Ridgeback Expedition Touring Bike Review & Detailed Photos

Disclosure: I was eager to test-ride the Ridgeback Expedition, as it looked on paper like a brave and welcome entry at the lower end of the 26-inch wheel expedition bike market in the UK. It was returned to Ridgeback after the testing period was over. I’m not affiliated with Ridgeback in any way.

Overview

Released in 2014, the Ridgeback Expedition is a 26-inch wheel equipped touring bike at the low-middle of the pricing scale. It’s one of their World series of bikes, which also includes the well-regarded Panorama (reviewed here last week).

Ridgeback Expedition: overview 2

The bike’s build and specification orients it strongly towards long-haul expedition-style touring in the developing world with a big lean towards journeys incorporating plenty of unpaved roads.

These qualities, of course, make it an attractive proposition for those looking for a round-the-world tourer; a bike that can be depended upon in the long term, easily maintained and repaired the world over, and taken comfortably across a variety of terrain with a full complement of luggage.

While most new bikes built for the demands of world touring cost upwards of £1,200 (and regularly approach and sometimes exceed £2,000), the Expedition’s RRP of just £850 is an attention grabber. Though still a pretty decent wedge of cash, it’s notably less than the sticker price of most competing 26-inch wheel equipped expedition bikes.

Ridgeback Expedition: head tube branding

Given that you generally get what you pay for with bikes in this price bracket, I was interested to find out where Ridgeback had compromised to bring the price down, and whether those compromises were likely to make sense in the long run.

Frame & Forks

The frameset is what defines a bike like this, and the Expedition is well thought out from a feature and geometry perspective, in many ways resembling the old fashioned steel mountain bike frames from the 80s and 90s that were popular for adapting for touring, except with a longer wheelbase for stability and heel clearance from rear panniers.

Ridgeback Expedition: top tube decals

I rode a 57cm frame, which turned out to be a little long for my average height and proportions of 5 foot 11. I usually ride a 56cm frame; could I choose again I’d go for the 54cm version of the Expedition.

It’s built for cantilever or V-brakes only, as you’d expect from a bike like this, the simplicity of rim brakes still being the most popular choice for round the world rides.

Shifter cables are routed via bosses on the down tube, allowing for old-fashioned down-tube shifters to be installed if necessary.

Ridgeback Expedition: down tube shifter bosses

Touring-specific features include three bottle cage mounts, with the smaller front wheel allowing for a decent-sized bottle on the underside of the downtube.

There are separate rack and mudguard mounts at both sets of dropouts, eyelets on the seatstays for the rear rack, and mid-blade eyelets on the front fork for the mounting of a lowrider. Mudguard brackets front and rear are present and correct.

Ridgeback Expedition: mid fork eyelets
Ridgeback Expedition: fork dropout

The non-drive-side chainstay features three spare spoke holders, which is a really nice touch – though, strangely, spokes of the appropriate length and gauge are not included.

Ridgeback Expedition: spoke holders

There’s a pump peg on the seatstay for the supplied frame pump; it’s a nice idea, but ultimately, given it’s rather mission-critical nature, I’d prefer to keep a reliable pump of my own choice safely stowed in a pannier rather than exposed and vulnerable to opportunistic theft. I suspect the majority of developing-world tourers considering this bike would think likewise.

Ridgeback Expedition: pump

(The peg also makes carrying the bike on that side a rather painful experience, as noted in the Panorama review.)

Ridgeback Expedition: rear rack mounts and pump peg

The tubing is British steelsmith Reynolds’ 520 chromoly butted tubing, which has the same properties as their basic 525 tubing but is manufactured more cost-effectively under license in Taiwan. Many lower-end steel bike frames are built of 520 for cost-cutting reasons.

Ridgeback Expedition: frame decal

The frame flexes somewhat under high torque, and the lack of stiffness is apparent when riding on bumpy roads with luggage attached. It’s particularly obvious when riding the Expedition alongside other cromo frames, such as the Kona Sutra I was test-riding concurrently.

It’s questionable whether the newcomer to cycle touring would notice this, or be particularly bothered by it if they did. But after having ridden thousands of fully-loaded miles on a variety of bikes over the years, one does become rather attuned to the feel of these things.

High marks for design, features and geometry in the frame department, then; but I’m not particularly impressed in the admittedly highly subjective department of ride quality. It’s not helped by the rather basic wheelset, which we’ll come to later.

Drivetrain, Crankset & Brakes

Power transfer is conducted by a mixture of low- to mid-range Shimano mountain biking components, with a Deore rear derailleur, an Alivio front derailleur and a 9-speed Alivio chainset with individually replaceable chainrings.

Ridgeback Expedition: front derailleur

In my opinion, these are ideal drivetrain components for a world tourer and a sensible place to cut costs; these components will last as long and do just as good a job as the more expensive LX and XT components used on pricier tourers. (I’d be just as happy with an 8-speed setup, such as that on Ridgeback’s Voyage, which would shave costs even more and allow for maximum availability of compatible parts worldwide.)

Ridgeback Expedition: rear mech

The Deore rear derailleur is a long-cage model. There’s no barrel adjuster on this rear derailleur, but instead you’ll find one on the downtube for easy tweaking of the gear indexing. The same goes for the front derailleur.

Ridgeback Expedition: rear derailleur

The 12-36 tooth cassette* provides that ultra-low first gear that tourers so often wish they had while lugging their worldly possessions across epic mountain ranges, quietly cursing the manufacturer of their bike under their breath. This is a big thumbs up; it really does make a difference, and while it’s not difficult to fit a 12-36 tooth cassette to any other model of touring bike, the fact that it’s fitted as stock is a big bonus for people who’d rather not get their hands dirty.

Ridgeback Expedition: rear cassette

The bottom bracket is also a very sensible one: a square taper Shimano model, cross-compatible with the majority of cranksets and bottom brackets. You’ll find the same model on Surly’s top-end Disc Trucker for just the same reasons – simplicity plus ease of repair and replacement anywhere in the world.

Braking is of the cantilever rim-brake variety, the road-style brake levers unsuited to operating mountain bike V-brakes.

There’s nothing unusual about this type of brake on a bike like this. They’ll never be as strong as discs, nor as mountain bike style V-brakes, but if properly set up they’ll do an adequate, if not exactly admirable, job of stopping the fully-loaded bike.

Ridgeback Expedition: brakes

What is unusual is the specific model of canti brake: the Shimano CX50 model. It’s used by Ridgeback elsewhere in their range, including the Panorama.

The big issue here is that these brakes are only compatible with a specific and unique (and expensive) model of brake block, the R50T2*. Parts need to be simple and cross-compatible on world tourers; similar brakes compatible with generic and therefore easily sourced brake blocks, such as the Tektro CR710s or Avid Shorty 4s, would have been a better choice here. Tourers heading off long-term on the Expedition with the stock brakes will need to ensure they’re carrying spare pads with them from the word go.

Cockpit & Controls

Braking is controlled primarily by a pair of basic Shimano road levers, which are functional enough but don’t have the adjustable reach of similar equivalents that some might like to see for ergonomic reasons.

Ridgeback Expedition: handlebars

A big plus point is the addition of a pair of top levers, allowing braking while gripping the bar tops. Though diminutive, they work surprisingly well, and I had no trouble controlling steep descents with a big pair of rear panniers and a tent strapped on top. They also allow barrel adjusters to be incorporated for adjustment of the brake pad position without tools.

Ridgeback Expedition: top-down cockpit

Bar-end shifters take care of the gears, sensibly separating gear and brake lever mechanics, while allowing friction shifting as a fallback if the indexing system breaks.

Ridgeback Expedition: shifters

The synthetic grip tape is decent enough. The stock saddle is a surprisingly comfortable one for a tourer and perfectly adequate for short rides, though I’d still swap it out for my Brooks if I were heading off on a long trip.

Ridgeback Expedition: saddle

As another plus point, all of the cable routing is done beneath the grip tape, meaning there’s no interference with handlebar bags.

Several spacers have been added between the steerer tube and the reversible stem, so there’s plenty of room for adjustability of the handlebar height. In general, the resulting riding position is a good balance of upright comfort and all-day pedalling efficiency.

Ridgeback Expedition: stem

Wheels, Tyres & Mudguards

Like the frameset, the wheels sound ideal on paper: 26-inch, double-wall rims accepting wide tyres, 36 spokes per wheel, and Shimano cup-and-cone hubs.

Ridgeback Expedition: rims

The rims are Alex Rims DH19s. They’re a basic, budget rim for trekking and mountain biking, but they don’t have a particularly good track record when it comes to expedition-style touring, with various reports of them cracking after a few thousand miles of heavily loaded touring. This happened to the Panorama, too, as mentioned in the review.

On a bike intended to be used for long, remote, heavily loaded journeys on mixed road surfaces, a bomb-proof rear wheel is among the most important things to look for, as it’s one of the most heavily abused and thus failure-prone moving parts on such a bicycle.

While the front wheel would probably be fine, I’d have my doubts about the durability of the Expedition’s stock rear wheel for an extended tour.

I’ve also had issues in the past with the quality of the seals on the lower-end Shimano hubs, such as the Alivio hubs used on the Expedition. In the long run I’d recommend regularly checking that the bearings of hubs like this are running smoothly, particularly after long spells of bad weather, and anticipating overhauling them more regularly than you would for a better sealed pair of hubs from higher up Shimano’s range.

In general, something all bike manufacturers would do well to take heed of is that when it comes to long-haul touring, there’s no particular reason the front and rear wheels of a bike should be built to the same spec. It’s almost always the rear wheel that breaks, because it take a considerably harder beating and bears a lot more weight.

The stock tyres are Schwalbe Marathon 26×1.75″ expedition tyres, some of the longest-lasting touring tyres on the market, which will happily do thousands of miles before needing replacement. You won’t be winning races on them, but the high volume makes for a very comfortable ride. Lower the pressure for traction on dirt roads; pump them up for a little extra efficiency on tarmac.

Matching the tyres are wide, deep mudguards with rubberised mudflaps; ideal for a bike of this kind, and with plenty of adjustability and space for even higher-volume tyres should the fancy take you.

Ridgeback Expedition: mudguard rear

Racks

The bike is fitted with Ridgeback’ standard touring rear rack, a burly looking and spacious aluminium specimen which seems well made.

It features a built-in rear reflector, which is a nice touch, and matches the geometry of the frame perfectly, without any awkward workarounds for mounting. Because it’s designed to suit this specific frame, it’s not a rack you’ll necessarily be able to transplant easily to a different bike.

Unlike some racks, it doesn’t feature horizontal rails at the bottom of the stays, and only allows for a single pannier mounting height, which might affect some combinations of panniers and rack-top luggage.

Ridgeback Expedition: fully loaded

No lowrider is fitted up front, but the requisite mounting points on the fork are present and correct.

Ridgeback Expedition: front fork

Styling

The frame and forks are a metallic olive green with fairly inconspicuous decals, while most of the finishing kit is chrome. It’s utilitarian rather than stylish, which is probably what a touring bike should be, though I can’t help thinking that a black finish to the components would draw still less attention.

Ridgeback Expedition: brand

Conclusion

The thinking behind the Expedition is sound for the most part, and it’s great to see a relatively big UK manufacturer making a foray into the expedition and world touring bike market, as it’s one still mainly served by a small handful of niche manufacturers, most of whom originate from elsewhere in the world.

In general, the Ridgeback Expedition is executed well; ideal for the newcomer to expedition touring. At £849 RRP, it’s staggeringly good value, though a few compromises have been made in order to keep the price down. Looking ahead, I’d want to upgrade the wheels and racks to bring it up to scratch for a long-haul round-the-world ride, but I could say the same about many off-the-peg touring bikes. Excellent work, Ridgeback.

Ridgeback Expedition 2016 Touring Bike

Update: For 2016, Ridgeback have changed the frame geometry for a more classic horizontal top-tube, which should help with stiffness, and switched to flat handlebars with bar-ends. In my book, these are both major improvements. The £100 reduction in RRP is the icing on the cake.

The Ridgeback Expedition is available in the UK online and in-store from Evans Cycles*. Ridgeback have a large network of local UK dealerships; find your closest dealer here.

I’d always recommend test-riding a touring bike before buying if at all possible, rather than ordering online.

Essential Gear Cover Image

Buying bikes and equipment for your next tour?

Reading Essential Gear for Adventure Cycle Touring will help you avoid ending up with the wrong thing, and put more cash aside for your trip.

Click here to find out more at
GearForCycleTouring.com

Understanding Touring Bikes For Epic Expeditions

Choosing a touring bike for the ride of a lifetime?

Understanding Touring Bikes For Epic Expeditions will bring you up to bang speed on what matters (and what doesn't matter) when you're choosing a bike for a truly epic trip.

Click here to find out more →

20 Responses to “Ridgeback Expedition Touring Bike Review & Detailed Photos”

  1. Frank Hanlan

    Thanks again for another detailed review. I continue to learn from you.

    I was surprised that you made a comment that the cheaper components would be as serviceable and last as long as more expensive components. Although I haven’t done anywhere near the amount of riding, especially touring, that you have done, I notice a distinct difference in shifting when using an XT rear derailleur.

    I don’t know if the following bikes are as suitable for touring as the ones that you have reviewed but I like their components. Giant Roam XR1 C$ 1149.00 (but low rise stem & top tube is too short for me) & Ghost Cross 5500 (haven’t rode & has low rise stem) C$ 1,200 http://www.mec.ca/product/5035-152/ghost-cross-5500-bicycle-unisex/?q=Ghost%2BCross%2B5500 .

    Reply
  2. jędrek

    I don’t get the love for cantilevers on bikes with bar end shifters. Their only redeeming quality on a setup like that is that they can get very muddy and still work, but with those mud guards you’ll have them stuffed with mud long before your brakes fail. The market has quite a few models of travel agents and v-brake pull drop bar levers that could be used instead, I just don’t get it.

    Reply
  3. Mike

    I’ve got one!

    I have to say I think its a superb bicycle and I’m very happy with mine. Its been on road, through boggy, water logged woods while carrying enough food, water for me and my boys.

    I do have a problem with a couple of badly prolapsed discs to the point where I was going to have to give up cycling, I’d tried cargo bikes, upright Pashley’s but they all caused me a great deal of pain.

    The Expedition is like riding an arm chair for me and I can’t recommend them enough. I’ve had mine only 3-4 months and so far despite being used everyday in all weathers and for everything from commuting to getting a weeks shopping absolutely nothings come loose or shown any wear at all.

    Excuse my ramblings, I just bloody love my Talula as she’s let me carry on cycling 🙂

    Great site btw, please keep up the good work.

    Reply
  4. Mike

    Hello there.

    Great site I’ve really enjoyed reading through all your articles.

    I’m lucky enough to have a Ridgeback Expedition and consider it a really great bicycle! I have a couple badly prolapsed discs and consequently cycling had become so painful I was on the verge of having to give up. I’d tried upright cargo bicycles, Pashleys but nothing helped me so as a final effort to not turn my back on cycling I bought the Expedition.

    And what a bicycle! Its done everything from loaded up rides in the waterlogged woods with about 40kg of gear on board to getting a weeks shopping crammed into her panniers and in all that she’s never missed a beat despite being used daily in all weathers.

    Sorry to waffle but I really do love Talula (the Expedition) and while I understand that corners have been cut to fit the price I don’t believe they they effect the bicycle in anyway. As to the stiffness of the frame you could well be right, but my other bicycle is a Brompton and it feels bloody stiff compared to that!

    All in all I would recommend an Expedition to anyone looking for a tough, reliable bicycle for under a grand.

    Mike

    Reply
  5. Chris

    Nice detailed review. I’ve just finished a 8000km tour of Europe on a World Expedition and have a few comments I could add. My route started from the UK, went up the Low countries, across Scandanavia, down the Baltic to the Adriatic and through the Balkans to Turkey. I was fully loaded with front and rear panniers and handlebar bag riding on lots of different surfaces. Overall I was extremely pleased with the performance of the bike but there were a couple of minor negatives. The first is the brakes – they will stop you, but going down a steep slope, fully-laiden in the wet does require a lot of breaking effort. On the other hand, it is a bit like having ABS because it’s almost impossible to lock a wheel and wipeout. I found no problem with pad availability though even in Albania I was able to find cheap replacements easily. The second niggle was the mud guards – these will be the first thing I will replace ideally with some metal ones, they are just to flimsy, break, rub against the wheels, annoying. The wheels stayed plumb straight the entire time, I did have them tuned up before I set off after a 200 mile or so run in period so maybe this helped. I have serviced the hubs since I got back and found worn and pitted cones in both hubs – but this is a £20 fix for both front and rear even with new balls so pretty minimal maintenance. I also didn’t break a single spoke which is amazing really bashing up and down kerbs with 25kg of luggage on. Tyres are excellent, really fill them hard and it flies on good tarmac, and let a little out and you can climb a ski slope (if you take the same wrong turn as I did in Sweden). The frame is long and stretched out, I changed the stem for a bigger rise and less back and hand ache. I do like the live flex of steel though and didn’t find it lacking in rigidity. Saddle was comfy but I did add an extra roll of bar tape to the bars as the factory stuff is hard. I also put a pair of SPD pedals on. Bar end shifters take a little getting used to especially if you’re used to STI ones but they’re hassle free and easy to fine tune. For the money I think it’s a great value, tough, low-tech, idiot-proof bike. It is really a lot like a steel mountain bike from the 80s with drop bars and slick tyres…and it got more than a few admiring compliments.

    Reply
  6. Mike

    Yes the mudguards are a tad annoying aren’t they!

    Reply
  7. Michael

    I have just ridden 3,000 kilometres through Italy , France and Spain on this bike and am about to continue through Morocco. I agree with much that has been said both in the review and in the responses. I am really pleased with the bike, it is definitely the most comfortable bike I have ever ridden. Having previously toured with an adapted road bike with 700c wheels ans 25cm tyres it was a revelation to tour on this bike. I have 5 bags on the bike with about 25 k weight which it handles without any problem, in fact the more weight it carries thenhappier it seems to be! The flexing of the frame I like a lot and see as an advantage rather than disadvantage. Isn’t this one of the benefits of a steel frame over aluminium? This, combined with the far tyres gives an amazingly comfy ride. The bike’s weak points I think are the saddle and handlebar tape, both of which I replaced. I also agree with the comments about the mudguards which tend to rub on the tyres. Ridgeback had ‘upgraded’ the bike from 8 to 9 speed for 2014, which I was disappointed about as I agree that parts for 9 speed will not be so available. Overall though, it’s been a great bike so far, including some off road use, and I am looking forward to testing it out in Africa.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Thanks for the contribution, Michael. It’s always good to hear about the experience people have had using bikes out on long tours.

      Reply
  8. James

    Close inspection of the frame shows that the downtube is a slightly smaller diameter than on the Panorama (which is oversized), so combined with the less stiff steel means more frame flex can be expected when loaded. This would seem like a cost-cutting measure that has had a noticeable negative consequence.

    See http://www.ridgeback.co.uk/static/image/asset/bikes/panorama/xxl.jpg and http://www.ridgeback.co.uk/static/image/asset/bikes/expedition/xxl.jpg

    I use 8-speed bar-end shifters, V-brakes and Tektro levers for drop bars on my commuting bike and I find that I have to adjust the cable to accommodate brake pad wear a lot more than I have to do with the cantilever brakes and STIs I have on my touring bike. This is a reason not to use V-brakes on this bike as they can easily during the course of a few rides get to the point where the lever touches the handlebars and there is therefore not enough braking power which could be very dangerous. I’ve not had that problem with cantilevers.

    I’ve also found with Shimano 8-speed bar ends that it is relatively easy to find false gears, something I don’t experience with STIs, so I’m not sure what I would now fit on an expedition bike as Shimano STIs are extremely durable in my experience.

    Reply
  9. Michael

    To continue my review of this bike from above, after cycling through Italy, France and Spain, I have now cycled through Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Birkina Faso and finally Ghana with this bike. It has done over 11,000 kilometres of which several hundred have been on dirt roads. I had one puncture and had to tighten a shifter and a pedal, apart from that zero problems. I think this bike is incredible to be so reliable and also very comfortable over the 8 months I was cycling. At times I travelled with other cyclists who suffered many more mechanical problems including several broken spokes and a bent frame. The question marks on the hubs, wheels and frame mentioned in the original review didn’t match my experience; in these areas it passed with flying colours. I love this bike!

    Reply
  10. mark williams

    Hi Tom, I am looking for a tourer to circumnavigate Britain using the coast roads in one go and the Ridgeback Expedition would seem to fit the bill, would you concur, PS I have ordered your book ,equipment to take on toures

    Reply
  11. Ricardo

    Hi Tom!

    I would like to ask you about the possibility to put a bigger tyres in ridgeback panorama,similar to ridgeback expedition. Do you think that?

    Thanx pal!

    Reply
  12. Rich

    Thank you for this. Just ordered this bike (2016 version) on the basis of this review and one at bretonbikes.com. Managed to get it for £724 from Tredz with discount 🙂 Looks like a bike that will last a lifetime.

    Reply
  13. Caroline Higgs

    How would you compare the Genisis Tour De Fer range for long haul expeditioning to this bike?

    Reply
  14. Roi

    HI Tom, based on your review, and Ridgeback’s updates to the 2016 model, I purchased it last year, replaced the saddle and off I went to cross Europe from London to Serbia. My first touring expedition totally solo. The bicycle did great. Had one puncture in Germany and had to replace the break pads in Croatia as they were worn down (after 1500 km). I found the 56 inch frame comfortable, but on high speeds/downhill the loaded bicycle started vibrating and i was concerned about loss of control. Must be the added weight (I am 74kg plus about 18 kg stuff plus bike). Is this vibration normal? I am planning my second tour this year across usa (north to south) so any suggestion would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • Mozambezi

      At 78 km/h in Greece down from a mountain my other bike wasn’t vibrating at all. I was 80kg + 35 kg on the back and 20 kg on front . I believe if you experiencing vibrations reasons might be
      1. Wheels rims might be not round but egg shape (even they true)
      2. Frame not straight
      3. High pressure narrow tires.

      I don’t like my Ridgeback because it hits my arms , jumps up and down on every uneven surface and front STI Tiagra derailleur isn’t precise and pain to shift up or down. It always catches chain

      Reply
  15. Ken

    Hi Tom

    I am doing theGreat Divide this year and have decided on the Ridgeback Expedition to complete the task with a bit of help from me.

    I am ordering new wheels from DCR with Ryde Sputnik rims and a Schmidt Son 28 front hub charger. Hopefully these will be bomb-proof and turn the whole set-up into a very capable bike for long haul at a total price of £1200 circa.

    The brakes are now disc but I am personally very happy with that because I have grown to love them on my Kona CinderCone andsee them as being less susceptible to mud build-up – particularly as I am discarding the mudguards and frames in favour of a bike-packing format. That was one of the main reasons for going to a touring frame because the mountain bike geometry seriousy impacts on the size of frame bag.
    The 2017 also has flat bars, of course, which are also more suitable for a large bar bag
    I am considering repacing the hydraulic with cable but not sure yet.

    have ordered your new book – hopefully I will get some gems of advice before making final decisions on kit

    Many thanks for your wodeful advice

    Reply

Leave a Reply