Reportage

Ryan Wilson’s Rig in Review: 8 Months in Asia on the Tumbleweed Prospector

I’ll be honest, the thought of a new bike is not something that really gets me terribly excited these days.  The places it can take me and the people I will meet along the way?  Definitely!  But when a post pops up on this site or any of the other bike-related sites I visit that starts getting into new-fangled hub spacings or microscopic geometry tweaks and angles, my brain tends to glaze over and forcibly pushes my hand toward clicking on the next article.  The things I look for when selecting a bike for my next big trip are based almost entirely on practicality and reliability.  I just want a bike that I don’t have to think about.

Does it have all of the little mounting points I need to jam my whole life solidly onto the bike?  Can it fit a tire size that will take me anywhere I want to go?  Will it NOT handle like a soggy Peruvian French fry once it’s loaded down to the tune of about 120 pounds crossing the Atacama desert?  Can I fling it up onto the roof of a Jeep in Tajikistan and have it survive to my destination?  If the answers to those questions are “yes”, it has officially piqued my interest.

In 2017, about a year into my trip through South America, I had mentally hit the point of no return with derailleurs for these lengthy excursions. Anyone who has been on a long tour knows that shit happens, and it happens often.  It comes at you in waves.  Your bike is going to fall over, smashing that fancy derailleur into the ground outside of a little ‘tienda’ in Chile.  That curious kid in Bolivia will take a few yanks at it after he’s done getting his chocolate-covered fingerprints all over your disc rotors while you’ve got your back turned.  You can pack a few spare derailleur hangers and fine-tune the system until you’ve got bloody fingers, but eventually, the hassle of constantly babying your drivetrain is going to get to you.

When I initially decided what I wanted out of my bike for South America, I chose a 1X system based on simplicity, familiarity, and (theoretical) repairability.  I knew that if something went wrong I’d have some basic idea about how to address it.  The idea of an internal gear system like a Rohloff or Pinion just seemed so far outside of my mechanical wheelhouse to take with me to faraway places.  If I had a problem, I guess I’d be totally SOL?  However, after many years on the road and meeting with countless other long-term bike travelers with stories along the lines of “I’ve got 100,000 carefree kilometers on my Rohloff that I bought used from a guy behind a 7-11 eight years ago and haven’t missed a shift since!”, I started to get the idea that maybe I was too quick to judge, and began thinking about switching to a setup based around a Rohloff.

Prospecting

Along with being the year of my Rohloff revelation, 2017 also happened to be the year that Daniel Molloy, founder of Tumbleweed Bikes, officially released the first official version of the Prospector into the wild.  It was a bike that was designed specifically to solve many of the problems that he had come across through years of riding chubby tire bikes throughout remote stretches of the planet.

Daniel had been relying on Rohloff equipped bikes for years and while he loved the system, he was never quite satisfied with how the integration of it was handled across various frames.  Funky mounts or chain tensioners seemed less than ideal.  As he was building the Prospector very specifically with the Rohloff in mind, that’s where the idea of using a Phil Wood Eccentric Bottom Bracket came in to play.   It allows you to not only adjust the tension of the chain while keeping the axle locked solidly into position, but it also gives you the ability to raise or lower your BB height based on which diameter tires you’re using, whether it be full 26×4 fat tires, 29er, 29+, or my favorite, 27.5+.

Another problem that Daniel was trying to solve was how to keep the Q-factor narrow enough to feel “normal” while still squeezing in a meaty tire.  For me personally, I find that I adjust pretty easily to Q-factor after a few rides, but to those that are more sensitive to it, having a 73mm BB as opposed to the 100mm offerings on many traditional fat-tire bikes offers a more natural pedal stroke, and it’s definitely easier to source parts for while abroad.  To achieve this, Daniel and his team had to design a custom yoke that was capable of squeezing everything in.

At the time that the first version of the Prospector was released I remember looking over all of the details and thinking, “hmm, this looks like it was made almost exactly for me.”  So, when I was given the chance to throw a leg over one for my trip to the mountainous regions of Asia, I had to jump at it!

My Experience

As I mentioned before, when it comes to a bike that I plan to live off of for any stretch of time, reliability is at the very top of the list of things I’m looking for, and this is where the Prospector truly shines.  I haven’t thrown it on a scale, but it probably won’t make a gram counter’s heart flutter with excitement.  The steel tubing is definitely burly and made to take the added weight of gear and the abuse of rough terrain.  My theory is that the weight of a touring bike is far less important than how solid and stable everything is.  If the handling is out of whack once it’s loaded down or you’ve got bags flopping around and rubbing your tire, or constantly needing adjusting, you’ll definitely be thinking about all of these things rather than how many extra grams your bike is with X instead of Y.

In general, my setup for Asia was not dramatically different than what I dialed-in during my time in South America.  I loved the Pass and Stow 5-rail rack with the F-Stop Kenti camera bag that I could remove and wear as a backpack when I wanted to lighten up the front-end for hike-a-bike purposes or simply to walk into a store with my valuables slung on my shoulder.  The Porcelain Rocket 52Hz Framebag and Mr. Fusion are no-brainers at this point.  I did switch up the dependable yet excessively rattly Ortlieb front panniers for a pair of far more rough-road friendly Porcelain Rocket Microwave panniers.  These not only stay glued to their position rattle-free, they are also a bit slimmer, which helps to make the bike more maneuverable between obstacles.  All while not losing the easy-on, easy-off functionality of traditional panniers.

With everything loaded up, the stability of the Prospector was the first thing I noticed.  Everything about the bike just felt smooth and confident.  I know I’m onto the right formula when I’m rolling down a rocky descent and the mechanical workings of the bike and all of the bags strapped to it just disappear beneath me.  I stop thinking about the bike altogether.

The Rohloff

I won’t beat around the bush here, I have officially converted to the Church of Rohloff and now pray to the German gods of engineering.  OK, maybe I won’t go that far, but it’s true that once you get a slice of that internal-gear hub life, it’s hard to think about going back to a derailleur for this type of riding.  Yes, it does tend to make your rear-wheel feel like it’s eaten a few too many Nepali samosas, and the grip-shifting aspect takes some getting used to if you’re coming from thumb shifters (not to mention they can be a little slippery in the rain), but the benefits far outweigh the small gripes.

While the inner-workings of the hub itself are far too complicated for my simple mind to get a handle on should something go catastrophically wrong, Rohloff has a long track record of reliability, and that held true during my time using it.  With a perfect chain-line keeping the wear and tear to a minimum, and no long and dangly fragile bits hanging halfway down to the ground, there are far fewer points of failure to be concerned about.  If there’s one thing that worries me most I’d say it’s probably damaging the brake rotor in a significant way in a place virtually anywhere outside of Europe or North America, as it requires a Rohloff-specific rotor as a replacement.  So, that is definitely something to be cautious with.

Otherwise, as the chain stretches you may have to occasionally take up the slack using the two screws under the bottom bracket and adjusting the Phil Wood Eccentric BB, something that can be done in a few minutes with basic tools.  Every 5,000 kilometers or so you should also look to change the oil that keeps the hub running smoothly, but that’s essentially it.  The 14-gears provide a range slightly wider than a typical 1×12 setup, and being able to shift through the entire range of gears without moving is a nice bonus, but the most important factor to me is what it excels at the most, it just works.

Knight Composites Carbon Wheels

Initially, the idea of taking carbon wheels to far-flung places on a fully-loaded rig seemed like a scary proposition to me.  There’s no doubt I had visions of a major rim failure happening in a place where I’d be thousands of miles from a suitable replacement.  After going back and forth for a while I decided to go for it and give them a shot since Knight Composites designed these specifically with bikepacking in mind, making me feel better about their ability to hold up

Now that I’ve put plenty of miles on them, I can say that I’m very impressed.  They’ve got compliance in all of the right places to keep the ride quality smooth over rough terrain, but most of all I was pretty blown away by the durability.  I had a few rim strikes that really made me wince in horror when they initially happened.  I thought I’d certainly done some serious damage as similar impacts on my old alloy wheels typically resulted in major dents to the rim and perhaps some sealant spraying out.  On these?  Not even a mark!

Does everyone need $2,000 wheels on their touring bikes?  Certainly not.  But if money were no object, these certainly fit in well on a dream-build or on the rig of an ultra-distance racer.  See more details at Knight Composites!

In Conclusion

If you’re looking for a long-distance tourer and fancy finding yourself on an assortment of rough roads and trails along your journey, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a setup better for that than a Prospector with a Rohloff hub.  No other bike tackles all of the necessary details like this one, in my opinion.  If you’re simply looking for an occasional weekender bikepacking rig your decision would be a bit trickier as you might favor something a bit lighter in weight or with a more “lively” ride characteristic to enjoy unloaded, but this one is dialed in for those eyeing multi-week, month, or year trips.

As always, Daniel at Tumbleweed is tweaking the frame with each model-run to make improvements, so with the newly announced 3rd revision of the Prospector, he’s added the ability to fit a 27.5×3.8″ tire.  This is a big bonus in my eyes as it opens up the possibility to run a fat tire or a plus tire without requiring multiple wheelsets.  In addition, they’ve also added internal routing for a dropper post and a slick new Desert Sage paint scheme.

The new models are available for pre-order now for shipment in mid-November over at Tumbleweed.cc, but they’re selling fast and the next batch of frames likely won’t come in until next summer, so get ’em while they’re hot!  Check out the specs of my ride from Asia below…

The Bike:
Frame/Fork: Tumbleweed Prospector V2, Size XL
Drivetrain: Rohloff Speedhub
Crank: Shimano SLX 32t
Sprocket: 16t
Rims: Knight Composites 27.5+ carbon
Front Hub: SON Dynamo
Tires: Maxxis Chronicles EXO/TR 27.5×3”
Headlamp: Schmidt Edelux II
Brakes: Paul Klampers
Handlebar: Jones H-Bar Loop
Grips: ESI Extra Chunky
Saddle: Brooks Cambium C17 Carved All Weather
Seatpost: Thomson Elite 31.6mm
Stem: Salsa Guide
Front Rack: Pass and Stow 5-rail

The Bags:
F-Stop Kenti camera backpack as rack bag
Porcelain Rocket 52Hz Framebag
Porcelain Rocket Microwave Panniers
Porcelain Rocket Mr Fusion seat pack
Porcelain Rocket DSLR Slinger Stem bag
Choike Jumbo Stem bag
RandiJo Jeff N Joans bag
Revelate Designs Top Tube Bags