January 30, 2010
A few months ago I put up a post about S&S couplings. Reading through some of the comments on that post, I was thrilled to see someone mention the Ritchey Break Away system. While Ritchey does not offer a true touring bike, their Steel Break-Away Cross Bike is an excellent choice for long distance touring, and it's the bike I chose for my most recent, month-long, loaded tour of Mexico.
The first, and most obvious, talking point about this bike is the way in which it goes from a full size bike, into a travel friendly suitcase in literally a few minutes. The frame is linked together in two locations, which are very intuitive. The seat post clamp binds the top tube and seat tube together, so all you have to do is insert the seat post through both pieces of the frame, and tighten two 5mm bolts. The next step involves clamping the frame near the bottom bracket and down tube with a replaceable hinge clamp. The clamp takes a 4mm Allen wrench, and keeps the frame locked together by grasping onto two flanges that flare out at either end of the tubes. I will admit, this was an area where I had some skepticism, but throughout my tour, I never heard the clamp creak, never had to re-tighten the bolt, and couldn't feel any excessive flex in the frame.
Any time you pull apart a bike, dealing with the cables can be a bit of a trick. To keep things simple, Ritchey includes cable disconnects for your rear break, and both derailleurs. You will need to use two lengths of cable to get them working, but once they are set, you can split the cables with just a few twists, eliminating the need to readjust your brakes and derailleurs when reassembling your bike.
Looking at the rest of the frame, another thing to take note of is that this is the cyclocross geometry, which puts this between a road bike and a touring bike. You still get a pretty long wheelbase that helps smooth out the ride, and provides plenty of room for wider touring tires, and fenders. The head tube is set a little higher than a road bike, giving you a slightly more upright position, and there are some nice small touches, such as eyelets for fenders and a rear rack. The steel frame is very durable, and if you are interested, this bike is also available in a titanium version.
As for the ride quality of the bike, it was refreshingly predictable. The smooth feel of steel wasn't too damp that the bike felt sluggish. I was very happy to discover that the bike maintained a solid feel while hauling a trailer with 50 pounds of gear. There was no noticeable flex where the bike was linked together when climbing, and it handled with confidence on the descents.
One of the biggest selling points for this bike, aside from the money it can save you with airlines, is that the travel suitcase is included. Once disassembled, packing the bike into the suitcase safely and securely is pretty simple. You are provided with easy to follow instructions on the most efficient way of fitting everything inside, and you also get soft pads that fit around each tube to keep the bike from getting scratched or dented, in addition to a large divider that keeps the wheels from coming into contact with the frame. Some nice small touches consist of pockets for small parts (pedals, skewers, tools, etc), and there is a clear window to insert an identity card. The case measures 9"x26"x29", and will accommodate any of the Break-Away bikes, from a 48cm up to a 60cm.
A word of caution, airlines are becoming pretty tricky these days, and some of the major airline companies are starting to charge an inflated fee for bikes, regardless of how much they weigh, or how small of a case you can fit them into. The Ritchey travel case is about as stealth-like as they come, and doesn't have any indication that it houses a bike inside. I successfully made it both ways without paying excessive fees.
The Steel Break-Away Cross frame and Ritchey WCS Carbon fork retail for $1295, which includes the travel case, cable disconnects, frame pads, and spare down tube clamp. Be sure to check out the Ritchey website for other bikes with the break-away technology, as they have offerings in road and mountain bikes as well, in both titanium and steel. Lastly, while you're cruising through the Ritchey website, be sure to take a look at the history of the man behind the bike, Tom Ritchey, as well as his commitment to Project Rwanda, which, according to its website, is dedicated "to furthering the economic development of Rwanda through initiatives based on the bicycle as a tool and symbol of hope."
Photos by Josh Tack.
TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.