Quest for a ‘Heavenly Horse’
Is the Co-Motion Divide Rohloff the right expedition touring bike for you? Read here and find out.
Over 2000 years ago in 130 BCE, Emperor Wudi of the Chinese Han Dynasty sent an army numbering 60,000 men deep into the heart of central Asia to the fertile Ferghana Valley, an important conduit along the old Silk Road located in modern day western Uzbekistan to acquire the fabled, almost mythical and much desired blood-sweating ‘Heavenly Horses’ of Dayuan to help fight the Xiongnu who threatened China.
Just as Emperor Wudi was in search of legendary Ferghana Horses, I was in search of a hardier breed of bike, a stalwart steed, a ‘Heavenly Horse’ of sorts that would confidently carry me to and from distant lands and the fringes of my imagination. At the end of my search, I settled on a Co-Motion Divide Rohloff, which I’ve owned and ridden for fourteen months and ridden over 10,000 kilometers.
Selecting the right touring bike for is no small task for the serious adventure cyclist intent on probing the deepest, wildest places of his or her dreams and inspirations. To provide you with some actionable information and aid you in your quest for the perfect expedition touring bike or your ‘Heavenly Horse,’ I’ve put together some of my thoughts, observations, and experiences about the Divide Rohloff based on the times ridden and distances traveled in real world adventure cycling and urban commuting conditions.
I’ve ridden the Divide year round, in good weather and bad, up hills and down hills, across wind-swept alpine mountain passes and across vast, lonely desert expanses. I’ve pedaled this stalwart steed through mud and snow, dust and wind. Over the days and miles in the saddles, I’ve gotten to know the Divide pretty much inside and out, have become familiar with bike’s capabilities, it’s shortcomings, niggles, and nuances, which I would like to share with you.
This article is a follow-up two previous posts (see here) and is not only a more in-depth look at the Divide but contains some background on my bike selection thought processes and adventure cycling riding style that led me to chose the Divide and the environments and conditions it’s ridden.
The Least You Need to Know
Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): The Co-Motion Divide Rohloff…
- is a svelte, high-end “do-it-all,” go anywhere expedition touring bike capable of carrying you and your gear to the ends of the earth and back should you possess the stones and inclination to go.
- excels on varied terrain: tarmac, gravel/dirt roads, double and singletrack.
- is stable and predictable on steep descents carrying heavy loads (30 kg).
- works well in bikepacking, traditional touring or hybrid configurations.
- has a custom Chromoly steel frame bike utilizing mountain bike geometry constructed with an impeccable fit and finish.
- is a single rider bike built to tandem capabilities with burly oversized chainstays and down tube to handle hauling heavy touring payloads over the most rugged terrain.
- is a super sturdy platform that doesn’t become wobbly or flex excessively when shouldering monster loads.
- is equipped with a fully integrated Rohloff internally geared 14-speed hub and Gates CDX Carbon Belt drivetrain delivering unparalleled low-maintenance reliability.
- is simple to maintain with the Rohloff/Gates drivetrain.
- rolls on strong hand-built wheels with heavy gauge stainless steel spokes (40 front/36 rear).
- setup in a proven 29-inch wheel format that rolls over rough terrain.
- has exposed cable routing to accommodate the S&S Couplings that may make lower cable housings a bit more susceptible to corrosion.
- is expensive at $7000 clams, but worth the investment.
A Bit of History with the Divide
The Co-Motion Divide Rohloff has been my primary bike and principle form of transportation carrying me on long distances treks, across town jaunts, and quick trips to the corner market.
The Divide’s performed in all four seasons and all types of weather, wet and dry, hot and cold. I’ve ridden it a week straight in the driving rain in western China and commuted through snowy Sierra Nevada winter days back and forth to work.
The Divide’s not your typical show pony that only sees an occasional trail or two on the weekends, but sees action most days of the week interspersed with distance rides to far away lands through forgotten places. It’s owner is a “Hella Fred” to the max and is in the saddle most days of the year.
Currently, the Divide is stabled in the enclosed balcony of our 22nd floor high-rise apartment building in central Shanghai, a 24 million person megalopolis and arguably the most prosperous place on the planet, where it takes daily trips in the elevator to the ground floor on little forays to local markets or on cruises through French town to snag a frosty pint of Guinness.
Every couple of weeks or so, I saddle the Divide up with a couple of small panniers and a frame pack loaded with a few provisions for multi-day outings to regional sights or semi-annual excursions for longer treks to China’s western regions to explore fabled routes along the old Silk or Tea Horse Roads of ancient Cathay.
Into the foreseeable future, the Divide’s dance card remains full with upcoming ventures through exotic interiors of Asian countries like Taiwan, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam still on the tick list.
Out on the open road in its natural habitat as a distance traveler, the Divide spends most of its time on paved and graveled roads with occasional soirees onto rutted dirt roads or twisty overgrown mountain trails, as its primary purpose is that of a peregrine and long-distance nomad. Otherwise, Divide is happy running errands or just kicking about the asphalt streets of the concrete jungle that are Shanghai.
Often I’ve ridden the Divide along with other riders on different bikes and had a chance to observe the bike performing among its peers, which has provided additional insight and understanding into the bike and its capabilities.
Building the Perfect Beast
Getting the right bike starts with determining who you are and what your riding style is followed by how you expect to use the bike and the capabilities it needs to possess.
I self-identify as a traveler who travels by bike, and not so much a cyclist who cycles for cycling’s sake though I’ve ridden bikes all my life and cycling is a passion of mine in and of itself. Second only to my lovely wife and family, traveling by bike is my top passion.
Adventure cycling is the perfect marriage between man, machine, and adventure. For me, it’s the optimal modus operandi to explore the world on the most intimate level. People tend to be more open and receptive to you when you’re on a bike than when you’re traveling by car, on a bus or in an airplane. You in and more exposed to the world around you. You are vulnerable and more open to genuine experience. Adventure cycling: It’s who I am. It’s what I do.
I crave the longer distances leading to distant places far off the beaten path, which holds a special attraction and magic all its own. Cycling is the best purist way to get there — save for on foot. However, I won’t hesitate to leave my bike temporarily behind to travel or explore when needed, which doesn’t happen too often. I’m pretty much a freestyle traveler in pursuit of authenticity, genuine experience, and out to see the world as it is. I’m not much for following Lonely Planet guidebooks and sticking to well-trodden paths of the masses. If I can do it by bike, all the better.
With that said, I was looking for the most rugged, reliable bike I could get that would take me confidently to the corners of the globe and back should I chose to go there. Wanting to purchase a bike for the long run and not a “bike of the month,” I was willing to part with a few more clams and invest in a higher-end premium quality machine. I’m in for the long run.
Buy cheap and you have to buy twice. In the long run cheap becomes expensive.
It’s All About Systems
For me, having a bit of a Type A personality and being a fairly organized person, it comes down to systems — systems for traveling and systems for life. Think of your bike as a system, a traveling system if you will. Consider its capabilities in relation to its intended use when purchasing your expedition touring bike.
It’s important to have a solid bike that will not only form the core of your expedition touring system that will get you where you’re going, but will be comfortable to ride and allow you to enjoy yourself along the way. The better organized and interdependent your systems and techniques of travel are, the more open and free you can be on the road. The better prepared and capable you will be to act when serendipity presents itself along the way.
I don’t consider myself a total control freak, but my kit is organized and there is a method to my perceived madness so that I’m pretty much prepared to take advantage of any opportunity that arises or whimsy that befalls me along the road, as opposed to grinding away on a creaking, squeaking rusted piece of so-and-so laden with unorganized bags of heavy, unnecessary crap (each to his own). As a result, my bike and kit rarely breaks down or fails me and I usually get where I’m going without a lot of hassles.
In addition to having a good bicycle at the core of your traveling system, traveling by bike should be a learning process, an evolutionary journey of discovery and problem-solving processes within each adventure, challenge encountered, or piece of equipment used. I keep what works and disregard that which doesn’t. My journey’s been an evolution of bikes and gear, with each one being better than the last as my desire increased and skill progressed.
A Quiver of One
One bike to rule them all. I was looking for a bike that could do it all, a bike that could be a solid gear hauler, a long distance traveler and touring mule, or a local commuting bike if need be.
My next bike needed to be a multi-terrain cruiser: a machine capable of cruising at the edge of highway tarmac, transiting busy urban asphalt, chewing up gravel strewn roads, and doing all with or without a load. I was questing for a dependable, durable, robust, rugged piece of machinery I’d feel confident pedaling to the four corners of the globe.
I was in search of the “ultimate” travel vehicle, a solitary workhorse and go to rig, and not acquiring a stable of one trick ponies. I was looking for a bike that could do it all. Reliability, durability, versatility, strength, and craftsmanship were all key watchwords in my quest for the perfect beast, my ‘Heavenly Horse.’
I wanted a simple, rugged, dependable bike that would take me where I wanted to go.
The Rohloff Speedhub a Must
Committing fully to adventure cycling and getting several long rides under my belt on other built up bikes left me wanting to take it to the next level and “do it right from the ground up.” I wanted to purchase or build a “final” long-term bike with a Rohloff Speedhub.
The idea of a dependable derailleur free drivetrain really intrigued me. Not having exposed derailleurs and or dealing with an oily chain that continually collected dust and dirt or got its lubricant washed off in the rain was an attractive proposition.
Many of the long-distance cyclists were riding Rohloff equipped bikes of various types and makes and seemed to be pleased with their performance. I spent many hours perusing the internet cycling websites for not only the right bike but the right set up and integration of the Rohloff Speedhub — of which there is a myriad to choose from (good and not-so-good).
In my search for a Rohloff equipped expedition touring bike, the Co-Motion Divide Rohloff gradually bubbled to the top of the list. Not only did they offer fully integrated Rohloff equipped bikes, but Gates carbon belt drives as well.
Having a Rohloff Speedhub with one of the best if not the best frame integration set-ups was the primary factor in deciding to purchase a Co-Motion Divide. Their Rohloff equipped bikes fully integrate and are built around the Rohloff/Gates drivetrain and don’t treat them as a cobbled together add-on or ill-conceived workaround.
Co-Motion’s high quality super strong flawlessly constructed Chromoly steel frame with eccentric bottom bracket, vertical rear wheel dropouts, and detachable rear seat stay for belt adjustment and replacement are probably one of the cleanest designs and make the carbon belt the easiest to adjust and replace.
I prefer the 29-inch format. It’s a taller setup that suits me better than the smaller diameters — again, each to his own. The 29-inch wheels roll better and like the fit and feel of riding a taller bike.
I don’t fully subscribe to the “gotta have 26-inch wheels because they are the most common size and can be found throughout the planet” or the “gotta have a steel frame because you can weld it if it breaks” mantras.
Durability and reliability backed up with a good contingency plan trumps commonality and availability in my book, especially with today’s proliferation of worldwide shipping. FEDEX, DHL or UPS will ship packages virtually anywhere in the world. With this approach, equipment failure is possible, but not that likely — and if it does occur, I either have the replacement parts on hand or can have them shipped to me in relatively short order.
My strategy is to build and ride a super reliable bike comprised of quality components that have a low to non-existence potential for failure and back them by carrying key replacement parts, such as one to three 29-inch inner tubes, a carbon belt, Rohloff oil and shifter parts, and heavy gauge stainless steel spokes, and to have shipping contingencies in place to effect repairs in the event of a mechanical and repair parts are not available on site.
The build I ordered from Co-Motion:
- Frame: Co-Motion-designed Reynolds 725 heat treated double butted Chromoly tubing, Co-Motion touring geometry
- Fork: Co-Motion taper-gauge Chromoly with CNC steerer
- Derailleurs/Shifters: Rohloff SpeedHub / Co-Motion Rohloff Shifter
- Brakes: TRP Spyke w/ 160mm Rotors
- Headset: Chris King Inset 44mm Internal
- Handlebar: Omitted the standard drop bar in lieu of a Jones Loop H-Bar
- Drivetrain: FSA V-Drive ME CRANK, Gates CenterTrack drive belt & rings
- Cockpit: FSA Gossamer stem & Jones 710mm Loop H-Bar
- Post/Saddle: Co-Motion Seatpost, Selle Italia Nekkar Flow Saddle
- Wheels: Rohloff rear, DT Swiss 540 Tandem Disc front hub; Velocity Cliffhanger Rims (36 hole rear, 40 hole front)
- Tires: Geax Evolution 29×1.9″ Tires
- Suspension: Rigid
- Weight: 28 lbs (sans racks and kit)
- Price: $7000.00
Note: I omitted the drop handlebar and had a Jones Loop H-Bar installed by the local bike shop prior to delivery.
An Expeditionary Setup
To fully round out the Divide Rohloff for expeditionary touring, I added the several additional accouterments to enhance the bike’s capabilities as a travel rig and an all around workhorse.
Gear selection for cycle touring is more or less situation dependent from trip to trip, but as a constant capability, I also wanted the core ability to live and work off of the bike from day to day, trip to trip, long or short, regardless of the situation or circumstance.
Outlined below is my base set-up capable of comfortably carrying about 25 kg of kit (my self-imposed weight limit) and enables me to maintain a cruising speed of about 18-22 kph on level terrain over 8-10 hours of riding, day in and day out.
In addition to opting for a 710mm Jones Loop H-Bar, I swapped out the Selle Italia Nekkar Flow Saddle saddle for a sweet Brooks Cambium C17 and a pair of goathead smashing Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires in lieu of the Geax Evolution 29×1.9″ Tires. Contrary to popular belief, Mondials are not impervious to punctures. They do get flats — although pretty damn few.
I also installed a pair of Planet Bike Cascadia 29er polycarbonate fenders keep the street water and mud off the bike and me. Being a clipless kind of guy, the Divide is also rocking a pair of Shimano XTR Trail Pedals for added muscle targeting ability and efficiency up the inclines. Lots of people use platform pedals, which is fine by me. I’m just not one of them.
For riding safety, I also installed on a bell, a rearview mirror, and for convenience a Pletscher double legged kickstand. To improve low-end climbing capacity, I swapped out the 20 tooth rear cog for a 22 tooth one instead, reducing the gear inches by 10% on the bottom end — a real plus on the long, steep climbs.
Hybrid Bikepacking-Touring Approach
Over the past couple of years, I’ve gradually worked into adopting a hybrid touring/bikepacking set up.
I run still front and rear racks for panniers when required, but augment them with Revelate Designs frame and handlebar bags, top tube bags, and component pouches to hone the Divide into the ultimate badass tool of choice for my wildest or mildest expeditionary exploits.
On longer rides, I use the small Ortlieb front panniers on the rear and an Arkel trunk bag to carry the requisite gear. On shorter scouting rides, I can jettison unnecessary kit and the panniers at the hotel or camp to lighten the load. It’s a pretty sweet setup that offers several configurations to suit a variety of conditions from day to day or trip to trip.
Running with a frame pack and top tube bags allows me to keep essential gear, such as tools and repair parts, on the bike for day trips while lightening the bike by dropping the panniers filled with clothes and camping gear.
Navigation is accomplished via a Delorme Explorer and apps on an iPhone 6, such as Earthmate and RunwithGPS. The Explorer provides navigation, tracking, messaging, and emergency SOS, and works with Earthmate on the iPhone 6 via Bluetooth. The iPhone 6 provides cell phone and WiFi (WeChat, Skype) communication as well. A Garmin Edge 800 I used on a previous bike delivers immediate riding data, such as speed, distance, time, etc. In China, I also use Xingzhe GPS tracking app (which is in Mandarin) in conjunction with any other riders with me so we can see and locate one another if we become separated.
Dialing-in the Divide
In addition to getting a quality bike fit from Sierra Cyclesmith in Reno, Nevada, where I took delivery of the bike, I took the time to carefully dial in the Divide over a series of months of riding, gradually tweaking saddle and handlebar positions until I had everything just so, with the result being a bike I can comfortably ride all day, day in and day out.
Over months of riding and getting to know the Divide, I’ve achieved a high degree of comfort when riding the bike and am able to remain comfortable after hours in the saddle. The Divide’s mountain bike geometry and the more upright riding position I’ve set up allow me to spend all day in the saddle day after day without significant back or knee pain. I don’t get old man hands or numbness in my fingers on the longest days.
With the bike pretty much dialed-in, I’ve recorded all the measurements in the Divide’s maintenance log for safe keeping and marked all adjustment points with white-out for quick readjustment during maintenance and reassemble after transport.
The Co-Motion Divide is a single rider bike pretty much built to handle the weight loads and rigors of a tandem bicycle. Tipping the scales around 28 pounds the Divide’s no wispy featherweight but a veritable expeditionary brute able to stand up the terrain and treatment that would pound lesser bikes into a hot pulpy mess.
The Divide’s oversized frame tubing, high-count spokes (40 front/36 rear), tandem front hub, and Rohloff speed hub work together to form a super strong riding platform that easily shoulders cargo weights in excess of 35 kg and can ferry it over rough terrain while not shrinking or wilting under the pressure. It’s easily the strongest built bike I’ve owned.
Crossing varied terrain is where the Divide really shines. It’s Chromoly steel frame exhibits forgiving and well behaved riding characteristics that enable the bike to cruise mile upon mile on silky black top and on a whim hop off the tarmac and roll down a gravel road strewn with baby heads. The Divide has no problems whipping onto meandering narrow mountain trail without twisting and flexing or sending spokes a popping, which is one of its biggest strengths.
As a guy who likes to get far off the beaten path and into the remotest of places, the stout Divide Rohloff inspires confidence at every twist and turn in the trail, and allows me to follow my curiosity regardless of where it leads me.
The Divide is a multi-role, multi-terrain bike that can do it all. This heavy duty voyager can stand up to the most demanding conditions and transit the roughest touring terrain with ease. The Divide is perfectly at home running single track as a stripped mountain bike, transiting backcountry trails on lightly loaded weekend bikepacking forays, or reeling in mega stretches on the Silk Road as a fully loaded, pannier clad expeditionary touring machine.
The Divide’s rigid suspension and mountain bike geometry is steady and predictable.
Under a load, Divide possesses polite trail manners and is easy to handle on and off the road with or without a load. Keeping the panniers snug and wiggle free with ROK Straps, technical maneuvering is nimble and characteristic of a rigidly suspended bike. Unloaded, the Divide is pleasant and behaves comparable to other rigid steel framed bikes such as the venerable Salsa Fargo. The 29-inch wheels tame rough bumpy roads and smooth out surface irregularities.
The Divide’s touring geometry, the Jones Loop H-Bar, and the Brooks Cambium C17 saddle afford me a comfortable upright riding posture and plenty of hand positions for comfortable riding throughout the day.
As with most cycling travelers, I don’t ride everywhere at 25 mph and want a bit of comfort while I’m in the saddle, which is what the Divide’s touring geometry provides. Long days on the bike are not only tolerable but pretty much enjoyable. The ride isn’t so harsh that I feel beaten up at the end a 165 kilometers in the saddle.
It goes without saying that good fit and a comfortable saddle play a major role in a bike’s riding comfort. Modulating the tire pressure on the Divide adjusts the rigid suspension to match smooth and rough surfaces. On hard surfaces, I tend to run the tires at a maximum pressure of 65 psi while decreasing pressure accordingly on extended distances on rougher terrain.
The broad gear range of the Rohloff Speedhub delivers a 526% gear range between the 1st and 14th speed (16.1 gear inches in first speed and 84.8 inches in 14th) enabling me to tackle the steep 8% mountain grades in relative ease. Replacing the stock 20 tooth rear cog with a 22 tooth cog gives me a low 16.1 inches in first gear, a capacity gain of around 10%. There is about a 13.5% change between speeds with no overlapping or duplicate gears like those found on derailleur equipped bikes.
Whether I’m crawling up steep mountains in China topping out at over 4500m, or winding 8% inclines through the Ponderosa pine-carpeted Sierra Nevadas, or gradual inclines of the western US high plains deserts, with the 46 x 22 tooth setup the Divide has plenty of low-end spinning capacity for loaded climbing.
Unloaded, the added low-end gearing seems a little much but really comes into its own under a full load grinding up a 6-8% grade with a 2000 meter elevation gain.
The Divide’s stiff thick frame is very stable at speed when loaded. White knuckle inducing drops are silky smooth when under a load. I feel comfortable running the bike up to 50 kph or more flying down long asphalt or concrete paved mountain passes with the wind in my hair. If I spin out in high gear, I just coast. The TRP Spyke disc brakes provide more than enough braking power to keep me under control or bring me to a rapid stop. Whizzing descents that’ll set your hair on fire won’t send the frame a flexing and squirming.
A Multi-Terrain Transporter
The Divide is at home both on and off the pavement. It’s at home cruising glassy smooth blacktop for hours on end, grinding miles of gravel backroads, weaving through the torn up earth of construction zones, or negotiating a prickly section of double or single track. The Divide is firm and anticipatory.
The Divide chews up rough ground like a boss — though thick, greasy mud can clog between the tires and fenders. I spent a week riding in the rain sloshing through soupy road mud along the Hexi Corridor in western China with the only issue being that the sludge tended to jam the spring-loaded operation of Pletscher kickstand. The Divide confidently sliced through hundreds of kilometers of oatmeal thick sludge without issue. I wish I could say the same. I was soaked to the bone.
Performance Under a Load
Saddling the Divide with heavy loads doesn’t faze the bike. The robust frame tubing and burly chainstays make for an extremely strong stiff frame that will stand up to years of heavy-duty use.
The Divide’s burly frame doesn’t flex or squirm like other bikes when saddled with a heavy load. Some frame flexing is to be expected, but it’s minimal on the Divide, unlike other bikes I’ve ridden that flexed so much pedaling out of the saddle was not possible. Fully loaded 25-30 kg, the bike is stiff and predictable.
On the Divide carrying 25-30 kg, I’m able to stand out of the saddle and pump the pedals without having the frame wobble and swish back and forth like a spawning chinook salmon clawing its way upstream.
The Divide is virtually impervious to nasty weather and harsh terrain.
Extended riding in the rain and slush or snow plowing through mile after mile of road sludge has little or no effect on the Rohloff speed hub or Gates carbon belt. Shifting remains precise and unhindered. The TRP Spyke brakes continue to deliver more than enough stopping power with squealing kept to a minimum.
Unlike the rain washing lubricant from steel chains, the Gates Carbon belt is unaffected. Riding the Divide in the snow is pretty straightforward. Minor freezing temperatures don’t affect Rohloff shifting. I haven’t had the bike in sub-zero temperatures, so am unable to report on how extreme cold temperatures affect the operation of the Rohloff Hub.
In slushy and freezing conditions, ice can build up on the Pletscher kickstand and has to be periodically knocked off to avoid jamming its spring mechanism. Being the Divide’s frame is steel and vulnerable to rust, corrosion over time is a concern and warrants periodic inspection. Riding in eastern Asia frequently subjects the bike to constant humidity and wet riding conditions, so I’m keeping an eye out for any signs of rust or corrosion.
The Rohloff speed hub and Gates carbon belt performs well in mud and clay, much better so than derailleur systems which can become easily jammed with mud and gunk picked up by the tires and deposited on the frame, chain and components.
I have yet to ride the Divide in thick, sticky clay, so until I do, I’ll have to wait and see how the bike performs under those conditions. But I think as long as solid objects, such as rocks, don’t physically jam between one of the cogs and the belt or impeded drivetrain operation, the Gates carbon belt, and Rohloff speed hub will be unaffected.
Steel is Still Real
Exceptional quality is the term that comes to mind when I consider the Divide’s frame.
The fit and finish of the bike’s frame is impeccable — no ragged unfinished edges or loose ends. The joints are seamless and expertly finished. Co-Motion’s exceptional craftsmanship sits atop the promontory of frame-building and is well worth the hefty investment.
Being constructed of Chromoly steel makes the Divide a bit heavier than its wispy carbon or bantamweight aluminum counterparts, but steel stands the test of time and is more forgiving on rough terrain. What the Divide lacks in lightness, it makes up in strength, durability, and reliability.
Integration of speed hub and carbon belt drive is simple and complete, and the best I’ve seen. Features such as vertical rear dropouts, an eccentric bottom bracket, and belt access via connection bolt on the right rear seat stay are built into the Divide’s frame specifically for the Rohloff and Gates carbon belt and not added on as a stop-gap or a contrived workaround.
The eccentric bottom bracket makes for a clean and simple belt tension adjustment. House-made vertical rear dropouts make belt re-tensioning automatic during rear wheel replacement. Belt replacement is accomplished by unscrewing a frame screw an opening the right seat stay — easy done.
The brazed-on kickstand plate (an additional feature) provides a bombproof mounting point for the kickstand that prevents crimping or crushing the chainstays and eliminates frame twisting when the bike is loaded. The rear wheel is easier to drop and replace than on a derailleur set up, especially while the bike is sitting on the double-legged kickstand.
Being able to break the Divide down to fit in a smaller shipping container is another plus. Co-Motion shifter and rear brake cable splitters simplify bicycle disassembly/assembly. Separating the frame requires external cable routing with splitters and cable actuated brakes. Co-Pilot Cable Splitters are a precise fit and have minimal clearance between the cable and cable hole. Frayed cable ends may be difficult to thread if performing a repair. Cables cables need to have a small stopper at the end or they will not fit into the Cable Splitter unless modified by grinding down to size.
The Rohloff / Gates drivetrain is arguably at the top of the heap, and Co-Motion has one of the best, if not the best design and integration of the Rohloff speed hub and Gates carbon belt drive I’ve found.
Unparalleled durability and reliability make the Rohloff Speedhub a great choice for touring. Not having a chain and derailleurs to mess with is a big plus on the road. Derailleurs are good and there is some comfort to be had in knowing they are pretty much available all over the world, but with today’s worldwide shipping availability, it’s almost just as easy to have a repair part or a component repaired via shipping. Its’ been my experience that outside of major cities, most bike shops are lightly stocked and tend to carry only the most basic items, many of which are of a lower quality that will get you through in a pinch but often have to be redone at a later point in time when better parts are available.
The Divide has 10,000 plus kilometers behind it and the speed hub is still going strong. Changing gears remains quick and smooth. Shifting is immediate and can be done without pedaling — a big plus at the halt or during slow technical riding. The enclosed gear cluster is virtually impervious to derailleur clogging dust, dirt and muddy roads. I’ve become spoiled.
Inside, the Rohloff is complicated but in function and operation, it’s simple, dependable and easy to maintain.
The gear hub’s broad gear range (526% between 1st and 14th speed) provides efficient power transfer at 13.5% increments between shifts with no duplication of gears. At 16.1 gear inches, the low, low 1st gear is a is a major plus on the steep stuff. I rarely find myself straining and wishing for a lower gear on sustained 6-8% inclines. I’m able to chug along at about 7-9 kph while hauling about 25 kg.
To avoid jamming the hub, I pause slightly when changing speeds, much like not trying to shift gears with a derailleur while mashing down on the cranks with a great deal of pressure. Shifts are smooth and clean.
Maintaining the Rohloff speed hub is pretty simple. All that is required is to keep the shifting cables at the proper tension via adjustment barrels on the external mech to ensure smooth shifting, and to change the hub’s oil annually or approximately every 5000 km, which is a pretty simple affair as well.
You can change the hub’s oil by yourself. The instructions, which essentially involves draining the old oil, installing and cleaning the internal gears with a cleaner solution, draining the cleaner, and installing fresh oil, is easy to follow. There are several informative how-to videos available on YouTube as well. Be careful not to overfill the hub, as that may cause leaking around the axle seals.
When riding longer distances, I carry an oil change kit with me on the road. It’s light, doesn’t take up much room and would be essential should any leaking issues arise.
Gates CDX Center Drive
The Gates CDX Center Drive Carbon Belt is silent and smooth when pedaling and is probably the best thing since canned beer. The belt and pulley system is a real step up from traditional steel chains with sprockets and chainrings in that there’s no lubrication required or oil for dirt and mud to clog or rain or water to wash off. There’s no muss no fuss, and no more chain tattoos either.
All the maintenance that’s required is an occasional wash with soap & water and periodic inspections once the tension is set. The carbon belt is virtually maintenance free.
Gates conservatively rates the life of their belts at twice the life of chains, which are often replaced due to stretch than actual failure. The carbon belt doesn’t stretch so performance is consistent throughout the life of the belt. My Divide’s original belt has over 10,000 km and still going strong with no real signs of wear. I carry a spare in my pannier on the longer trips just to be safe, as replacing them is pretty much a mail-order affair in the United States and Europe, let alone the rest of the world.
From time to time, the belt may squeak a bit when dusty, but it’s nothing a little water spritz won’t handle. No issues in the rain, mud, snow. The belt seems indifferent to adverse weather and temperature conditions. Car manufacturers have been using carbon engine timing belts for decades, so I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t work just as well if not better on bicycles. I feel confident heading out on long rides with the carbon belt but carry a spare just in case, as it would be a showstopper if it failed.
Setting belt tension is straightforward. The self-locking eccentric bottom bracket allows for simple and precise belt tensioning. I use a Gates Belt Tension Tester to ensure tension is spot-on.
Rear tire removal and replacement are easier than on a derailleur set up, especially when the is standing on the Pletscher double-legged kickstand. No derailleur or oily chain to fiddle with. All I have to do is place the shifter in the first speed, remove the Rohloff external mech by unscrewing the thumbscrew, popping the quick release skewer, then dropping the tire, viola — fait accompli.
Installation is accomplished by simply reversing the procedure. Vertical dropouts automatically re-tension the belt upon tire installation. No re-tensioning of the belt required. Fixing a rear flat tire is a snap.
Belt replacement is just as easy. The proprietary detachable right rear seat stay allows the carbon belt to be removed and installed over the pulleys and rear chainstay in a matter of minutes.
The carbon belt and pulleys perform well in wet and muddy conditions though I haven’t gotten caked on clay gummed up in the drivetrain yet to see how it affects the carbon belt and pulleys.
See the Rohloff website for detailed information on the performance of the hub.
I want to have a bike that stops, not just slows down. The TRP Spyke cable actuated disc brakes do just that. They’re strong and predictable and provide plenty of confidence-inspiring stopping power on the steepest hills or long white-knuckle descents in wet and dry conditions with no fading.
Precise caliper adjustment is painless via two-disc pad adjustment screws located on the sides of the calipers using a 3mm hex wrench to independently adjust each pad’s distance from the disc surface to get precise highly responsive breaking.
Currently, I’m running organic pads that are very quiet when wet or dusty (unlike the Avid BB7’s initially on my Salsa Fargo) and pretty long wearing. To be on the safe side after about 7,000 km of riding, I changed out pads prior to a big trip this summer. To my surprise, the pads still had about 20-25% life remaining. I plan to reinstall the used pad to get their remaining life when the new ones need replacing.
Though I’m partial to the Shimano hydraulic XTR Trail Brakes, the TRP Spykes provide solid confidence inspiring braking on long steep descents with no fading. They’re powerful and quiet.
Heavy duty, high spoke count wheels round out the Divide. Like the frame, the Divide’s hand-built wheels are burly and stout and designed to carry a heavily-loaded bike over severe terrain without failing.
The front wheel is equipped with a DT Swiss DT540 forty spoke hub (built for tandem bikes) and Cliffhanger Velocity Rims. The Rohloff speed hub 36 spoke set up on the rear makes for a stronger wheel than with a standard derailleur rear wheel set up due to the shorter spoke length. After 10,000 km of loaded and unloaded riding on varied types of terrain, both wheels are true and no spokes have popped or worked loose.
Quality Bearing Sets
Both the Chris King Headset and FSA Bottom Bracket are performing well without any issues. They’re a nice touch on an already quality set-up.
The Brooks Cambium still looks good, is wearing well, and is comfortable to ride. Unlike its leather counterpart, it’s not a big deal when it gets wet — though I still put a cover on it when I can. No issues or concerns here.
Maintenance and Repairs
Maintenance and repair costs are a consideration as well. The Rohloff speed hub and Gates Carbon belt make the Divide easy to maintain but could be more expensive to repair should mechanical issues arise. As with any piece of equipment, proper care and maintenance are key to getting the most out the Divide.
Checking shifter cable adjustments and changing the oil in the speed hub annually or every 5000 km is about all the maintenance the Rohloff requires. As for the Gates Carbon belt, a simple wash and spot check of the belt tension is all it needs — no dirty, oily chain to clean and lubricate, cogs to scrub, or derailleurs to tune. Periodically checking tires and brakes for wear, wheels for trueness and loose spokes, and the frame for corrosion should be an integral part of the proper care and feeding of the Divide. As with any piece of gear, it will wear out sooner if neglected.
If you take care of you gear, your gear will take care of you. Regular maintenance and inspections help your gear to run its best the longest. And the same is with the Divide. I keep my bike well-maintained and in return it provides me with many miles of trouble-free enjoyment. I tend to use by gear by the credo: “Use it, don’t abuse it” and maintain my bike accordingly.
Niggles — Internal Cable Corrosion
One minor criticism I have with the Co-Motion Divide Rohloff is the placement of the lower rear brake cable housing, a 20 cm segment running along the left rear chainstay to the disc brake caliper that is required due to the S&S couplings and seems to be a little more susceptible to moisture, debris, and corrosion. It’s a minor issue that is easily abated by a watchful eye, routine maintenance, and carrying a couple of spare precut replacements to replace the cable housings should corrosion occur on the internal portion of the cable housing that produces binding and drag on the rear brake cable.
I’m an all-season, all-condition rider, so there’s a tendency for my bike to experience harsh conditions, such as days of rain, snow, mud and sleet. In the last year of riding, my Divide’s pretty much seen it all: snow in the High Sierras, days of driving rain along the Yangtze River delta, mud and grime through the Hexi Corridor, and blowing sands of the Gobi Desert. As a result, any weaknesses or vulnerabilities tend to be enhanced.
After several days of riding along the Hexi Corridor, the Divide developed a dragging rear disc brake caused by the corroded inside of the rear cable housing section precipitated by water and grit that had entered and settled in the housing and rusted internal coil.
If kept clean, checked routinely, and replaced if the inside of the cable housing becomes corroded, it’s not a big issue. Perhaps rerouting the cable would eliminate the potential problem.
I’ve mitigated the issue by keeping an eye on the cable and replacing it at the first sign of dragging or corrosion. A couple of pre-cut 20 cm segments of brake cable housing and a couple 15 cm segments for the Rohloff shifting cables are now part of my standard kit. Thus far, the stainless steel brake and shifter cables are unaffected by the elements.
Not the Lightest Bike
Tipping the scales at around 28 pounds, the heavy duty Divide isn’t the lightest of bikes and is a little heavier than most. I don’t think it’s such a bike issue, weight weenies aside. The beefy Chromoly steel frame and Rohloff hub contribute to the added weight, but make up for it with the added strength, durability, and reliability they provide.
Like all custom bikes, the Co-Motion Divide isn’t cheap. At a cost of around 7000 simoleons, the Divide Rohloff sits at the upper end of the price range for expedition touring bikes, which is a lot of dinero to be forking over for a bicycle. But you get what you pay for and the Divide Rohloff is pure quality from stem to stern. It’s a serious investment for a serious rider, and not necessarily for those just looking to add another pony to their stable.
If you’re in the market for a blue light special on bikes, you won’t find any here. If you’re looking for a dependable, durable bike that will faithfully carry you across the miles and over the years, you’ve come to the right place. The longer you ride the Co-Motion Divide, the more of a value it becomes. I tend to live by the adage: Over the long run, cheap is expensive and expensive is cheap.
Specialty Parts Availability
Being the Divide is outfitted with a Rohloff internally geared hub, a Gates carbon belt drive, and is running 29-inch wheels — all specialty components that are probably not readily available outside the U.S. and Europe — it is understandable that one could have pause for concern on whether the Divide is suitable for touring in far away places.
However, considering the proven reliability of this bike and those components backed up with today’s worldwide shipping capabilities, I don’t see it as an issue other than ensuring sufficient repair contingencies are built into your journey in the event you do encounter mechanical difficulties with any components that are not readily available on the road — pretty much as you would with any other bike.
The risks are largely mitigated by each of the components’ ruggedness, dependability, and reliability. Gear failure is possible, but not likely. Additional security is provided by bringing replacement parts for key components, such as an additional carbon belt, a set of shifter cables, a Rohloff oil change kit, and a 29-inch folding tire and spare inner tubes. In the event of an unlikely mechanical failure of one of these components, repairs can be made onsite allowing the journey can continue.
If a catastrophic failure of or damage to the Divide’s frame or Rohloff hub should occur, it’s better to ship the part to the respective company to be repaired right than having it jury-rigged by some local mechanic with questionable parts and skills.
I understand there are those that would disagree with my rationale, and to those I say there’s more than one way to skin a cat. It’s up to you. It’s your bike and your journey. It is you that will have to resolve the problem. The important takeaway is to have a plan that you can implement, and this plan works for me.
Traveling on the Divide
The Co-Motion Divide Rohloff continually attracts attention and comments wherever I ride it. People, cyclists, and noncyclists alike are always taking pictures of the bike and fiddling with its components. Locals may not be familiar with the Co-Motion brand, but the know a quality bike when they see it. I continually receive laudatory comments about my Divide wherever I go. Individuals checking my bike out may not speak my language, but they are always pointing to the bike and giving me a big smile and a “thumbs up.”
People continually approach me throughout the day curious and wanting to talk to me about what I’m doing and to snap a picture of me and the Divide. If I stop at a local bike shop for beta on cycling in the local area, shop personnel and customers almost always take pictures of the Divide, especially the Rohloff speed hub and Gates carbon belt.
When eating at neighborhood food stalls, locals are always stopping to get a look at the Divide, to snap pictures, to grip the brake levers, to occasionally twist the shifter or spin the pedals, to touch the carbon belt, and to tweak the rear view mirror. I’m not sure what’s up with the mirror tweaking but for some strange reason people are always twisting and turning the rear view mirror. Not all of them know bikes, but they know the Divide’s something special.
On a couple of rare instances, locals have suddenly hopped on the Divide for an unauthorized “test ride.” Driven by curiosity their intentions are innocent enough though they don’t think to ask and get permission before touching, let alone riding someone else’s bike.
Most can’t handle the bike’s saddle height, which is much higher than average bikes partly due to my height and the fact that most Asian ride bikes with the saddle set low enough to put both feet flat on the ground when sitting on the saddle.
Once moving, their legs flap akimbo as they jerk the handlebar back and forth trying to maintain balance, which is further exacerbated by the unexpected 25 kg of gear in the frame bag and panniers.
Eyes bugged out and mouth agape, the renegade riders either pull themselves off of the saddle to catch the Divide, often smashing their groin on the top tube, or they end up dumping they bike on its side, usually going to the ground with it.
Outside of Dunhuang while I was photographing the Divide by a watchtower along the Great Wall of China, an older bald-headed gentleman sporting a potbelly and an unbuttoned apparently got caught up in a moment of bravado wanting to impress his family hopped on the Divide in a fit of passion and tried to go for a spin but ended up dumping the bike flinging him face first into the sand.
Embarrassed in front of his family but undaunted, he tried to get the bike up again only to dump it over on the other side before I could get to him and the bike. Save for his hurt pride there was no real damage to the bike.
Being chastised by his wife and daughter, the gentlemen insisted in making amends by giving me a bottle of baijiu (Chinese white or clear liquor usually strong enough to burn the skin off the back of your throat) and a couple of 2-liter bottles of tea. To avoid him losing face, I graciously and politely accepted. Amends made, we all posed for a picture, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
Along the shore of Qinghai Lake in western China, two young Tibetan men insisted on trying to ride the bike. I tried to talk them out of it, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer.
After the first nearly tipped the bike over trying to pedal it across the rocky ground, the second declined his turn. Unlike with the Dunhuang rider, I was able to trot alongside the young Tibetan to catch him and the bike in the event of a fall. Not many people are anticipating the height or the weight of a loaded bike. It always surprises them.
People are naturally curious about the Divide Rohloff. It never fails to draw attention and is a great way of meeting people. I smile and do my best to indulge their innocent curiosities while trying to keep injury or damage to a minimum and taking it all in a stride. It’s part of traveling and meeting people — the best part.
The Co-Motion Divide Rohloff is a high-performance non-suspended expedition touring bike and consummate world traveler capable of taking you wherever you’ve got the intestinal fortitude to pedal it.
I have no reservations hopping on my Divide and heading for the most far-flung, remote locations I dare venture and am confident in the knowledge the Divide will get me there and back again. My Divide has earned its place as a trusted companion and I my bicycle of choice for all that I do on two wheels. There are plenty of other good options out there, but you won’t go wrong with the Co-Motion Divide Rohloff.
My Divide performs like the day I got it. It’s a bike is solid, competent, capable. I am completely confident in its abilities and have no reservations taking to the open road headed for the most far-flung, remote locations assured in the knowledge that the Divide will get me there and back again. Whether riding the Great Divide or more ambitious adventures farther afield, the Co-Motion Divide Rohloff is a no-nonsense serious expedition touring bike in every capacity perfect for the long treks dreams are made of or weekend dashes through local stomping grounds.
The Divide Rohloff isn’t cheap by any stretch the imagination but worth every penny should you decide to take the plunge.
My Divide has found its niche and settled into its element. Chips, nicks, and dings are beginning to appear as the miles pass, as dreams and adventures become fond memories of journeys past, dreams fulfilled.The Divide is beginning to show nicks, chips, dings, and scratches, all scars accumulated from over 10,000 km of travel, exploitation, and adventure. As the miles pass and the journeys add up one by one, dings and chips begin to appear as the Divide settles into being a well-used stalwart expeditionary touring beast it was meant to be, ready to meet the toughest challenges of roads and trails that have yet to be explored. A competent, capable, consummate expeditionary machine. Wabi-sabi is running its course. Scars from life on the road are beginning to show. The Divide now has a soul.
In the final analysis, you have to choose your own poison. After all, it is you who will pay for it and ultimately, you who will be the one to ride it, for better or for worse. There is a plethora of able steeds out there in a broad range of prices that can take you where you want to go. For those that can appreciate this style of riding and are looking for a companion with which to share the miles, the years and the adventures, the Co-Motion Divide definitely deserves a look.
Without reservation, I can say that I would make a purchase again and wholeheartedly recommend it to my friends and fellow adventure cyclists alike. See you on at the top of the mountain.
Invitation for Feedback and Additional Resources
What do you think? Do you have any observations, experiences or points of interest you’d like to share? Please leave me your comments below.
For more information on the Co-Motion Divide Rohloff, check out their website at http://co-motion.com.