The Camino Report - Part 1

By Ole Christian

So, I bought a new bike, from a company that just started doing bikes, with no test ride and very little customer reviews to rely on. I literally fell in love upon seeing the pictures of the first prototype of the Camino on the Alpkit website. It seemed to answer all my requirements in my next bike, you know, those ideas that swirl around in your head, when pondering the next bike. I also decided to fly out to England to pick it up, meet the makers and ride it back to Norway. I promised the good people at Sonder/Alpkit to tell them about my journey and my new love. Now about six weeks later I feel I have enough experience with the bike to really tell my story. I am even a little slow in finishing my write-up, which has a lot to do with the fact that most of my spare time have been spent riding the Camino. It is hard not to!

I am a middle aged Norwegian man that loves bikes. I love looking at bikes, I love thinking about bikes, I love building bikes, I love fixing bikes and most of all I love riding bikes. I love what riding bikes does to me and how it puts smiles on my face, most of the time anyway. I am not a racer. Most of the time I am out on my own, be it on various road bikes, gravel bikes or mountain bikes, that I have assembled myself. I love the meditative state of riding a road bike and I love the feeling of more active riding a mountainbike on various trails. I live in a small town up in the mountains in the south east part of Norway. The place offers countless gravel roads, criss crossing the lands and mountains, connecting valleys and townships, often through summer farms with pastures filled with happy herds of cows and sheep. These roads and trails offer beautiful nature and very little traffic. These roads are begging to be ridden and many places “call on you” to pitch a tent and stay a while. Exploration and adventure are important aspects of biking for me. Touring, over a weekend or over months are sources of joy, the dreaming, the planning and the execution of those plans.

I am not an overly experienced bike touring specialist, but I have had my fair share of trips, of various lengths, gathering experience to hone in on what I see as my ideal setup. It seems like there is a setup for every person. Some people lug an entire house worth of things and appliances, and others seem to be able to bike the world almost without anything at all, using bubble wrap for sleeping mats and cutting the handle off toothbrushes to save weight. Some people travel the world on road bikes with skinny tires, others travel with fatbikes, and some even cross continents on unicycles.

Last summer I biked from Boston to Seattle on crossbike, with 35c slick tyres. I started out with a pair of front panniers, but eventually found that I could simplify further. I ended up with a saddlebag, a handlebar bag, and some stuff in the frame main triangle, in line with the style of rackless bikepacking rigs, which are gaining popularity. The experiences from this trip really led me to fall in love with the Camino. A fast moving bikepacking rig that does not limit your choice of roads to go down. Most of my longer trips are planned using Google bicycle directions, through Ride With GPS. It´s truly amazing what Google knows about the world for bikers. Most often you are guided onto perfectly paved roads. Though, sometimes Google puts you onto less obvious choices of connecting pathways, roads and rail trails that are less than ideal, at least if you are on a roadbike with skinny tyres.

Crossing Washington State last year, even I, with my 35c slicks had to cancel my attempt at following Google suggestion to travel along the John Wayne Trail and rather travel on the main roads across the state and through the mountains coming into Seattle. The John Wayne trail is an old railbed, but it has not been completed and paved for tourism, at least not yet. I am sure I would have had an excellent experience of this landscape had I been able to tackle the trail.

To me, this means I will not embark on my next tour with tires narrower than 40c, which is exactly the tire size the Camino is shipped with. I can actually accommodate wider tires than that, especially if I employ the 650b wheel size.The Camino can then set you cruising on a magic carpet of low pressured 650b/48c rubber, across a wide range of road surfaces with speed and ease, day after day, without wearing you out the way skinnier, higher pressure tires would. This is the way the randonneurs rode back in the days and many randonneurs still do. Common belief is that narrower is faster. This may be true on ideal smooth surfaces, in the velodromes, but may not hold water on real life road surfaces. This has recently been studied thoroughly by Jan Heine with the excellent journal Bicycle Quarterly. His findings are really interesting and are embodied in his offerings of supple thin walled tires of low weight. Similar tires are offered by Soma in San Francisco. Even WTB are coming out with a 650b tire in this category that keeps me excited, the 47c Horizon Plus. To many, me included this could very well be the sweet spot, for many styles of riding, call it All Road riding. With these tires you can keep up the pace with roadies on tarmac, and you can hit onto rougher roads and still roll fast with comfort and assurance, leaving the roadies behind.

So, there you have it, the some of the reasons for my infatuation with the Sonder Camino. A proper All Road offering in my experience, blending the qualities of a road bike and the mountain bike, expanding the range of use, without compromising riding experience of speed, agility and pure out fun. Sonder is not alone, as it seems more and more companies are answering to this segment. Most any major bike company seems to have some All Road bike in their catalogues now.The Camino hits home for me, by its leaning toward the roadie end of the spectrum, without skimping on tire clearance, and its mountain bike pedigree showing in the ways it handles rougher terrain. Just how it manages to strike this excellent balance of qualities, is beyond my aptitude to explain technically, in terms of choices made in the design of the frame, with angles and tubing. All I can say is that I have never been on a bike that merges so many qualities into one, and does all of these things so well. It rides really well unloaded and it rides equally well loaded up with gear for a long adventure.

This was my journey. Follow me home.

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