When James Bowthorpe pulled up in Richmond Park to be greeted by a crowd of well-wishers and fellow cyclists for the final eight-mile leg of his record-breaking round-the-world ride, the bike attracted more attention than the man.

That says something either about what a strange breed bike riders are or what a fascinating machine Bowthorpe chose for his 18,000-mile ordeal. We suspect a combination of the two.

As a gaggle of public and press congratulated the sunburnt globetrotter, another group veered towards the fully-loaded Santos Travelmaster parked against a bench, your Cycling Weekly correspondent included. After all, we could talk to James later when the crowds had died down. There was something about this bike that warranted closer inspection.

The Santos had plenty of talking points: Magura hydraulic brakes, Rohloff 14-speed hub gear, dynamo-driven lighting, not to mention Bowthorpe’s own curious adaptations at the front-end involving plastic boxes and switches to control a variety of lighting and other electrical charging devices.

But it was the drivetrain that caused the biggest stir among the onlookers. A Gates belt – similar in appearance to a car’s timing belt – replaced the usual chain set-up: no lube required and a lifespan three to four times the length of its metal counterpart.

“It is the same belt-drive system used on Harley Davidsons, so I knew it would be strong,” says Bowthorpe. “Trek did something similar, but I knew that they wouldn’t offer me it because they weren’t convinced. But I am interested in trying out new ideas in any field.”

Bowthorpe is a designer so the development aspect appealed. For Dutch manufacturer Santos, it would be the ultimate test for its design, plus a chance to get one over its competitors from Holland, Koga – the company that supplied the previous record holder Mark Beaumont.

James Bowthorpe, around-the-world bike, 2010

Rohloff, roll on

The Rohloff hub gear system was another part of Bowthorpe’s machine that required an 18,000 mile test ride. “Rohloff would not let anyone sell a belt-drive bike with their hubs until September, but because of this test, they are now happy for Santos to use them. I was quite keen to be involved in something like that. I have got massive respect for Rohloff, and had no problems with the hub. I changed the oil twice like I was supposed to, and that was it.”

Bowthorpe set off from Hyde Park with a couple of spare belts in his panniers – picking up replacements along the way was obviously not an option – and made the first change in Iran at 4,500 miles, with a second in Australia. “I changed the belt before Perth and fitted a new cog but that was it. There was no sign of wear and the Santos has a concentric bottom bracket but I never had to adjust it to take up any slack,” he says.

An aluminium frame would not be most people’s first choice for a ride lasting 176 days, but the Londoner had no issues apart from numb hands. The curious goat horn-style bars gave Bowthorpe several riding positions, while the fat Schwalbe Marathon tyres soaked up the lumps and bumps. A trusty Brooks B17 Narrow saddle combined with a thorough fitting session with MSG Bikes in Lancing proved invaluable.

Belt drive, James Bowthorpe, around-the-world bike, 2010

Brooks, no opposition

“I have had that saddle for 10 years,” says Bowthorpe. “MSG spent four hours measuring my limbs and putting me on bike rigs to get my position just right. Being able to stay on my sit bones in those little hollows was perfect.”

That brings us to the boxes of bits on the front. The challenge to power phone, GPS, camera, iPod and lights appealed to the British boffin side of Bowthorpe. “I built this device that gives me USB charging for my phone and a 12V output to charge my camera. Unfortunately, it has now had a meltdown. It got wet, I think…”

The front hub kicks out 3-5W, providing enough power for all Bowthorpe’s needs. An iPod mounted on the rear rack turns out to be roadkill. “That is detritus from the road. I used it as a junction box because I like making things, but there wasn’t much opportunity to do that.”

Brooks saddle, James Bowthorpe, around-the-world bike, 2010

Front light & bettery pack, James Bowthorpe, around-the-world bike, 2010

Rear light and reflector, James Bowthorpe, around-the-world bike, 2010

James Bowthorpe, around-the-world bike, 2010

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  • Isla Vallasie

    ‘record-breaking round-the-world ride’? I cannot find any reference to confirm that his attempt was actually ratified by Guinness as a new World record. Also the recent attempt by Julian Sayarer to break Bowthorpe’s ‘record’ has also not been ratified. According to the Guinness website, Mark Beaumont still holds this record.