Dawes Galaxy Plus

The trials and tribulations of finding a decent shop selling touring bikes

When I decided to cycle end-to-end I didn’t have a suitable bike and therefore started out by finding out what bikes other people use to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats (and other cycle tours). The only real parameters I had at this stage were that I’d already discovered from talking to colleagues at work that my employer’s Cycle to Work scheme was a good deal, giving a saving of about 40% over the cost of a new bike, up to a maximum of £1,000.  Given it seemed unlikely that I would get a 40% discount on a new bike normally, I decided to go down this route.  Only a smallish number of independent bike shops in Central Scotland were authorised dealers under the C2W scheme (excluding Halfords which I was advised to avoid at all costs) and so my criteria were that I needed to find a suitable bike costing up to £1,000 in any one of about eight bike shops.

Easy, you might think. Wrong.

From personal experience, here are my three ‘lessons’ of buying a touring bike:

  • you won’t be able to compare two bikes in the same shop
  • you will struggle to get any sensible advice and buying tips for touring bikes in your local bike shop
  • they will want you to commit to buying a bike from them even before you’ve had a chance to test it out.

My guess is that the typical half-decent bike shop probably stocks 40% road bikes, 40% mountain bikes, 19% kids/electric/folding bikes and 1% ‘other’.  The ‘other’ category might include one touring bike if you’re lucky.  That is, if they have one in stock.  And some shops will only be a den of carbon and lycra and will look very disparagingly at you for asking such a stupid question.

In my experience you will never find more than one make of touring bike in the same shop and if they do happen to have one you’re keen to see, it will be the wrong frame size.  Comparison shopping is clearly a misnomer when it comes to buying a touring bike (at least where I live).

My second rule is that – unsurprisingly – since touring bikes are bit of a novelty, then none of the sales staff know anything about them.  Forget trying to get answers to even basic questions.  “I can give you a brochure which should help“, and “No, we don’t see much demand for these, I’m afraid” were the kinds of responses I got.

Finally, when I did find a shop which was a stockist for a bike I was interested in but which they didn’t have in stock, they wanted a non-refundable deposit of £50 up-front.  Here’s a message to those bike shops who are keener to take your money than make sure they find the right bike for you: if the one bike I was specifically interested in wasn’t suitable then it’s highly unlikely I’m going to want to buy one from your shop !

Which bike ?

Given the lack of useful information I could glean from bike shops (don’t get me started on brand-obsessed cycling magazines …!) my main source of buyers’ advice were internet forums (the CTC Forum in particular) and several good websites.  Here there’s no shortage of helpful cyclists offering their advice freely.

I found out that touring bikes generally have the following features:

  • a strong frame (usually steel) to carry camping and other equipment, and to give greater comfort and withstand shocks in the road
  • stronger wheels compared with other bikes, often 700c with 32 or 36 spokes
  • wider tyres, typically 32mm
  • wider gear ratios, normally with three rather than two chainrings, for getting up hills fully laden
  • mudguards
  • pannier racks and fixings for front and rear panniers on the frame
  • a long wheelbase and relaxed riding position
  • dropped handlebars, although straight and butterfly bars are also common.

Within my budget and set of stockists – this was in Spring 2014 – I narrowed the choice down to the following bikes:

#  not available on my C2W scheme

** actually, these bikes were not available when I bought mine in 2014 but I’m including them here to widen the choice of bikes that others might consider.  They are currently available at the time of writing (Spring 2015).

After several weeks of visiting various bike shops I made little progress in choosing the right bike for me.  In spite of being a serious buyer I had exhausted the authorised C2W scheme stockists in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth.  Not only were they completely useless when it came to buying a touring bike most staff also assumed I already had a certain level of technical and brand knowledge (about gears, brakes, chainsets etc) and often their arrogance was staggering.

During this time I also pored over internet forums but also found this quite a frustrating experience.  What I discovered about the information on online forums is that people all have different experiences, they’re all different body shapes and sizes, and they have different personal choices and prejudices – often, firmly held !  I slowly managed to fathom the pros and cons of different technical aspects of bikes although often I found (and still find) the jargon quite impenetrable.

In the end I decided to buy a Dawes Galaxy Plus.  Why ?  Well, it’s very much the classic touring bike with a strong second-hand market should I ever decide to sell it.  I also preferred to have disc brakes given the extra weight I’d be carrying; this seemed to me to be introduced on a growing number of models and was much more cost-effective to buy on a new bike than fit later on.

But what really swung it was the final bike shop I visited – Hardie Bikes in Cairneyhill, near Dunfermline.  What this shop lacks in terms of size it makes up for in the quality of the advice I got from Bill Hardie.  In contrast to the young sales staff in some of the chain shops I had confidence from many years of experience that he knew what he was talking about.  Hardie Bikes are Dawes stockists and so were able to answer my (many) naive, beginner’s questions with lots of patience.  So even though I’d never even seen or tried out the exact bike I chose I went ahead and ordered it on the basis of sound advice from someone who listened and understood what I was after.  I wasn’t disappointed.

In retrospect and with the benefit of greater knowledge I now realise that you can sometimes get significant savings on older models of bikes, sometimes approaching 30 – 40%.  If you have time to research and/or wait for these savings to come up during the sales then this opens up the choice of bikes that aren’t available under a C2W scheme in your local bike shop.  While all more expensive than my Dawes (remember the net price of my Galaxy is £600), with the benefit of hindsight I would seriously look at the Spa Cycles Steel Tourer (and possibly the Genesis or Jamis) should I be looking to buy again.

So if you happen to live within a decent distance of a cycle touring specialist, such as Spa Cycles in Harrogate, then my advice is to go there first, ignoring your local bike shop full of overpriced lycra.  In buying a touring bike you want both a choice of bikes in the same shop so you can compare and contrast them – ideally taking them for a spin around the block – as well as sound advice from people who also go cycle touring.  Finally, finding someone who’s able to patiently answer beginner’s questions is invaluable.  Good luck !

 

 

11 Comments on “Lessons in buying a touring bike

  1. Pingback: LEJOG Packing List – Cycling Gear | Wild about Scotland

  2. Thank you for your blog entry. I have faced a similar situation recently and can tell you that stocks of touring bikes in many central London stores are just as lacking. The biggest worry is sizing. You would have thought that with 22 Evans stores, one of them would have something to show.

    I would urge a point of caution with all cycle to work schemes, C2W, Cyclescheme, or whatever else there may be. The 40% discount is just the headline figure. You also have to take into account what will happen at the end of the scheme, before you can take true ownership of your bike. You will find yourself having to pay as much as £250 for you bike once your ‘hire agreement’ has come to an end.

    I must admit to being worst the of all customers. I too was after a Dawes Galaxy Plus. I had my eye on the 2014 version, it was on the Evans website for £800 special offer, but no way to gauge size. I had also found an independent shop which specialises in Dawes bikes, they didn’t have a Plus in stock either, but they did have a similar Dawes model that I could try for size, but this shop would only have been able to to get the Galaxy Plus 2015 model for £999. Lucky I found them because the size I had in mind proved to be too big anyway. I applied for an £800 voucher from Cyclescheme, but by the time it came through Evans had sold the last of the 2014 models. I would now have to stump up the £200 difference. I was all prepared to go back to the independent shop when I, by chance, asked Evans about their Trade-In deal. I was surprised to hear them say they would take in an old bike, for which they would give me £100 off, even though I was using a Cyclescheme voucher. I do want to support smaller shops, indebted to them I am for having some bike to size myself against , but I can’t afford to throw £100 away either.

    That said, £100 might have been a small price to pay for getting the bike on time. I ordered the bike last week, and it was arranged that I would collect on Saturday. Indeed, I got an email from the shop to say the bike was ready, but when I got there it was missing the mudguards and rack – the hadn’t been supplied from the warehouse. It now won’t be ready until after the Bank Holiday weekend, time I had set aside to break in the new bike. Ho hum.

    (Sorry, this reply seems to have turned into a blog post of my own.)

    • Thanks for your comments which seem to echo some of my own experiences. For some reason, buying a touring bike and C2W schemes just don’t seem that compatible – it’s just a lottery as to whether you’re likely to find a shop with the right model in the right size in stock (at the right price !).

      I hope you’ve now got your new bike and are happy with it. The reason for my delay in replying was that I’m just back from cycling LEJOG on my Dawes. I’m very happy with mine – apart from regular maintenance to the chain and brakes I’m pleased to say it was trouble-free for over 1,000 miles.

  3. Bike shops charge non refundable deposits as if they were to order in a bike which you yourself have admitted they very rarely have any interest in and you either didn’t come back at all or didn’t buy a bike from them after trying it, they would be stuck with dead stock that is impossible for them to sell and they would lose money on.

    I am sure the £50 would have been deductible from any bike you bought from them, which would be more than reasonable. It may be a once in a lifetime purchase to you, but if bike shops ordered in bikes (in various sizes) for every person such as yourself who may be buying a bike, they would soon be out of business.

    • I understand why bike shops need to manage their stock but I guess my point is that this approach doesn’t work for potential customers. Yes, they would deduct a £50 deposit if you bought the bike from them. But if you’re interested in trying out 4 or 5 bikes first, then you’ve already shelled out £200 for nothing.

      I guess a touring bike is similar to any other specialist product. It’s the specialist retailers who attract the most business, not the generalists who can’t offer the right products. The only trouble is, the touring bike specialists all seem to be at least 4 hours drive away from me.

  4. I realise this is quite an old post now, but really handy for me as I’m currently trying to decide on a touring bike and am test riding a 2017 model of the Galaxy Plus today.

    The only thing I’d say is it’s important to distinguish between chains and independent bike shops. Places like Evans and Halfords employ people to sell bikes on the shop floor, and don’t care about how much knowledge they have, meaning the customer with lots of questions doesn’t always get the information they’re looking for. The fact that they pay their mechanics the same wage as the un-boxers (who literally unbox a bike and attach the handlebars and pedals) speaks volumes about their respect for people’s experience and knowledge when it comes to bikes.

    An independent bike shop, on the other hand, will usually be filled with staff who have been riding all different kinds of bikes for decades, and they’ll be there because they love bikes. They generally don’t pay brilliantly, so you’ll find people who have passion and enthusiasm and knowledge.

    I think it’s really important to support independent bike shops over the chains – so just wanted to point that out 🙂

    I’m feeling hopeful about the Galaxy Plus – I really want a Genesis Tour de Fer but am struggling to get my hands on one at the moment – bad timing!

    • Thanks, this is a great comment and echoes my experience as well. I agree it’s important to support local independent bike shops.

      But there’s a ‘but’. I found that many folk in independent bike shops don’t have specific experience of touring bikes and can’t answer detailed questions. At worst, they can come over as quite dismissive and only seem to stock ridiculously expensive road bikes.

      I don’t want to generalise – there are some great shops out there – but it’s worth searching out somewhere that really gives good service.

  5. Completely agree. I knew I wanted a touring bike; none of the local shops stocked any tourers let alone a female frame. Most staff did not seem to understand what a touring bike is and told me I needed a hybrid. I narrowed it down to Dawes and Raleigh and asked these two manufacturers to recommend a good stockist. Have just driven 50 miles to a Dawes stockist who was knowledgeable and helpful. Let’s support these shops and hope they stay in business against the large but uninformed big stores.

  6. I was looking at both a Trek 520 and Dawes Galaxy plus, the summer seems to be a bad time for touring bikes as the size I need in the Trek won’t be in the UK till November!

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