When visiting the UK earlier this year, I popped over to Oxford Bike Works to catch up with Richard Delacour and to check out a prototype of the new Expedition Disc touring bike we’ve been working on.
This disc-equipped specification is now available as part of Richard’s custom-built bike lineup for 2019, so I wanted to share some insights on what else makes this new touring bike different from the original Expedition (the clue’s in the name) and, perhaps more interestingly, why we decided to go down the disc brake route after years of steering clear of them.
Why Specify Disc Brakes On An Expedition Touring Bike?
First and foremost, lest riders of the original Expedition be alarmed, the Expedition Disc is not a replacement or an upgrade over the Expedition. It’s just a bike for a slightly different type of rider and tour.
I originally conceived Tom’s Expedition Bike, which became the Oxford Bike Works Expedition, as the ‘ultimate expedition touring bike’, in which simplicity and durability were paramount for a ride of months or years through the back of beyond. The original Expedition remains absolutely my go-to bike for this particularly demanding type of tour.
The Disc, on the other hand, was born out of a growing demand for a bike that would suit a rider who also had a lot of long-distance riding in mind, but perhaps over a series of shorter, more adventurous trips. They might also be considering throwing some dirt-road touring into the mix, and could therefore feel comfortable with a little more mechanical complexity in exchange for better braking performance in specific situations.
Given the changing priorities of many of today’s bicycle travellers, therefore, it made sense to tailor a bike to better suit this growing community of riders.
The Durability Of Disc Brakes On Long-Distance Cycle Tours
As longer-term readers might remember, part the rationale for sticking with rim brakes on the Expedition was the relative lack of proven durability and reliability of any particular model of disc brake on ultra long-distance tours in the developing world.
The picture today is different: cable-actuated disc brake technology has come of age. Models such as the Avid BB7, Hayes CX and TRP Spyre have been showing up on the spec sheets of disc-equipped world tourers from the big commercial manufacturers for several years, with few significant issues reported, and spares are a lot easier to find as a result of the increased global availability of high-end bikes and parts.
Some riders will no doubt chime in here to say that they’ve been running discs for much longer than that. I too was touring on hydraulic discs – of all things – as far back as 2007, perhaps ill-advisedly (though I still use that same set of brakes on my bikepacking rig today).
But that’s the point: these disc brakes have proven themselves over enough time and miles for even the most conservative bike designers to now consider specifying them on flagship touring models like the Expedition Disc – the TRP Spyres, in this case.
There’s also the option for early adopters to try out the rather amazing-sounding Juin Tech R1 cable-actuated hydraulic calipers that have recently found huge favour with the cyclocross community.
Disc Brakes Vs Rim Brakes Revisited
There’s no real dichotomy between rim and disc brakes, of course. There are and always have been pros and cons to both types of brakes.
With discs, the tolerances involved mean that they tend to rub on occasion, especially when the frame flexes under stress. The rotors can be rather vulnerable, especially when the bike is disassembled for transportation (fixing a bent rotor is almost impossible). It’s also true that, in the majority of regular touring scenarios, they don’t actually offer significantly improved braking over rim brakes. Let’s not forget that rim brake-equipped bikes have been taking people round the planet for over a century.
But I see the ever-increasing popularity and accessibility of shorter, more adventurous tours off the beaten track as a good reason to offer them. A set of properly set-up and bedded-in disc brakes offer significantly better modulation, slightly more power, and generally better performance in the mud and wet. I’m also much more confident in the durability of the components and the availability of spare parts than I was just a few years ago.
Disc-Specific Frames & Forks For Touring Bikes
Disc brakes do, of course, call for a frame and fork that are built for the job. This isn’t just about having bolts in the right places. Because the position of the brake calipers is much closer to the axles, the act of braking exerts a stronger rotational force on the wheel attachment points of frame. So it’s not just a case of welding new disc brake mounts onto a frameset that was designed for rim brakes.
To that end, the new Oxford Bike Works Expedition Disc frames will be individually fillet-brazed from Reynolds 525 and 631 chromoly tubing by a UK-based master frame-builder.
To keep prices from soaring (as tends to happen with made-to-measure framesets), they’ll be batch-produced in Richard’s already-popular range of four sizes, so he can continue to offer value for money while at the same time customising and fitting each bike to order (which was what impressed me most about his approach in the first place). The frames themselves will continue to come with the same 10-year warranty as before.
While both the 26-inch and 700c frame geometries will be essentially the same as those of the Expedition, the stiffer disc mount-equipped fork and rear triangle will make for an ever-so-slightly less springy ride, as is the case with disc-specific frames in general (though if you can accurately tell the difference in a double-blind test I will personally mail you an extra-large Snickers as a prize).
Three frame colours are available: the ever-popular red gloss, a new semi-matt khaki green, and anthracite grey. Custom colours and decals have proved surprisingly popular on the Expedition – maybe because if you’re buying a bike for life, you might as well really make it your own – and so this will continue to be an optional extra.
Additional Changes & Improvements
Richard has also made a lot of tweaks to the original Expedition specification too, reflecting both the changes in industry offerings and the years of road-testing and feedback we’ve had from our riders. I’m saving that for a future blog post, but in the meantime you can click here to see the revised specification of the Expedition, as well as that of the Expedition Disc, and get in touch with Richard if either bike sounds like it might fit the bill for your next trip.
A final reminder that each of Richard’s bikes is fitted in-person to each customer’s size and body shape and built to their preferences, so if there’s anything you don’t like or you have any special request, you can just ask him, and – if it’s possible – it shall be done.
This is, for me, remains the single best reason to pay Richard a visit, rather than dash for the nearest branch of Evans Cycles before it get shut down by its new owner.
I’ve ridden a fair few touring bikes in my time, but those that have given me the most satisfaction and enjoyment have been the ones that have been built to reflect my personal approach to touring.
That’s why I’ve become such an advocate for Richard’s approach to expedition bike building, and why I will continue to be so.