MY BIKE : TEGAN PHILLIPS'S SURLY DISC TRUCKER

Spotting an intriguing-looking expedition bike at the Adventure Travel Film Festival, Michael could not help himself but seek out the owner in the Cycle Miles marquee.

A quick chat with Miles (initially about his Free Parable T2 tugging Polo bike) revealed it belonged to a young woman called Tegan Phillips who had ridden “Axel” across Africa and other places beside. Having grabbed a few shots of her beloved touring lorry, I dropped by to learn a bit more about her machine and their bond.

MS “So, Tegan, fascinated by your Surly; did you acquire it as a complete bike and tweak components to suit, or was he a more bespoke build? What made you opt for the disc trucker in particular?

TP “Dad spent the greater part of 2014, researching and sourcing our bikes, which were entirely different to our choices for touring in Europe, or the US. Given the costs of importing complete machines, we went the frameset route and built them specifically with Africa in mind. Therefore, with their sturdy 4130 steel tubing, long wheelbases, big clearances, low rider and rear rack mounts, three water bottle bosses, spoke carriers made the Disc Trucker an obvious choice. 

 

We toyed with the idea of 29ers but stood a much better chance of getting hold of 26 inch wheels and tyres, should they fail, or disaster strike. Loads aside, since expedition bikes tend to take a beating - bouncing around on trains, ferries and trucks, reliability was paramount”. 

 

MS “Yes, looking at the spec sheet, its clear you’ve gone this route with the groupset...”

 

TP “We opted for Shimano’s SLX drivetrain and hydraulic brakes, which is tried and tested. Looking back, Deore would’ve probably done the job and saved a bit of money but we didn’t want to run the risk of something failing for the sake of a few rand.”

MS “Hmm; mechanical systems lack the outright refinement and stopping prowess of hydraulic set ups, which are largely fit ’n’ forget but many would argue, a better choice for this kind of epic expedition touring?”

 

TP “Yes, its one we wrestled with but the mechanic at our chosen bike shop, convinced Dad that replacing a damaged hose on a hydraulic set up was no big deal, so we went with that and thankfully never had to put theory into practice!” 

 

MS “32 spokes have been a pretty standard option for most genres of riding, but a little light for a touring wheel exposed to that sort of terrain and payload. Did you have any problems?”

 

TP “The Sun Rhino rims were really good and hubs never missed a beat, although as you suggest, we were plagued by the pinging sound of spokes snapping at certain points.  With hindsight, we should’ve gone the 36 hole route - laced four-cross at the rear.

I probably would’ve spent longer breaking in my Brooks B17 beforehand, too!

Michael’s attention turns to the finishing kit and contact points, in particular the distinctive bars. Being a big advocate of big, flared drops and their combination of control and alternative hand positions, he was curious as to why Tegan had gone for flats...

 

TP “Every cycle tourist has their “favourite” design. A more upright riding position gives a better view of surroundings and of course, the scenery. Then of course, there’s the additional leverage, which can make all the difference along unmade roads. 

 

Some disagree but in my experience, drops and hydraulic brakes aren’t the most compatible pairing either. Coming from road bikes, I thought I’d struggle with flats but the “Jones Loop” set the wrists at a nice angle and allow alternate hand positions, which helps prevent fatigue”.

MS “I notice you went the big platform flat pedal route instead of dual sided/SPDs, any particular reason?”

 

TP “Again, clipless systems have always been my default, so this was another big departure and I really thought I’d struggle. I met a German guy - really experienced rider, who had just ridden through Africa and he advised against cleated systems on several grounds... 

Firstly, given there’s lots of poverty, “fancy” equipment makes you stand out in the wrong way, say when buying food and other stuff from roadside vendors. Then there’s the constant clipping in/out and walking the bike across sand/dirt roads. Some of the higher end mountain bike shoes and pedals would probably be fine in this context but they’d just draw even more unwanted attention”.

 

MS “Is there anything you’ve used, which you would never be without now?” 

TP “The two things that I’ve become fiercely attached to are a handlebar mounted mirror and a two foot kickstand. Hardly glamorous and, yes, the latter certainly adds to the overall weight. 

 

However, finding a suitable leaning spot for our laden bikes proved very difficult and they’re hard work to lift if you lay them on the ground, especially after a long day’s riding.  I would say the mirror was an essential, riding in some really heavily trafficked and erratic roads means it’s not always safe to turn around and look over your shoulder.”

 

MS “ Tubus racks are another solid choice for touring - I’ve used them  for around fifteen years after a respected brands’ 6061 model broke while I was thundering through London’s East End one night. Did you consider a Bob Yak or similar, single wheel trailer?”

TP “Yes, we considered buying a Yak/similar design but on balance, decided to stick with racks. A trailer might help with keeping the weight low and manageable but they are another “vehicle” to consider when you’re off the bike and needing to get everything up several flights of stairs. Then of course, spare tubes; tyres, spokes and similar parts need to be carried in case punctures; or more serious repair strike”.

 

MS “While thins are changing, lighting for touring tends to ultimately boil down to dynamos. What system did you choose for Axel and why?”

 

TP “I’ve gone the dynohub route, which offers minimal drag, and optimal output. Not cheap, but one of those purchases that pays for itself in the longer run. In this instance, a Schmidt SON 28 disc compatible model, which coupled with the Sinewave Cycles Revolution Dynamo Charger, allows me to charge some tech from the hub, while riding - really useful.

 

Axel’s headlight is a Busch & Muller Lumotec Lyt N plus, producing 25 lux -s ufficient for most situations. Running a single light from the hub optimises output and there’s only one set of wires to worry about.

 

For the Africa trip, I used a rack mounted RSP “Tourlite” rear light- rugged and simple model that sipped batteries at 50 hours in flashing. Despite the lack of a dedicated daylight mode, it proved surprisingly conspicuous during the day”.

 

MS “How about person-specific equipment, say clothing you got really attached to?”

 

TP “Probably a peaked cap - these days I (almost) always wear one under my helmet - keeps the sun out of my eyes and protects against sunburn. I was lucky enough to receive samples of the “Challenge” collection from Polaris Bikewear. 

These are designed for cycling but with a more relaxed, socially acceptable cut. Obviously, different regions dictate different attire and in more socially conservative parts of Africa, this meant riding in sarongs - not something I’d recommend!”    

MS “I can relate to naming bikes, Ursula my rough stuff tourer-cum-workhorse being an obvious example. How did the Surly get called “Axel”?

 

TP “I’ve always named my bikes, based upon their ride characteristics/personalities and insisted my father did the same! He went for “Dikweil” (Afrikaans, meaning 'Thick Wheel'; Axel just seemed to fit.".

 

Want to learn more about Tegan and her adventures? Check out her site: http://unclippedadventure.com/

PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2016

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