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Brick Lane Bikes Hitchhiker touring bike review

8 Nov 2018
Verdict:

A solid steel frame livened up by a generous classic spec

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£1,792

Spawned from the popular East-London bike shop, the Hitchhiker is one of Brick Lane Bikes’ own designs.

Available as frameset-only, its workshop team put us together this custom build representing how they’d personally choose to spec up the bike.

Knockout gorgeous, it features plenty of classic touring gear, including a Brooks leather saddle, tan-wall Panaracer Pasela tyres, and hammered aluminium mudguards. But will it be a case of style over substance?

The frame

Long, low-slung, and sporting fixing points for every kind of rack and mudguard, the Hitchhiker is a mix of old and new school.

With a long wheelbase and moderate length head tube, it’s neither too racy nor too sluggish.

Capable of both fast audax-style riding and heavy-duty touring, it’s also ready to take on off-road routes, with plenty of space for knobbly tyres if you ditch the mudguards.

Made using regular profile tubes, these come from Columbus’ Cromor range. They’re equivalent to Reynolds 520 and likely a tad lighter than a completely anonymous alternative.

Designed to be as versatile as possible, there are mounts for both discs and traditional cantilever brakes.

Similarly, the traditional front-facing dropouts give scope to set the bike up single-speed or play about with its wheelbase.

Having the rear brake cable run along the top tube might not be the neatest option but it does free space for an extra water bottle mount on the down tube.

At the front of the bike, there’s a tad of fore and aft flex to the lovely looking flat-crown lugged fork, but not enough to be troublesome. 

Groupset

Shimano’s 105 5800 series hydraulic groupset is benchmark stuff. Both brakes and gears work exceptionally, although the levers are still as ugly as sin.

A shame when the rest of the bike is so pretty. Our build came with a standard 52/36 chainset. Perhaps because that was what was in the workshop at the time?

We’d probably go compact (50/34) for an easier lowest gear. Happily, as each bike is built to the customer’s specification, changing the ratios won’t be an issue.

At the back, a long-cage mech accommodates the largest sprocket with 32 teeth.

This provides a wide enough spread of gears to ensure you’re unlikely to find yourself lusting after a nerdy triple chainset, even once the bike is loaded up.

Finishing kit

Brick Lane Bikes have gone conventional on the bars. Not only are they regular in shape, they’re also relatively narrow at 40cm.

Given how much we’ve enjoyed using wider alternatives, it was a surprise to find how speedy they made the Hitchhiker feel.

The saddle is a beautiful leather Brooks B17 special. Likely to last decades, it’s a touring classic that has legions of fans, although not being among their number, the sight of it made our tester groan – and that was before he even sat on it.

The hammered aluminium fenders are great looking and an essential for all-weather touring. Tricky to drill and fit, having them set-up with the bike is a bonus too.

Wheels

Hand-built for the bike using Velocity rims and Via hubs, the 32-spoke wheels are likely to be strong and easily serviceable.

Just what you want on a touring bike. Thanks to high-quality parts they’re fast too. With little weight to the medium-depth rims and extremely fast pick-up from the hub, they fly along.

Employing a wide profile, they also perfectly match the broad tyres, and with the addition of some tape can be run tubeless. £400-plus to buy on their own, they’re in large part responsible for the bike’s spirited ride.

Panaracer’s Pasela tyres are well loved in the touring world, thanks to a supple and fast-rolling performance twinned with reasonable puncture resistance.

First impressions

On the first roll out of the shop, the Hitchhiker feels great. With its broad tyres inflated to a still-squishy pressure, it’s very comfy.

Moderate in weight, any excess mass has been trimmed from the wheels, resulting in an easy-going demeanour.

With narrow road bars and standard double chainset there’s nothing unusual about the parts list, which should ensure roadies feel instantly at home.

Our test bike came assembled with the stem pointing skywards, lifting the bars into an easy to reach location.

On the road

With a longer than average reach but shorter seat tube, there’s a  decent amount of standover on offer.

This is a particular boon when loaded down with panniers, making mounting and dismounting easier.

With a stretched-out wheelbase and a steady heading being set by the front of the bike, the Hitchhiker feels like a much-improved version of your dad’s ’70s-era Dawes Galaxy.

Predictable, stable, yet not so sedate as to be boring. However, unlike bikes from bygone eras, when you muscle the bars or mash the pedals on the Hitchhiker, it doesn’t bend along its length.

About as light and forgiving as you’ll get from a mid-priced steel tourer, it’s not super stiff.

Take it off-road or load it down with panniers and you can still feel the bike shimmy ever so slightly, but it’s never enough to be worrying.

Fitted with narrow handlebars and mudguards our build was more suited to country lane pootling than off-road ragging anyway, although with a few tweaks the bike could conceivably turn its hand to either.

Handling

Built around a decent, practical frame, the Hitchhiker is very much what you make of it. It’s here that the Brick Lane Bikes team have gone to work.

It’s the build that sets the bike apart. With complete bikes using Shimano’s 105 hydraulic disc groupset starting at £1,300, we tasked them with building it up to make the most of our higher budget.

Besides the lovely finishing kit, they invested the remaining funds into the wheels. It paid dividends, resulting in a bike that’s faster to get moving than you’d expect.

We were also pleased to see the Shimano hydraulic disc brakes – some manufacturers opt for cheaper cable versions on touring bikes, using the argument that they’re easier to service in far-flung bits of the world, but hydraulics are more powerful, require less frequent maintenance, and break down less often.

Stopping things getting hairy in tough conditions, they elevate it above its rivals when it comes to slowing down.

RATINGS

Frame: An unfussy steel frame does the job nicely. 7/10 
Components: Full 105 groupset, including hydraulic brakes. 10/10 
Wheels: Lightweight hoops give the bike a bit of zip. 10/10 
The ride: Offers a great blend of comfort and fun. 8/10 

Verdict: A solid steel frame livened up by a generous classic spec.  

Geometry

                                     
Size 57cm
Weight 13kg
Top Tube (TT) 552mm
Seat Tube (ST) 545mm
Stack (S) 575mm
Reach (R) 376mm
Chainstays (C) 440mm
Head Angle (HA) 72 degrees
Seat Angle (SA) 73.5 degrees
Wheelbase (WB) 1050mm
BB drop (BB) 70mm

Spec

Brick Lane Bikes Hitchhiker
Frame Columbus Cromor, flat crown lugged fork
Groupset Shimano 11-speed
Brakes Shimano 105 hydraulic disc
Chainset Shimano 105, 52/36t
Cassette Shimano 105, 11-32t
Bars Deda RHM
Stem BLB Lite CNC
Seatpost BLB
Wheels Velocity Aileron rims, Via hubs, Panaracer Pasela 35c tyres
Saddle Brooks B17 Special Titanium
Contact bricklanebikes.co.uk