BLISS ON TWO WHEELS: A 9-week cycling adventure from Portugal to Holland on the Van Nicholas Titanium ‘Deveron’ Touring Bike.
If someone had told me that I was going to fly to the other side of the world from Australia, pick up a touring bike that I’d never seen before, jump on it and ride 3,500 km over 9 weeks through all terrains with loaded panniers, I’d probably have said they were dreaming. But, that’s what happened, exactly. Along the way I got to know the Van Nicholas (VN) Deveron Titanium touring bike like the back of my hand and here’s what I think of it.
The VN Deveron is a full titanium, touring specific bike. It looks eye catchingly good, is beautifully built, and comes with all the attachments you’d associate with a high end touring bike – front and back kickstands, dynamo hub, pannier racks, quality mudguards, sturdy design and finish, quality tires and (typical of a Dutch built bike) a key operated back wheel lock. It also has a couple of extra features which sure stand out in the crowd – an 18 speed Pinion gearing system and a Gates center drive belt. The model I rode was also equipped with a set of Magura hydraulic rim brakes. The Deveron has that unmistakable ‘solid’ feel that serious touring bikes project. The geometry promises a ‘relaxed’ ride.
After many months of organization and planning, in early May 2016 I met up with my good friend Darren Alff from www.bicycletouringpro.com (BTP) in Lisbon and after a few days sightseeing traveled north to the more than helpful VN agent, Miguel Tomazzini. A few adjustments later (the hotel foyer became a bike workshop for a short while) we were off and heading down the road. The plan was to do three cycle tours in Portugal ending up in the Douro region, then head north through Portugal, then northern Spain into France. Darren would then head south into Andorra from Foix, while I turned north and headed for Holland.
The first day was only a 70 km ride, but was the usual first day out touring, i.e. stopping every 30 minutes to re-adjust something which wasn’t quite right – pedals, seat, handlebars etc. (you know the story). After that I was comfortable and was free to get to know the bike.
Darren and I had a great time seeing the sights of Portugal, Spain and France from the bike saddle. We ate pretty well, tested our rain-gear often and took heaps of photos and videos for later publication. Darren’s newly acquired drone also made it’s first appearance and there’s plenty of videos from our cycling adventure for you to watch on the Bicycle Touring Pro YouTube channel.
The scenery was great, with lots of variation between surf, beaches, mountains, agricultural country, towns, and fields of wildflowers – we had it all. Some of the bigger cities are difficult to get through, but once we were back in the countryside we were happy. Some of the climbs were taxing and some of the descents spectacular. I especially loved buying local fruit, apricots, and cherries from roadside stalls. The Portuguese wines went down well after a long day.
The First Impressions
Well, ‘smooth and comfortable’ were the first things that I remember feeling. The titanium and the build sure do help to smooth that road out. We were on gravel and bitumen with a bit of rain and wind blown sand that first day and the ride was brilliant. The Pinion system was totally new to me so feeling my way around the gears took up all my idle moments, but by the end of that first day I felt that I had the ‘feel’ for the Pinion system.
The next impression was the ‘seat’ of the bike on the road. It ran true and secure due to the geometry and the positioning of the Pinion gearbox. The phrase that came to mind was ‘riding on rails’. My ride at home (and the bike I rode with Darren in Taiwan) is a VN Yukon, which has much more nippy geometry, and the Deveron is a totally different feel – ’relaxed’ sums it up.
It was also efficient…whatever I put on the pedals went straight to the road, very direct and effortless.
The Magura hydraulic rim brakes are soft and smooth. Despite being rim brakes, they pull up well and no sore hands after long descents. They needed adjusting once after 200 km and nothing further. Newer models of the Deveron will probably have disc brakes.
The Gates center drive belt is well known and written about all over the internet and I’ll support every positive review of it. No lube, no adjustment, no cleaning, no fuss and quiet – ‘flawless’ pretty well sums it up.
The Pinion gearing system is the future for touring bikes in my opinion. A number of MTBs have this system now and there’s a new lighter weight model just released, but the set of 18 speed gears on the Deveron was sensational. What do I mean by that ? Well, the range of gears (636% or so from top to bottom) meant that there was always a gear no matter what. Gear 1 handled the mountains in northern Portugal and the Basque country easily and much of the time I fluctuated between gears 1 to 4 for most climbs. Considering that I’m 68 years old, a younger, fitter rider with more lung capacity would breeze up anything in higher gears than me. The point being that there are plenty of low gears for the loaded climbs.
The middle of the range gears, 6 to 10 are fabulous in ‘lumpy’ country (eg, Belgian Ardennes) and the higher end of the range 10 to 18 are real sweet cruising gears, 16 being my favorite with the sun shining and a small tailwind! The 11% increments between gears made for smooth transitions from one to another. The ability to change gears while stationary and being able to skip a few when caught out on a hill is also a plus.
With 18 straight usable gears, no duplication. Nothing to lube, adjust, clean or generally fiddle with – it’s on the bike and away every day. The fact that the Pinion weighs around 4 kgs adds to the overall handling of the bike by centering and lowering the whole center of gravity. This means that the bike feels anchored and stable on the road, a phenomena which has been described in other reviews of the Pinion system. I can’t speak highly enough of Pinion.
While it may be of little interest to the touring cyclist, I noticed that the Deveron is also surprisingly fast for a bike of it’s type. On a couple of days I ‘put the foot down’ and was really zipping along, to my great amusement and joy… it was great fun.
Everything else worked perfectly – the dynamo hub which was turned on from day one to the end. The Shwalbe Marathon Almotion tires – not one puncture. The pannier racks, the mudguards, the pump (I pumped up someone else’s tires one day!), the Brooks ergonomic handlebar grips – didn’t have the slightest problem with anything.
Another feature of the Deveron absolutely worth noting is the addition of a front kickstand which was a brilliant bonus. It attaches to the front pannier rack and means no more juggling the weight of the bike when packing. Hadn’t seen one before, but worth fitting on any touring bike – I’m a convert.
The Deveron handled whatever conditions presented themselves on any and every day. Some days were in the rain and mud, some on sandy tracks and all qualities of bitumen from very rough to runway smooth. The ride was always comfortable and smooth, with me getting off the bike in the afternoons fresh and in good shape. Some days I finished, had a coffee and rode another 30 km just because I felt great. The ‘road smoothing’ qualities of titanium are well documented and the Deveron is no exception. No sore necks or shoulders. Once you’re in the ‘sweet’ gear, the pedaling seems effortless… as I mentioned earlier, every bit of energy you put through the pedal ends up on the road. I rode mainly on back roads with little traffic and the occasional cycle-way. One time in Portugal the road just stopped and we had to jump a barrier and ride like crazy for 10 km along a freeway until we found an exit.
Descending on long steep descents was also interesting. The Deveron seems to speed up very smoothly and gradually. There’s never a feeling of getting ‘out of control’. I’m always cautious on the descents and with the combined weight around 115kgs (me, Deveron and gear), it adds up to a quite a bit of momentum going downhill, but the ride was always true, smooth and controllable, rain or otherwise. As I mentioned earlier, the Magura hydraulic brakes are soft and my hands were never tired or crampy after a long, sometimes cold/wet descent.
A number of different cyclists wanted to try the Deveron out while I was riding the bike across Europe this summer and their first comment was always how smooth the ride was. This was always the first impression from others, not only me. Other riders also liked the Pinion gearing and most said they wanted one!
While riding every day, I went over the Deveron in my mind and tried to find aspects which were disappointing or which failed or didn’t work well every time. Truth to tell, I couldn’t find anything. Sure, the brakes needed one slight adjustment, but that was really a simple ‘200 km service’ rather than a fault. No other component failed or gave trouble or didn’t meet the high standards which VN promoted. I’m a free agent and don’t work for VN, so if there were problems or deficiencies in the Deveron, I’d be the first to announce them, but simply put… there weren’t any. The only thing I can say is that the bike I rode had aluminum forks and my personal preference would be for steel.
The VN Deveron is a high end, reliable, sturdy, heavy duty, touring specific bike which delivers on the promise of a comfortable, trouble-free tour. It’s the kind of bike which I would happily jump on tomorrow and ride to anywhere, I trust it completely. The combination of the Pinion gearing and the Gates centre drive belt is the ‘gold standard’ and is the future of bicycle touring in my view. The 19th century American poet Walt Whitman wrote a poem entitled “As A Bird On Pinions Free” which kind of sums it up!
There are many touring bikes on the market and an increasing number with the Gates/Pinion combination. They’re probably all pretty good and are priced around the same price range and have similar features. However, I haven’t ridden all of those other brands and I’m not into comparing one with another, but I’ve ridden the Van Nicholas Deveron as much or more than anyone and I think that it’s the best… the ‘gold standard’. If there’s a better touring bike around, I’d love to ride it and compare.