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Which Touring Bike? (Nick Andrew) PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

CHOOSING THE RIGHT BICYCLE FOR TOURING
or
How I came to Meet and Love my Paul Hewitt Cheviot SE

Nick Andrew
May 2009

Introduction

Nicks_Bike_3.JPG

I promised myself a long time ago that one day I would do a bicycle tour of the WW1 areas of France. I don't know why I did that; at the time I was far from an avid cyclist. I was just a kid who used to cycle round the village and sometimes around the surrounding villages, if I had somewhere to go.

Fast forward to now. I'm 36 years old; just returned from 14 years working in Hong Kong. I used to cycle in Hong Kong with friends, but I saw returning to Britain partly as a chance to go back to the bicycle touring promise I made to myself all those years ago.

Choosing the Touring Bike

I'd always used bikes that looked like they were about the right size and felt OK when I rode them. They were all bought from the equivalent of bicycle supermarkets and were the brands that they typically sell. Now, however, my fairly simple thought process was that if you're going to spend a few weeks riding your bike, you've got to get the right bike. I had a budget of approximately £1,000 to £1,500 but would like to spend less if I could find a bike I liked.

I read a few comparison reviews (there aren't that many out there!) and plenty of forum discussions on touring bike choices and - as is usual with not only internet forum discussions but also most discussions about which bike is best - I was left with a whole load of choices and not one bike that really stood out as a recommendation for me. (Hint: when searching forums, make sure that you know geographically where the people are from, as this will influence their type of touring and also their available choices of bike).

Though there were others available, discounted for various reasons, this was the list of bikes I ended up with:

* Trek 520
* Fuji Touring
* Dawes Ultra Galaxy
* Thorn Club Tour or Sherpa
* Hewitt Cheviot or Cheviot SE

To help whittle down the list, I looked at the type of touring I was going to do (almost all on road) and also any personal preferences (I really liked a previous bike I had with 700C wheels). An initial look through the list put an "unsure" note against the Dawes. The Dawes is recommended in quite a few forum posts, but my reservation with both the Dawes models is that purchasing from the higher end of a manufacturer's range might mean compromising quality in some way (would they be stretching their technology and possibly their profit margins?) They are probably very good for their price but I wanted to be sure that spending almost £1,000 on a bike would bring me something that I could trust to give me the correct type of bike, as well as value for money.

The Trek 520 and Fuji Touring are quite difficult to test-ride over here in the UK, as they are mostly sold in America. Again, spending this much money without actually being able to be confident that the bike I was getting would be exactly correct led me to striking them off the list. If I couldn't be confident that the bike was the right bike, I knew I'd regret it later.

At this stage I felt that I would get a bike that was better suited to touring by buying a bike from a company that knew more about touring bikes, and in particular it would mean something if I could test-ride the correct frame size first. I looked into a Cannondale, as a friend has a Cannondale and is very happy with it, and it did seem to be well put together. The only issue I had was whether it came with the correct braze-ons for front racks. Ideally I would have liked my bike also to have braze-ons for a third water bottle somewhere and a pump if possible, to save me having to keep these in the panniers. The Cannondale, from my understanding, didn't have any of these. I did also try to get a test-ride for one of these but, though possibly I could have tried harder, I could not find anywhere that I could test-ride.

This left me with the Thorns or the Hewitt, which for me was a much more difficult choice. Both of these bikes are at the higher end of my price range, both of these bikes are built for touring by companies that know about making touring bikes, and apart from that they both seemed to tick all the boxes.

After I priced up a Thorn Club Tour, I realised that it was not only getting expensive but that I was trying to turn an on-road and off-road touring bike into a purely on-road tourer. I think that the Thorn bikes are probably very well made and put together and that they are eminently well suited to world touring - going to far-flung places and just keeping going - but that wasn't the kind of touring I wanted to try.

From my point Nicks_Bike_1.JPGof view, the Hewitt ticked all the boxes. It was a road touring bike, it obviously did touring well (the Cheviot had won awards for touring bikes and the Cheviot SE was an upgraded version of the same), it had all the relevant braze-ons for touring and, best of all, I could guarantee that the bike fitted me because Paul has a fitting service (currently £50, refundable against one of his bikes).

I should confess here that once I'd decided to go with the Hewitt, I got that unmistakeable feeling of "I wonder if I could afford to spend a bit more ...". I did end up going for the Cheviot SE and did a comparison with the Thorn. The Thorn still didn't make sense with the road touring prerequisite that I had.

Ordering the Bike

It's Autumn last year (2008) and I'd booked an appointment with Paul Hewitt toPaul_Hewitt_(6).JPG get fitted and go through the details of my bike. One thing you have to remember when dealing with Paul is that everything's a little bit more relaxed than it can be elsewhere. Paul and I spent the first 10 minutes “shooting the breeze” before we even started discussing the bike.

During the fittingPaul_Hewitt_(7).JPG, he discussed all the changes he was making and why, along with any options that might affect my choices. This done, he wrote down all the measurements and we then discussed all the details of the bike.

If you want a bike to "Take Away", the Hewitt isn't it - expect 4 to 6 weeks between ordering and delivery. We went through all the details, from which chain to fit to whether I should have my name on the top tube (and where!). To be honest, I did rely heavily on trusting Paul to know more about which of the technical components were best, and he did not let me down at all. The most difficult choice I made was probably the colour of the frame!

Getting the Bike

Fast forward through the longest 6 weeks of my life, until I arrived at Paul's PH_(16)[1].jpgshop to pick up my beautiful tourer. Paul and I made a small change to the seat height after a short test ride but, apart from that, the bike fitted fantastically and performed perfectly. By the way, I picked it up when there was still some snow on the ground in Leyland!

Riding the Bike

Fast forward Nicks_Bike_4.JPGagain 6 months to the present (Summer 2009) and I've done about 400 km on the bike, with my first longer (two week) tour coming up in 4 weeks. The bike is still performing brilliantly. There has been no stretching of the gear cables that might have meant re-aligning the indexing of the gears (which I would have expected) and the whole bike has performed exactly as required without error (or puncture!).

The handling of the bike is probably slightly easier under load than it is without load but it is good to ride either way. It has a tendency to want to go straight ahead rather than turn but I think that comes from the geometry of the frame, giving a very sturdy feel to the bike whatever loads are put onto it.

Summary

This bike has done nothing but impress me. It is obviously built with the right components that go together to create a bike that is perfect for touring and (fingers crossed) won't break anytime soon, for any reason. Paul has also impressed me with his full fitting service and his knowledge of building touring cycles.

In short, I'd recommend the Hewitt to anyone who is looking for a road bike tourer.

My first tour is going to be documented under the banner Going East to the Western Front on the crazyguyonabike website.

Barry and Margaret add: For details of our Paul Hewitt Cheviot SE Touring Bicycles, click: Two Wheels Good!