After lending us a "Romany" expedition tourer Orbit kindly sent us their top-of-the-range road tourer, the Gold Medal. The name is old, there has been a Gold Medal in the Orbit range for more than 15 years, always of lugged Reynolds tubing. It was a bike aimed squarely at the Dawes Super Galaxy, generally beating it on price, but often let down by dodgy framebuilding. For those who remember this earlier incarnation the current model bares very little resemblance. Orbit have taken the bike up market with a price tag of around ฃ1000. This is into custom built territory so it needs to be a cut above the other off-the-peg bikes available. At Cyber Cyclist we believe in testing bikes rather than riding them round the block, so this beast was taken on a two week tour of the Auvergne where it coped with horrible weather as well as good, mountain climbs to over 5000 feet and 50 mile an hour descents, always with a full cyclecamping load of around 15 kgs. Chassis Here we find where the extra money has gone. Instead of the lugged Reynolds 531ST frame you'd expect we find a tig welded mix of Columbus frametubes. The choice is interesting, the maintubes being oversized Nivachrome, a very strong heat-treated steel with a UTS (Ultimate Tensile Strength) comparable with Reynolds 753. The stays and forks are of the lesser Cyclex steel though this too has a greater UTS than 531. The chainstays have a deep but narrow profile meaning there is clearance for 35 mm tyres. The frame is built by Paul Donahue a custom builder with a fine reputation and both the welding and alignment were beyond reproach. This is the kind of quality you expect from a top custom builder, yes it costs a lot more, but it's worth it... Orbit have chosen, as with the Romany, to use an offset rear triangle to give a dishless rear wheel. This makes for a tougher wheel, and is an excellent idea not seen on any other off-the-peg cycle. Geometry is 73 seat 72 degree head, a classic compromise touring frame, and the forks have a gentle curve giving less rake than you might expect on a touring bike. The rest of the frame has all the braze-ons you could wish for including three bottle cages and a dynamo bracket. Transmission The bike came equipped with Modolo's combined gear/brake levers. I won't beat about the bush - they were crap. I spent the fortnight trying to get them to index properly, and rubbed my thumbs raw pushing down on the levers. Contacting Simon Gershon at Orbit brought an immediate apology, the prototype units had worked fine, these production units were junk and he was ditching the lot and sending them back to Modolo. You have to feel for a bike manufacturer in these circumstances... Orbit are now fitting Campy Mirage Ergopower levers and rear derailleur which apparently work over a Shimano 8-speed cassette though not having tried it I can't comment. Personally I'd specify bar end or downtube levers and save some dosh to boot but I'm old fashioned... Gearing was set for loaded touring, though in the mountains a lower bottom gear than the 30 tooth rear sprocket could have been handy. The chainset is a Sachs Neos with 46/36/24 rings, ideal... It's not flash but does the job and changes are crisp. Brakes. Here we find Lizard short arm cantilevers. Very chunky and easy to set up though unhooking the straddle is a bitch. I use the same on my own tourer and they're lovely, problem is the blocks are appalling. No brakes at all in the wet and after a few rides not a lot in the dry. Bin 'em - they simply are not safe. Wheels. The Sachs Neos hubs with their cartidge bearings are a good choice as are tough Rigida rims laced with double butted spokes. They stayed true throughout a punishing test though the front Schwalbe Marathon tyre was a bad fit and caused some wobbles on descents. Finishing Kit A good two-bolt seat pin, decent Selle Marco saddle (throw it away and buy a B17) and ergo bars with cork tape make a good kit. Roller bearing headset and nice MKS touring pedals and clips. The rear rack is a very substancial alloy affair and the bike comes equipped with a front rack of Orbit's own design. Of course you also get muguards and a pump. What's it like to ride? Unladen, it feels like an Audax bike, fast and lively. It's a bit stiff for my personal taste giving a slightly harsh ride, but of course loaded this becomes an advantage with no hint of wobble or flex. Loaded up with a serious touring load it is in it's element, a stable ride, with just enough give to make it comfortable. It lacks the "life" of a 531 ST frame, but is in fact lighter and even loaded has a fair turn of speed. My reservation is down to the fork rake which makes it less stable loaded than my own "Bob Jackson" expedition tourer, you can't relax in the same way either up hill or down - not helped by the non-existant brakes and wobbly front tyre. Don't get me wrong it's not bad, just not as good as a tourer built exclusively for loaded touring. The other side of the coin is that unladen the steering is natural and easy where my "Jackson" tends to "thruppenny bit" especially downhill. The Gold Medals' steering is therefore a reasonable compromise. Conclusion - 1000 quid, a lot of money... Better than a Super Galaxy - yes, and certainly better put together. Better than a custom built tourer, depends on the builder and whether you choose the right braze- ons, certainly it'd cost more. I don't see the Gold Medal as a Dawes competitor, rather it is a bike built by a top custom frame builder where all the descisions have been taken for you. If you like their choices, and I do, then the Gold Medal has few equals and makes a perfect multi purpose tourer. The irony is that it's biggest rival will be the same companies Romany. Which you choose really depends on how much riding you are going to do on cyclepaths, tracks or unsurfaced road. If you are planning on staying on tarmac then the Gold Medal gets my vote. Overall - 8/10 Value - 8/10 ฉGeoff Husband
See Breton Bikes new venture! For those wanting a place to drive their sportscar...!