I've been asked to remove the three 800 pixel wide images that were auto displaying through the use of the forum's "image" function. This is to make it easy on people that would be bothered by such images, running on slow connections, similar to the 26.2 connection speed I've used for 6 years apparently. Click on the links and it should pull up the same images. Sorry for any heartache this has causes viewers. END EDIT
This review chronicles the discovery of a rare find in the touring bicycle market.
As the creator of The Fully Loaded Touring Bike Photo Gallery, AKA www.fullyloadedtouring.com
I wouldn't be surprised if I've seen as many touring rigs as anyone on the planet. LOL At least close-up photos anyway. For every one image within the gallery of more than 400 bikes (if it's not there yet just wait a week until I get the next 70 images processed), there are 5 or 6 more images that weren't accepted for gallery display. Out of focus, outside the guidelines of the gallery, etc. On top of that, I've owned custom touring bikes, hand-built especially for me as well as many of the tried and true favorites of one time or another. Bike Friday New World Tourist, Thorn Nomad, Novara Safari, Cannondale T800, Trek 520. And of course I've personally ridden and evaluated many more for potential purchase.
One of the lessons to be learned in studying the FLT Photo Gallery is that there's more than one way to approach selecting a touring bike and still succeeding. In fact, "where there's a will, there's a way." is found in many images. After all, if a person can build a penny-farthing and successfully cover over 20,000 miles on a loaded world tour, one can do just about anything if the will is there.
On the other hand, many tourers seek to set out on their adventures with a ride made specifically for touring. When buying a touring bike there are a great many criteria to judge the usefulness and suitability for your touring needs. If your budget isn't of 'the sky is the limit' variety, value might come into play as well. I'll touch on some of these points within this review but this is not a buyers guide.
For our 2007 tour of Alaska www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/north
I'd planned on taking my trusty Thorn Nomad. A UK built freight train of a touring bike. Alaska? Pfft. Whatever dude. My wife however didn't have a great bike for the task. Her custom Bike Friday NWT, which was great for our Swiss Alps tour and an old converted mountain bike, a few sizes beyond ideal for her.
It was time for a new bike; one that would be up for the challenge of remote Alaska tundra. A robust frame with clearance for wide tires was of premier focus. I was fully aware of the usual suspects but I always check for late arrivals. While looking for new entries into the touring bike market, I came across a bike that I hadn't heard of, the Rocky Mountain Sherpa. Time to dust off the checklist and proceed with caution. However, this new bike was being offered by the well-known and well-regarded mountain bike company, Rocky Mountain Bicycles (www.bikes.com
). I had to take a closer look.
The details were impressive for the price point of around $1,500.
Frame hand-built in North America
Frame, incredibly is made with Reynolds 853 tubing. By all accounts a beyond top shelf selection only seen in use at custom bike levels.
Hand-built wheels by folks that know what they are doing.
Reported room for at least 40c tires with plenty of room for fenders.
Already, if you just take those attributes at this price point, I doubt that you'll find another production touring bike that the same can be said of. I was even finding the stats a bit hard to believe.
The next step was to find out what was being said about it, what others had found, a field test, tour, etc. nothing. Not a dang thing. Well, the only thing I found was a thread on a touring forum where someone was asking about the bike.
Given that I couldn't find any bad press, I decided to see if I could find the bike in stock locally. Nope. During a short search of dealers I found a shop 500 miles away selling the current year Sherpa at a bargain price to move it out for the next model year bikes. Hell, the bike was already looking to be one of the best bargains out there. At a seemingly crazy price, I had to move on this. The one Sherpa they had was a 54cm; what my wife normally rides. I placed the order and would soon find out what the real story on this bike was.
It's the feeling I have almost as soon as I open the bike box that was delivered bringing the RMB Sherpa into our possession. I'd only seen marginal photos of the bike online. They didn't do it justice at all. I'm seeing a finish that holds its own against most of the custom bikes I've owned. Again, the value of this offering comes to light.http://www.pbase.com/image/71595040.jpg
These photos show the bike completely stock.
Since I'd never seen one of these in person, there were some surprises in store for me.http://www.pbase.com/image/71595044.jpg
A chain hanger. Look at the finish quality!http://www.pbase.com/image/71595165.jpg
Oh hey, would you look at that! And it even came with the spokes for crying out loud.http://www.pbase.com/image/71595221.jpg
All kinds of room for wide tires and fenders here.http://www.pbase.com/image/71595330.jpg
Same holds true at the brake bridge. This is a great discovery and more evidence that RMB took the design of this bike seriously. More will come on this, both in capacity and history. Oh and those are tour worthy Shimano pedals.http://www.pbase.com/canyonlands/image/71595297.jpg
More tire and fender clearance.http://www.pbase.com/image/71595334.jpg
Other side with the bottle generator tab. Bottle generator tab??!!!! (since dropped AFAIK)
Last nice touch I can share with you photographically is this: http://www.pbase.com/image/71595153.jpg
If your nice hand built 36 DT spoked wheels go all wacky on you right away then you know who blame it on. The builders autograph their work.
A quick look over the components shows that the bike is nearly ready for Alaska, right out of the box. The two things that need to be changed are the tires and chainrings. The bike came with 28c treads and a road triple that seems out of place but that's easy enough to change. If you pass this bike up for something supplied with better gearing, you've missed the point, and missed out on a sweet touring platform.
So, the weekend rolled around and we were able to get out for a little ride. A little ride it was because this bike is too big for my wife. The 54 isn't a true 54. The VTT tells another story and it turns out that this bike is a perfect fit for me. I ride bikes with a 57cm or 58cm top tube. So much for finding my wife her touring bike. If you've seen the journal you know that we picked up a Novara Safari that she happily took on this tour. I eventually decide to take the RMB Sherpa to Alaska so let's continue.
As I made the few adjustments to the bike to ready it for Alaska I found that 50c tires were certainly possible.http://www.pbase.com/image/80984232.jpghttp://www.pbase.com/image/80984351.jpghttp://www.pbase.com/image/80984392.jpg
That said, I thought that 40c tires would be sufficient and ended up with the 42c Contis. http://www.pbase.com/image/82003446.jpg
And so, I reported to that touring forum thread that I'd found so long ago asking about the Rocky Mountain Sherpa...
It's done. I've taken this bike to Alaska and tried beating it to death over 700 miles with a brutally heavy load. The first 450 miles were with the Adventure Cycling Association on tour with 15 others. Many lifted the fully loaded bike and gasped at the total weight. Nearly all of them saw me routinely aiming for the worst sections of road I could find and usually at high speed. Somewhere around 200 miles of this tour was on unpaved surface with washboard, pot holes, loose rock, embedded rock, mud, gravel and loose dirt. I rarely slowed down for anything rough and descended the Denali Highway's rough, unpaved Mclaren pass sailing along at 38.5 mph, and loving every minute of it. We saw a lot of rain in addition to the conditions I've already mentioned. I never cleaned any part of the bike or drive gear. I simply added oil to the chain following days in the rain.
The route covered was from Anchorage, up to Paxson, across the mostly unpaved Denali Hwy to Cantwell, up to the entrance of Denali National Park where the ACA group ended their tour, aside from one that continued to Fairbanks. My wife and I then rode 85 miles into the park on the mostly unpaved Park Road. From there we took the bus out and train back to Anchorage. And lastly two additional riding days to Seward.
My RMB Sherpa was stock except for the following:
Chain Rings: 48/38/24 (just the rings were changed)
Saddle: Brooks B-17
Fenders: Planet Bike
Tires: 42-622 or 42x700c Continental Top Contact with appropriate tubes.
Racks: Front, Jandd Extreme - Rear, Tubus Cargo
Computer: Cateye Astrale
The reason I threw everything I could at this bike is because I wanted to really see what kind of value it was. Would the hand-built wheels hold their true under such brutal conditions? Would the frame design be stable when pushed with over 100 pounds in total bike weight? Was this touring bike as good as I thought it was?
So how did it do? Nearly flawless! This is an incredible deal in a touring bike. Better than I initially believed.
The bike has rock solid handling and steering at any speed and is a pure joy to climb with. My load distribution changed often as we were carrying food and gear for the whole group. In addition to that, I had a heavy Bear Vault (bear proof canister) loaded with our own supplies mounted high on the rear rack. Never a single shimmy or any other negative feedback from the bike. It was comfortable cruising along, it was comfortable pushing boundaries.
I rarely ever looked at the wheels because the bike kept riding smoothly. There were a couple of huge hits the rear wheel took that I thought would surely take it out of true. One transferred enough energy to nearly send me over the bars. When the tour was all over except for the packing, I turned the bike over in the driveway of the B&B we were staying at and spun the wheels up. Just as straight and free from hop as they were when I got the bike. How sweet it is!
Like I said, nearly flawless. Just one little issue. With the big tires and fenders mounted and while using my size 11 Shimano Sandals I have a bit of toe overlap with the front fender. This is a minor annoyance that poses no real impact. This might be eliminated by using different tires and/or shoes, though it's not enough to have me changing anything. If anything, I may go to even bigger tires (47mm) and wider fenders.
The shifting was perfect with the different chainrings aside from me needing to move the front derailleur a bit and retighten its cable. I've always used barcon or bar end shifters on my touring bikes until this tour. I grew to really like the brifters, especially over Alaska's rolling terrain. I know the niceties of having a friction mode but also know that this setup lived through a lot without the need for any adjustments after being properly setup. And I was shifting more often since I typically ride with my hands on the hoods.
The sad news is that given the nature of this tour, with several plane, bus and train transports; the gorgeous red paint has taken on a few scratches. That said, the paint job itself is very well done and durable. Hey it's a touring bike though and this is why I always urge folks to get a bike they're not going to be so worried about.
So, ridden hard and put away wet on many nights. This one has certainly earned its keep. Are you listening Rocky Mountain Bicycles? Please keep up the good work! http://www.pbase.com/image/83737505.jpg
In the months following our tour, through a submission to www.fullyloadedtouring.com
, I found that Rocky Mountain Bicycles had good reason for their success in this bike. They'd made it before!
Say hello to an original production "29er".
The RMB Sherpa was being produced in 1982 and the original bike was designed as a rough terrain touring bike with the same sloping top tube. I didn't know this when I bought my Sherpa. I was totally blown away by the amount of tire clearance the bike had. Now, it seems very logical. 50c wide tires and room for fenders isn't a surprise in the mountain biking arena, nor is a sloping top tube.
What gets me is how they quietly kept the design going for so long, continually improving it until they had one killer touring bike. Someone at RMB knew what they had, kept it alive, honed it and totally hooked us up. Reynolds 853, are you kidding me?! Too bad the hand-built supply isn't easily found but it's probably better that way.
The old bikes from the same frame design were built with a Reynolds 520 tubeset, based on both 26" and 700c wheels, with copious amounts of tire clearance being the theme. The Sherpa, Route 66, Latitude, Metro and Whistler are of the same design principles and were classified as touring bikes. The Route 66 was offered in 700c in 1999 and with 26" wheels in other years. BikePedia lists the fork specs for the 1999 Route 66 as "RMB Custom Trekking". Product information for the Whistler and Latitude in 2000 can be found online, to include photos and they both came equipped with 700x40c tires.
If RMB ever makes a 26" wheeled touring bike based on this Reynolds 853 frame I'll be one of the first in line for it, and my Thorn Nomad will be sold.
(The following 2 replies were made before I updated this review, following having actually toured extensively on the Sherpa.)