The South Downs Way is a historic and hilly 100-mile off-road bridle path that runs from Winchester to Eastbourne near the coast in the southeast of England. Riding the SDW is a rite of passage for many British mountain bikers, and making it into the record books for the fastest Double (out and back, 200 miles in under 24 hrs, unsupported) is an obsession for only the brave. For Steven Olsen, choosing a bike for the rough, chalky bridal way turned into a slightly different obsession; a quest to build a brand new ride to cope with all conditions, the ultimately low-maintenance mountain bike.

gates carbon drive mountain bike south downs way challenge bike low maintenance

First Olsen created the Lamb, a stainless steel single-speed with Gates Carbon Drive that featured a distinctive double down-tube. Olsen has now moved onto carbon and is soon to launch two new models as a result, aimed for mostly year-round riding in mud and rain, with very little maintenance required to keep it going through the muck. His new models feature carbon frames and Pinion gearboxes. Named the Ram and the Swan, you might think there’s an animal theme going on here, but in actual fact, all his bikes are named after pubs along the South Downs Way.

Olsen says “I commute thirty-plus miles per day off-road, so the design had to be an all-terrain bicycle for riding in the Great British weather and mucky trail conditions year-round.” The Ram uses 650b Plus size tires for extra traction and comfort, and the Swan is a 29er. Both feature elevated chain stays, which allows Olsen to put the Pinion (integrated gear box) under the chassis and create the tension in the belt. The design also allows the rider to alter the bottom bracket drop to accommodate different ‘swing plate’ designs, so that the geometry can be fine-tuned according to the rider or to the ride ahead.

gates carbon drive mountain bike south downs way challenge bike low maintenance Olsen bikes


The Ram (pictured) has beefy stays and stout, reinforced dropouts. Olsen added a 30.9 mm seat tube for dropper posts and the bikes can be run with a 120mm or rigid forks. The prototypes of both bikes are now in testing, and the final production versions will have internal cable routing. Olsen will speak and present the bikes at a Bicycle Film Festival exposition on July 20th at the ONCA gallery in Brighton. “I want these bikes to be as versatile as possible. Everything from muddy forest trails to adventure bikepacking” says Olsen and, no doubt will include a few Great British pub stops along the way. But is it set to be the most maintenance-free mountain bike on the planet, and will it stand the test of the infamous Double record? Only time will tell.


The Ram and the Swan are still in development, but orders can be taken for a September 2016 delivery. Find out more about the Olsen Bicycles and the Gates Carbon Drives.