After using the Stanforth Skyelander touring bike for nearly a year, it's time for a review! I've pedalled this steel frame touring bike from one end of Greece to the other on sealed roads, rough tracks, and everything in between on different cycling trips, and it's one of the best long distance touring bikes I've ever ridden. Here's why.
Stanforth Skyelander 700c Touring Bicycle
Having previously ridden one of the Stanforth Kibo+ adventure touring bikes during my long distance cycling trip from Greece to England, I jumped at the chance of testing out their latest classic touring bike design. The 700c road tourer looked ideal for a bike trip or two I had in mind in Greece, where the routes would take me over predominantly sealed roads. Over the course of 12 months, I clocked up somewhere between 2000 and 3000 kilometres of bicycle touring and day rides. This review of the Stanforth Skyelander is based on my personal experiences with the touring bike over this time.
Classic bike for long distance bicycle touring
On first appearances, the Stanforth Skyelander looks like many other classic touring bikes. In fact, I used it as a good example of such in my video about ‘What to look for in a touring bike‘. Perhaps it was the colour, but it doesn't seem to initially stand out in any way. And that's not a bad thing, especially if you want to lock it up outside the shops on a grocery run!
Having ridden two versions of the Stanforth Kibo 26 inch expedition bike, which were notable for being almost attention grabbing with some of their details, this was a bit of a contrast in comparison. I think the word ‘subtle' is what I am looking for. Yes, the appearance of the Stanforth Skyelander is subtle. It's only on closer inspection that you realise that this steel touring bike has some awesome stand-out features.
Steel touring bike frame
Let's start off with the frame. The Skyelander has a lugged steel touring frame, as many of the best touring bicycles do. (I'm not going to discuss here whether steel touring bike frames are better than aluminium. I'll assume that you've already concluded that steel is real when it comes to a touring frame!). There are a couple of differences though that separate the Skyelander frame from those of say a Dawes touring bike or a Surly.
Firstly, the steel is of the higher quality 631 variety. Secondly, the frame is hand built in the UK by respected frame builders Lee Cooper. Let's not forget the forks either. I've seen several touring bikes feature forks of a lower quality steel than the frame (something to look out for!). That's not the case with the Skyelander though, which also has 631 forks. This makes the bike incredibly strong, and basically built to last forever.
Please note – Don't ask me about the weight! I don't know what it is, and I'm not interested. The weight of a touring bike has never concerned me. In my opinion, anyone who wouldn't consider a touring bike because it weighs a kilogram more than another one has probably never ridden a loaded touring bike for more than a few hundred kilometres. By the time you've packed on food and water for a few days, camping equipment, spares and other cycling gear it becomes irrelevant. You'll be looking for strength in the frame at this stage, not weight – hence the steel frame!
The majority of touring cycles designed for predominantly road use feature drop handlebars, and the Stanforth Skyelander is no different. They offer plenty of options for hand positions, and don't flex the same way that butterfly handlebars can do. Due to the aforementioned subtle aspect of its design, a second glance reveals a few nice touches.
The first, are the bar end shifters. I far prefer these over the STI integrated shifters, as they are easier to maintain and less prone to mechanical failure. (My Dawes Sardar had integrated shifters which failed in Mexico when I was cycling from Alaska to Argentina. In the end, a two dollar shifter saw me complete the last 10,000 kilometres of the ride!).
The second, are the rather cool looking Tektro drilled hole brake levers. The third, is the quill stem which makes it a matter of just seconds when it comes to adjusting the height of the handlebars. The only downside to having drop handlebars on a touring bicycle, is that it reduces the amount of ‘real estate' for gadgets such as GPS and cameras. (A problem that can be solved with a little creativity).
Cambium C17 Seat
The Skyelander is available with many different options, and my particular set up had a Brooks Cambium C17 seat. I tried to get on with this seat…. I really did! In the end though, I simply didn't find it as comfortable as their classic B17 leather seat. Read my full review of the Cambium C17 seat here.
Like many classic bicycles designed for road touring, the Skyelander I used had cantilever brakes. Now, it is fair to say that I am not a massive fan of cantilever brakes, as I find them too fiddly when it comes to maintenance. My overall preference for braking systems on a touring bicycle, are V Brakes. Hold on disc-brake fans, hear me out, and I'll get around to you!
During my usage of the Stanforth Skyelander, I had no issues with the brakes, and they worked perfectly. The Avid Shorty Ultimate cantilevers provided plenty of stopping power, which was great coming down some of the mountains here in Greece! So, overall, a good choice of braking system.
Ok disc-brake fans – I'm here! So, the reason I don't like disc brakes for bike touring, is that when you get off the beaten track, maintenance and spares become a major issue. I'm speaking from practical experience here, and not hypothetically by the way. HOWEVER… The Stanforth Skyelander is a steel frame touring bike designed for mainly road use. It's also most likely to be used on cycling trips in so called ‘developed' countries. As such, perhaps disc brakes wouldn't be a bad idea. Even though I don't think it's a smart idea when it comes to actually being out there on the road, commercially it might make sense for Stanforth to provide that option!
700c Touring Bike Wheels
Good strong touring bike wheels are essential when it comes to cyclotouring, and the Stanforth Skyelander is a 29er touring bike (700c wheels). The wheels themselves are hand built, and use Ryde Sputnik 700c 36 spoke rims with XT hubs. Again, no issues whatsoever with the wheels. If they go around, and make no strange noises, I'm a happy chappy!
As anyone who has been on a bicycle trip will attest, puncture resistant tyres are a great asset on a bike! My Skyelander came supplied with Schwalbe Marathon Mondial Performance 35c tyres, and no, I didn't have a puncture. Thinking about it, it's been so long since I've had a puncture I should probably check the glue in my repair kit hasn't evaporated or become like concrete!
Fenders on a Touring Bicycle
I will make note of fenders or mudguards here. Some people seem to think that a touring bike is somehow naked without mudguards, or is in some way deficient if they don't have fenders! As I use the Skyelander in nice, sunny Greece, I simply don't need them. In addition, my personal preference is to not have fenders on a touring bike. This is due to a couple of incidents when bike touring in Alaska. I was cycling over ground so wet and clay like, that the mud would stick between the fenders and the wheels, preventing the wheel from turning. You would really have to experience this for yourself to realise how much of a pain it is. I'm sure like me, you would take the fenders off there and then and choose to never use them again!
I'll be honest here, and say that I am far from an expert on what gear ratios work best on a touring bike. If one mountain is a bit steeper than another one, I'll just put in a bit of extra leg power until the job is done. So, when it comes to gear ratios, I pretty much leave that in the hands of the bike builder. The Stanforth Skyelander features a Shimano XT triple chainset (26/36/48) and XT rear derailleur. I can attest that this works well, as I haven't had to get off the bike and push it up a hill… so far at least!
Boring Technical Details
Here's a list of the bike's specifications:
- Frame and Forks: Lugged frame hand built in England. Reynolds 631 main frame + fork, Reynolds 525 stays, 1″ threaded steerer.
- Headset: Tange Seiki Levin 1″ threaded
- Gear Shifters: Dura Ace 9 speed (friction/index) bar end shifters
- Rear Derailleur: Shimano Deore XT
- Front derailleur: Shimano Deore
- Chainset: Shimano Deore XT triple 9 speed 26/36/48
- Cassette: Shimano HG50 9 speed 11-34
- Brakes: Avid Shorty Ultimate cantilevers
- Levers: Tektro drilled hole RRL SR (black hoods)
- Rims: 700c Rigida sputniks 36 hole black – Hand-built wheels
- Hubs: Shimano Deore XT
- Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon Mondial Performance 35c
- Stem: Nitto Technomic Deluxe Tallux 80mm stem
- Saddle: Brooks C17 Cambium black
- Pedals: VP touring
- Finish: Dusk Blue double powder coat
- Racks: Tubus rear (I never fitted the front ones)
- Tyre clearance: 700c x 45c without fenders
Stanforth Skyelander Long Distance Touring Bike Final Review
I've had the good fortune to have owned and tested quite a few touring bikes over the years. During this time, I've come to realise that each make and model has its place. Some touring bikes are designed for the mass market, some are designed for people planning the around the world cycling trip of a lifetime, and some are built to last for years, offering great value for money over time. I believe that the Stanforth Skyelander falls into this last category.
The stand-out features for me are not just the components which go to make up the bike, but the general build quality itself. It's a bike built to last not just the next tour you have planned, but the dozen after that. And honestly, the best feature any steel touring bike can have? It doesn't give you any problems! That makes the Skyelander a winner for me! Note – I'll also be using this during my Hercules Bike Tour of the Peloponnese in Greece.
Find out more information about the Skyelander and other Stanforth bikes at – www.stanforthbikes.co.uk/