Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Sojourn in Tacoma : Bicycle Review

I've been riding my 2009 Raleigh Sojourn for a couple of weeks now.

If you want the short version, read this paragraph and then go look at some pictures: This is a great bike to do almost everything. It's a purpose-built tourer, with comfortable, all-day geometry and braze-ons galore. It's fast over long distances, is geared low enough to climb anything, and can carry a whole lot. Not a lightweight and not a small bike, the Sojourn feels out of place weaving in and out of dense city traffic, but will get you, and everything you need to bring with you, anywhere you need to go. Wide tires, big clearances, and full fenders mean it's equally at home on gravel and tow paths as it is on the road. For a rider that wants to do brisk-paced group rides and occasionally carry a load to work, one might be better served with its caliper-brake, skinny-tired cousin the CLUBMAN.


The Sojourn's simple, clean lines stand out compared with the flash graphics and loud style of most modern road bikes. Only the faux top tube protector, reading "Sojourn," and the headbadge with the classic Raleigh heron logo interrupt the plain Khaki tan of the frame and matching fork. Most noticable at a glance are the handlebars. They're WTB Mountain Drop Road bars, which have a shallow, wide drop that's perfect for commuting and touring. It's somewhere between a traditional drop and a moustache bar, and offers another hand position without taking one away. Nice. One other note is that WTB's website for some reason lists these bars as being "not compatible with bar end shifters." As the Sojourn has bar-ends and the MDRbars, it's clearly not true! The angle of the drops does make the barends exit pointing slightly outside the line of the bike's travel, which increases the overal width of the bike and makes them more vulnerable to damage in a crash.

(UPDATE - WTB says that the stock bars are, indeed, incompatible with barend shifters. The OEM equipment on the Raleigh Sojourn is slightly different than that which is available aftermarket. -- ed )

Road bikes with disc brakes are few and far between, but for the Pacific Northwest, they should not be. Yours Truly hadn't ridden a disc-equipped bike before, and so expected a dramatic increase in stopping power. I was surprised, then, just how little I noticed the Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes. Apart from a slight blade-on-whetstone dragging sound, the discs simply work. This is a big deal when I'm descending 15% Peasley Canyon Way, in the rain, with panniers of clothes and gear. They're easy to modulate and progressive, and I expect the pads will last quite a bit longer than the wet-weather Koolstop pads I'd been using before. Additionally, I won't eat rims as quickly, and if I did do a fully-loaded tour, I'd be happy not to risk overheating my tires down a big descent. Many racks are incompatible with disc brakes, but the Sojourn comes equipped with a heavyduty rack that bolts securely to the frame and clears the discs nicely.

Let's get this part out of the way: yes, the bike is heavy. It has to be. It's probably in the low thirty-something pound range, with racks and stuff. Whoever built the frame got to go to town with the brazing torch, though. The Sojourn sports a pump peg, a chain hanger, two spare spoke holders on the driveside chain stay, three bottle cage mounts, disc tabs, downtube cable guides, front and rear rack mounts, fender eyelets, and a clawfoot tub. I think the braze-ons put together weigh as much as a Scott Addict. You notice the weight when accelerating from a dead stop, but once you get rolling, the smoothness takes over. The 38mm Vittoria Randonneur tires roll reasonably well on road or gravel, have lots of puncture resistance, and reflective sidewalls, if you care about that.

The Shimano drivetrain is about as complex a mix as you can create from Big S's substantial parts catalogue, but it works well: 9-speed Dura-Ace barends, RC-453 (Tiagra-level) Octalink triple crank and Tiagra front derailleur, with a Deore Megarange mountain bike rear derailleur which lets 'em run a wide-ranging 11-34 SRAM cassette. The crank is both compact and triple, so it's got 30/39/50 rings -- a nice mix of gearing to climb anything, and a big ring that a heavy bike like that will actually use frequently. The downside is that there are big jumps in gears. For my purposes, using a bike like most use a car, I will probably switch to a 12-27 cassette to have more gear choices.

9-speed was probably the right choice for this bike, since it allowed the use of the mountain bike cassette and derailleur, but it also means that chains are easier to work with, the drivetrain is less sensitive to minor adjustment issues, and the 9-speed barends have a friction mode if all else fails. All of these things come in handy if you should suffer a mechanical problem in the middle of nowhere. So, too, will the included pair of spare spokes! Just remember to bring a wrench. While on the subject of field repairs, the Lezyne Pressure Drive pump, also included, is so awesome it'll get a review on its own behalf. It's a seriously good idea, retails for $35, and why didn't anyone make these sooner?

(Flat tires simulated. No inner tubes were harmed in the production of this review.)

Yours Truly had never ridden a Brooks leather saddle before, but the Sojourn has a B-17, plus Brooks leather bartape. It's comfortable enough for me! Saddle choice is of course a personal preference, and I'm not too picky, but, these things have legendary followings, even if they ought to be conditioned from time to time. Mostly I think the thing looks cool. You also get some high-quality pedals with metal toe clips that I promptly removed and put into a box in favor of the eternal Shimano M520 SPD MTB pedal. No bell, though. (The Raleigh One-Way has a bell. Ding!)

What else?

Next: On the road


  • At 1:45 AM , Blogger Eben said...

    Great review, great pictures, great bike! If this bike existed when we put Holly's Kona together we might have just bought it off the shelf (campy addiction notwithstanding). Anyway, I think it's about 99% perfect and I'm excited to recommend it to anyone looking for an off the shelf touring rig. Disc brakes are amazing in rain, mud, when fully loaded going down 10km of 8%, etc. I've got about 8000km on my pads and am just now wearing out the last slivers of compound. At this point I can't imagine an all season bike without them.

    My only (minor) complaint is the crankset/bb. Sure, 30/34 should be a low enough gear for most people in most situations but I think Shimano has done cyclists a disservice by designing their all of their road triples so that it's impossible to mount a granny gear smaller than 30, effectively making a wide range cassette the only option for a really low gear. Any traditional 74bcd road triple would allow you a 26 or 28t bailout granny with a more tightly spaced road cassette. A square taper bb would be nice for reliability and replacement part availability as well.

    Pet peeves aside though, I can't wait to head out into the wilds of the NW with you and see the Sojourn in action!

  • At 11:10 PM , Blogger Miriam. said...

    Nice review. It sounds like an excellent touring bike and long haul commuter. Plus its pretty and clean, something rarely seen these days. I have disc brakes on my mtb and I LOVE them. The only annoying part is if they get a little off or dirty (from taking a wheel out or the like) then they can sqwak like crazy.

    What do you have for a winter training/commuter bike?

  • At 1:36 PM , Blogger Argentius said...

    M - This IS my winter training / commuter bike! I might worry about the disc brakes being harder to service if I was touring overseas somewhere, but that's not really the plan. I bought the sojourn to essentially be my car.

    E - thanks! I think S makes a pretty big divide between its Road / MTB lines, and it might be unnecessary. The current highend stuff doesn't even really cross over. I agree that if you were making an "adventure touring bike," you might want a 20's crankset, and you'd just have to replace the whole thing with a Deore setup.

    This kinda bike is becoming a little more popular lately, like Salsa's Fargo, but, really -- that bike is pretty ugly.

  • At 1:18 PM , Blogger Eben said...

    Thanks for pointing out the Fargo, I hadn't seen that yet. Interesting concept but yes, ugly. Absolutely fugly in fact. I CAN HAS SIX WATER BOTTLES.....REALLY? They should have just designed a combination pump/water purifier...or a bladder that allows you store a couple gallons inside the frame ;-P

  • At 3:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I recently completed a five day southern Utah bike tour on my Raleigh Sojourn. 300 miles, 22,000 cumulative feet of climbing, highest point 10,500 ft. I changed my small chainring down to 26t so that I could spin when climbing at altitude (my crankset goes smaller than 30t). Bike handles well descending, works very well riding in rain and hail. The light hand pressure in using these disc brakes is great; my compadres complained of hand fatigue braking on long, long downhills. It could use a longer lower front mudflap. It is on the heavy side as noted, but I didn't notice since I was cruising along comfortably and enjoying scenery and friends.

  • At 8:49 AM , Anonymous Tracy said...

    I love the fargo. Why does everyone think it's so ugly? It's the light duty pick-up of bikes...with drops no less! Not everyone can stand a big dummy/xtracycle/ute type set up.


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