What makes a good touring bike? Although spare parts can now be jetted out to the furthest locales around the globe, the fully laden touring bike blueprint still errs on the side of caution. So unless you travel fast and light, pry your eyes away from the scales. This means strong, dent resistant tubing on the frame, and clearances to run a range of comfortable or mixed tread tyres too.
It means a tubing gauge that's laterally stiff enough to handle all your worldly possessions, but vertically compliant and suitable in geometry to deposit you at your destination in comfort. Expect a lower bottom bracket to improve stability, and make hopping on and off your fully laden machine a little easier. Look for a full complement of braze-ons, including rack mounts for panniers. Prepare for slower steering too, so handling feels predictable under load. And check for heel clearance - longer chainstays mean no clipping your heels on your panniers. Components should be built to last and serviceable too - nothing too skimpy please.
Then there's the question of wheels, which should be built for the longhaul and suited to load bearing. 26in wheels are popular for touring as they are found the world over and are inherently strong, with no toe overlap issues for smaller riders.
If you've always hankered after the style and elegance of a traditional British built touring bike, cast your eyes over the Longstaff. Built for the American Handbuilt Bike Show where it caused a considerable stir, it represents our most classic offering. Fully custom, it's been specced here with choice components and rings in at £2000.
The Longstaff is one of the most elegant touring frames we've feasted our eyes on, from the lustrous British Racing Green stove enamel finish, the delicate cable bosses, the chrome tips, and the classy Longstaff decals and logo. Which is just as well. Chances are, if you're going to hand over two grand, you'll want it to look right too... The lugs themselves are simple and understated, lifted with elegant gold detailing. Lugs are mainly aesthetic, a chance to be a little ornate and decorative, as their extra weight doesn't translate to extra strength. In any case, Longstaff will build you the frame of your choice, be it lugged or fillet brazed, compact or traditional, with appropriate tubing to suit your weight and riding style. In this case, the bike is built with a mix of Reynolds 531 and 725 tubing, in a sturdier weight gauge more suited to the heavier, or laden rider. There's a pump peg and three bottle mounts too, positioned where you can get to them easily, and where the front mech clamp won't get in the way. The frame will take 35c tyres with mudguards, 38 without. The 1in fork has a deep rake, and rack and mudguard bosses.
Our test model Longstaff was built for heavily loaded touring, so performance on the track was never on its agenda. This said, steering was pleasingly light and involving, while the generous rake in the fork did a good job at ironing out road blemishes. There's a small amount of toe overlap with the mudguards fitted too - it never became an issue, but if you intend to use this bike for slower speed commuting, you might notice it. When tested with our standard 20kg load - to allow for a mixed weather camping tour - the frame felt flex-free and stable out of the saddle, and it tracked superbly down long and winding Brecon descents.
Although the Country takes a bit of effort to kick up to speed, once there it surprised us by how nicely it glides along. Steering is on the slower, more stable side, as befits a touring bike of this style - if you're new to carrying a week's worth of touring kit, it won't surprise you on a fast descent or a tight bend. Loaded up with 20kgs of kit, and there's no waver in the frame.
Being a bespoke bike, how you choose to build up your Longstaff is pretty much up to you. Ours featured Specialities' square taper 110 BCD Carmina cranks, mated to a set of tough 48/38/26 TA chainrings - with loads of options available. The 10-speed shifters work smoothly - but do require more tuning than the now harder-to-source 9-speed system. At this level, we'd also prefer Tubus over Blackburn in the luggage carrying department, though there's no doubt the Expedition racks will do you a long tour of duty. Three Elite bottle cages keep your water supply secure, and quality SKS mudguards keep you clean. The 3T Morphine handle bars are 45cm outside to outside and have a shallow drop that suits touring. Brook's leather handlebar tape certainly adds a classic look, and should last - they could do with a gel insert (like Fizik's Bar:gel) as there's no give in them. Likewise, the matching honey coloured Brooks saddle completes the look. Unfortunately, it required more than the testing time permitted to offer yin to my backside's yang, so remained rather uncomfortable.
It's unlikely you'll have much trouble with the Longstaff-built wheels, as they use tandem gauge butted spokes for extra strength. Hubs are Shimano XTs, still our prefered choice for serviceability in the field with their good quality labyrinth seals. Also being wider with a 135OLN and less dishing, they're laterally stronger too. Tyres are also a favourite. Schwalbe's Marathons aren't the lightest rubber around, but with their reasonable volume of air (32c) and 95psi rating, they're comfy and roll well.