When you read the review of a bike from a first class bicycle brand, written by a completely thrilled new owner, you may fairly expect that it might not be entirely objective. Expect that superlatives will be gratuitously tossed around, in keeping with the quality and detail one would expect from a high-end machine from a well respected name in cycling.
So it will be with this review. My excitement was unbounded; my expectations were exceeded.
Following a friendly and no-hassle ordering process with the staff at Co-motion Cycles, my latest bike was delivered exactly on spec and on-time. In fact, the delivery itself was a real joy. By coincidence and right around expected delivery time, Co-motion was on tap to display their wares at the North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show in Hartford Connecticut in the early spring of this year. Dwan, owner of Co-Motion, asked “if I minded” if he could take my bike and put it on display at the show, and I could take the bike home at the end of the show.
Do you think “I minded” seeing my bike literally placed on a pedestal at a show featuring some of the most creative works of art in the cycling industry? Do you think “I minded” when The Radavist did a piece on my bike and called it their favorite touring bike of them all at the show?
Oh, okay … I’m good with that.
So no … don’t expect this review to be “objective”. I LOVE this bike. Where do I start?
The frame is the heart of a bicycle, so just quickly … it’s TIG welded Reynolds 725 tubing (steel is real), utilizes a CNC machined “yoke” behind the bottom bracket shell, a beefy unicrown style fork and thru-axle dropouts. This all translates to a super strong frame that is fully up to the demands of it’s intended use: expedition loaded touring. Designed around the concept of world-travel touring, 26” wheels are perhaps ”out-of-favor” with elite cyclists in developed countries, but 26” tires are the most commonly available around the world. The Pangea, Co-Motion’s 26” wheeled tourer is meant to go to all those “other” places. If I decide to tour in Kazakhstan, Bolivia or Uganda, I’ll feel better on my Pangea’s wheels than the latest and trendy zoot-du-jour wheel options. Particularly since the Pangea can handle a wide range of tire widths. The 2 inch wide tires on the bike right now still leave ample space for fenders. Yay Fenders!
But I know, I know … there’s still that elephant in the room that so many people have asked me about. Yes, there is “one more thing” (Sorry Mr. Jobs … I had to!) about the frame that’s special. Not to steal the attention away from a seriously wonderful bike, but this is a significant part of the package. It’s a very unconventional (at least in America) bottom bracket shell. Not a threaded this or a press fit that … it’s a “hanger”. A place to simply bolt on a very cool gadget … a little box of magic in my mind. I’ve been accused of adding a motor under there while at the same time, the question that follows is “where’s the battery?”
No motor, no battery, just a bit of German engineering in a can. The Pinion gearbox is an internal transmission hanging under the junction of the seat and down tubes, directly in front of the chainstay yoke, right where you’d expect to find a crankset and spindle. Connected to the rear end by a Gates Carbon belt rather than a chain, the gearbox contains 18 distinct and evenly spaced gears covering a low to high range that’s wider than anything available on any “conventional” bicycle. Other than the gearbox, the bike “seems” very conventional.
Except for maybe a couple of my own add-ons. More on that later.
I’ll mention that the Pangea doesn’t require this kind of drive system. Co-Motion does offer the Pangea, and several other models of their bikes, with a choice of drivetrains including typical chain/derailleur setups, as well as the reputable Rohloff rear hub. I chose the Pinion because of the wide range first and foremost, and sealed reliability. I tend to tour with very heavy loads and I’m not opposed to paying a price in speed for the comforts of a “well-prepared” long distance tour. That requires a wide range of gearing, but especially on the low end for long steep climbs. Isn’t that where the greatest adventures are found?
The rest of the stock bits that came on the bike are proven and appropriate for the task. Velocity Aeroheat rims, Schwalbe Mondial tires (although more aggressive dirt tires went on after the last tour), Industry Nine rear hub, TRP Spike mechanical disc brakes, and a Chris King headset. The “catalog” Pangea presents a drop bar, but Dwan and company are very used to installing alternatives and mine was a Jeff Jones H-bar. I’m currently using a similar Surly Moloko bar on the Pangea, but will transition back to the Jones bar soon. I have other plans for the Moloko.
My other “extra” bits were simple add-ons. The fork blades come stock with a mid-blade boss for mounting a Tubus front pannier but I asked to “triple-up” the bosses to permit mounting bottle cages or even an “anything” cage, useful for running the bike in bikepacking mode. Just for looks, I asked for a nice two-color fade paint job … Sunrise Pearl to Cinnamon Pearl … I call it “Tequila Sunrise” … which looked really nice when I mocked it up in Photoshop, but looks much nicer for real. And lest we forget, we added a kickstand plate on the left chainstay. Yes, it’s a touring bike. One cool gadget I discovered that enhances the use of a kickstand is a Steerstopper. Elegant little gadget that replaces a 10mm spacer and clamps around the steering tube. A spring loaded arm reaches from there to a stop on the top tube and locks the front wheel in position. This prevents the almost inevitable wheel flop when the weight of loaded front panniers conspire to throw your bike to the ground when you aren’t looking.
But the big extra was Co-Motion’s “Pathfinder” option: the Schmidt Son28 dyno-hub, an Edelux II headlight, and the Sinewave Cycles Reactor USB power converter. This was important. I like visibility, I like riding at night, yet after discovering how effective using a smartphone can be for gps based navigation while cycle-touring, I was certain that a reliable power supply was a requirement. Problem solved.
Ok. So after a season with the bike and nearly five thousand miles covering every riding condition you might imagine, what do I think?
I’ve intentionally outfitted and ridden the bike in multiple modes. Racks and panniers. Bikepacking softpacks. Maximum capacity with panniers, framebag, sweetroll and seatpack combined. Nearly stripped and light. Every combination you might imagine short of pulling a trailer, which is also a possibility. On road, off-road, rail-trails, city traffic, long flat countryside and brutal mountain climbing.
That IS what bike touring can be like, right?
Here goes …
1. Smooth and quiet. Mostly.
As long as I’m pedaling, the bike is almost totally silent. With a never changing perfectly straight chain (belt) line due to the gearbox and no derailleur, the Gates belt is totally silent. But there is a tiny whirring sound coming from the gearbox. It reminds me of the sound of the little slot-car motors we used to play with as a kid. Kinda familiar and refreshing, and no louder than the meshing sound of a clean chain on a clean cassette. What I never hear is the awful grinding sound of a dirty chain that is twisted to some crazy-stupid angle to get the ratio I need while standing on a hill-climb.
But when I’m coasting, there’s that Industry Nine hub reminding me … and anyone around me … it’s there. Yes, I know that hub is one tough S.O.B., but that freehub ratchet is LOUD. Anyone I’m riding with will insist I please just PASS them if I have to coast that much. Drives them nuts. I think it’s just a motivator to ride a little harder.
2. Comfy. This matters.
Your tour is ruined if you can’t get comfortable for the long haul. Co-Motion is picky about putting you on the right frame size and setup, and the process of measuring every personal bit on your body to assure you end up with the right fit is job #1. We nailed it. I’ve spent many, consecutive 100+ mile days on the bike, fully loaded in fact, without any position-induced aches or pains. I started out with the Jones H-bar which I’ve been happily using for years, but decided to give Surly’s (similar) Moloko bar a try. Pretty nice, and it offers a couple hand positions not found on the Jones bar, but I’ll likely go back to the Jones because the Moloko is just a little too wide for this bike. The bike came with a very nice (and very light!) Selle Italia saddle. I’ve switched out a couple different saddles over the course of this year, finally ending up with one that will probably stay: the Selle Anatomica X. I’ve tried a few different pedals as well and I’m sticking with flats for touring.
The wheels today are as true and round as the day I took the bike home and spokes show no sign of uneven tension. Considering where I’ve been and how I’ve loaded the bike, I think this is evidence of proper wheel building going on back there in Eugene.
The gearbox is just as tough. Without requiring any attention at all, the shifting is fast, smooth, and reliable. No unexpected jumps, no missed shifts, no issues. Super low gears means no complaints when hauling a huge load of camping/touring gear up over some of the steepest passes I’ve ever ridden. The trade-off is that on a good downhill, I’ll spin out the top gear around 33mph. Not a big deal since I think anything over 30mph on a fully loaded touring bike is gravy and I’m likely coasting after that anyway. If I do happen to be riding in flat-ass Kansas with a wicked tailwind and a tornado chasing me and spin out at 33mph, I’ll just have to suck it up.
I love being able to shift to any gear I need at any time, even when stopped … you know, like … when you’re at a full stop at the stop light at the bottom of a steep hill and you have another steep climb in front of you and you forgot to downshift. Clickclickclickclickclick … a quick twist of the grip shifter. No problem. Or when climbing out of the saddle and you need to shift. You do need to back off the pressure to shift, so a split-second pause in the pedaling to shift either way is much faster than having to rotate the crank to get a shift. Just click and there’s no delay in getting any gear you want. Damn … it just works!
The Pinion gearbox is quite a chuck of steel. The bike has no derailleurs, no cassette, only one chainring (instead of the three my other touring bikes have) and the belt is light as a feather, but I understand that the weight of the Pinion system outweighs the total package of a conventional chain drive. If a slight weight increase is an issue to you, well … you’re not looking for a real touring bike are you? Actually, the Pinion can be a real advantage even on lightweight bikes, particularly mountain bikes. Have you ever snagged a derailleur on a rock or log or a stick and ripped it off the frame? (Uh … yup!) Have you ever encountered a mud bog and gunked up your derailleurs so bad that nothing shifts? (Uh … yup) How about chain suck bringing your ride to a full stop?
Forget all that. The Pinion’s bits aren’t hanging out looking for trouble. Everything is packed inside a nice steel box. Hung low and centered on the frame, it practically disappears.
The manufacturer does expect you to perform a basic oil change of the gearbox every 6000 miles or once a year. It’s a simple process to open a port, drain the oil, and inject a pre-measured amount from a readily available syringe kit. I got one shipped direct from Co-Motion. Cheap … No big deal.
Aaaah … the belt … you do need to adjust belt tension. Gates has recommended tension settings for the belt, but you might ask, how does one set and measure that? Well … this is the 21st century so, there’s an app for that. Duh! You can get a physical shop tool to measure tension, but you can also download an app for your smartphone that can listen to the sound the belt makes when you pluck it like a guitar string. That frequency equates to a tension value, and you can adjust that up or down by setting the rear axle position in the stainless steel adjustable horizontal dropouts. Ok … I’m a geek, and I think that is too cool. I love that I never have to clean a greasy chain since the belt never needs any lube. Imagine getting a flat and not getting your hands dirty fixing it. (Actually, I’m only imagining that since I haven’t had a single flat yet in those 5000 miles.) And, although I carry a spare belt in my frame bag, I have seen no signs of wear or a need to replace it yet. A belt will likely cost twice that of a new, top quality chain, but it lasts several times longer. In 5000 miles, I would likely burn through three chains on a loaded touring bike, but the belt looks and runs good as new. It’s a bargain.
What else? Any complaints or disappointments? Just one. Not really a big issue, but it caused me to shift gears in how I like to load my touring bike. Co-Motion sells the very popular Tubus racks as an add-on option for their touring bikes, and the bikes are built to make mounting them brain-dead easy. But I have been using Surly’s super heavy-duty racks bolted onto my tried and true Long Haul Trucker for years. My plan was to switch them over to the Pangea. That was an oversight on my part. Mount placements and dropout spacings are different between the two bikes and as solid as the Surly racks are, there was no chance of “tweaking” them to fit. So, I got with the program, bought the Tubus racks, and slapped them on, hassle-free. I miss the big flat top decks on the Surly racks, but there are as many ways to load a bike as there are bike tourists. I figured it out.
So, this bike checks all the boxes for what I think makes a perfect expedition touring bike, and it’s likely this bike will outlive me. I think I’ve finally got my last touring bike.
Well … “The Formula” not withstanding. N+1