Words and photos by Jonathan Kambskard-Bennett (@jkbs.bike.ride)
Hello, I’m Jonathan. Back in late 2014, I decided I wanted to see how far east I could cycle from my home in London. The only problem was that I didn’t actually own a bike. Every night I’d get home from work and look at bikes on eBay. I knew nothing about them, but someone had told me that Dawes made good touring bikes, so I guessed my frame size and scrolled through their models online. I’d set myself an arbitrary budget of £500, which at the time seemed like an awful lot of money to spend on a bike, but with only three weeks until the ‘grand departure’ I was struggling to find anything.
At the time I was living with my dad, who had the misfortune of hearing me complain non-stop about how expensive these bikes were proving to be. I’d found what looked like the perfect ride – an ex-display Dawes Super Galaxy – for £650, but ruled it out as too expensive. My dad, tired of the repetitive conversation, told me to wait until after Christmas before buying one.
On Christmas Day he pointed me to a large cardboard box in the living room with a ribbon wrapped around it. Inside was the Dawes. “I’m not giving this to you just yet” he said. “The bike is mine and I’m simply loaning it to you. For every 10 miles you cycle on it, I’ll minus £1 from the debt.”
Fast forward seven months and I found myself in Turkmenistan, still pedalling that very same bike, carefully counting the miles on my odometer. When the total hit 6,500 miles I took a photo, and sent my dad a picture of my speedometer tally. “Thanks for the bike. Does this mean you’ll keep paying me £1 for every further thousand miles?” He told me to piss off.
I ended up clocking around 50,000km on that bike as we cycled around the world. I say we, because it felt like a team effort. Together, the Dawes and I went through many ups and downs, with extremes at both ends of the spectrum. When everything went smoothly, the bike was empowering in a way that’s hard to articulate. When things started to break – as they inevitably do over such a distance and always at the most inconvenient times – I felt vulnerable, painfully aware of how limited my mechanical skills were.
The literal high point for us was 4,700m above sea level, somewhere up on the Tibetan Plateau. I suppose the figurative low point would have been camping at around those altitudes in winter. I still feel bad for weeing on my bike to melt the frozen derailleur. That’s no way to treat a companion.
When I arrived back home in London, I got a job as a bike courier in town, and continued using the Dawes every day for work. After three years of abuse abroad, it was in dire need of some expensive TLC. Instead, I splashed my first paycheck on a light road bike so I could complete my deliveries faster, and the Dawes was relegated to rust at the back of the garden.
For a long time, the stripped frame hung on my bedroom wall as a reminder of good times on the road. But bikes are made to be ridden, not looked at, and so I finally made it my job this year to ‘bring the Dawes back to life’ as an all-round gravel ready bikepacking machine.
- Frame/Fork Dawes Super Galaxy 2014
- Rims WTB i23 650B
- Hubs Superstar V3
- Tires Vittoria Mezcal II 27.5” x 2.1”
- Handlebars FSA Wing Compact
- Headset FSA
- Crankset SRAM Apex 1 42t
- Pedals Shimano PD-M520
- Cassette SunRace MS8 (11 Speed) 11-46t
- Derailleur SRAM Apex 1
- Brakes Avid BB7 & Shimano BR-R517
- Shifter(s) SRAM Apex 1
- Saddle Brooks Cambium C17
- Seatpost Brand-X Layback
- Stem Dawes
- Frame bags Apidura Racing Frame Pack (4L)
- Rear bags Apidura Racing Saddle Pack (7L)
- Accessory bags Apidura Racing Long Top Tube Pack (1.8L)
- Other accessories Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT & Quadlock mount
To do so, I needed some help. The fiddliest job was carried out by Autumn Frameworks, who welded on a new derailleur hanger for me. I’d stripped the thread on my original integrated one back in Kyrgyzstan, and ended up having my derailleur welded on locally. (That episode was as stressful and messy as it sounds). I also needed my LBS – Sea Bass Cycles – to burn out the seized seatpost and straighten the entire frame for me. I’m not sure how the frame had ended up slightly bent, but I had a few unfortunate encounters with cars and motorbikes, and a few slips on icy roads along the way, so it could have happened in one of a few good crashes.
A disc brake tourer like the Super Galaxy makes a great 650B conversion bike. With smaller wheels I could squeeze in 2.1” tyre, which means plenty of volume and comfort. The 1x gearing gives plenty of range and I have no desire to ever use a triple chainring again. The bike is fun to ride, and that’s all that really matters. Without heavy panniers (and everything but the kitchen sink), it’s more than fast enough. I still remember what it felt like to carry 25L water and a few days’ worth of food while crossing the Australian Outback, so the current setup feels positively rapid in comparison. I’ve been experimenting with minimal overnight setups for quick bikepacking trips this summer, to see how efficient I can be on this bike. I’d love to do a multi-day off-road race on this rig next year – and I reckon that would be a fun new chapter for a bike that has already lived many lives.
You can see more from Jonathan on Instagram @jkbs.bike.ride.
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