After 14 months on the road it is funny to look back at the enormous amount of time we spent researching the best bits of gear we could possibly put our hands on. It did cost money and, as it happens, some of these things did not perform to the level we had been told they would.
During the planning stages of the trip, the bikes were probably the most researched bit of kit we purchased – with the choice of tent coming a close second. Upon receiving the bikes and taking them for a little test spin – as well as changing a few parts – we were overall extremely satisfied. However, the biggest question was ‘will they turn out to be money well spent, or did we just invest in some over-priced steel tubes?’. So, although we felt pretty positive about our VSF TX-400, we knew that only time would prove their real value (here you check out the full bikes’ spec and a short video).
Well, after 15.000km and having pedalled half way across the world, we thought this would be the right time to give an exact report on the bikes and the sort of issues we have had, as well as how they have performed to different conditions and terrains – heavily gravelled roads, the sub-zero temperatures of the Pamir mountains, the humidity and heavy rain of South East Asia and Japan.
Mind this spoiler, though: aside from some minor accidents, our VSF Fahrradmanufaktur TX-400 have performed incredibly well!
So, lets begin with the issues we have had:
Snapped chain (x3):
This happened on my bike within a few weeks of leaving as I was racing Alessia up a short steep hill. I changed gears, while going uphill, with a heavy load. Rookie mistake. Or maybe I just have the sprinting power of Peter Sagan (I wish). This was using a Shimano Deore chain.
Alessia snapped her chain twice, once while simply cruising along, and once when a link became loose for an unknown reason. This caused the chain to stick inside the derailleur and snap around into her spokes. Thankfully, the spokes and herself were fine, but the derailleur was finished – see below. We are now riding with KMC X-10 chains and have been happy with them.
As the loose link in the chain worked its way through Alessia’s rear derailleur, it was caught and caused the whole hanger to rotate clockwise until it jammed into the spokes of the rear wheel. This had stretched the tensioning spring inside the mech body which meant that she couldn’t shift up to the highest 4 gears. Not so much of an issue as Alessia doesn’t exactly race down descents. This happened when we were in Uzbekistan, and it wasn’t replaced until we had a package delivered in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Amazingly, the broken derailleur survived the whole Pamir Highway!
Seized Pedals Bearings:
Alessia left London with the stock pedals that came with the bike. They were fairly standard and plasticky flat pedals, and after around 6000kms they started to seize up and felt rough to ride. We replaced them for some heavy duty MKS platforms in Chiang Mai and they are still going strong.
My Shimano XT dual-sided SPDs had been flawless until an embarrassing tumble while cycling uphill in Japan, which caused the spindle to bend. They have been replaced like-for-like.
After seeing quite a few Jones Bars on fellow cycle tourers’ bikes, I set my eyes on them and bought a pair in Chiang Mai, replacing my batterfly bars. Needless to say, the new Jones bars have lived up to my expectations of comforts and control.
During the swap and after removing the old butterfly bars, I noticed that the cable that attaches the Ortlieb handlebar bag to the bars had severely cut into the bars. This could have been caused by a couple of factors – not tightening the cable enough causing it to rub, or loading the bag too much and putting excessive stress on the bars. I imagine that if they had not been changed over they would have snapped in the very near future and potentially caused a serious accident – something to keep an eye on if you’re using the Ortlieb mounting system.
Due to the design of the Jones H-Bar, Ortlieb handlebar bags are quite difficult to mount but you can check out a short video detailing a work-around.
I noticed a snapped spoke after taking a bus in Turkey, and fear that it may have been caused by loading/unloading the bike from the vehicle. Thankfully, we carry extra spokes and it was an easy replacement.
Front Mech Shifter:
Unsure of how it occurred, one day my shifter decided not to shift any longer. I tried to pull it apart to figure out what the issue was, but came up with nothing. A quick visit to a bike shop in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, fixed the problem by simply replacing it. However, during a professional service of the bike a while later, we found out that the other shifter’s drivetrain was full of grime and dirt, which would have no doubt lead to the same issue had it not been cleaned.
So far Alessia has changed her tyres only once with like-for-like Schwalbe Marathon Mondials. They have been very impressive in terms of durability and puncture resistance (Alessia hasn’t had a single puncture in 15.000 km!). My front tyre, however, has recently started cracking all the way around the side wall. A bit strange as it was only on one side, and only on one tyre. I replaced the set with some new Schwalbe Marathon Almotion TLE as our journey was to continue on primarily sealed roads (and the allure of their extremely low rolling resistance was very enticing!). After 5000km they are going extremely well, with impressive puncture resistance and minimal signs of wear. The only sacrifice is the extra weight they have added, which to be fair is unnoticeable when cruising along.
Since the beginning of our journey we have been riding on Brooks saddles (B17 Special for me and a B17S for Alessia). I love my saddle to bits, but while the stunning copper rivets on these are very attractive, the leather used is much softer than a standard B17. The saddle has now severe cracking around the rivets, which, according to Brooks support centre, is due to not keeping the correct tension. It’s a shame as I thought I had followed the instructions and looked after it like it was my first-born. Obviously not.
I have also recently noticed that my tensioning pin has snapped. The bike was still rideable, whilst awaiting a replacement. I suspect the above problems occurred due to lifting the loaded bike by the saddle – something I won’t be doing in the future!
Next up, a few key things that we love, value, and can recommend:
We had doubts about keeping the Magura hydraulic brakes on the bikes. They can be a pain in the bum to repair if you don’t have the right tools. A cut hose can be game-over until reaching a quality bike shop, but so far they have been nothing short of phenomenal. On long descents and wet roads, the Magura hydraulic brakes have had an extraurdinary breaking power, with minimal to zero fatigue on hands and fingers.
The break pads have been replaced twice, and whilst we have not had the need to bleed the breaks yet, we did adjust the alignment of the callipers to compensate for minor sponginess created over time. Apart from that, they have been great.
We simply wouldn’t tour without one. The energy generated by our own pedalling has kept our phones/garmin charged all day. We have also been able to recharge portable battery packs and, with them linked to front and rear lights, we know we will always be seen at night time and in long tunnels without worrying about recharging or changing batteries.
We chose to test two different USB outputs: the Cycle2Charge and the Igaro. Out of the two, the Cycle2Charge have performed better in terms of low-speed charging and output. The lower cost and handy stem cap mount make of it our favourite between the two.
Brooks Ergon Grips:
The Brooks Grips were a pure extravagance simply justified by the will to match the honey coloured leather grips to my beloved saddle. I did not buy them with “performance” in mind, but after riding with them across half of the world, they have turned out to be much more comfortable than standard ergon grips (which get dirty and sticky far too easily). The leather is, well, like leather – soft, subtle and extremely comfortable – although the light coloured finish has turned to a dark brown. Shouts go out to Quoc who instigated said collaboration.
And last but not least, the BIKES:
For what we paid, the stock Shimano XT groupset, SKS mudguards, Tubus pannier racks, wheels, B&M light system and frame have been fantastic. VSF really have built a world-tour ready bike at an impressive price point, without skimping on key areas. They really are built like tanks, and, although they might not be the lightest option around, we have no regrets.
So, overall, we can’t recommend VSF highly enough. A few little tweaks from the stock model prior to leaving and our trip has been pretty much faultless. It’s interesting to see what other riders choose when we bump in to them on the road, and, surprisingly, the big names of the touring bikes market have all had some form of major issues. Touch wood ours continue to serve us well, and we’ll report again on their progress further down the line.