We recently put The Light Blue Darwin D Tour through its paces on a bike tour of the south coast. We travelled about 300 miles from Brighton to Exeter over a week and covered a wide range of terrain from flat, tarmac bike paths and hilly country lanes to some pretty serious off road tracks. Here’s what we thought.
First impressions on getting the Darwin out of the box were really positive. This is a good-looking bike with a brushed steel effect and lovely detailing of the brand’s logo and a cute head badge. There’s something pretty appealing about a steel bike and its 725 Reynolds tubing drew plenty of admiring glances on its week’s holiday. From East Sussex all the way down to Devon there wasn’t a day went by without a complementary comment from fellow cyclists.
I took it for a little spin round the streets of Brighton on the day before we left to make sure I had the seat height correctly adjusted and was immediately struck by how it comfortably floated me over our notoriously pitted roads here. The extra height of the bottom bracket was immediately noticeable and, with a fairly upright riding position you’d expect from a tourer, I felt imperiously tall.
While my De Rosa road bike is more akin to a flashy Italian sports car, the Darwin, with its chunky tyres and heavier frame, felt like the equivalent of a Landrover Defender and I was excited about taking it off road.
With about 30kg of equipment on the back, it took me a little while to adjust to carrying such a heavy load and I was a bit wobbly for the first couple of km. But I soon got the hang of the different handling, and was confidently steering through narrow gaps at low speed.
Its drop handlebars were spongy and comfortable and I appreciated the different positions I could adopt over a full day’s cycling. I even used the drops on a couple of downhills adopting a classic racing position!
Our first couple of days were almost entirely flat and I didn’t even need to change down from the biggest ring. It comes with 50/39/30 chainrings at the front and an 11-34 cassette at the rear. It wasn’t till we hit Dorset that those gears would come into play, but boy was I happy to have them when the roads started to ramp up. I found I could just about get up anything (gradients of up to 20%) fully loaded, grinding my way up in the lowest gear. If I was riding the gentler but longer inclines of the Alps, I could happily pedal away all day.
The gear change from the Shimano Tiagra 4703 triple groupset was smooth with a reassuringly solid clunk with each click of the finger, leaving you safe in the knowledge that it had indeed changed up or down.
The Avid BB7 disc brakes were also extremely welcome, particularly on the thrilling descents we encountered in Devon. With all that extra weight on the back I wouldn’t want to rely on regular brakes, especially on the occasional wet day we had to endure, but these gave me complete control and confidence that I could stop dead if needs be.
As I’d expected, it was off road that the Darwin really came into its own, zinging its way over gravel paths in the New Forest and charging over rutted mud paths in Devon and Dorset. Here, it felt like a mountain bike and I’d feel confident taking this on almost anything. The downside to this is that on long flat stretches of road it felt a bit sluggish, but you can’t have everything!
The wheels on this bike are gorgeous – they’re Halo Vapour 700c/29ers. They look amazing and have a cool reflective surround that lit up our campsite by torchlight. You really feel that those wheels could withstand any amount of punishment you can trouble it with either through weight of equipment or rough terrain. This is the kind of bike I’d take to cross the Andes.
My version came with mudguards and I fully appreciated the protection they gave over some of the wet and muddy tracks we crossed. The rack held the panniers perfectly and I felt I could have loaded it up with even more stuff! Next time I’d probably try to balance out the load better with some small front racks as well.
Saddles will always be a very personal choice and I wish I’d fitted my Brooks C16 because the Gussett Black Jack, which looked lovely, just didn’t suit my bum at all. But that could have more to do with my shape and my poor choice of shorts that I regretted from Day 2 onwards!
Lloyd Townsend who founded The Light Blue has done a fantastic job with the Darwin. He’s the fourth generation of Townsends to run his bike shop in Cambridge (hence the name, The Light Blue) and, although the frames are manufactured in Taiwan they are made to Lloyd’s own design. It’s great to know that you’re riding something with 120 years of history behind it and designed and put together in the UK.
My week on the Darwin was a fantastic experience. It’s comfortable, solid, dependable, handles well on and off road with a heavy load and I felt I could get up almost anything with its low gearing. It’s also lovely to look at. At £1,599 it isn't cheap, but you're getting a pretty high spec bike that you can completely rely on. If you’re off for a week’s touring around our own shores or have more ambitious and adventurous plans to cross the planet, this would be my choice.
But there’s something else, that indefinable longing you get in the pit of your stomach with some, but not all bikes. After our little adventure together we’ve built a bond between man and machine that will make it very difficult to pack it away in a box to send it back. So long, Darwin.