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Review: Clamont custom built touring bicycles

Alia Parker's picture
Clamont touring bicycle with Ortlieb panniers. Cycle Traveller

There's nothing a cyclist appreciates more than a bicycle built especially for them, measured and delicately forged by a master frame builder. The perfect bike. And with a resurging respect in Australia for the art of a beautifully crafted chromoly steel frame, one of the country's best – Geoff Scott – has returned to the scene.

A pioneer in Australian track bikes back in the 1980s, Scott is known for his Olympic gold-medal wining bicycles which he built for Clamont in the pre-carbon days. With Clamont re-entering the market with its custom frames in the months ahead of my ride up and down Australia, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have Geoff Scott build me a frame, hand-pick my components and have the bike and wheels built by one of the best mechanics I know – Gideon Mason, the head mechanic at Clarence Street Cyclery.

The end result was two marvellous touring bicycles which Simon and I rode 11,500km for the Australian Bicycle Route Project up through the Red Centre of Australia from Adelaide, through the Flinders Ranges to Darwin and down the entire length of the Great Dividing Range from the tip of Cape York back to Adelaide. Not only were the bikes a joy to ride, but we had zero mechanical issues – not even a wobble in the wheel. Here's a breakdown of our bikes, starting with the frame.

Clamont touring bicycles with tubus racks. Cycle TravellerThe frame

The geometry of a touring frame is a little different from most off-the-rack bikes available today. Touring bicycles need to be a comfortable workhorse. To do that, the wheelbase (the length of the bike between the wheels) is longer than on a road or mountain bike, and the centre of gravity of the bottom bracket (the part which holds your pedal cranks) sits a little lower. Both these features help to make the ride more stable, with the added benefit of the long wheel base providing plenty of room to mount rear panniers on the bike without your heels bumping into the bags.

The head tube of the bike (the section between the handlebars and the front fork) is also a little higher and the top tube (the part that runs between the head tube and the seat post) is generally a fraction shorter than on a road bike, resulting in a more comfortable riding position over long distances. Most commonly, there is a curve in the front fork, which helps a chromoly steel fork flex under force, smoothing out the ride. The right geometry is then paired with the rider's leg length and sometimes torso measurements to make sure the frame size is perfect.

Just as important as the geometry is the material the frame is made from as well as the method used to make the frame. For our touring bikes, we went with Columbus Cromor Doppio Spessore tubing for strength given our bikes were going to be ridden in rugged conditions carrying heavy loads. Scott then uses the method of silver brazing to weld the tubing and the lugs. This skill allows the frame to be built at a lower temperature than brass brazing, reducing heat damage to the strength of the steel. Scott does this beautifully, and having had the privilege of seeing both frames before sending them off to the painter, I can verify that there was no trace of blackened heat damage on either.

Clamont by Geoff Scott with XT group set. Cycle TravellerOur components

We designed these bikes specifically for self-supported bicycle touring, so in effect, our components needed to be reliable, have good performance and great durability. As we would be carrying loads of between 30kg to 40kg through rolling mountain ranges, we purposely went for a performance group set with a wide range of low gear options – generally lower than a traditional touring bike. To suit this purpose, we used a Shimano XT triple (42/32/24) crank with a 10-speed cassette (11-36). Pre-ride I had some minor concerns that I would regret not having some higher gear options, but that fear was dispelled once we started riding as we never topped out, even on the flat. Of course, I wouldn't recommend such low gear ratios if you plan to use the bike predominantly for unloaded road rides as you will hit high gear very quickly. But for our purposes, it was perfect. We also opted for Shimano XT hydraulic disc brakes to improve our stopping power on the many steep descents we would encounter while hauling our load and were very happy with our decision.

Overall, we were extremely happy with the set-up and found the bikes' capabilities perfect for our needs on this tour. And as mentioned previously, we experienced zero mechanical issues over the entire 11,500km. We did, as would be expected, have our bikes serviced and changed our chain about halfway through the ride.

Cycling in the NSW Bylong Valley. Cycle TravellerSpecs

Frame: Clamont by Geoff Scott Columbus Cromor Doppio Spessore cromoly steel touring frame with disc mounts
Front hub: Shimano XT M758 6-bolt
Rear hub: Shimano XT M756 6-bolt
Rims: Mavic A719 36-hole (read review)
Spokes: DT Swiss double butted
Tyres: Rubena Stop Thorn Ultimate 700 x 35c (read review)
Front derailleur: Shimano XT M781 10-speed, conventional mount
Rear derailleur: Shimano XT M786 10-speed Shadow, long cage
Crank: Shimano XT M780 10-speed triple (42/32/24)
Cassette: Shimano XT 10-speed cassette (11-36)
Chain: Shimano XT HG96 10-speed HGX
Saddle: Brooks England B17 (mens and womens)
Seatpost: BBB Skyscraper double bolt
Handlebar: BBB Multibar (read review)
Stem: BBB 110mm
Headset: BBB 1” Threadless
Brakeset: Shimano XT 785 hydraulic disc brakes
Rotors: Shimano XT IceTech 6-bolt 140mm, front and back
Gear levers: Shimano XT M780 10 Speed
Pedals: Shimano XT T780 SPD Trekking
Front rack: Tubus Tara (read review)
Rear rack: Tubus Logo Classic, chromoly steel
Panniers: Ortlieb Back and Front Roller Plus (read review)

Hand built wheels

Wheels can be the source of many problems for tourers, with wobbly wheels and broken spokes signs that something is not right. A strong rim that can handle the weight of not only the rider but the packed gear is essential. Strong spokes, often double-butted, paired with a reliable hub complete the wheel. We opted for Mavic A719 rims with 36 spoke holes – the top of Mavic's touring line – with Swiss DT double butted spokes and an XT 6-bolt disc hub.

But good parts are only half the story – the best parts are useless without a proper wheel build. Gid did a masterful job building our wheels and as much as we slammed them on rocky unsealed roads across the Australian Outback, they never fell out of alignment once.

Mavic A719 36 hole rims for bicycle touring. Cycle TravellerFor tyres, we opted for Rubena Stop Thorn Ultimates, which not only rolled beautifully, but gave us zero flats as well (read a full review here). The only time we experienced a flat tyre – yes, just one – over the entire 11,500km was when we changed out our front tyres for a 1,000km section through sandy Cape York. Here, we were limited in the type of tyre we could get our hands on, opting for Maxxis Wormdrives (700 x 42c) cyclocross tyres at the front end to improve our control in the sand. The Wormdrives served this purpose well, but as they're a lightweight tyre and not designed as a heavy-duty touring tyre, we were actually expecting more flat tyres than we got.

The ride

What can I say – it was beautiful on so many levels. The Clamont frame by Geoff Scott handled brilliantly, especially with a heavy load. It was comfortable and stable with the perfect amount of responsiveness in the steering. For a bike with no suspension, it remained comfortable on bumpy unsealed roads.

The full Shimano XT set-up complimented our style of riding on this tour perfectly, providing us with the performance and capabilities we needed. We always had a suitable gear to be in, and shifting between them was smooth. Braking was reliable and, overall, the parts had excellent durability. The Tubus racks were excellent (read review here) and I highly recommend them.

Clamont touring bicycle by Geoff Scott with Brooks leather saddle. Cycle TravellerAll of this meant we could focus on enjoying the experience of the ride, soaking up the spectacular landscapes that are ever changing as we worked our way up and down the country. It's a wonderful feeling, no matter how remote you get, when you have full confidence in your bike.

Bottom line

It's a great privilege to be able to ride a touring bike built by one of Australia's iconic master frame builders and while such bikes come at a price, it was one we felt was well worth investing in. The parts on a bicycle can be changed overtime, but the frame will last us a lifetime.

Images from top: 1. Alia's Clamont by Geoff Scott, touring bike with disc brakes. 2. Clamonts with tubus racks. 3. Clamont with XT triple crank. 4. Cycling in the NSW Bylong Valley on Clamont touring bike. 5. Mavic A719 rims. 6. Clamont with Brooks saddle.

Disclosure: Alia Parker is a casual staff member at Clarence Street Cyclery, which sells Clamont. She purchased her own bike and received no incentive to write this review. Her views and opinions are her own.

Comments

Great looking bike and setup. Only question I have is did you ever consider 26" tires in lieu of 700c? I realize opinions run both ways, the 700ers often extolling a smoother ride over bumps, a bit more cruising speed, and less fatigue at the end of the day, while the 26ers point to a measure of extra wheel strength, the greater availability, plus more variety, of tires, and their better performance in sketchy terrain. Did any of this ever come up for you? Thanks for the article and newsletter!

Alia Parker's picture

Hi Harmen,

Thanks for your comment. We always intended these bikes to have 700c wheels because, while we ride on all types of road surfaces, the majority of ride days we do on this type of bike are on sealed surfaces, for which I prefer the roll of a larger wheel.

It is true that, if comparing a 26" wheel and a 700c wheel with identical rim, spoke and build quality, the smaller wheel will be structurally stronger. But, having said that, a hand-built 700c wheel using top quality components (and an experienced wheel builder) will be stronger and more reliable than most off-the-rack 26" wheels. We also opted for 36 spokes for extra strength.

As mentioned, we didn't need to true our wheels at all on the 11,500km of this ride (or since) and we used them on all sorts of terrain. There are no signs of fatigue on the rims, spokes or hubs.

RE ease of availability, it all depends which country you are riding in. In Western countries, it is becoming harder to walk into a bike shop and get good 26" tyres and replacements on the spot. This is because most hybrid and road bikes are 700c wheels and the mountain bike market, which bouyed the 26" wheel previously, has moved toward 27.5" and 29" rims. So, in countries like Australia, it is now actually easier to walk into a shop and buy a good quality 700c touring tyre than a 26" tyre.

In less developed parts of the world, word is that 26" wheels and tyres remain the most common. Having said that, generally the quality of components in many remote places is not up to the robust needs of touring and such parts may have a limited lifetime, so carrying spares or ordering in parts over the internet (where possible) is recommended anyway.

To sum that all up, I'm very confident touring on both 700c wheels and 26", although for tours that are more than 50% on sealed road, I would opt for 700c. For me the key is knowing that the wheels are 100% designed to handle the conditions thrown at them while carrying a load.

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