Setting out to challenge this theory, and to try to encourage more people to seek a cycling adventure, we looked around for two key elements: firstly we needed a bike to fit the bill, and then we needed something really special – a carbon specific pannier. As our expedition would be taking us to France, it was only logical, and indeed only polite to find a bike designed and made by this heart of cycling nation.
We contacted the iconic French brand ‘Look’, and were rewarded with their 765 Ultegra disc bike, in high modulus carbon, with a bit of flax also woven into the frame, to help with the spring when you’re riding off the roads and hitting the tracks. Having tested this on winter bridleways in the Yorkshire Dales, I’m now addicted to flax in frames, with the bike handling like a well broken in Mustang.
It’s all day bike, with a geometry suited for climbing, and tucks you neatly into the corners when descending too. The top tube length and overall angles keep you well seated for comfort and power transfer all day long. All we needed now then was find the panniers. Obviously thinking along the same lines as us, had been a young English engineer and designer, Nick Broadbent from Bristol, producing a sleek and unique product that could win awards on design alone.
The Tailfin is a simple, carbon constructed rack system that fits onto any bike without touching the frame, weighing only 350 grammes, which is less than a can of coke, and allowing you to fit two pannier backs that lock onto the rack and stay stable wherever you ride. Trust me, some of the rustic roads of northern France would wobble anything loose, but on our 1100 km ride over 11 days, not one rattle was heard or felt. In terms of aesthetics, it looks sleeker than a wet ferret, and more stylish than than David Beckham, and will guarantee to not get sent off at that crucial moment.
Fastening the Tailfin onto the bike is simplicity itself, with a strong rubber strap and fastener that locks around the seat post, and a special axle replacement/ quick release for the rear wheel, with two protruding pegs onto which the lower arms of the Tailfin fit and lock into place with the superbly designed clamps. Security is further enhanced with torx screws for you to lock it onto the bike to deter thieves. All that you need to do then, is to drop the Tailfin bags onto the arms on the top bar of the device and use the lever clamp to lock them down … voila.
Two key issues should be mentioned here, for the benefit of anyone thinking of cycle touring. How much kit can you fit into the 22 litre bags, and how waterproof are they?
Tailfin themselves state that the two bags on each Tailfin device should be limited to 18 kg, which I’m certain we used to its full capacity. Despite riding in a torrential Normandy storm too, everything inside the bags remained dry and fresh, meaning we looked like bobby dazzler tourists when we’d cleaned ourselves up in the evening, and like stylish cyclists the following morning when the sun decided to shine.
How good is the Tailfin then; it’s a game changer, really it is. This innovative bunch of Bristol based engineers have redefined cycle touring, opening up the long haul expedition to anyone with a carbon bike. Instead of the extra expense of a touring specific bike, you can save money for socialising and eating well along the way. On our initial 11 day ride from Mont st Michel, to the heart of France and back to the iconic island, it was looked at in awe by the people we met along the way, and the only instability was our own mental state after 100 km into a headwind.
We’ll be writing more over the coming weeks, about the trip and the kit we used, along with more useful tips and advice for would be adventurers. It’s not often you can say that a product has totally reinvented an element of activity, but Tailfin has done just that. All that’s left for now is for you to visit the Tailfin website and book your future expedition, by adding one to your own cycling kit and add even more miles to your life.