Three touring bikes go head to head
Before any of these bikes arrived here in the CA office, I'd decided that the one I became most excited about riding each morning would be the one I'd select as the winner. As it turns out, it wasn't so easy to split them. For comfort, features and all-round value for money, the Koga was the winner. For fun, the Dawes won the round. When it came to build quality, the Thorn streaked ahead.
These are all excellent bikes in their own right, and in a way the scores reflect the money you spend. You really get what you pay for when it comes to touring bikes. The Thorn Mercury is hard to fault, and for the price, you'd expect nothing less. The Dawes Ultra Galaxy is worthy of its price tag and a bike that I would definitely take on tour if I had the chance. It's not a bike I'd take on a world tour or to the back of beyond, but for any touring in the western world, where mechanical issues aren't such a worry, I'd trust it to come along. For £1,000 less than the Thorn, it really does remarkably well. But then £1,800 isn't cheap, so you expect a solid bike, and that's what you get.
Koga's Signature Randonneur is in another league when it comes to value. You get everything you could ever need, if maybe a little too much, depending on your preferences for accessories. Being part of the firm's custom range brings thousands of set-up possibilities to get your Koga exactly how you want it. It's funny. The Signature Randonneur really split opinion when it first entered the office. The crazy bars, the weight, the endless accessories... the compass! Everyone had an opinion about it, and they weren't all positive. But when I left it covered in panniers, having 'toured' in to work one day, the reaction was very different. 'That's a serious machine', and: 'Are you taking that across the Sahara?' were among the comments that showed the bike certainly looks every bit the bona fide touring bicycle.
The Thorn wins this test, and if I could afford it, it'd be the first thing on my shopping list for my next tour. The Rohloff hub is everything you ever need in gearing; easy-to-use, tough and reliable. The reason the Thorn takes it is simply because it is on another level. Its design is the result of years of touring expertise. It has some really special little features, like the mini-eccentric bottom bracket, and the Gilles Berthoud shifter and the whole bike feels hand-crafted.
It's built out of passion and love, and it's the bike I returned to most often.
When I finally cycle around the world, the Thorn Mercury will be my choice. If I'm getting set for a shorter tour through our green and pleasant land, though, the Dawes will come along. And for anything in between, I'll take the Koga.
For you, it really depends what kind of riding you'll be doing. The idea of this test wasn't to find the outright best touring bike money can buy but to show the different types of bike that are available. Really, all I've ended up learning is that common sense is the winner. If I'm riding rough roads, then comfort wins. If I'm on a tight schedule, speed. If I'm pushing my bike to extremes, build quality is the important factor. So the real question is, what type of cycle tour will you do?