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Spa Cycles' Wayfarer is an out-and-out touring bike with a quality frame and fork and a solid spec for an attractive price. A relentlessly draggy and jarring ride turned out to be almost entirely the fault of the tyres.
The 'Wayfarer' name is a nod to the early days of rough-stuff riding and what we would now call adventure touring (they just called it touring in them days). 'Wayfarer' was the byline of cyclist and writer Walter MacGregor Robinson, whose exploits a century ago inspired a whole movement that coalesced into the Rough Stuff Fellowship.
There's a fair bit about Spa Cycles' dedicated touring bike that Robinson would have recognised: a steel frame and fork, plenty of braze-ons for rack and mudguard mounts, a leather saddle and the stylish British Racing Green paint job. He might also have been familiar with the weight of a package like this, and if he lugged something similar over the Welsh mountain passed then good on him, I say.
The frame is, for the most part, a handsome thing, neatly welded from Reynolds 725 heat-treated tubes. This is a lightweight tubeset but the inclusion of frame gussets, presumably for extra stiffness, rather offsets this.
The paint looks traditional, but up close reveals a glittery depth that's very appealing. Spa uses a process called Electrophoretic Deposition for the paint, and it makes for a quality finish that certainly seems to stand up to some robust use. It only comes in green, though; or blue if you're choosing a short frame.
There's everything you could need in terms of places to attach things: two bottle mounts inside the frame (Spa supplied the cages) and a third under the down tube. The fork comes with low-mount rack mounts and separate mudguard eyelets. At the back, the mudguards and rack also have their dedicated places, all neatly done. The Tubus rack comes as standard and is good for 25kg of gear.
The TRP Spyre cable-operated disc brakes are the main addition to this incarnation of Spa's touring bike. The big advantage of fitting disc brakes is that it frees up a lot of space for tyre clearance, and this was huge both back and front, even with the full-length SKS mudguards and 32mm tyres. You could go much bigger, stick a mountain bike transmission on and call it a gravel bike.
Frames come in four sizes, between 47cm and 58cm, and two 'lengths', meaning you should be able to find one that's right for you depending on your height and reach. After discussions with Spa, I chose the 58cm Long frame size and it was an excellent fit (I am 6ft 3in).
That amazing stack of spacers under the stem amounts to 75mm. I did ride it like this, once, to see if I could understand why some tourists ride in this position (I couldn't). After that I dropped the bar to the level of the saddle and that gave me a still fairly upright ride – enough to remind me I wasn't on the speedy bike now, but still with somewhere to go (the drops) to get out of the headwind that seemed to blow without end through the test period.
The enormous 1,109mm wheelbase made for an incredibly stable ride, not to mention outstanding toe clearance, even for my size 11s. While high-speed cornering was in short supply due to the nature of the riding and the endless headwinds I encountered, this still felt like the most stable and non-threatening bike to take down a hill.
Similarly, if you've ever been blown off your bike – and that's not nearly as funny as it sounds (unless you're watching it happen to someone else) – then you can be sure it's never going to happen on the Wayfarer, which rode straight and true into belting Pennine gales. The neutral head angle made steering steady; the fairly steep seat angle kept my weight over the cranks for slow-speed hill toils.
The TRP Spyres proved adequate performers once bedded in – which is to say, they were quite capable of pulling up a laden tourer in descent, quite a bit to ask of any brake. The rear seemed to lack the evident bite of the front brake. I'll put that down to the longer cable run. The frame bracings at the rear dropouts are a bit agricultural to my eyes, but necessary for disc braking forces and to ensure enough stiffness for heavy load carrying.
Given a free choice over how the bike should be specced, it was tempting to go for the best of everything but I opted to stick fairly closely to the basic package. This included Spa Cycles' own triple chainset with its Zircal chainrings. Those are really smart; the chainset itself is a bit rough and ready in comparison but stiff enough for sure.
Shifting at the front, taken care of by a Shimano Sora triple mech, seemed fine in the workstand, but on the road I had some difficulty getting down onto the small ring, with any hint of a load on the chain. I resorted to an unusually wide gap between mech and chain in the lowest gear, and used the trim function to reduce chain rub in higher gears. That's what trim is for, I suppose, but it wasn't an elegant solution. (I have achieved perfect shifting on another bike with identical spec so it can be done with a bit of patience).
The rear combination of a Shimano Deore mountain bike mech on an 11-32 9-speed cassette worked flawlessly in combination with the Sora STI shifters.
At this price, handbuilt wheels from Spa's own workshop are a rare and welcome addition. These are built with Sapim double-butted spokes on Kinlin rims (32 holes at the front and 36 at the back) and were good and tight. They've built up into tough, smart-looking wheels that will undoubtedly be strong enough for some serious touring.
The rear hub is a trusty Shimano Deore, disc version. At the front, one of my upgrades was to an SP PD8 dynohub, allowing for an SP/B&M dynamo lighting upgrade that added £125 to the price.
The lights are good and bright enough for daytime running and murky conditions. One welcome feature is that they have little auxiliary bulbs that run on after you stop moving. I reckoned on an extra five minutes' glow-time.
Seatpost, stem and bar are all standard FSA fare and worked fine, though I didn't much like the handlebar and couldn't find a comfortable position anywhere. The tape is Spa's own and is traditional cork-type and decently thick.
The saddle, one of Spa Cycles' own range of leather seats, looks like it might account for half the weight of the bike but it's surprisingly okay when you take it off to check. I found it comfortable from the start, though a bit too wide for me. I also have one of Spa's saddles with titanium rails, which comes in a sportier cut that suits me well. I fitted that for the rest of the test. They're definitely worth a look as they're good value.
Spa threw in one of its canvas saddle bags. I like this: plenty of room inside for full waterproofs, tools, snacks and so on. It attaches with three simple straps. I suppose you can attach it to the bar, as in the photos, but more traditionally it's secured through the saddle loops and on the seatpost, Carradice-style. I thought the quick-release buckles made it more practical, if slightly less stylish, than a Carradice.
The dynamo also powered a USB phone charger, made by Adept Electronics. This worked only when the lights were switched off, and above a certain speed. The elongated shape was most bike-unfriendly and made it difficult to find anywhere on the frame or bar where it would fit comfortably. It also tended to slip out of the inadequate Velcro strap.
One small change I made over the standard spec was that I opted for a 50/40/30 chainset over the standard 48/38/28. I should have listened to Spa Cycles really, as even on unladen bedding-in rides around my local hills I plummeted into the gearing basement at every hill. I thought I would grind to a complete halt once loaded up but managed not to, in spite of taking it fully-laden over the North Pennines in what can only charitably described as 'early spring' conditions.
My other complaint was that the bike delivered a chattery, jarring ride over anything less than good surfaces. Even small stones sent a sharp jolt up through the bar, which I've never experienced on any of my steel bikes.
There's no doubt that the nearly 15kg weight of the supplied build is one of the reasons it's a grind on the climbs, but even on the flat, where the weight counts for less, the Wayfarer was reluctant to maintain any pace. The best description I can offer for the ride is that it was like piloting a tandem when the stoker's trying to have an easy day. If I tried putting in extra power, to coax the bike along, my ghostly stoker backed off even more. Throw in a minor gradient, or a headwind, and I was straight down into the small ring.
My winter Pennine crossing, from Consett to Penrith, amounted to 60 miles, and 6,000 feet of climbing, into a relentless westerly wind. It took me eight-and-three-quarter hours; an average of just over 7mph. At the end, I was pedalling the biggest squares seen outside of Elton John's spectacles case. Even in much more benign conditions, on fairly level riding and over 30 miles or so, I had to have a rest day the next day.
I'd had my suspicions all along that the Schwalbe Marathon tyres might be contributing to these unwelcome qualities. Eventually, I swapped them for a pair of Continental Contacts, which I knew to be comfortable and surprisingly quick because I've put in a thousand miles on them on my winter bike.
The transformation was incredible. I had my stoker back! Now, when I put in some extra effort, the bike responded by going quicker! I found myself riding in the middle ring where I had been in the small ring, and the large where I'd been in the middle. Not only that, but the tooth-rattling, jarring ride over rough tracks was tamed.
It's the most remarkable turnaround. The Wayfarer went from being a bike I couldn't wait to see the back of, to one that I'd certainly recommend for serious touring duties, though the overall weight means there are better places to look in Spa's range for more versatile all-rounders.
At £1,351 the Wayfarer compares very well on price with some obvious competitors – even better when you consider most of the extra £250 cost over the basic package is accounted for by the dynamo hub and lighting system.
The basic package at £1,090 still includes the same quality handbuilt wheelset, which is rare on a bike at the thousand pound mark, and the frame, fork and finish are all very good.
Another option, the Thorn Club Tour Mark 5, also offers Reynolds 725 tubing, disc brakes and big clearances, with prices starting from £1,675.
The Spa Cycles Wayfarer came close to getting a bad review; with the supplied tyres it was such a drag to ride I needed a lie down after every outing. Switching the tyres changed all that and we are parting as friends. It goes to show how one poor component choice can scupper a good bike – a lesson for bike suppliers as well as customers.
Super looking bike, well specced for the money and a surprisingly good ride for the weight – once you swap the tyres
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Spa Cycles Wayfarer
Size tested: 58cm Long
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
From Spa Cycles:
Frame Wayfarer 58cm BRG Long
Headset Tange Terious SRN
Bottom Bracket F-2001
Chainset XD2 silver 175mm 50/40/30 blk rings
Wheelset Rims Kinlin XD-230 32/36h blk
Front hub SP PD8 dynohub 6 bolt blk 32h
Rear hub Deore 6 bolt blk 36h
Spokes Stainless db silver
Cassette HG400 11/32 9spd
Tyres Marathon HS420 700x32
Chain KMC 9spd
Front Mech Sora front mech
Rear Mech Deore M591 blk
Gear Shifters Sora 9spd STI
Brake Levers Sora 9spd STI
Brake Calipers TRP Spyre
Saddle Spa Nidd Brown
Seat Pin FSA SL-280
Collar Clamp Spa 29.8mm
Headset Spacer 75mm spacers + stem
Stem FSA OS-168 110mm
Handlebars FSA Wing Compact 44cm
Bartape/Grips Spa EVA Black Cork + Gel Pads 5
Mudguards SKS Chromoplastic black
Rear Rack Tubus Cargo Black
Misc. SP/B&M Dynamo Lighting Upgrade
Cyo IQ Premium T Senso+/Toplight Line Plus
Adept Electronics Velohub USB Charger
Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Spa Cycles says: "Sharing its DNA with our hugely successful Tourer the Wayfarer adds disc brakes and bigger clearances for more control, comfort and versatility.The frame is built from ovalised Reynolds 725 to give the stiffness needed for heavy load carrying with the compliance needed for long days in the saddle. Wide tyre clearance 47mm (with mudguards), three sets of bottle bosses, rack mounts, mudguard eyes and removable canti bosses cover all eventualities. It comes equipped with handbuilt wheels, wide range touring gearing and quality components including a Tubus rack, leather saddle, Schwalbe Marathon tyres and SKS mudguards."
This is an accurate description of the bike.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
The Wayfarer comes as a basic package at £1,090 but you can tweak the spec and add extra accessories more or less to your heart's content. Speak to Spa Cycles to discuss your build; they were very helpful.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
A tidy build with neat welds. It's a lightweight tubeset, though the strengthening gussets rather offset that. The Racing Green finish is attractive, with glittery flecks for a modern touch. It seems hardwearing.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Reynolds 725 ovalised tubeset.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Frame and fork tested was the 58cm Long configuration – the largest in the range. A fairly slack head angle makes for good toe clearance and steady steering response. This is a good degree less than a Trek 520 Disc gravel bike for an equivalent frame size, for example.
The 74 degree seat angle is common in tourers; it puts your weight right over the bottom bracket, which is good for long, seated climbs if you don't like shunting too far forward in the saddle.
Head angle, 70.5
Seat angle, 74 degrees
Effective top tube 586.5mm
Seat tube 580mm (BB centre to top)
Fork rake 59mm
Head angle 70.5
Seat angle 74degrees
The frame also comes in short versions for each frame size. See the Spa Cycles website for details.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
I found the bike a good fit for my 6ft 3in, with plenty of room between saddle and bar to move about as required. The front end is tall even without the 75cm stack of headset spacers! With the saddle and bar roughly level, I got a slightly upright riding position for better viewing of the landscape, though I was glad to be in the drops to escape headwinds.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
I found the bike comfortable on smooth roads but poor surfaces and even quite small stones resulted in a chattering ride that grew tiring very quickly. A change of tyres worked wonders.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
This bike is very stiff (look at those reinforcing plates at the rear dropout!). This may also contribute a bit to the rather direct road feel.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
To begin with, no, and I was at a loss as to where all my mighty power went. Late note: it went into turning the Schwalbe Marathon tyres.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
None at all, even with full-length mudguards and my size 11 feet.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Entirely neutral. Adding load front or rear made little difference.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
This is a very stable bike to ride. In spite of the huge wheelbase I steered it comfortably through Sustrans' best bike mazes. In high winds it's well anchored.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The leather saddle is more comfortable than you might think, even while breaking in – if it fits your bottom. I found it a bit wide. I didn't much like the bar and found it hard to find any position that was comfortable for more than a few minutes. I have the flared version of the same bar on another bike and I'm not keen on that either.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The frame and fork, obviously the Reynolds 725 tubes are quite light but they're well gusseted in places for strength, so that must offset the light weight. Once I'd changed the tyres, it felt much more like I would expect a nice steel frame to ride. The FSA stem and bar are very rigid too.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The tyres generated an incredible amount of drag.
The weight's a bit of an issue, but once I ditched the tyres a lot of the resistance to forward motion vanished.
Ye cannae change the laws of physics.
Not many high speeds reached. On descents, the bike was the least frightening I have ever ridden.
Loaded or unloaded, the long wheelbase makes this completely predictable.
Good, although as the luggage weight increases, like any bike, it becomes slightly unwieldy.
For a big load carrier, once I changed the tyres, it climbed steadily and could even be persuaded to accelerate! Low gears are a big help.
The 9-speed Deore mech at the rear meshed perfectly with the Sora shifters. At the front, it could be difficult to get the chain to drop onto the small ring.
Solid touring components, good quality chainrings. The chainset is adequate but the finish is quite basic.
Good at the price for the bike. Can be upgraded.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
In hindsight I would have geared this lower (as Spa Cycles recommended!); the front shifting wasn't entirely sweet, but I have succeeded on another bike with identical setup in getting this spot on, so be patient.
Wheels and tyres
Solid handmade touring wheels on good quality components.
These are well-built and specced touring wheels; expect them to withstand some adventurous use.
The dynamo hub undoubtedly adds to the rolling resistance in weight and generator drag. It's an unavoidable price for the lighting system.
These are load carriers, which takes priority over comfort, but once shod with comfortable rubber they felt good.
In a bike starting at just over £1,000 the inclusion of these handbuilt wheels is a real bonus.
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
It's hard to separate the wheel performance from the tyres, but having another set of Spa Cycles handbuilt wheels on my Thorn Audax I know how smooth, stiff and quick-rolling these can be, even with 32mm tyres on. So I suspected the tyres and not the wheels were the culprits when it comes to the chattery ride quality. A change of tyres confirmed this.
Schwalbe Marathons are puncture resistant first and foremost. The ride was jarringly unpleasant and they created considerable drag.
Puncture-protected and hardwearing. It's why people fit them.
At 640g each according to the internet, it's a lot of extra rolling weight.
Even quite small stones sent a jarring bump through the bike.
Standard in the package and good quality for the price, but ask Spa to fit something else.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
They very nearly spoiled the bike for me. Draggy on the roads, jarring and easily deflected on gravel and old railway tracks. Once ejected, it was a different ride.
Adequate for the heavy job required.
Nothing broke! Sensible choices overall for hardworking touring duties.
Not really the key thing here; strength and reliability first!
I didn't like the bar. The shifter ergonomics were okay but the reach for the brake levers is big when in the drops.
Good at the price of the bike.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The TRP Spyre Cable disc brakes performed adequately once bedded in, with enough bite to bring the heavy load to a halt. The rear brake never generated enough power to stop the bike on its own, though the front one could. I put this down to the losses in the cables and casings. OK, but not a patch on hydraulics.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
The FSA seatpost is simple and secure, held firmly by Spa's own clamp.
Also from FSA, the stem was good, and although I found the bar hard on the hands – which is unusual for me – Spa's own bar tape is simple and pleasant.
The SKS guards – essential winter kit – are excellent and were well fitted. The clearance is huge.
I like the Tubus rack, too, which will carry up to 25kg.
The bike was supplied with a B&M Cyo IQ Premium T Senso+/Toplight Line Plus dynamo lightset which was plenty bright enough for visibility at night or in the winter murk. They stay lit for 5 minutes after you stop riding, too.
An Adept Electronics Velohub USB Charger also ran from the dynamo (when the lights were turned off). This worked okay, but its shape meant it didn't seem to fit sensibly anywhere on the bike.
The Spa Cycles saddlebag was a nice surprise too: masses of room inside, tough and water-repellent. The quick-release buckles made it practical to use.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Up until I changed the tyres, definitely not. After that, yes!
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes, if I had room in the stables for a touring-only bike.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Anyone looking for an out-and-out tourer should consider this.
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It compares very well. The Genesis Tour de Fer 20 is an obvious comparison, with the same 725 tubeset, a lower-geared triple chainset and good quality wheels with a Shimano dynamo front hub running B&M lights. Listed at £1,499.99.
The Thorn Club Tour Mark 5 also offers Reynolds 725 tubing, disc brakes and big clearances, with prices starting from £1,675.
We still like the Dawes Super Galaxy. Still a classic at £1,499.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Strictly speaking, the bike as supplied should have earned the Wayfarer a 5 or lower, because it was no fun to ride. Touring can be hard enough, without the bike fighting against you as well. Once the tyres had been identified as the culprit the Wayfarer came through: it's a quality frame and fork, great wheels, practical kit for the money and a capable load carrier. The classic looks are a bonus.
About the tester
I usually ride: Cannondale CAAD10 My best bike is: Tomassini Prestige
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb,