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 he’s been working on.
This disc-equipped specification will be part of Richard’s custom-built bike lineup as of 2019, so I wanted to share some insights on what else makes this new touring bike different from the original Expedition and, perhaps more interestingly, why he decided to go down the disc brake route after years of steering clear of them (neither pun intended).
Why Put 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.
Richard and 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 particular type of tour.
The Disc, on the other hand, was born out of a growing demand Richard was experiencing 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.
9 replies on “First Glimpse: The New-For-2019 Oxford Bike Works Expedition Disc”
The bike now comes with a slightly heavier, generic steel, non-reynolds equivalent. You can still get the reynolds, but at a £90 premium.
Tom, would you go with the slightly heavier, generic frame, which may be stronger, or stick with the REynolds 525?
Thanks for raising this question! Any framebuilder will tell you that factors such as correct gauge selection, frame design, and build quality are at least as important (if not more so) than brand of tubing. There are lots of excellent frames out there built of high-quality “generic” steel, including my own Kona Explosif. If I understand correctly (and this is very simplistic), the Reynolds tubing is slightly lighter relative to its durability, which is one of the reasons riders like it. So it would in fact be the weight that would change for the £90 premium, not the strength. My guess is that Richard has introduced it as an option because many expedition cycle tourers will not be bothered about a few extra grams of frame weight on a bike with 20kg of luggage attached to it. On the other hand, £90 would get you a very nice pair of panniers 🙂
Hope that helps!
This looks like a comfortable bike for long miles. Can i ask what bars your using here? Ive been looking for straight bars with some backwards sweep, maybe up to 17 degree, but seems difficult finding bars suitable for touring that are also compatible with bar ends.
I passed this question on to Richard at Oxford Bike Works – here is his reply:
Hope that helps!
Love the layout of the bike. It could handle most geography.
Still, have you ever consider get a folder bike, for ease of packing and traveling??
I’ve done plenty of folding touring in the past – it was very handy when I was using a lot of public transport as well.
I am a proud owner of the Expedition. I bought the hand built wheelset, frameset and the clever 8‑speed Ultegra thumbshifters from OBW. Then had it built by a local one man bike shop in Helsinki. We used same or similar parts. I don think he even had to order anything from his suppliers. He had all the components in his tiny shop. This, in my opinion, proves that the “access to spares” ‑idea behind it all works.
Only problem I’ve heard people had with TRP Spyre is that the micro adjusters of individual pads might get stuck as you no longer have to adjust them constanly. So adjust your adjusters!
The disc brake version looks great! I would definately buy a hand built frameset if I could afford one. And once the wallet is open, I might consider Klamper from Paul Components. Probably the best mechanic disc brake out there. …Or just stick to the changeable Koolstop brake pads. Best investment ever.
It is true what you wrote about disc brakes and when they are usefull. Tyres are another thing that can be analysed in a similar way. I’ve used Schwalbe Big Apple tyres on my tours in Russia. They might not seem like the obvious choise. But if the trip is short and you know most roads will be paved, but in a terrible condition, they are just the kind of tyres you need.
Recent years I felt bike touring was contaminated by sports. Its great that there are bikes like the Expedition that are not sold with images of athletic men cycling down a mountain side.
Great Bike! One additional thing in favor of Discs: the rim does not act as braking surface and does not wear. Finding a Shop with a replacement rim might not be the problem, but getting there with a destroyed wheel will be…
After reading your first write up of Toms expedition bike and Richards services I purchased one of his bikes ( model 2 but specced up to be very similar to the expedition) as in the near future il be heading on a fairly long trip. iv used it for over 2000 miles so far between two shorter tours and various commutes etc. and I agree its wonderful. fits perfectly and because it was build to my specifications it’s exactly as I wanted it. I can’t recommend Richard and Oxford bike works more, he provides a wonderful service and great quality bikes.
Thanks to you both!