One of the things about commuting and touring that can be a bit irritating is keeping the transmission running sweetly in the face of sometimes wet and horrible weather. In the past I’ve had rusted and worn chains, clogged derailleurs and so forth. A few years back we bought a new tandem from Thorn, a Raven  Twin, which was equipped with a Rohloff 14-speed hub. This has been really great, especially with a set of high quality KMC chains, which do resist rust quite well (recent SRAM chains rusted badly, though I can’t recall the model). I’ve particularly welcomed the ability to change gear when stationary, which seems to me to be important when riding a heavily loaded tandem.

Back in the spring of 2018, I’d read a review of a Shand Cycles bike in the CTC magazine. I can’t now remember which model was reviewed, but the review was such that I went to look at the website, where I looked through the various models, all somewhat amusingly and ethnically named. The bikes that caught my eye were the Stoater and the Stooshie. Both these bikes come in two forms – the more normal derailleur version and the Rohloff hub version, the latter being the more expensive.

So, back in September, after spending a few months ogling the bikes at the Shand Cycles website, I pushed the button and ordered a Shand Stoater. This followed the disposal of our venerable Dawes Super Galaxy tandem to some friends – we have a ‘one bike in, one bike out’ policy. This was a bit of a wrench, since it was our first tandem and one which led us into cycle touring. It was pretty old and battered – we had bought it secondhand in the early 1990s, so we’ve probably had it for over 25 years, and it is very definitely an example of Trigger’s Broom as very few of the original compnents remained.

Anyway, the attractions of the Stoater for me were:

  1. The Rohloff hub gear. It’s heavy but reliable and virtually maintenance free other than occasional sprocket replacement and an annual oil change. The weight isn’t really an issue for the use I plan to put the bike to, after all.
  2. A drop bar option. More on this later, but much as I love the Thorn tandem, I do prefer dropped bars, and with this bike I could have SRAM levers controlling both the Rohloff hub and the disk brakes.
  3. Provision for front and rear racks as well as mudguards. Important for any touring I might do (a rear rack alone is OK for commuting, so I haven’t fitted the front rack yet).
  4. A Gates belt drive…well, I’d never had a belt drive bike before, but from a commuting perspective, I quite fancied this! I particular, the lack of black oily gunk build-up is attractive.

Some other notable features – front and rear hydraulic disk brakes. I now have two TT bikes with hydraulic rim brakes and the Thorn tandem has a rear hydraulic disk brake, but this would be the first bike I’d had with hydraulic disks front and rear. Not that I’m convinced about improved braking (in my experienced braking power depends mostly on tyre adhesion to the tarmac) or reduced rim wear (I’ve never worn out a rim) or greater reliability (my rim brakes seem particularly reliable, especially when cable operated). I do expect them to be a bit better than rim brakes in the wet.

Anyway, the order placed and deposit paid, I was interacting with Shand Cycles’ online bike order process. I had previously enquired about choosing the SRAM lever/hydraulic disk brakes offered on the Shand Stooshie for my Stoater, and that was enthusiastically given the OK. I measured various road bikes and various bits of my anatomy and sent this information to Shand Cycles. I havered for a long time about the choice of paint colour (right up to nearly the last minute in fact, when I finally went for a light grey colour).

From the outset, and as soon as I placed the order, Shand were really clear about the build schedule. I was a bit disappointed at the lead time, with delivery scheduled for week 51, but hey, you don’t want to rush these things and if anything it was encouraging to see them with a full order book! There’s an order tracking system at which you can see the stages your order has reached, plus prior to the frame build, I was sent a pdf of the overall bike dimensions, which offers another opportunity to tweak things. Correspondence with the Shand team were prompt and effective throughout.

To cut a long story short, I suddenly received an email with a picture of my bike, obviously set up for a test ride (it had pedals, which or course one doesn’t normally order with a bike these days). It looked brilliant. I’d requested a Saturday morning delivery to minimise work-day complications, and delivery was scheduled for 8th December.

The fully built bike, before packing and dispatch

The 8th December came, and I waited. And waited. And tried phoning TNT’s 8am to 6pm help desk, only to find it closes at 1pm on Saturdays. Grrr. The TNT tracking system is useless, and even exceeded in that respect by their mobile phone app. In the end, it arrived at 9.30am on the Monday, so a bit more disruptive than I’d hoped. This isn’t Shand’s fault, and my experience is that most couriers are a bit rubbish at actually, you know, delivering stuff on time.

So, the bike arrived. It was mostly assembled, but with handlebars detached, saddle/seatpin out of the frame, front wheel, mudguard and rack not attached. The bike was very well packed, and to TNT’s credit, no dings or dunts to the box – everything was pristine inside the box. 

It took only a little while to put everything together and check the tightness of all bolts with a torque wrench. I levelled the saddle to match my preference (it had the downward tilt shown in the photo above), and I was ready to roll. I fitted a spare pair of SPD pedals which are a little rusty and had seen better days. Subsequently, I bought a pair of Look-manufactured SPD pedals which work well and look a bit smarter.

So far I’ve used it for three commuting rides and one longer ride. The fit is great, which is always a bit of a relief on a mail order bike. It looks really fine in its pale grey paint job with black logos and components. I found the gear controls pretty intuitive (the right brake lever gear paddle shifts down, the left up), the hub changes very smoothly. The brakes are well modulated. The saddle’s fine, at least over shorter distances. The belt is very quiet, in fact the only noise came from the pannier moving on the rack! I very much prefer the drop bar and the SRAM levers to the flat bar and twist grip on the Thorn tandem (though the latter’s setup is probably optimal for that bike’s use-case).

The longer ride was a Sunday clubrun, just under 60 miles. Long enough to confirm that this is a great bike. I did find it a little odd not being able to tell at a glance which gear I was in – my other bikes show this on the twist-grip (Thorn tandem) or by glancing at the cassette in the case of my derailleur bikes.

This isn’t a thoroughbred race bike, but a good solid, very well-designed bike ideal for my proposed usage as a commuter/tourer. I’d highly recommend Shand Cycles not only for the quality of the bike, but for the quality of service from all I communicated with during the ordering process.

Overall the spec is:

  • Frame is steel, though I’ve no way of knowing what tubing has been used. The website says TIG welded Reynolds 853 tubing.
  • Wheels – Hope 20Five rims on Hope Pro4 hub (front) Rohloff (rear), with 35mm Schwalbe G-One gravel tyres. Apparently the wheels and tyres are tubeless ready.
  • Transmission – Rohloff 14 speed hub gear with Gates belt drive. Gear shifting is through a Gebla Rohbox. the Rohbox is a gearbox affair that screws to the Rohloff hub and translates the cable pull from the levers to the correct turn of the gear selector. There’s a similar device on our Thorn tandem.
  • The RaceFace Aeffect chainset is a little bit anonymous, a black anodised affair with a bottom bracket bearing mounted in an eccentric to enable tensioning the belt.
  • Racks are Tubus, black painted steel, mudguards are aluminium
  • Saddle is a Shand own brand, seems comfy but time will tell on this most personal of components.
  • Brakes – SRAM Rival hydraulic, with SRAM Rival levers.