I would say, my experience building my touring bike is a hit and miss process and only time-experience brought me to the bike that I firmly believe I am happy with. In this entry, I would like to share the decision points and products that I have hurdled in the hope of helping you decide on your own touring bike project.
Touring Bike the Fast Set-up
First and foremost, a touring bike is a bike that is built for long distance travel, not for road racing and not for off road trail riding as in the case of mountain bikes. However, a road bike and a mountain bike can be used as touring bikes in itself so the qualifying condition, as Lance Armstrong would put it- “It’s not about the bike” but the activity itself. But having said that, a true touring bike would need further adjustments that would deal with the rigors of touring, particularly in terms of comfort for long distance riding and load bearing capabilities for the logistics needed for multi-day rides.
Based on experience there is no one bike to rule them all! (contrary to Pivot’s claim). Not unless your style of touring would be the same all throughout. There are different types of touring. A
short one day tour that is less than 100km, a fast one day tour with around 100-200 km of distance covered, a purely road tour, an off road tour, a multi-day tour less than 3 days and those beyond 3 days to 10 days and of course, the ultimate- more than 10 days to a couple of months escapade. Given that, I would say the best touring bike is something that has the capability to be quickly reconfigured to adjust to all of these types of activities.
The start of course would be the base bicycle and I would say, there are 3 base bicycles to use. A road bike, a mountain bike and a cruiser bike. Though all three can be easily reconfigured to cover wider types of activities, i.e. a road bike can be converted to a cyclo-cross set-up to address rough road issues, a mountain bike can be converted as a hybrid with slick tires to become more efficient in roads, there are still other important factors to consider. I didn’t mentioned a cruiser in the previous example as I feel a cruiser bike’s gearing is more limited for fast and long distance riding and its too relaxed set-up would be inefficient for multi-day touring. In my case, I have chosen the mountain bike set-up for five important reasons- first, there are still lots of rough roads in the Philippines; secondly, a road bike position would be uncomfortable for my aging physique (I often experience back pain and shoulder problems for extended multi-day ride); thirdly road bikes has too aggressive gearing for comfort for climbs while bearing loads; fourthly, road bike has limited load carrying accessories and finally, the fact that I can reconvert the mountain bike to a full
MTB set-up would be helpful to give me a “utility” mountain bike I can use in extreme conditions like adventure racing (as I don’t want my expensive XC to be handled poorly in transit during these mutli-activity competitions), for use for bike commuting and for lending to friends who don’t have bikes and would want to try out mountain biking. So moving forward, the succeeding discussion would be on MTB as a touring bike as I have limited experience using cyclo-cross bikes.
Modifying a bike from its normal set-up to a bike touring set-up would put it in the “hybrid” category that would, for others, as a goofy or awkward looking set-up. But in the final analysis- the consideration would be efficiency and comfort rather than aesthetics. The modifications I did with my mountain bike for touring includes a change in tires from knobbies to slick. I do have a 1.75, 1.25 and 1.0 tire diameters slicks which I interchange depending on the type of touring activities I need to do. Of course, the 1.0 would be for a fast one day ride covering 100- 200 km. I still retained the knobbies in cases of a real off road
touring. I have also selected a riser bar for comfort and have used an Ergon grips with large flat ends for resting my palms. I was also thinking of having a bar end (Ergon has one with an integrated bar end) as it offers more hand position which you will definitely need after a whole day ride to ease out the strains and cramps on the hands. I am also considering using an aero-bar
Tour Divide Champ with his Bike
extender used in triathlon bikes for efficiency as I have also seen most participants in ultra long distance bike races such as the Great Divide and Tour Divide uses such set-up, though it would raise a lot of eyebrows. On my part, I have removed the third chain ring or the granny gear as I don’t have a use for it on road touring. On the area of packing stuffs for the ride, there are a couple of options. I have invested in most of them so that I am more flexible to decide on which load to bring depending on the ride (ROI on these packs are also better if the bike is used for bike commuting). A hydration pack, a saddle bag, sets of panniers with an easy quick release frame that goes with it, a front tray and smaller gear bags that can be attached on the bike for small items such as cameras and GPS are some of the stuff I found useful. You will only find out by experience which works and which doesn’t or which still works but is not efficient (i.e. I found out that bringing panniers slows me down and increasing my riding efforts due to wind drag on the bag so its not advisable for fast rides and only for comfortable phased rides). My bike frame has two water bottle cages so that in shorter rides, I can do away without any hydration packs. For safety, a blinker, good head lights and bike head lamps as well as a kid’s bike bell is also helpful. For the stuffs to bring- its something that experience and your preference will tell you. But some quick pointers includes- bring light and quick dry stuff, avoiding bringing too much stuff, and consider buying some of the stuff on the road rather bringing it yourself.
Choice of saddle is also crucial especially if you have sensitive butts. All of these comes out after more than 8 hours in the saddle. I have one so for long distance rides, I use a Selle Italia Sportourer but the downside is it’s weight so I also retained a lightweight saddle for lesser day tours. One decision point that may be particular here in the Philippines is regarding safety. As light weight bike is ideal for touring for power efficiency and since light weight is equivalent to expensive components- security issues of your bikes being stolen or forcibly taken is also a serious consideration. If your bike is inexpensive, you will have fewer things to worry but it’s a reality that it’s heavier to drive. So for me, I sometimes replace parts with a less expensive one if the destination has security issues, though its too much work to do, it’s not that often do I encounter this situation.
Overall, the accumulated experience in doing long distance riding gives me more confident in future rides, knowing that my ride and the stuff I bring would be sufficient to complete the tour successfully. This is the same advice I would give for those considering doing bike touring. You can heed all the advice here but in the end, it’s your preference that will tell you which one is for you. But that is something you will not find out without making your first steps- your first long distance- or multi-day tour.
My Bike Touring Specs (Note that majority of the components here were hand me downs from my upgrade of my XC bike and were not bought specifically for this bike):
Frame : Schwinn MOAB 2
Fork : Rigid Aero Fork (Mosso) but am considering using suspension when majority of route is rough roads.
Handle Bar : Easton EC90 Monkeylight Riser Bar/ Oval Carbon Straight Bar
Grips : Ergon
Stem : Easton EA90
Seat Post : Easton EC90
Saddle : Sportourer / Selle Italia XC
Group Set : XTR 2003 less granny gear, hydraulic brakes but still contemplating of returning to V-brakes for weight, easy maintenance and lower cost (remember security?)
Wheelset : Token hubs 28, 32 holes, Wheelsmith spokes, SunRingle 28 and Mavic Rims 32 (reason: no local available rims with 28 holes so brought the 28 hole rim in the US. reason in the first place- wrong delivery of Token hubs from Taiwan- one is 28 and another is 32, more difficult to return back to Token directly).
Rotors : Ashima
Tires : Michelin Country Rock 1.95, IRC 1.25, Schwalbe Durano 1.0, Kenda Nevegal for off-road.
Bike Computer : Wireless Cateye
GPS/ Media Player : Nokia E72
Lights/ Blinkers : Cateye, Mammut
Panniers / Bags: Giant, Deuter, Camelbak, Louis Garneau, Belkin, Lowe Alpine