The Moulton Tank Build

Okay, let’s get down to it.

The TSR30 makes a fantastic all-rounder for the dedicated cyclist. I’ve spent the past five years cycling my hand-tuned TSR30 around the world in its current road config and have been loving every minute of it. I originally built this TSR with fast road touring in mind, that is to say above 15 kph with some luggage, but in reality I ended up with a fast lightweight road machine. I’ve only really had the time to take it out on long multi-day trips with little to no luggage, instead relying on credit cards and cash to keep a roof over my head and food in my tum. It was mainly a problem with living in China; there just weren’t any decent spots to go wild camping in and around the city I lived in, and the pollution was shocking even on a good day. So we stuck to shorter rides, staying in guest houses and tended not to veer too far from the beaten path in case of emergency. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good adventure, but it’s not uncommon for ‘insurance accidents’ to happen in many parts of Asia, kinda accidently on purpose, if you know what I mean. Living in China and everyone knows someone who’s been involved in one way or another, so it’s better safe than sorry in this case.

But now I’m living it up in Vienna, Austria, home to the majestic Danube, winding Alpine roads, tonnes of camping sites and gazillions of cycle paths, so it’s time to revisit my original build ideas and see what this frame is capable of.

The plan is to build the TSR30 into a stable and reliable long-range tourer, capable of taking luggage for outdoors activities. By this I mean anything from a few days shooting the stars in the countryside, a few weeks camping in the forests of Europe, or a few months trekking across large stretches of tarmac and towpath. In my mind, if I can achieve this build and it actually feels stable, then the TSR30 will have matched my original expectations, perhaps even exceeded them. The current road /race build is a real joy to ride, and I don’t want to loose that ‘feel’, but having cycled across France on my old Kona cross bike, I know that heavy and unbalanced luggage very often makes riding bikes a really misery, not to mention unsafe.

Looking at my current road / race build and I’m convinced it won’t need that many changes to turn into a tourer, hence my love for the TSR30 as a base platform, the main question will be stability…

Let’s see what we can do.

The Prereqs

I’m building this tourer to cover a wide range of activities, so I listed the things I might need to carry with me, maybe all at once!

  • Needs to carry a full complement of photography gear, within reason, to perform mobile location shoots. I’m thinking 2 camera bodies, 4 batteries, 3 lenses, 2 flashguns plus stands and batteries and all the other little bits we need to shoot with.
  • Needs to hold basic sleep / eat / safety gear. Maybe a lightweight tent, but perhaps a tarp and bivvy instead. Lightweight sleeping bag, inner-bag, lightweight mat etc. Actually, the tarp and bivvy are not much lighter than a good one-person tent when you add it all up, but it’s much more modular when packing and deploying in different environments.
  • Bikes spares i.e. tubes, tyres, spokes, cables, tools, gaffa tape etc.
  • Bright lighting. Front and rear with charging capabilities.
  • Tough-as-nails tyres.
  • Super-low hill gearing, as I’m not bothered about speed for this build.
  • Comfortable hand positions for long hours on the road.
  • Ability to secure bike at night.
  • Quick release camera gear for on-the-spot shooting. This means one of two things; 1) stop and shoot in under 5 seconds, or 2) stop, set up tripod / camera and shoot in under 5 minutes. This will allow me to capture both reactionary shots that I see coalescing and landscape shots that require a little more attention. Still not sure how I’ll accommodate this for safety reasons.
  • Basic food prep and cook tools.

To be fair, that’s a lot of gear to haul on a bike, even if you do buy super lightweight camping stuff, the camera gear is still going to weigh you down. But we understand that and are building a platform explicitly for this function. So onward we plod.

Considerations

Stability. It’s kinda obvious, but when you add weight to a bike, well, things can go south real quick if you don’t get it right. The key here, considering the amount of gear we need to haul, is to spread out the weight evenly across the frame, and that’s going to mean as many luggage fixing points as possible. Luckily the space-frame lends itself well to this idea, and I already use a set of Alpkit luggage bags that will help spread the weight throughout the frame itself. What remains to be seen is if I can use the front and rear of the bike to carry the rest.

Climbing. Long steep hills and heavy luggage don’t sound fun… to most people, but I actually rather enjoy the challenge 🙂 Saying that, I will go through all my gear and streamline it where possible. There’s no point in carrying 20 tent pegs when you really only need 6, and so on. In fact, I used to use wood sticks fashioned into pegs when I was younger, but with the advent of Titanium it seemed silly not to take advantage of it.

Security. I never leave my bikes unattended, even if they’re locked, they go everywhere with me and touring is no exception. Obviously, if I have the option when credit card touring to lock it up in my hotel room, I do. Camping is a little more tricky and I’d never leave my bike chained to itself next too my tent whilst I walk about a city or town, it’s just too insecure. This build will not include super heavy 2kg D or U locks, which is good because they weigh a freaking tonne. Instead, we’ll try a few clever ideas and a couple of newer novel bike locks that make security a little less worrying and lighter weight. Nothing will ever stop a thief who is determined, but we can make it super difficult for the f*ckers.

Longevity. We’ll be out on the road for a few days, weeks, or months, so the build needs to be capable of utilising a modular luggage system depending on our time frame. I don’t want to rebuild every time I change my mind about where or when I go, so the luggage racks will generally remain quick release, and the luggage bags will change depending. Sounds obvious, but I don’t want to use four 32ltr panniers for an overnighter, nor one post bag for a month-long trek. The key here is having multiple bags that all attach/detach easily but with locking mechs just in case. I like this kinda stuff 🙂

Spring 2017

One of the core components for this build is a Tailfin carbon pannier rack; a super lightweight luggage system (350 grams weight!!!) direct from Nick Broadbent on Kickstarter. Funded back in 2015, this project offered me an alternative to the standard full-size Moulton TSR30 rear luggage rack, and a much lighter one to boot. You see, the problem with the standard full-size TSR30 rack is that it doesn’t accept ‘standard’ pannier bags, instead opting for a flat latticed platform upon which you might stow a tent bag or long-rectangular shaped luggage. Of which I have none. The rack is also very heavy, which bothered me every time I cycled with it empty. So I shopped around for other ideas and came up a bit short, until I stumbled over Tailfin. I sent a few messages to the founder, Nick, and checked the necessary dimensions to make sure it should fit the TSR30 (you never know until you actually have the product), and promptly waited for two loooong years until one day in early spring 2017 when a Tailfin branded box dropped at my doorstep. Excited was an understatement.

I’m not really one for documenting ‘unboxing’ as I find it a little OCD, but I must admit I was tempted to savor this moment for posterity. Frankly, though, I didn’t have the patience and ripping open the cardboard box extracted a stunning example for carbon workmanship, all neatly packaged to protect from overseas transit. The carbon rack itself was a little smaller than I expected, but that’s a good thing considering we’re after lightweight options. This particular Tailfin also came with two super lightweight pannier bags, weighing in at under 400 grams each and fully waterproofed, these bags should last a fair while if I’m careful with them. They look about 20 liters each.

My original build plan was to go either one of two ways with regards to luggage- 1) use the Tailfin alongside a TSR front rack for a maximum of four pannier bags, or 2) straddle the standard full-size rear rack with the Tailfin to add one more luggage point, for a total of five. Testing option two and I found the Tailfin isn’t quite wide enough to sit over the full-size TSR30 rack 🙁 Boo indeed. But, the concept should work with the smaller size TSR30 rack, although I’m not sure it’s worth the weight. I’ll revisit this option later down the line if more space is needed. For now, I’ll move forward with option one.

As of May 2017 I’m now pretty much settled on the luggage I’ll be using:

  • Rear #1 – Tailfin carbon rack with two lightweight waterproof 20 liter pannier bags – 1 kg total weight approx.
  • Rear #2 – Alpkit Koala / Carradice Tour or Enduro – need to weigh.
  • Front – TSR30 front rack with two 12 / 18 liter waterproof Alpkit pannier bags – 2 kg to 3 kg total weight approx (this needs serious weight reduction if poss.).
  • Centre – Alpkit Possum & Fuelpod – need to weigh.

I think this should give me enough space to cram in most of my gear, so long as I keep it to the essentials and only pack what I need. The next step is to revisit the other components of this build whilst I play about with luggage packing. I’ll be looking to change the wheels from carbon to aluminium and the tyres from Durano to Marathon Plus, with smaller changes to brake pads and tubes etc. Otherwise it’s now a case of getting the bike packed and running stable! I’ll be taking some photos over the next week or two of the current setup 🙂

MORE COMING SUMMER 2017