Bikes News Personal Updates

Oxford Bike Works & Tom’s Expedition Bike: The Story So Far

Just before I flew out to Bangkok for my current trip, I paid a visit to Richard Delacour at Oxford Bike Works to collect Tenny’s newly upgraded tourer. Based on a vintage steel Trek frame, the lovingly recycled bike is a tidy piece of work, naturally — but it got me reflecting on the story of my acquaintance with Richard and his company; a tale of serendipity and good timing that still elicits a smile.

I first met Richard in 2014 when he wrote to me asking if I’d promote a new range of touring bikes he was launching. At that time I was publishing a lot of gear reviews, so I suggested he lend me one for a write-up, to which he responded by promptly driving a hundred miles from Oxfordshire with an early version of the Oxford Bike Works Model 2 in the boot. We had a cup of tea, did a quick fitting session in the basement, and off he went. I spent the next month pootling around the backroads of the Midlands, putting the bike through its paces, before he came back to pick it up. (The resulting review is here.)

Beyond the bike itself, which had impressed me with its thoughtful, unorthodox design choices, my curiosity had been piqued by Richard’s story. Previously a schoolteacher with a passion for cycling and bike-building in his free time, he’d taken what must have been a daunting leap of faith, especially with a young family to support: quitting his career, designing his first touring frameset, and investing a hefty sum in the manufacture and shipping of a first batch of frames, which he stored in his garage while seeking out a local paint shop to do the coating. The Model 2 was one of three initial offers launched under his new Oxford Bike Works brand, each one built to order in an outbuilding behind his house repurposed as a workshop. Now Richard was doing all he could to get the word out with a marketing budget of precisely zero.

A while later, as I was riding the delightful riverside trails of Germany and Austria on a cumbersome Frankenstein’s monster of a bike, dreaming of the perfect do-everything tourer I wished I’d been riding all these years, I had a lightbulb moment. What if…?

That evening I fired off an email to Richard with the idea of actually prototyping “Tom’s Expedition Bike” with his frameset as the starting point. He liked the idea, so I drafted a brief and a spec, went over to his workshop, and spent a day bouncing around ideas for component combinations, fitting options for different riders, and extra touches that would make the most of Richard’s ability to customise each bike to order. The goal would be a bike built ground-up for long-haul expedition touring, customised for each rider, and at an accessible price point. No small ask.

A little over three years later, the slightly less narcissistically-named “Oxford Bike Works Expedition” has not just debuted but matured and carved out its very own niche, with a veritable fleet of happy riders now doing the rounds. Of course, the spec has been tweaked in line with the ever-shifting bike industry (excuse the pun), and the pricing and options have been tuned until they work consistently for both Richard and his customers, but the package as a whole remains as we originally envisaged, and it’s now a core part of the OBW line-up.

Critically, these bikes have now been inching their way across the globe for long enough to be scattered far and wide and prove that they’re up to the job. Time and miles: the only test of a expedition touring bike that really matters to a buyer with a journey of several years ahead of them. Ironically, most of the road-testing hasn’t been on my watch, instead on that of riders like Renee Rowland and Adam Sultan — not to mention the effervescent Anna McNuff — who have put many more thousands of far more arduous miles under their wheels than I have. No transcontinental tour is without its mechanicals, of course, but the reports Richard’s been getting back from his customers indicate that they’re inevitably of the predictable, easily fixable kind we anticipated in the design from the word go. Phew!

Here in Thailand, where the going is rarely that tough, I’m still riding the original “Tom’s Expedition Bike” prototype. My only issue so far is no fault of the bike: a bent front fork as the result of an abrupt and unhappy fusion of dog and bicycle while riding across Burgess Park in South London last year (the red replacement fork adds a nice splash of colour to the original beige). Otherwise, it’s a total dream. As I ride the thing, I still catch myself thinking on an almost daily basis:

“Man, this really is the bike I wish I’d been riding all those years…!”

(Which probably says as much about my bad first choice of bike as anything else.)

Richard reckons he’ll hand-build around a hundred bikes in the coming year, of which a dozen or so will be Expedition spec, and while there’s constant pressure to scale up, he’s deliberately resisting doing so. Bike building is what he loves, he says; he didn’t start this to end up as a business manager, and as long as he can pay the bills, he’ll be happy. It takes courage to stick to principles like that, and I have a huge amount of respect for him for doing so.

Staying small doesn’t mean stagnating. Richard’s proactive with his obsession, enthusiastically showing off a prototype disc-equipped adventure bike, born in response to growing demand and being put through its paces right now. And he talked me through some of the smaller components he was fitting to test models for research purposes, including new generator hubs priced to appeal to those who want on-the-go power but without the Schmidt price-tag, and some Microshift 3x8 thumbshifters that would — if durable enough — bypass the current Shimano bar-end shifter hack, and add barrel adjusters to boot.

So that’s the story so far. And I’m proud to have played a tiny part in helping a fellow idealist and lover of all things cycle touring to get a dream off the ground and make it a sustainable reality, beating the big players at their own game, and helping more people see the world from the seat of a bicycle.

Speaking of which, I’m off to ride mine

Personal Updates

Tom’s Bike Trip Continues: South East Asia Edition

A couple of years ago I had a big idea. I felt compelled to realise that idea, and it quickly consumed my life. One of the side effects was that I stopped writing this blog. Suddenly all my time and energy was being channelled into something new which had very little to do with cycle touring. This wasn’t planned, but it happened anyway. Circumstances dictated it.

I’ve had mixed feelings about this. For many years my blog was the focal point for my creativity, my means of contributing to society, and the source of a large portion of my income. On the other hand, I’ve never seen life as a steady-state endeavour. Progress and change and the continual renewal of ideas seem to either follow me or pull me along. So in a way it felt natural to leave this blog behind. I didn’t even notice when the 10-year anniversary of the departure of Ride Earth – my first big transcontinental trip – ticked over on the 17th of June last year.

But this wasn’t just a blog, was it? It became a community project, built around a shared, romantic notion of exploration by bicycle and all the many topics that spiral outwards from that simple concept. As time went on, the proportions and the focus swung towards the contributors, the riders, the shared ideals and the debates, and the blogger became a guide.

Hence my mixed feelings. Is my disappearance having the unintentional effect of disbanding that community? Of course the words and ideas are still here, but what’s a museum without a curator? Judging by the contents of my inbox, I could easily fill these pages with paid advertorials disguised as guest posts for the sake of having new content, but wouldn’t that undermine the personal and nonpartisan foundation on which it’s all been built?

Anyway. This is all a long-winded way of getting to the point, which is that my ‘big idea’ has grown wings and is learning to fly, leaving space for me to drift once again towards the two-wheeled life I used to know. There are huge parts of the world I have never been to; times are constantly changing; the allure of discovery for its own sake has never diminished; and I feel it’s about time I let the winds of travel take me somewhere new again.

So the bike has been dragged from the basement, the panniers patched up, and a mental map of potential adventures is once again beginning to form. Because I can, and because it makes me feel alive. And with a return to the bike – and I can feel this tangibly – is coming a return to writing about it.

On a more selfless note, I was wrong about that ‘big idea’ having nothing to do with cycle touring. Working on the hiking trail in the Caucasus has shown me how I can marry the love of bicycle travel with an intimate knowledge of one small corner of the world to create opportunities for other riders. I can see this blog evolving in that direction too.

These aren’t New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not promising anything, making public commitments to create false accountability, or anything like that. I’ve only ever done this out of love, and if that’s not enough of a motivator, I probably shouldn’t be here.

So yeah.

But most of all, it’s just nice to be back.

News Personal Updates

The Future Of

Tuesday’s announcement appears to have resulted in mild confusion about the fate of this long-running cycle touring blog.

Allow me to set the record straight: is here to stay!

The launch of reflects the fact that I have interests and stories beyond bicycle travel. But travelling on two wheels remains the thing that’s most precious to me – and I’ve got plenty more to write about, not least because I continue to go on regular cycling adventures.

Simply expect this blog to continue in a more focused way from now on.

So, if you’re more interested in personal philosophies, tales from on the road and off, insights into independent filmmaking and publishing, and notes on life as a compulsive world wanderer and storyteller, is where you’ll find them.

If, on the other hand, you’re interested specifically in cycle touring, will remain your source of news, insights, how-to’s, and the occasional trip report on this wonderful and life-changing way of travelling.

I hope, of course, that many of you will fall into both categories.


News Personal Updates

Why, After 9 Years Running, I Started A New Blog Today

This is the biggest upheaval in my blogging life since Ride Earth became Tom’s Bike Trip back in 2010.

It’s long overdue.

The short answer to the “why” in the title of this post is this:

I have a lot more to say about travel, adventure & storytelling than there’s space for on a cycle touring website.

The long answer can be found in the 2,187-word article I’ve just published on my brand new blog.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 15.40.16

It’s unclear where this new venture will lead. But that’s true of every Day One, isn’t it?

Click here to read more and see if this new journey is one you’d be interested in following.

Craft & DIY Personal Updates

What Name Would You Give A Heavy-Duty World Touring Bike?

After last week’s rather vocal debate on the ethics of commercialism in adventure, I figured it was time to get firmly back to what we all love: travelling the world on two wheels. (Less talk, more action, and all that.)

Now, as long-term readers will know, I’ve never had any particular fascination with touring bikes themselves. Though I’ve written the odd blog post on the topic, this has mainly been in order to get people here via search engines so that I can talk to them about how getting on a bike and going somewhere is a far better use of their time than endlessly googling touring bikes. (This works pretty well.)

But in the years since I started this blog, I’ve inevitably accumulating a certain amount of wisdom — both from first hand experience on the road in 40+ countries and from literally hundreds of other equally experienced riders — on what it is that distinguishes the ‘ideal’ world travel bicycle from… not just other bikes in general, but other touring bikes too. For not all touring bikes are created equal. Not by a long shot.

(Ironically, my lack of interest in equipment led me to write an entire handbook on choosing gear for cycle touring — the theory being, of course, that by doing so I would never have to answer another question on cycle touring equipment ever again. This has largely worked.)

Since relocating to Bristol earlier this year, I’ve also discovered something else, which is that I actually really enjoy working on bicycles. I enjoy getting my hands dirty. I enjoy the process of taking something that’s falling to pieces and — with just my hands and a selection of basic tools and parts — intuit and experiment with how to bring it back to that state of mechanical equilibrium in which everything just works.

It’s also slightly reminiscent of long-term touring. Everyone who’s done such a tour will know of the evolving mental to-do list of bicycle maintenance jobs. The rear derailleur could do with a tweak on the second sprocket down. There’s too much slack in that barrel adjuster. What’s that tick on the drive-side downstroke — pedal bearing, chainring bolt, bottom bracket or loose shoelace? Without wanting to get too Pirsig, there’s a certain zen to the art of bicycle maintenance.

I’ve rediscovered the simple yet therapeutic nature of bicycle rebuilding by volunteering at the Bristol Bike Project, spending one afternoon a week taking donated rust-heaps that’ve been sitting in people’s garden sheds for god knows how long and making them roadworthy again. These bicycles are often museum pieces. Not a day goes by at the Bike Project when I don’t learn something new about some long-forgotten piece of bicycle engineering technology.

Anyway. It got me thinking: if I were to build another bicycle from the ground up for the specific intention of travelling the planet, ultra long term, wanting insane levels of durability, maximum versatility in where I could take it, ultimate ease of maintenance, the greatest possible chance of finding compatible parts, and with comfort under load as a top priority… what would such a bike look like? What parts would I choose? What would my priorities be for the build, with all that experience to draw from? And how would it be put together?

It would certainly differ greatly from my first attempt at building an expedition bike. While certainly unique, that bike only really came into its own in Outer Mongolia and the most challenging parts of Africa. It was massively overbuilt for long-distance touring, slowed me down immeasurably, and in retrospect was a bit like taking a sledgehammer to a picturehook. It got me where I was going, of course. But there’s a lot I’d want to change.

Well, I’m excited to announce that I have now designed and built such a bike.


While the chances of me attempting to cycle round the world in one go (again) are slim, being happily married and having otherwise got it out of my system, this bike is the one I’d like to think I’ll spend the remainder of my touring days riding, wherever in the world I choose to go.

Vast amounts of thought and research have gone into its design, and I’ll be sharing the complete build process on this blog in the next couple of weeks.

But for now, I could use some help. Because the bike still doesn’t have a name.

So here’s the point of today’s post:

If you were building the ultimate heavy-duty world touring bicycle, what name would you give it?

(Ideally, something other than ‘Tom’s Expedition Bike’ — though that is a fairly accurate description!)

Answers in the comments. Whoever comes up with the name I choose gets a mystery prize. Just for fun 🙂

To get your creative juices flowing, here are some of the suggestions that have come through on Twitter and Facebook so far:

Go nuts! No name too silly.

Though it would also be good if someone came up with one I’d actually want to plaster across the top tube of the bicycle…