Three months after being loaned a Stanforth Kibo expedition bicycle to test out, I am in a pretty good position to give it a final review. During this time, I have ridden it unloaded and fully loaded, on sealed roads and rough single tracks, and in rain and shine. In short, it's been given a bit of a thrashing. Many apologies Simon Stanforth! As this review is likely to be a bit in depth, you might want to make yourself a cup of tea before you go any further. If you just want the short version however, here it is – ‘The Stanforth Kibo is a well thought out, excellently designed bike that can just as easily take you around the world in comfort as it can to the shops and back. British built, steel framed, 26 inch wheeled touring bikes don't get much better than this, and as an expedition bicycle, it offers incredible value for money.' Ok, that's the short version over with. Let's get cracking with the longer one, which will explain why I think all that.
The Stanforth Kibo – Appearance
It's pretty clear from the outset, that the Stanforth Kibo has been designed with style in mind. The aesthetics of the bike are well thought out, and have you ever seen Continental Retro Ride's look better on any other bicycle? The use of a Brooks brown leather saddle, and Velo Orange brown leather gripped handle bars is a bold move that also works well. Stems on both the seat post and handlebars are chrome coloured, as are the cantilever brakes. The black gloss finished steel frame completes the ensemble, giving it a classic almost retro look. Stanforth themselves have used the moniker “Where Urban Meets Expedition”, and I think that about sums it up really. It's “old school” appearance will certainly have fellow cyclists chatting to you. On looks alone, why ride a boring Dawes or Surly, when you can pedal around the world on a far more unique and individual looking machine such as the Kibo?
The Stanforth Kibo – Expedition Bicycle
So ok, it looks nice, but we all know that looks aren't everything. Is it any good? Well, give it more than a cursory glance, and you will soon realise like me, that the bike is made up of well thought out, solid, reliable components. It's probably best to put them into categories –
As far as I am concerned, steel frames are the only type that should be considered when choosing an expedition bicycle. This is not the place to go into why that should be, so you'll just have to take my word for it! The Stanforth Kibo firmly ticks this box with a frame which is hand built in the UK, and composed of British Reynolds 631 steel. The frame and forks are lugged, and have bosses for three bottle cages, front and rear racks, and mudguards. Powder coated for durability, it is resistant to chips and scratches, and has a black gloss finish. This all goes in some way to emphasise the bikes retro look, but at the same time, sacrifices none of the things that go towards making a quality expedition bike. The weight of the steel frame is hardly a consideration at all when loaded down with panniers, and its strength and high build quality is readily apparent.
Wheels and Tyres
The Stanforth Kibo is a 26″ wheeled bike, which really is the only sensible choice when it comes to expedition bicycle wheel size. Wheel quality counts, and the use of Rigida Sputnik 36 hole rims, in terms of wheel strength, is about as tough as its going to get. Broken spokes are the bane of a cyclists life when touring, but with these beauty's, its far less likely to happen. Of course no wheel is indestructible, but start off with the best, look after them well, and they will see you through many happy years of bicycle touring with minimal issues. The hubs are Shimano Deore, and I can vouch for these being a good choice of hub for any expedition bicycle.
If there is one instantly noticeable thing about the Kibo, its those white Continental Retro ride tyres. Aesthetically, it's a perfect choice for this bike, and sets it off brilliantly. The question is, would I use these on a bicycle tour? That's debateable. Most people, myself included, would prefer to tour with Schwalbe Marathon tyres. They have proven themselves over the years to be long lasting, and extremely puncture resistant. There is just no way they would look as good on this bike as the Retro Rides do though! I would probably answer this question then, by saying that I would stick with the Retro Ride's for tours of a month or less, but would probably swap them out for Schwalbe's on an extended tour.
Gear ratios are all important when it comes to bicycle touring, especially if you are cycling up steep hills with heavy loads. It comes with a nine speed setup, providing 27 gears to choose from. The rear cassette is a Deore 11-34 and the triple chainset is 22-32-42. Front Deore and rear XT derailleurs complete the transmission. There's not a lot more to say really. Quality touring bicycles all have similar setups for the same reason – It works.
The Stanforth Kibo comes with cantilever brakes as standard, and it is the only choice of component that I do not agree with. There are two main problems with cantilever brakes. Firstly, they are fiddly to readjust, and secondly, the cantilevers are not flush with the frame, and stick out an inch or two either side. When using the Kibo as an urban bike, this would not be a major issue, but in my mind, its is a problem if using it as an expedition bicycle. The reason for this, is that the rear panniers in particular have a tendency to rest on the cantilever brakes, forcing them on every now and again.
Normally, you only realise this when the going has been hard for a few miles, and you get off and look to see what is going on! The accepted solution is to angle the rear rack in such a way as the panniers no longer rest on the brakes. This does work, but means that any aesthetics that were provided by the use of cantilevers are lost because the rear rack is at an ugly angle. Additionally, the strength of the rear rack may also be reduced. In my mind, good quality v-brakes are the best option for an expedition bike (don't even mention disc brakes!). I've talked to Simon about this, and he says that although the cantilevers are standard, he would be happy to supply the Kibo with V-Brakes if requested.
Gear and Brake Levers
On the Stanforth website, Sturmey Archer thumb shifters are listed, but the model I was given to try, came with Sunrace M90's. Simple thumb shifters work well on an expedition bicycle such as the Kibo, as there is so little to go wrong. Either shifter would be fine, although the Sturmey Archer's would look more elegant. The brake levers are Shimano Tiagro, which are basic but functional. Again, little can go wrong with them, which is always a bonus.
Handlebars and Stem
As I've mentioned earlier, the bike comes with brown leather grips, which look great, but are perhaps impractical for bicycle touring. Simon said so himself, and suggested that they be swapped out for ergo grips for tours of more than a couple of weeks. I totally agree with this, as the last thing you want is to start getting oil and muck on the leather. That said, I used them for the entire three months, and they didn't stain or mark at all. Comfort wise though, ergo grips and end bars would be more suitable for long distance bicycle touring.
On to the stem – At first glance I had my reservations about the quill stem, because it just didn't seem solid enough. I questioned Simon Stanforth about this, and his reply was –
“I wanted to mention the rationale behind the stem.
I've gone for a quill riser stem as I believe the benefits of being able to very quickly alter the bar height outweighs the strength arguments. As the bike is designed for all terrain touring, the bar height will need to change for different types of cycling, with the quill stem this can be done in a matter of seconds. The Nitto Fu-82 periscopa stem is made from a single piece of forged aluminium so it is strong. For more aggressive off road cycling the stem can be lowered reducing any flex.
I've biked off-road hard on my 80s MTBS with quill stems and there's never been any issues. They seem to be a part that doesn't break and having spoken to people on retrobike I've never heard of it happening.”
Now rightly or wrongly, I interpreted that as a challenge to see if I could break it! For three months, I have had it extended just past its recommended maximum point, and hammered the bike up and down hills to put some strain on it. The result – It's still in one piece! So, I totally agree that this is a quality stem and very unlikely to break. Would cyclists consciously raise and lower it depending on the terrain they were cycling on though? I'd love to hear some feedback on that – Would you?. I'm not entirely sure that I would myself, but I don't come from a mountain biking background.
The Kibo comes with a Tange Levin headset, which really are built to last. Considering that some are still going strong from bikes 30 years of age or older, its a great choice of component.
I am not including the racks as part of the review. This is because the Stanforth Kibo is priced up without them, in case people wish to ride it as an urban bike rather than an expedition bicycle. The model I tried out came with Tubus racks attached though, and these are an excellent choice for bicycle touring.
Stanforth Kibo Expedition Bicycle – Conclusion
I guess I've already summarised this in the short version of the review up above, but let's give it another go, beginning with the price. As of writing this, the Stanforth Kibo costs £1,495 with the specs I have mentioned, and for a more in-depth list of these, you can visit their website – Stanforth Bikes. With this in mind, I think that when it comes to pure value for money, it's really not going to get much better than this. The components are excellently thought out, the build quality is among the best I have seen, and it's looks certainly make it stand out from the crowd. There is a bit of individuality about the bike of course, but also that satisfaction of knowing that it really is built to last, and is up to the job. In conclusion then, whether you are planning a two week bicycle touring holiday, or an around the world ride, the Stanforth Kibo expedition bicycle can do it all. British built, 26 inch wheel touring bicycles really don't get any better than this.