BRISTOL BICYCLES TOURING BIKE
15.2kg Large 21”/54cm Black (as tested) £625 (inc. rear rack)
Established in 2008, Bristol Bicycles produces five models, with step-through and power-assist variants. Deliberately set at a very competitive price, don’t expect lavish, sparkly goodies; neither expect corners to have been cut. This is a very well-considered machine, with a lot of thought, experiment, and consideration behind it. We tested the “Touring” model, and you get a heck of a lot of bang for a pretty meagre buck. It’s become something of a family favourite for touring and general riding. Even better, all models can, to a degree be customised.
Pros: Well thought out geometry and components, great price.
Cons: Aluminium frame may put some off for major touring, but, in its intended context, it is hard to fault.
Frame and components 3.75/5
Bristol Bicycles point out that not only do they build bikes, they also service them. Over the years they have sought to refine the spec based on close observation of their own machines, as well as customer opinion. What this has produced is an intelligent spec with a clear focus on the vital components.
6061 Aluminium for the frame is not unusual. It is plain gauge, which adds further to the lateral stiffness. Conventional wisdom suggests that real wild country touring requires steel. Bristol Bikes point out that their machines have been pedalled from Bristol to Bangkok. There’s been no mishap – as far as I can see form the blog. Equally, the fork is hi-ten steel, so the most prone part is open to repair, but, more importantly, with its gentle rake, should offer good compliance over rougher ground.
21” might not seem like the largest of large frame sizes. Generally riding something larger, I’ve found the seat-post length has compensated nicely. Riding position is between sit-up-and-beg and being pulled forward onto drop-bars; there’s a comfortable lean forward. Both testers are six feet tall.
Our Touring model came with horn bars in the threadless head set and stem. Stem options of 60mm, 90mm, or 110mm are pretty comprehensive. Ours was the 90mm version. On reflection, I’d go for 110mm – partly because I am six feet tall, and partly for an even sportier ride position. It’s worth noting that the rise on the stem is some 40mm on the 90mm version, so maintains the theme of sprightly comfort.
Shimano Altus controls, are very much bread and butter for bikes in heavy use requiring reliable and precise, rather than buttery, shifting. Mechs are from the Altus range, too – both front and back.
Sealed unit bottom brackets are cheap and effective and easy to replace. Big mile munchers might prefer something longer-lasting, but Shimano’s UN26 should be easy to source and replace, and even upgrade when worn out. Setting out on a long tour where bikes shops may be few and far between? Well, if you’ve already put a thousand or so miles into it, you might consider a change before setting off on your grand tour.
The front triple ring offers 28x38x48 options. Pretty much tried and trusted set-up, with everything but a big top end, which is not really the ethos of this sort of machine, anyway. On the rear is an eight speed 11-32 cassette. Together they seem to offer a pretty good range for all degrees of undulation. You can always opt for an e.assist version! The chain is Shimano’s Deore LX hyper-glide 71. Another well-priced, sensible choice.
Wheels are hand-built by www.ryanbuilswheels with Ryde ZAC2000 rims, Sapim spokes, and Quando hubs. 36spoke wheels are what one would expect on a tourer/general rider, and should manage a decent load of gear, as well as rider weight. Ryde ZAC 2000 rims are designed for “light-trekking and touring” but offer a bit more on rugged terrain, too.this is one of Quando's higher end models. These are being replaced with Shimano hubs across the Bristol Bikes range, even as I write, so ours was one of the last.
I opted for hydraulic brakes – in this case Shimano’s MT200. A dual piston version, they offer steady deceleration as well as a bit of extra brake power should occasion demand. Most of the test riding did not require hydraulics, but there’s a lot to be said for going that extra few quid for hefty loads and relieving strain on fingers when touring in hilly terrain.
35mm Continental Ride City tyres, offer 3mm of puncture protection. Weight-weenies will have looked away already, but they offer both comfort and a jauntiness. They are fundamentally for road and cycle track, but they’ll do compacted forest tracks, too. Once again, there are options on the website for fatter or sportier tyres.
Black, although with shades of grey, is deliberate stealth, though it won’t suit more flamboyant tastes. Urban credentials are part of the ethos. The front wheel has wheel nuts – don’t forget your spanner – whilst the rear remains quick release. By the way, the latter is a must for most trailers, so more good thinking from Bristol Bicycles.
These contributions to security are handy, given the nature of the machine. Along the same lines, Bristol Bicycles have kept their logos discrete. Don’t take this as a license to leave it unlocked.
A wet-spray paint job may be nothing to get excited about, but is more than adequate and suits the general theme. I’ve managed to put a chip or two in it whilst on gravel-ish jaunts, or from crushed lime. Frankly, these are inevitable on any bike that gets ridden regularly. Generally, a wipe over with a damp cloth has returned things to normal. Post multi-day tour, a thorough going over with Crankalicious Mud Honey Bike Wash got things, well, ‘Bristol Fashion.’
Contact points 3.5/5
Horn bars were a bit of a novelty for me. Rather like Butterfly Bars, they give a variety of positions without the sportiness of getting on the drops. Of course, these can be customised, as can many other components. The foam bar covering is ok for rides of around thirty to forty miles. I’d beef things up with some beefy bar tape, such as Lizard Skins DSP or Soma Thick and Zesty, or gel padding for longer trips.
A seamless, waterproof, Bristol bicycle saddle, is a good choice for most context. However, fewer contact points are more personal, and I’d, once again for longer trips, put my own favourite onto it. There’s no suggestion that the supplied saddle is not comfortable and effective – I’d wear it out before replacing with a leather favourite, such as Bobbin’s Gent’s Leather Saddle.
The bike came supplied with basic Wellgo plastic pedals. Fine for popping down the shops and that sort of thing. There are more robust general and MTB style pedals when customising your Bristol Bike on the website. Even so, for longer touring or even my usual commute, I’d substitute some favoured SPDs, such as Genetic’s Executive.
The Touring takes, as you’d hope, front and rear panniers. Racks for these can be selected during the customisation process if you wish. Ours came with a Tortec rear rack with space for both panniers and a rack bag atop. 25kg max load should suffice most tourers. It certainly suited us for commutes, shopping, and a multi-day tour (without camping gear).
I supplied my own lights, but options are available on the site, including dynamo.
Mudguards are my general preference, especially when splashing through puddles in civvies. These are unbranded plastic, but offer good tyre clearance, and look pretty robust. Semi-flexible flaps are a plus. Whilst there’s no option to adjust the stay length, that’s hardly a deal-breaker. The rear guard won’t save the rider behind from a good dose of road-water if you are riding in a group.
I’d consider fitting a kick-stand, if opting for the wider types of handle-bar.
The ride 4.5/5
Test riding comprised daily commutes (20 miles round trip), leisure rides (up to thirty miles), a multi-day tour (up to fifty miles per day), and a couple of sixty-mile plus rides. This is a touring/trekking/city bike, so road and cycle track are it natural habitat, although we did throw in some light gravel/forest track mileage. Weather ran the UK summertime gauntlet, from dry and sunny, to long periods of heavy rain.
Greater than the sum of its parts, is the phrase the springs to mind. Emerging from the box, things look pretty much like the average city/trekking bike. First impressions are, in this case, highly misleading.
Firstly, the ride is always comfortable, aided by those 35mm tyres and steel forks. Secondly, the gentle lean forward in the rider’s position gives great stability. At the same time – probably the most notable feature about the ride – is how much quicker it is, certainly feels, compared to similar looking bikes. This is not the average trekking bike I’ve often hired for day trips during trips abroad sans bike.
Fundamentally, the top tube seems a little longer than on some bikes with a similar appearance – especially when combined with a longer stem. I’ve been coaxed into mildly sportier position. Significantly, too, although there’s a little lay-back on the seat post, the rider is till in a good position to get some drive into those pedals. The well-matched drive train and lateral strength does the rest.
OK, I’m not talking road-racing, or even speeding for the ferry on the drop-barred tourer. This is not the idea behind the bike. However, accelerating away from lights or nipping along to avoid deteriorating traffic conditions has been very secure and suitably rapid: plain gauge aluminium and steel fork help this. Likewise, maintaining a pacey 17mph when loaded with panniers on tour, for half an hour or so, has been no problem for teenage son. We were aiming for the café, as the rain tumbled down. Incidentally, braking was effective and secure, as we found when the traffic lights in Droitwich leapt to red as we came down the hill into town.
With a big weight of books in the panniers – enough to challenge the racks weight limit – steering was expectedly light. However, horn bars helped here by dragging rider weight forward. Butterfly bars would have had the same impact. However, if regularly carting hefty loads about, I think I’d add the front rack from the start. That would have added £50 – or I’d have fitted one from the rack section of the shed.
Weekly shop in the Surly Ted trailer and things remained stable.
We’ve been impressed by the sprightliness on ascents; momentum seems easy to maintained. On curving descents in the wet, we’ve enjoyed elegant gliding – though more sedate than on the road bike. In some ways, descents at speed have felt more secure than when hunched over the drops, especially in the wet.
Bottom line for the ride is this; it has felt a lot sprightlier and energy efficient than expected, and that by a good country mile. At the same time, you maintain a comfortable, stable position, from which to take in the view.
Direct comparisons are a bit of a problem with customisable bikes. For example, Trek’s 2019 DS hybrid comes in at £625, but has lock-out suspension forks (views differ regarding the value of these on bikes of this type), as well as cheaper siblings with a lower spec. On the other hand, £150 or so more takes you into drop-bar touring territory with something like the Jamis Aurora, which comes with chromoly frame and forks, canti brakes and a step up in the Shimano components.
Coming in around £50 more than our Bristol Touring bike, Gazelle’s Vento T27 is another trekking bike with a suspension fork, but without the hydraulic disc brakes.
Overall, my gut feeling is that you get a lot for your money with the Bristol Bicycle – given its sprightly persona, sound hydraulic disc brakes, comfortable ride, and overall spec. Remember, you’ll get a lot of use form this bike – commuting, touring, getting to the shops – so components will, eventually, be replaced, maybe upgraded.
For the cyclist who is getting started, is looking for a jaunty hack, or who wants a one-bike-does-all (apart from real speed or off-road trails), then Bristol’s Touring Bicycle has a whole lot to offer. Masquerading as a straight-forward hybrid, the Bristol Bike turns out to be a lot of fun, with a lot of function, too.