Around the World on WorkCycles Bikes 1


A couple weeks ago two young, fit looking, American guys visited WorkCycles Veemarkt shop to look at bikes. Their wishes were clear: the bikes must be simple, very durable and able to carry a decent load. That pretty much describes most of our bikes so the conversation continued and they test rode a number of bikes. After a while it became apparent that these two bikes were not just going to be ridden around the city. No, they’ll be ridden around the world, in no particular hurry, and they don’t seem especially concerned about the challenges that await them. A tough city bike does actually makes a good touring bike and we do periodically sell bikes to be toured on. There have even been some good stories such as the couple who rode a classic Dutch trike (bakfiets) all the way back to Copenhagen, but riding WorkCycles bikes around the world is a first as far as we know.

After some discussion of the bike options they decide to go for almost identical Secret Service NND’s. This is a variant with Shimano’s largest roller brakes front and rear but with a single speed freewheel. I convince them to gear the bikes at least a little on the low side: 38/18 or 19 if I recall correctly. The bikes get our usual frame-mounted front carriers and very heavy duty extended rear carriers. They look suspiciously like modern versions of my old Swiss Condor Military bike.

With the important choices out of the way we get to talking about their plans. I’m curious about how two quite young Americans end up in Amsterdam to buy bikes and can then take several years to ride around the world. At least to my untrained eye these are not rich trust-fund kids. Actually they seem more like military types and that turns out to be the case.

The rough summary is this (please fill me in here so I can correct myself in your next update): These guys are former US Marines. Either one or both performed missions so noxious and dangerous that they’ve been honorably discharged and retired from service. The military apparently doesn’t expect them to live long though they brushed those claims off nonchalantly. Whether it was out of self knowledge, youthful optimism or bravado I’ve no idea.

In the photo above they’ve hit the first hills in England and they intend to remain in the UK for a couple months. I’ll post more updates of their travels as they come in. Of course I’m looking forward to seeing them in exotic locales, such as slogging it across the Urals. I’m also very curious to see how the bikes do and how they get modified along the way; Will the fenders and chain cases get jettisoned? Will the gearing be changed or will they be content to just push the loaded bikes up the mountains? With some luck we’ll see.

Happy travels guys and keep the updates coming!

10 Responses to “Around the World on WorkCycles Bikes 1”

  1. Steven Vance Says:

    I really like this photo. It definitely shows the off road capabilty of the Secret Service. I’m thinking of getting one myself, but so far I’ve only test ridden the Bakfiets and the Transport at Dutch Bike Chicago.

    I wanted aluminum to shave the weight, but alas, the front rack carrier is incompatible with the aluminum frames.

    Henry, does the Secret Service come in additional colors?

  2. henry Says:

    Steve, As bike racers we used to ride our “road bikes” in pretty serious on/off road adventures. Nothing whatsoever was modified on the bikes: 39/23 gearing, 23mm race clinchers and I don’t recall ever breaking anything. Similarly for more than 80 years the bicycle division of the Swiss Military rode very simple, heavy, single speed bikes in all manner of terrain. All it takes is careful, skilled riding… and very strong legs.

    So in a sense you can ride pretty much anything off road as long as you work with it’s limitations. The Secret Service is far beefier than any road racing bike and rolls on super tough wheels wrapped with 37mm tires. It’s stronger than any hybrid bike. The limitations are of course the gearing, roller brakes and weight so just don’t point it down a steep mountain slope with loaded panniers, and accept that you’ll just have to walk up the steepest passes.

    Don’t sweat the aluminium frame; you’ll never notice the few hundred gram difference in a 20kg bike and the lugged steel frame has more charm.

    The Secret Service comes in two colors: matte black and gloss black.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Henry,

    Interesting story! Did you give them a free piece of dutch kaas to take along on their travels?

  4. henry Says:

    No, I think these guys are tough enough to eat wood and rocks.

  5. Stephan Says:

    Good stuff. Those guys are tough and will have a marvelous time. I can’t imagine having to ride through England’s Lake District or Peak District on a single speed. I did it on a triple-chain ring touring bike. I was re-truing my wobbly home-built wheels at the top of every climb. The hills are all steep and endlessly rolling – a mile or two up, a mile or two down… There is no shame (and likely a lot of joy) in walking and taking time.

    In the Summer of 2007 while photographing the Paris-Brest-Paris, we met a guy who toured from Budapest to Paris on his fixed gear, all the while carrying his belongings in a backpack. From there he proceeded to finish the entire 1200K of the PBP in under 90 hrs, backpack included!

    There are many thinks possible on a bike. Seemingly all that is necessary is the right attitude.

  6. henry Says:

    I think they chose the single speed bikes just to keep things simple. They seem unconcerned with tech and speed and rightly so: Retired guys in their 20’s have a LOT of time to spend doing whatever they want. So they’ll just hike up thousands of hills, roll down the descents and pedal the more moderate terrain. It’s a great antidote to our ever accelerating, goal oriented (yet misguided) world.

    Great story about the PBP guy on a fixie with backpack. Quite a contrast to the carefully studied plans of some expert brevet riders with special bikes, lighting systems and support. I also know a guy who rode a fixie made from old. dumpster parts across the USA

  7. macfred Says:

    Workcycles are great for touring too…
    Started at August 20th in A´dam and arrived in Münster yesterday!


  8. henry Says:

    Looks like you had a great trip! Lovely pictures.

    But the most amazing part is that your WorkCycles bike is so fast that you were able to do the trip in negative four days, leaving on the 20th and arriving on the 16th. Thanks to our new High Density Time Absorbing (HDTA) steel frame you were able to travel through a wormhole.

  9. macfred (wormholetraveller) Says:

    Henry,you are right…

    Touring on a WorkCycles,things like`time´or `distance´ doesn`t exist anymore.
    I started at August 13th…


  10. Matt Says:

    My Secret Service, dubbed by my touring buddy Erik as Mr. T for “Matt’s Retro Tank”, has racked up the kilometers the last two summers.

    Trip No. 1 was from Hirtshals, Demark, to Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany, followed by Regensburg to Vienna. Trip No. 2, this summer, we toured along some Germany rivers including the Moselle, Rhine, Neckar, Danube, Tauber, and Main. Even with 8 gears I had to walk up a good many hills. Especially in Denmark which I thought was supposed to be flat!

    I found the cargo handle bars support my forearms well if I need to crouch down in a nasty wind or when I feel a need to pick up the pace a bit. Gearing down while stopped with a heavy load made Erik jealous.

    Including riding to work, I suppose Mr. T has racked up about 4000 km since he arrived in a large truck a year and a half ago. Not around the world, but a good start. Too bad my Shimano 8 hub is experiencing technical difficulties in gears 5-8 now that the warranty is no longer valid. I asked one of the WorkCycle guys about upgrading to a Rohloff hub but he told me they don’t fit.

    Last October, I had to give Mr. T studded tires after a nasty fall on the ice on my way to work here on the coast of Norway. They just barely fit under the fenders.

    Henry, if your interested, I can email you a few photos.


Leave a Reply