10th November 2010 Words: Matt Lamy
This test proves that British cycle firms haven’t forgotten how to make a decent touring bike, and we haven’t even touched on bespoke, made-to-measure machines from smaller firms like Roberts or Mercian. The fact that you can buy — off the peg — a human-powered machine that will take you around the world is a strangely thrilling prospect.
Before we do a rundown of our touring hierarchy, let’s make one caveat — these bikes weren’t tested with bags attached. Fully loaded with panniers front and rear, the riding characteristics of these machines will change. For example, a heavily-laden Pearson Compass is unlikely to display quite so much exuberance. That said, all indicators suggest a Ridgeback Panorama at full carrying capacity is likely to remain supremely efficient.
Before anyone asks why, there is a good reason why we didn’t weigh the bikes down: how much weight should we have used? Some people might use their tourer to transport a few files to work. Some might use it to carry all their worldly goods across the globe. Some might do both. Only you will know the role your bike is going to take, so bear that in mind when choosing and test riding a touring machine.
Now to the order of merit. In last place is the Claud Butler Dalesman. Although it tries to go large on the traditional details — spoke holders, riveted saddle, etc — it misses out on the fundamentals. The more we look at it, the more we feel the frame shape is just plain wrong: a bit less length on the top tube and a bit more height on the head tube would have improved things immeasurably. Certainly the Dalesman’s price is attractive, but money isn’t everything.
In third place is the Dawes Galaxy, but coming third out of four here really isn’t the whole story. The Galaxy is still a great bike with a supremely relaxed, comfortable ride. We might have picked up on a couple of specification issues, but this iteration is still deserving of the legendary Galaxy name. Few other bikes have this ability to make you feel like an aristocrat in the saddle.
Then we come to the joint winners, the Pearson Compass and Ridgeback Panorama. At its heart, the Compass also has its roots in traditional touring bikes, but it uses current thinking to complement the old-school charm. And it really is a charming bike — like a sprightly OAP it’s game for a laugh without losing its composure. Here’s an abstract analogy for you: it’s the Lionel Blair of touring cycles.
The Panorama actually couldn’t be more different. There’s far less outright charm or character, but it makes up for that with pannier-loads of ability. It also benefits from being a thoroughly modern touring bike. The Panorama is far less concerned with recreating long gone heydays and would rather be prepared for the next adventure. The list price might be the highest of this quartet, but that is thoroughly justified by the excellent quality throughout.
So if it was our £1,250 what would we choose? If we really had designs on crossing continents and exploring uncharted territories it would be the Panorama. But if our touring aspirations were more likely to be wild weekends in Wales and the occasional foray abroad it would be the Compass. In either case, you’re going to get a great bike — and a fine way to see the world.