This fine-looking Pashley Moulton TSR 30 was built by my untrained hands over the space of about 18 months and attempts to answer a ten-year quest for a ‘perfect ride’. To be fair, nothing in life is perfect, but this comes pretty darn close. One wintry January evening in 2011 I sat down in our small London apartment and made the following checklist of prerequisites for my perfect ride, the notes went like this:
“Notes for my perfect suitcase-based fast tarmac-tourer that glides over rough stuff and happily carries wine and cheese alongside tents and tools.”
1. Globally Transportable – The ride needs to be transportable around the world using all forms of global transport; plane, train, car, minivan, even a Tuc-Tuc! In real terms, this meant the frame must be foldable, separable or just plain small. I’d concede that my aim in life isn't to use transport all the time, but if I just had to pop on a train, in a car, or on a plane with the bike, I could without worrying about it getting damaged. It’s worth noting that I regularly cycled a 3-speed Brompton (S3L with +8% gear ratio) during my days commuting in London and I wasn’t looking to replace that. I love my Brompton, but in my opinion it’s a sub-15 mile runabout, not an 80-mile+ steed.
2. Multiple Core Abilities – The ride should exude a winning combination of core strength, efficiency, speed, acceleration and durability. Some notes below on older bikes I owned, otherwise skip to 3
a. Should glide over the tarmac like my old Greg Lemond Etape. It was a fast, sure footed aluminium pedigree that was easily comparable to the commercial likes of Speshy and Trek, but it just felt like I was riding something designed to be more honest than the rest. Touring bikes are generally designed for slow and steady, not fast and nimble, so my new dream ride needed to be something rather special to tick this box.
b. Should tackle loose gravel and bumpy tow-paths like my Kona Jake cross bike. I knew I couldn’t expect the smoothness of a full-suss MTB, but a little comfort is a must for long adventures, especially outside Europe where road quality tends to be amazing or utter crap. A touring bike that rides like a road bike and handles rough tow-path with front and rear suspension? We shall see.
c. Should be able to handle dents on the roads like my old GT downhill behemoth. If I really, really, really have to hit that pothole, I want to feel like I won’t die right away! Something that would give me a little breathing space as I decide to break or go for it.
3. Weight – I’m not building the world’s lightest TSR 30, but my aim is to have the finished bike weigh in at 9.5 kg unloaded. Loaded with tour luggage and it could be tipping the scales at 25 kg to 35 kg without the rider. Those that know classic touring bikes will understand 9.5 kg is asking a hell of a lot. The obvious frame material for this lightweight touring bike, therefore, would be carbon to keep the core weight to a minimum. However, a tourer needs superior strength and easy ‘on-the-road’ fixing which instead usually means steel, aluminium or titanium. Do I dare tread the carbon-tourer path? Not a chance; a crack in a carbon frame from a fully loaded tow-path short-cut is a potential death sentence and would mean the end of a tour. I can’t afford to replace titanium, so steel or aluminium it is. I’ll just have to think of other ways to shed some weight as I go.
4. Compatibility – The frame must accept standard road components enabling an element of creative freedom during the project, this is after-all my dream ride.
Otherwise, everything else is fair game, so off I go to the world of the internet and start researching all things ‘bicycle’.
A LITTLE BIT OF RESEARCH
I went online and sized-up all the available commercial folders I could find; Airnimal, Bike Friday, Dahon, Brompton, Birdy, Pacific Reach, Giant, Jeep, Land Rover, Mezz, cheap Chinese knock-offs, high-end Taiwanese knock-offs and quite a few other brands that I’d never even heard of. Some of them excelled in their relative field, some of them offered great value for money, some even appeared too good to be true (they usually were), but none stood out as the clear winner. They either lacked full suspension, road geometry, folded poorly or very slowly, were too heavy or just a combination of the above. More than anything, however, I just never really felt attached to anything I’d seen, they just didn’t seem right as the basis for my dream ride. Not giving up hope, however, I followed up with two of the most popular brands: Airnimal and Bike Friday.
Initially, I considered the Airnimal Chameleon Sport in Canary Yellow, but the actual size when standing there in person took me by total surprise. The Chameleon is actually quite big. Looking objectively, it’s a fast road-inspired bike with good acceleration, has rear elastomer suspension (much like the Brompton), and accepts road groupsets such as Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. It certainly looked the part on the tarmac and it’s got a reputation for tremendous speed when you push it hard, but the size kept nagging at me. The frame fold was okay but not amazing, in five to ten minutes you could get it compact enough to fit, say, in the overhead luggage shelf on a British train (at a push). With my limited research, the Airnimal Chameleon Sport represented a seriously good folding road bike, and if I planned to travel the world by car with the Chameleon in the boot, well I’d have invested there and then (and to be fair, many people do). But I was after a fast, folding tourer. The right bike for me needed a stronger core for front and rear luggage, a smaller overall unfolded footprint, and finally the all important front suspension. It’s worth noting that Airnimal offer a road version of their outstanding Rhino MTB folder that looks, and reportedly rides, seriously top of it's class. At 2199 GBP it's priced aggressively, too. Both great bikes, and if you own one I'm sure you absolutely love it, but not for me just yet.
Next I spoke to a sales rep from Bike Friday as I inquired into the logistics of purchasing a customised Pocket Rocket Pro (PRP). The PRP is a small, lightweight, folding road bike that's made to measure! What’s not to like? Okay yes, it’s another road bike and not a tourer and it only has rear suspension like the Airnimal, but the only other option was a Bike Friday touring bike (you can find them here) and they looked too 'old-school' for my taste. I was also quickly learning that the only way I could get the final total weight down to 9.5 kg was to go with a road based bike and turn it into a tourer, not the other way around. I wondered, then, if I might be able to custom design a PRP into more of a touring-based machine, they are made-to-measure, after all. After a few weeks chatting we’d got pretty close to what I wanted; a fully-customized, touring-focused, SRAM RED, dropped bar PRP, with brazed front and rear rack points. Their communications were excellent, always responding within a day or two and ready to make any adjustments I asked for, and that’s the benefit of buying a bespoke hand-made frame, they can put anything anywhere. The lead time, however, was a minimum of three months (to be expected for a custom welded bike) but my budget was now so far out the window I was starting to sweat. With hindsight, the total cost of the custom PRP wasn’t actually too far off the total cost of the fully upgarded TSR 30, but spreading the cost of the TSR 30 build over 18 months made more sense than splurging out on a PRP in one go. Also, did I mention the PRP has no front suspension? The PRP really is a spectacular road bike and folds just so well and neatly, the speed on tarmac has been likened to that of a full-size carbon greyhound, but in the end, the total 'up front' cost, lack of front suspension and the fact that, even after the custom touring enhancements, it looked like it might break on anything other than tarmac, kept my cash securely in my wallet. I was highly tempted by this bike and one day hope to own one, but in my mind it’s the kind of bike you, again, pop in the boot of your car and take out for a Sunday ride, albeit a fast one at the front of the peloton. No offence BF, that's just my opinion :) Bike Friday’s other popular models, the New World Tourist and Pocket Crusoe (now called the Pocket Llama) technically offered me more of what I was after (strength etc) although, again, both lacked front suspension. The Pocket
Crusoe Llama, however, was now closest to my particular needs so that went to the top of the list and the research continued.
Not taken by the looks of the Birdy, nor the Dahon, and rejecting the rest on grounds of being potential death-traps, I was starting to feel a little miserable; would I be confined to dropping some serious money up-front on a fully-tricked-out Pocket Llama? Was there nothing else out there? Nothing more suitable for me? Nothing I could build myself as a labour of love? The Chameleon, Rhino, Llama and PRP were all fantastic bikes and I’d have been lucky to own any one of them, I just felt they weren’t right for me and this project. I wanted something with more suspension, more charisma, a friend that cried with me as I submitted a monster and yelled alongside as we descended too fast. It had to have a soul.
Then, one day in Spring 2012, a good friend let me have a spin on his Pashley Moulton TSR 30 through the inner city roads of London and just like that the deal was done. I was 100% sold on the Moulton as a platform to build my dream ride, funny how things work out! The TSR 30 rode hard and fast like the Lemond, it had front and rear suspension that ate up the cracks in the beaten London tarmac, the acceleration was phenomenal and it felt solid and strong. The ‘feel’ of the ride was smooth, stiff and responsive all at the same time and then there was the character, it looked at me as if it knew what I was thinking and it was thinking the same thing too.
As luck would have it, the British designer behind the bike, Sir Alex Moulton, designed the Moulton platform with the added ability to separate the frame in two, thus a separable model exists on the market for demanding people like me. After revisiting my list and working out potential build combinations I figured that opting for a Pashley Moulton TSR 30 would only compromise on the folding aspect. The quickest ‘packable’ take-down time would be a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes (much like the Chameleon), compared to the 5 or 10 seconds of my Brompton or the 30 second PRP fold. I imagined I could live with that so long as the ride was worth it.
The other main issue was that a stock TSR 30 back in 2011 weighed a hefty 11.7 kg (11.4 kg in 2016), so I’d need to shed 2.2 kg to tick the weight box. That sounded expensive. However, the frame seemed super strong and stiff, the front and rear suspension were incredibly efficient for their size, it accepted standard road groupsets, separated into a suitcase for travel, had rack points for luggage and best of all exhibited more soul than any other bike I’ve owned. Price? At around 1800 GBP for the stock model, I'd say it’s very competitvly priced.
Some key decisions I made for the build worth noting; 10-speed Cassette over 11 because 11 just complicates matters when you break down in the middle of nowhere. Double chainring at the front to keep the overall weight down, I did consider a triple for climbing but felt I didn’t use the whole range when crossing France a few years ago. So 39/53 at the front and 11/32 at the back for a good 'do-it-all' range. Carbon rims & limbs would be sourced from China where possible and brakes would be TRP or Shimano due to the extended brake reach the TSR 30 frame requires. Groupset would be SRAM RED to keep the weight down and my wallet empty.
UPDATE 01/11/15 – I eventually needed to replace the 53t front chainring with a 58t, you may want to go even higher, so keep reading before you buy anything.
THE INITIAL BUILD
The black Pashley Moulton TSR 30 frame came from Fudges Paddington store over Xmas 2013. Their well received advice was to stick with the standard gear and enjoy the bike as-is. Sure, I understood and smiled respectfully but wasn’t having any of it, this build needed super-charging if it was going to tick all the boxes. As 2013 trundled by I started picking up individual upgrade pieces from Taobao, the Chinese Ebay full of bargains and less-than-official carbon bike parts. My plan was to start off with the carbon limbs, wheelsets and cabling, get those fixed and working as expected on the TSR 30 frame and then finish the build with the SRAM RED groupset when I had the money (2199 GBP is a lot spend on PART of a bike, albeit the most important part). I'd also made the decision to build two wheelsets; an aluminium set for winter and a carbon set for summer, both running on Ceramic hubs. A small bike stand arrived in the post and sitting proudly in the centre of my office took up more space than my wife and pooch would have liked, it’s my office though and generally out of bounds to spouses and dogs alike, so onwards I plod. The first wheelset, an aluminium LitePro Aero wheelset, arrived first along with Panaracer Minits LITE tires, red LitePro Cermaic hubs and unbranded Ti/carbon skewers. The LitePro deep-section Aero rims were slightly too deep to accommodate a normal length valve stem, so I bought some 30 mm Topeak valve extenders in black that initially worked well and matched the rims. The aluminium wheels certainly aren’t the lightest you can buy, but at 120 GBP for the pair (laced with LitePro Ceramic hubs!) they make an excellent value & hardy wet weather alternative to the summer carbon rims. As luck would have it, they had also just arrived.
UPDATE 01/11/15 – As mention above, the first valve stem extenders I bought were made by TOPEAK and all four broke within 2 years. Topeak extenders screw-fit over the entire tube valve and secure using an internal rubber grommet, not a metal thread. They work by using a small twisty cap to open and close the tube valve now buried deep inside the extender, allowing you to extend the reach of the valve without dismantling the valve core itself. I found with all mine that the extender didn’t secure tightly enough over the tube valve stem (using rubber didn't help), and during pumping would often come loose, or even fall off when I removed the pump. Next I tried KCNS's valve extender, but even though they certainly fit tighter over the tube valve, they freely rotated and made floor pumping a real nightmare :( I have since replaced all four with BBB's metal screw-fit extender. With these, you unscrew the tube valve core from the valve stem, screw on the extender nice and tight and then screw the valve core into the top of the extender. Perfect! Note that this only works if your inner tubes have removable valve cores, such as the Schwalbe Extralight SV 6A. Unfortunately, some tubes use non-removable valve cores, in which case you have no other choice but the rubber screw-fit version. There’s a pretty good overview here.
After playing around with the carbon rims (just to make sure they were safe) I did a little research and discovered that the best hubs I could buy were made by Chris King. Okay, I knew this before hand but had to make sure. I settled on the R45 front and rear Ceramic ROAD hubs due to their strength vs weight ratio. I could have gone lighter had I opted for a pure carbon model from another company but some things just can't be scrimped on when building a tourer. R45 hubs are not cheap, so I added them to my wish list and instead started adding a few smaller components to the growing pile of goodies; a complete set of Jagwire Road wiring, red cable buffers, red-plated cable stoppers, reams of bar tape, carbon bar plugs and titanium bottle cage screws to fix on the carbon cages. As the year started to wind up I took a few days out to plan the next phase of the build. I'd already had the aluminium wheelset built-up, so assembling the carbon wheelset with the Chris King R45 Ceramic hubs and installing the bottom bracket was next on the to-do list. Yes, when you by a frame it doesn't come with ANYTHING, not even a bottom bracket, so you need to make sure you know what you're doing and have the right tools for the job. After a few helpful discussions with Fudges, I learnt that the bottom bracket had a GXP English thread type. I wanted the official SRAM RED BB shell, not a Taiwanese knockoff, but whilst SRAM RED BB shells are easy to find in the UK, they are non-existant on mainland China. I also emailed the team at Chris King at this point to make sure the R45 hubs would work with 20" rims. They would :)
It was a long, boring wait until a small parcel dropped through my office door with the GXP BB. I’d eventually sourced it from a Taiwanese company willing to import from the UK and then export to me in China. Why didn’t I just do the same thing? Because domestic parcels can often go missing in China and there is literally no way to track them down once they’ve entered the Chinese customs 'black hole'. I’d also decided to buy the SRAM RED groupset in parts rather than as a whole to keep up-front costs down, so had recently ordered the SRAM RED 39/53 cranks separately (175 mm / 130 BCD). Unknown to me they ship with a Team Truvativ BB with the correct thread type!! I could have at least used that for a few months while I waited for the RED BB to materialise. Fail. Aaaaaanyway the TSR 30 frame BB threads were a little clogged with metal shavings from the threading process, so I made sure these were spotless before thoroughly greasing and carefully installing the RED Ceramic BB shell. I’d recently borked my Kona Jake Cross Bike frame by not following the same simple rules. On went the RED cranks with relative ease, they needed an enormous amount of grease to stop the minute but annoying (and potentially damaging) vertical axis wobble. I ended up refitting everything four times before I got it perfect. And yes, it was worth it.
By this point I was getting seriously excited, a little delirious and just plain obsessive over the project. I needed to finish it soon before my wife divorced me. I ordered the SRAM RED 10-speed shifters off Taobao, finally pulled the trigger on a pair of beautifully crafted Chris King R45 Ceramic Hubs in red (all the way from the States) and the SRAM RED front and rear derailleurs. The 10-speed shifters weighed almost nothing; holding them in one hand and a pair of Shimano 105 in the other it’s staggering how much engineering has gone into the design and build of the RED shifters. I can’t even begin to talk about the R45 hubs, they are objects of total perfection and if you have them you'll know exactly what I mean. I popped down to my local wheel builder in the centre of Tianjin and got him started on the carbon wheel builds whilst I started fitting the shifters and derailleurs.
The front and rear derailleur popped on with relative ease, the rear always faster that the front IMO. The 2013 SRAM RED front derailleur shiped ready to mount in a configuration that makes it simple to adjust in seconds. But like most people (I’m sure) I ignored the instructions, ripped off the “STOP: READ THE INSTRUCTIONS FIRST, THIS IS NOT A NORMAL DERAILLEUR” sticker and proceeded to lose about 3 hours of my life getting it set up. Fail.
I opted for the WI-FLY version of the RED rear derailleur as it has an extra-long cage. This means I could now drop on a 11-32 cassette (instead of the standard 11-28) giving me more climbing potential which is very important for touring! The WI-FLY attached and indexed seamlessly with the frame and SRAM 1070 Cassette. I played about with the setup to get it right but had I been in a rush (and knew what I was doing) I think 30 minutes would have been more than enough for the front and rear install.
The bike had come together pretty well by this point and fiddling with the headset and stem for a few hours I got a position I was comfortable with before finally dropping in the completed cockpit. The core platform was a carbon drop bar in the dimensions of ZIPP's Vukka Sprint and I also added a real-steel Controltech micro TT bar as an extension. The drop bar was excellent quality for a Chinese clone and the wider palm surface area just feels incredible on longer rides. High;y recommended. As a side note, attaching the RED 10-speed shifters to the faux-Zipp cockpit was effortless using the bar’s internal channels to direct the gear and brake housing away from the surface. For the first time I used electrical tape wrapped sticky-side up around the naked carbon before wrapping the bar tape, this increased the hold of the tape position very well and didn’t look like it would unwrap anytime soon. For added long-ride comfort I doubled up the tape across the top of the bar, just repeating the wrapping process.
And then a call came though, the wheel builder had finished and the long-awaited carbon angles were ready!!!! Fitting the carbon wheelset was real quick, but I did need to buy a 10 mm aluminium spacer to set the rear wheel in place. Turns out the R45 hub was a little smaller than the width of the TSR 30 rear triangle. I'd also matched the carbon rims with a set of TRP carbon brake pads, but wasn't sure how they would perform.
Finally. I was finished!!!
Ready for my first Chinese commute, the weather was polluted, the roads full of angry cars and the distance further than I would have liked for a first outing… but out I went into the misty morning of Tianjin's 10-lane ring road.
THE FIRST RIDE & INITIAL CONCLUSIONS
After a few journeys along Tianjin’s perfectly flat ring-road from home to work I was already maxing out the gears and barely reaching 25 mph. Not. great. A stock TSR 30 ships with a custom, but heavy, 62t large chainring to counter the smaller wheel diameter. Now, I’d opted to replace this with the SRAM RED 53t ring to save weight but Garmin told me I was very, very slow. It also repeatedly told me I was stupid for doing such a thing. We all make mistakes. A few hours trawling on the web and I’d found two solutions; either a custom carbon 62t from Fibre-Lyte, retailing at around 200 USD plus shipping (and a good three months lead time), or a 58t aluminium Taiwanese brand RIDEA from Taobao, selling at about 80 USD. I opted for both actually, ordering the RIDEA as a short term solution and contacted Fibre-Lyte to get the ball rolling on a double carbon crankset for future use.
Replacing the SRAM 53t with the RIDEA 58t was a 10-minute job, an 80 USD expense, and a few nerve-wracking minutes of locked-chain fail, but overall the results have been very positive. I can hit 35 mph on the flat using the 58t and still have the 39t ring for hills. Using such a diverse tooth count does have its limitations; the chain length needed a lot of fine-tuning to stop locking on high gears and dropping off on low. There is also a little rub when using the 39t front and highest (or smallest) rear ring, but this is normal considering the setup. No problem.
The conclusive answers to those requirements? After five years riding in the UK, China and Austria, this is what I’ve concluded:
1. Globally Transportable? Yes, it’s pretty easy to transport and the frame separation is quick and simple, but only if you’re like me and want to take your primary bike around with you. It’s no Brompton or PRP regarding the fold, but for that extra bit of time and effort to pack away, you get a competitive touring bike and a supreme ride.
2. Multiple Core Abilities? Yes, it’s a touring/road bike that handles tarmac as expected, very well. Yes, it tackles loose gravel and tow-path, the front and rear suspension work wonders and keep you firmly on the bike, not off it. I’ve hit a few nasty dents in the Chinese alleyways and came out still on the bike without punctures, so that’s a win. The 20-inch rims seem more capable handling rough hits than 700c, and the suspension gives you the breathing space you need if you need to hammer the brakes. And yes, I’ve never felt more confident downhill either, on the drops the bike just glides at over 40 mph, and you get no shake or rattle apart from the front suspension working overtime.
UPDATE 01/11/15 – Carbon rims, especially Chinese made, are not great for stopping fast and in the wet are down-right dangerous, I think we all know that. I love my 20-inch carbon wheelset, they’re laced to Chris King R45 ceramic hubs, and pointing down hill I barely have to pedal to overtake other cyclists, even those on carbon 700cc greyhounds. The combination of the aero advantage and smooth-as-silk rotation fill me with joy, until I need to brake at the bottom, then my joy turns to abject horror. The modulation of the TRP brakes on the aluminium Litepro rims really is fantastic, I’ve never had a problem and am very confident hurtling downhill at top speed just to brake at the last minute. The carbon wheels are a different story, they just don’t stop as quickly as I’d like, and it’s not just my problem, it’s a well-known issue with carbon rims in general. High-end 700cc and MTB carbon rims can offer better braking performance because there is a high demand for these wheel sizes. Some of these rims are filled with grainy composites to enhance braking efficiency, some have aluminium braking surfaces embedded into the carbon itself, and some ship with special brake pads designed specifically for the rim. And the very best way to mitigate this performance issue? Use disc-brakes!!! But when shopping for 406/20-inch carbon rims for a caliper-based frame you get what you can find, and there’s not much out there. My advice is, if you’re going to be cycling on your TSR 30 on a daily basis I’d honestly recommend a high-end aluminium aero wheelset, they just stop better and you don’t have to think about when to brake all the time. Keep the carbon beauties for a summer jaunt around the countryside instead.
UPDATE 02/11/15 – Have 2,000 USD spare? Check out these 406/20-inch HED wheels for what is probably the best 20-inch carbon wheelset I can find. Too expensive for me now, but maybe one day.
3. Weight? 9.5 kg was asking a lot. I spent weeks weighing individual parts trying to shave off grams where I could. Stripped down with no water it comes in at 9.6 kg, which isn’t too far off. By stripped down I mean everything off except the essentials, so no TT bar, bottle cages, racks or computers etc. The stripped down weight changes depending on the wheelset and tires/tubes combo, but it’s worth noting the carbon wheelset isn’t much, if any, lighter than the aluminium, but choosing high-end tires & tubes can save you a few hundred grams if you spend the money. So I’m happy with the result, I might try getting under 9.5 kg in the future, but we’re talking serious money which would be better spent on another set of R45 Chris King hubs for the winter wheelset.
If I really wanted to knock off weight I’d be looking to rebuild with a lighter frame (New Series) and take it single speed, but let’s be honest, Moulton’s ‘lighter’ frames are UBER expensive and I like gears
This project was about setting a reasonable weight limit for the bike in order to maximise the pleasure of touring, not to create the world’s lightest Moulton.
4. Compatibility? Yep, this frame takes it all but do your research and triple check. I opted for SRAM’s RED groupset, but you can probably drop on any standard components no problem. I heard the RED 2013 brakes don’t work on the TSR 30, so ended up going with TRP instead, but since the build I’ve seen a Moulton with RED calipers, so who knows?!