cope better with load and are easier to true and replace spokes. That said, the Mavic Aksiums it came supplied with gave us no trouble at all, coping with both loaded touring and woodland singletrack. While they're not the lightest wheels
around, the hubs are smooth-running and there's little flex, despite the low spoke count: 20 and 24. The Continental tyres are a comfortable 28c width, providing a larger pocket of air for a smoother ride. If you swapped out the Aksiums for a lighter set of wheels and narrower tyres, you could easily lose a pound of weight.
Ridgeback Horizon £500
Specialized Tricross Spt Triple £700
Planet-X Kaffenback £750
Setavento SLR Touring £775
Ridgeback Horizon £500 Designed for fast and light tours it has a solid, double-butted alloy frame, carbon fork and reliable Sora drivetrain. There are rack eyelets and mudguard clearance too. Ridgeback www.ridgeback.co.uk
Specialized Tricross Sport Triple £700 A lightweight alu frame teamed up with carbon forks, carbon seatpost and a few Zertz vibration-damping inserts for a comfortable ride. Front and rear eyelets, big tyre clearances and LX mechs give a good gear range. Great value. Specialized 020 8391 3500 www.specialized.com
Planet-X Kaffenback £750 Flat bar, chromoly all-rounder with generous clearances, Shimano 105 10-speed and Shimano R500 hoops. Loads of build options, including custom wheels. Planet-X Bikes 01302 638056 www.planet-x-bikes.com
Setavento SLR Touring £775 A great value, fully custom touring frame, 38mm tyre clearances, canti brakes, rack/mudguard eyelets and a titanium frame coupling option for £250. Setavento www.setavento.com