Van Nicholas Yukon review.
This is a review of my own 'Van Nicholas Yukon',a bike I've owned and used on a regular basis since 2007, the picture above is from that time although I've been gradually upgrading the components since; updates I will elaborate on more later. I've also compared my Yukon to the 'Enigma Etape' that maybe of interest, scroll down to the bottom of page to view.
As I was one of the first to have one the then editor of www.roadcyclinguk.com did ask me to write a review of it, which I did; after which I did review other items I also use on this bike that I have linked to below in the relevant sections of each item, by clicking on the links you will effectively read a far a more in depth review of each item. As the bike review in 'Roadcyclinguk.com' seems to get archived then republished every so often I have a copy that you can see by clicking on the following link, Van Nicholas Yukon review . The review they published is in effect a review of the frame more than it is the component set up, where as this is more a review of the whole set up, so I have elaborated more on my equipment choices and upgrades since 2007 here.
This is essentially the same style of bike that I have always used for my tours, what we now call an Audax bike but 'back in the day' we called them training bikes, as they were set up to be slightly quicker than a more focused Touring bike and often used by a club racing cyclist, as I was back then, as a fast winter training bike, part of my winter training routine would have been a YHA weekend away somewhere, travelling with light luggage only, as such I have never really coveted heavy loaded touring, preferring a faster overall set up, back then because I was still racing and now because in short I'm not as young or fit as I was, so I covet a set up that transfers as much of my pedal power into forward motion, so it's less about an extra mph and more about getting through the last hour and a half into a headwind when I've had it, completely boss eyed and I'm crying for my mum! Much of the equipment on the Audax Red Bike Pictured was transferred onto my Yukon, the old Reynolds 531 Dave Yates built Pearson bikes still in use as my work bikes, the red one now converted to a winter fixed.
Wheels and Tyres:
The wheel I use are Mavic Kysrium Equipe, which give me a good balance of weight, comfort and price, as I'm not looking for race bike stiffness and I'm not exactly precious with it, riding the odd track or two on tour, yes if I bashed them up on tour it would still make my bottom lip wobble somewhat, but not as much if I had blinged it up with something twice the price; like I have on my Van Nicholas Chinook , that has Mavic Kysrium SL that are stiffer, lighter and twice the price, the Yukon set up is dialed back from Chinook so I would not want something as stiff as those, I also run the SL's with faster lighter tyres, to delicate for a tour bike though, on my Yukon I use 700 x 25c Continental Ultra Gator Skins
Brakes and gear mechs':
The Transmission is Campagnolo, since 2007 I have upgraded the Campagnolo Ergo levers and rear mech to match the front, so I now have Campagnolo Record for all three items; I also changed the brake calipers to Van Nicholas, although I had been using Campagnolo calipers, that initially were to shallow for the brake shoes to reach the rim, but with a little filing of the drop out slot they did just about drop low enough, but, being a race bike caliper they did pinch the guard, where as the Van Nicholas calipers go around it; so, in short they worked better. As for why the upgrade from Campagnolo Veloce Ergo shifters and rear mech' to Campagnolo Record yes I can tell the difference, the gear change is more precise and the brakes both feel and work noticeably better, although in part that's also down to the caliper. That said it was as really a case that I wanted to treating myself far more than it was down to necessity, the Veloce were more than good enough, so all I have really done is gone from good, to even better. I use Campagnolo simply because I always have, I know that especially in cycling forums people can get quite passionate when comparing the three main brands, personally as long as you can spec' components to achieve what you want gear ratios wise as I will elaborate on far more below, then Campagnolo, Shimano and Sram are all quality components.
I use a triple chainset, a TA Carmina (that I reviewed for www.roadcyclinguk.com click for link ) with 26/36/46 rings which gives me all that I am after as can be seen in the gear chart below.
In my case for example I like gears of around 60”, you will see that I have got those on both middle and outer ring. I have done this essentially because this is a bike I use for two roles, solo rides of 15-20mph and touring rides of 12-15mph, to save repeated chain ring changes I can essentially use the big ring mainly for solo rides and the middle ring for more sociable rides. Even though it only has a 96" top gear I find that easily high enough for a mid 20-25 mph work out, for 15-20mph cruising I have ratios that I like available mid cassette on the 46 ring, this I find is the perfect set up for me. Of course everyone is different, some prefer a lower low gear and a higher high gear, horses for courses as they say.
It does take a bit of thought as to what you need both in terms of ratios and then equipment choices to achieve them, but it can nearly always be done. In my case for example I did invest in a high quality chainset to get the ring combinations I wanted, as for me personally I find many road specific triples to large for me and the ATB chainsets too small for what I want.
Note I said 'wanted' not 'needed', my tour bike is used for tours, often I want to climb a long mountain pass with little effort to take in the scenery, so I chose lower gear ratios on that bike.Sportive bikes by comparison are normally ridden with no luggage, plus set up generally for riding at a higher speed than a touring bike, you can see from that gear chart above that a 34t inner chain ring with a 27t largest sprocket (edit Shimano 10 speed road cassettes now go upto 28t), a common combination on a sportive bike with compact transmission, will give a lowest gear ratio of approx' 34", on that style of bike that is low enough for most riders, even on a mountain pass.
To try and explain what a 34" gear ratio equates to you will see a red Audax bike in my tour write ups under my signature below, the ’Cycle tour from Lands End to John O'groats, (LEJOG)’ write up had a higher gear than that and I rode up every climb, in that specification I also toured the High Alps with two full panniers and again rode every climb.
However, I realised when I was riding in a group I had to keep the gear turning on the climbs and ride quicker than many of my new friends, who were using lower gear ratios than me and able to ride at a slower more sociable pace, that along with wanting to take in the scenery is why you will now see that bike had a triple in some of the later tour articles. As I said gear ratio choices can take some thought, the decision may not always be down to ability. In my case for local rides I seldom, if ever need to use it the smallest ring, I have even done full tours and never once used it, yet I have no intention of taking it off as I know that it’s there if wanted, arguably I could have fitted a larger small ring and still been happy, as my choice of chain ring sizes is more for to achieve the 46-36 combination than it is the 26.
Note my bike is an Audax bike, I have mentioned it purely to illustrate the thought process that can go into deciding what gear ratios to go for. An Audax bike like mine is often used potentially for slower tours, as such many spec' a triple over a double, where as some are set up more as fast day ride/sportive bikes, as I said above normally used for a slightly faster style of riding, as such they will normally have higher gear ratios than my Audax bike as a result. Just because I have set my bike up with a very specific set of gear ratios and more importantly the equipment choices I have used to achieve them, it doesn’t mean that I therefore believe what manufacturers normally supply are as such wrong; far from it, for the majority of Audax bikes-riders, they can achieve what they personally are looking for with normal road triples of 30-40-50 or 32-42-52; likewise many Sportive bikes-riders find that the 34-50 double compact transmission also offer their desired ratios. Along the same lines in many ways what I have done arguably is not recommended, for as you will read below there are certain compromises by using ratios outside the design parameters that the mech’s were designed for.
How you go about chosing what front and rear derailleur to use is to a large extent influenced by how you go about achieving the desired gear ratios as I described above. Modern systems will generally use the same brand through out the transmission set, Shimano mechs with Shimano gear levers and sprockets, Campagnolo with Campagnolo etc, although to a degree you can mix and match, often called ’Shimergo’, with the exception of chain sets mix and match is still quite rare on new bikes being built from scratch.
I would suggest if possible keeping the transmission set up compatible, you will see my bike that I refer to above when discussing gear ratios isn’t, I have used a Chainset smaller than the mech’s were designed for, nearly all road bike mech’s are designed for larger overall rings, as you can see the ’mech line does not follow the chain ring’ so the mech’ pushes the chain too far away from where the chain disengages the chainring
This can and in this case does mean that you don't get such good gear change, more noticeably when changing into the smallest ring. I have got it working just good well enough, but it is definitely a compromise, I try not to change down under full pressure and if possible not when in the largest rear sprocket, I get a better shift if I am in 3-4th sprocket down as the mech' engages the chain nearer where it was designed to do, as a precaution I have also fitted an ’Overshift Protector’.
Garmin Edge 810 GPS
The other items used are Van Nicholas alloy bars, stem, clamps and seatpin, that I may upgrade at some stage, like with the transmission upgrade this because I want far more than need to! The bar and Rack Bag are Carradice Super C, the bar bag I use on tour only. The rear rack is a Blackburn with rear light, I also take a small font light in the bag that I attach for misty climbs or long mountain pass tunnels. I had been usiing the superb Cateye Strada Wireless although I have just invested in Garmin Edge 810 GPS set up that will hopefully become the best gadget I've ever invested in! You will see it some of my tours that I didn't use a bar bag, I used a Polaris MapTrap
I personally like a 'Specialized Toupe 143mm', we are all different, one rider may swear by a saddle and another can swear because of it, the 'Specialized Toupe 143mm' is the saddle that currently works for me. Note I said currently, our bodies change as we get older and as such the choice of saddle may evolve as we do, for example I did love Brooks leather saddles until my mid forties, as you can see the picture at the top taken in 2007 has a 'Brooks Team Pro' fitted, I now prefer a saddle with a channel along the middle, as this helps to stop the numbness that I was starting to get, something that up until my mid forties had not been a issue, to be more specific about the numbness let's just say I am a typical man, there is a certain part of me that I would like to keep in tip top action for as long as possible and when it started to go numb I decided it was time for a change!
SKS; do exactly what it says on the tin; enough said
If you have read my review of 2007 the conclusion I came to back then was " if you want a well made, fast, mile eating, weather-resistant, durable bike, then the Van Nicholas Yukon is worth considering"; so has time changed my opinion, yes, slightly, although my conclusion is technically the same, in reality I like it even more now than I did then. I've thought why this maybe, like many things it's the sum of the parts, I've ridden a few tours on it as well as day rides of course, so I've become attached to it, it's become my two wheeled friend that takes me on tour.
Naturally there is a bond that forms between man (or woman) and machine when it's seen you through some bleak moments that I dare say we've all been through, a mountain pass where we've blown completely half an hour before top or a ride into headwind all day with rain stinging the eyes, or the the sense of achievement that often goes with completing a challenging ride or tour, balance this with the simple joy of cycling on a lovely sunny day and with the odd lifelong memory all thrown in and all this helps to form a fondness to our bikes and I'm no exception, for me my Yukon equates to holidays, a comfortable mile eating bike that is also quick enough to inspire me to try a bit harder when either the conditions or even just my mood so takes me, let's face it there is always a mad half an hour on most tours where for no reason the ride with your new mates ends up in a full on burn up!
It's another reason I've upgraded it since 2007, not because I needed to, it was far more because this has become my favourite bike and I wanted to, in 2007 if you asked me what was my 'best bike' I would have said my race focused bikes, over time my Yukon has grown on me to the extent that I've promoted that to my 'best bike' instead! I've got six bikes, some in fairness I don't use much, but dread the thought that should I have for some reason to get rid of them all except one; then without hesitation, my Audax bike is the one I would keep, it does all I want it to and then some, so much so that if I was so inclined to treat myself it would my Audax bike that I would further invest in; the Yukon is a mighty fine bike. The others worth considering would be the Enigma Etape that I referenced in the frame comparison below, plus Sabbath, Dawes, Spa Cycles to name but a few.
Van Nicholas Yukon versus Enigma Etape: (Please see footnote at bottom of page)
Arguably the closest and most popular competitor to the Van Nicholas Yukon is the Enigma Etape, which is Enigma's version of this 'Audax' style of bike. The frame geometry is similar although the Enigma uses a 3AL/2.5V 'Double butted EST tube set with CNC 6AL4V machined integrated head tube', versus the 'Van Nicholas 3AL/2.5V Seamless Optiformed Titanium Tubing'. What that actually translates to is essentially the Van Nicholas Yukon uses plain gauge 'round' tubing where as the Enigma Etape uses 'EST' 'Double Butted'; the Enigma Etape frame being listed as 0.7kg lighter than my Yukon (data from each manufacturers site at time of writing on a 56cm frame).
The CNC 6AL4V headtube is used by the Enigma Etape as this is a tougher material to accommodate the integrated headset bearings, where as the Yukon uses an external headset with a 3AL/2.5V headtube, both systems are it has to be said extremely reliable, so seldom is this a reason why someone has chosen one model over the other. The 6AL4V Titanium does however help to stiffen up the front end of the bike; marginally. Now 'marginal gains' is a term normally associated far more with racing thoroughbreds than it is with these Audax bikes, but 'racing types' often moth ball their precious racing steeds at the end of the season and chose these Audax bikes as robust weatherproof winter training bike. Where as most of the time I am inclined to ride at 60% effort, or 'conversational speed', with the occasional mad half hour when I go all boss eyed, pink and unnecessary pretending I am Bradley Wiggins, racer types even in the winter will often push on into the higher effort ranges much more frequently than I do, with many a winter club run turning into a full on burn up for the last hour or so. I don't go on those "Yesssss Paul we will take it easy" type of club runs anymore! Trust me even though they pretend to take things more sedately during the winter I know they still get seduced by the merest hint of a marginal gain, a burn up is a burn up after all, no matter what time of year it is!
The reference to 'EST' tube set stands for 'Enigma Shape Technology' to quote Enigma "By subtly ovalizing and tapering tubes in crucial areas we are able to reduce weight, increase power transfer whilst bringing better levels of comfort, no easy accomplishment". Relating to that very topic, visually there is a difference, the tubes are not as 'round' as they are on the Yukon, they do change shape and what can be seen when comparing the two is the down tube on the Enigma Etape visibly broadens towards the bottom bracket, although when you look for this feature it obvious to see, by the same token it doesn't leap out at you either, it still looks like a timeless 'classic' Audax bike. In comparison to my Yukon personally what this translated to was a more immediate response when making an out of saddle effort. Audax bikes are in effect Sportive bikes tuned back slightly to accommodate mudguards and with stability designed into the whole set up to carry light luggage, I would say the Enigma Etape did definitely feel slightly quicker and as such slightly nearer a Sportive bike set up compared to my Yukon, yet it was still for me extremely comfortable and stable for light load carrying.
Enigma Etape Breezer style ends; Van Nicholas Yukon ends
The Enigma Etape arguably does pay a bit more attention to detail over my Yukon, the 'Breezer' style rear ends offer a neater interface between the seat and chain stays with rear drop out for example, compare the two pictures above and you will notice the Yukon uses a more traditional flatter dropout that requires a far less attractive weld. Other additional features include a modified the rear brake bridge, with a threaded hole on the underside, so that the mudguard can be screwed neatly and securely without the need for a mudguard bridge; little things granted, but lovely touches none the less.
Both are best suited to be used with slim treaded 700 x 25c tyres although at a push they could take slightly larger, the Etape can use the 49mm depth brake calipers, where as the Yukon normally uses the longer 57mm drop. One reason behind the Etape being designed for 49mm is that you can normally fit the same brake caliper as per groupset, the budget Shimano Sora through to the top range Dura Ace all use 49mm for example, Campagnolo calipers are normally slightly longer with 50mm as standard. The far less common longer 57mm drop being catered for with more generic calipers, as such the ranges available are far more limited and the quality does not extend to high end, not really an issue if all the other components are of the same quality of course, but many spec' high end components on these bikes and often don't like compromising; especially on something like stopping! Campagnolo do not have a 57mm drop brake, Shimano or Van Nicholas's own long depth caliper can be used. Technically the longer depth brakes do not work as well as shorter and it has to be said it's noticeable, although in part this maybe down to the fact that the latest versions of a brake can take a while to filter down to the long depth versions, the short depth 49mm Ultegra was updated and the 57mm wasn't for example. Note there is not 8mm extra clearance on the Yukon as the brake caliper data suggests, its' simply that on my own Yukon 50mm was just not quite long enough. Put it this way, I initially transferred much of the equipment off my existing bike and managed to fit my Campagnolo Veloce short depth caliper brakes by filing the slot slightly longer, that's how close it was; yes it worked but it did make me feel a bit uncomfortable that I had potentially weakened the braking power on a bike I have often descended mountain passes on with sheer drop offs around many a hairpin!
When comparing these two as complete bikes, headset and brake calipers aside, then often the equipment choices would normally be the same, as although there are subtle differences they are both aimed at the same style of riding, both are well built, well designed frames.
Van Nicholas Yukon review.
Please note to be open and upfront I have been in the Cycle Trade for the last 27 years, in both wholesale and retail, from 2001-2013 I worked for two Van Nicholas stores. During that time I worked closely with Jan-Willem the founder and designer and was personally involved with the evolution of the frame-bike that was was to become the Van Nicholas Yukon. It was working closely with Jan-Willem and Van Nicholas that impart gave me a passion for Titanium bikes, which prompted me to apply for a career with Enigmabikes.com where I started in the summer of 2013, which is of course how I had access to testing the Enigma Etape that I referenced above in the 'Frame' section.
At some stage I may do a more indepth "Enigma Etape review" as for obvious reasons I will potentially consider replacing my Yukon with an Enigma Etape. In all cases my comments are written with as much impartiality as I believe was possible and as far as I'm concerned fair and accurate, but by the same token I feel that it is only right and proper that the reader is aware that I have links to both manufacturers. In reality both result in great bikes, arguably each manufacturer is positioned slightly differently in the market place and it's up for the individual to decide with who they would like to invest.