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.
The Jake is constructed from simple, tried and tested butted 7005 aluminium pipes, its clean lines underlined by the stylish simplicity of the decals. Aside from the odd chip resulting from off-road forays, the blue pearlescent finish proved hard-wearing and looks great. Differentiating it from a pure cyclocross bike, there are well-positioned eyelets for racks and mudguards and two bottle mounts - unlike the top-spec Major Jake. The head angle is a bit shallower
too, for a more stable ride. Clearance is also good because the chainstays have been pinched in, so there are no issues with fitting 35c rubber and there's even just room for 40c Marathon XRs.
Attached by a reliable, non-integrated headset, the fork is a long-standing classic: the straight-bladed chromoly P2. It comes with plenty of muck clearance and eyelets on the dropouts for a mudguard.
On the Jake, we immediately felt at home with its reassuringly solid feel. Although it's a touch slower in handling than the Van Nic, its stiff rear end and longer wheelbase ensures it can handle extra baggage, with no heel-pannier issues either. The Kona is a harsher ride over rougher terrain, but a set of wider tyres do much to smooth things over. There's minor toe overlap with the tyres fitted but it was never an issue when riding - and fitting 30c touring slicks sorts it out.
Braking is good, and the extra set of top-mounted levers offer a comfortable position for cruising down your typical Sustrans cycleway. The downside is that you won't be able to run a bar bag and they're too narrow for steep descents. With its cyclocross credentials, the Jake is also great fun to hammer around in the woods, swallowing up double-track climbs and flicking round forest single-track without any worries.
There's nothing outlandishly flashy on the Jake, but it's all decent, reliable kit. The 9-speed Tiagra rear mech shifts well with the 8-speed set-up, and the 30/42/52 FSA Gossamer chainset, with its outboard bearings, proved plenty stiff. However, when mated to the 12-25t cassette the gear range is limiting over hilly terrain with baggage - a wider mountain bike cassette, even with its larger jumps between gears, would be better for many riders, particularly the less experienced. Shimano Sora levers fall nicely under the thumb on the hoods, but are impossible to reach when in the drops. Teamed with Avid's popular Shorty cantilever brakes the stopping power is very good. Matching Easton EA30 components elsewhere complete the finishing kit, with a comfortable, WTB Rocket saddle to top it off.
The Jake uses a good value, no-nonsense Mtb Deore hub up front, and its road equivalent, Shimano Sora, at the back. While the Sora hub doesn't feature the same mud-shedding seals as the Deore, the frame's 130mm rear spacing (as opposed to 135mm for mountain bikes) means it's easy to swap out the wheels for a pre-built set of lightweight, Sunday-best road hoops. Rims are Sun's semi-deep MZ-14s, which are double-walled and eyeleted for strength. Butted DT spokes contribute to a solid build that stayed true throughout testing. Despite the knobbles of Maxxis' Locust 'cross tyres, they roll perfectly well on tarmac thanks to a ramped central tread, and can confidently handle canal paths too.
A capable do-it-all bike that's a bit overgeared for touring
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