The bicycle that I descibe here has been more or less the same that I build for my last two long cycle tours, covering 65 000 - 70 000km each time.
There is not simply THE one perfect touring bike. Would I build a bicycle for shorter tours at more nearby destinations, it would look totally different too. I build here a bicycle for tours as I have done them in the past. This means I will mainly be travelling in isolated mountain regions, often on dirt roads, mainly in Latin Amercia and Asia. The bicycle I build here is based on my personal experience (bad and good), experience that I made over the last 20 years (not sponsoring). If it is the perfect bike for me this does not mean it is the perfect bike for you too. Everywhere you can find other good solutions. On a new bicycle I rarely put new parts that I have not yet tried out. I have other bicycles to do that. Only what proves to be good on those bikes and on previous tours will find its way on my new bike.
My principle is rather simple:
I chose simple, proven and robust technology that I can repair myself and where I can find spare parts most everywhere I get to.
If you see my bicycle you may think that I don't like 'modern' components (hydraulic disc brakes, hub gear, suspension). But that is not the case. On all my other bicycles you will find just that and I wouldn't want to miss it there. On my touring bicycle you will hardly find them because I want to preserve myself the option to repair the bicycle myself. Especially with parts that have to be replaced on a regular base I chose what is most common so I can find spare parts in most bicycle shops.
The most difficult decision first: what frame to choose? With this decision you already have to choose about other components (V-break or disk-break, hub gears or derailleur gears, suspension) too, because most frames are not available for all possible combinations.
My frame conditions are:
- Greatest possible sturdiness, weight is secondary.
- Steel frame.
- Long wheelebase. Enough legroom and a calm behaviour with heavy bags.
- V-breaks and derailleur gears
- Everything necessary there but nothing to much (eyelets).
- Availably as a frame set.
Steel or aluminium?
I am personally convinced that a well buit classic steel frame (chromoly) is more durable than a aluminium frame. Aluminium is very vulnerable to dents. Once an alu frame is hurt it can often not be repaired anymore. Steel on the other hand is way less delicate. You can bend it several times with no big problem. But steel has to be treated better in order not to rust. The often heard argument that a steel frame can easily be repaired by any smith does not count for me. A modern steel frame is as difficult to weld as an aluminium one and even in south america I met cyclists that found someone who could repair their alu frame there.
For me a good touring bike needs the following:
- Eyelets for racks and (lots of) water bottles. I manage to fit two 1½ liter pet bottles and a 7dl bottle in the frame and a 7dl fuel bottle below the frame.
- 26" wheels. The wheels are the weakest part of a bicycle and 26" wheels are simply more robust. Meanwhile mountain bikes are everywhere and tire and inner tubes can easily be found.
- Comparably long wheelbase. This is an advantage for carrying heavy bags. The bicycle is calmer and does not start to 'lurch'. You have more space for not touching the bags with your moving legs.
- Rather upright seating position. Of course that is personal taste. But when cycling for month usually more comfortable.
- Take care that you can mount at least 2.1" tires
There are quite some touring bicycles with a suspension fork or even full suspension on the market. Front racks for suspension forks exist for quite some time already.
For mountain biking I wouldn't give away my Fully anymore, but suspension on a touring bicycle?
To this day I have not seen a suspension fork, not to mention a full suspension frame, that would survive a multi-month trip carrying 30kg on dirt roads. Even more important: a suspension system I cannot repair myself. For me the answer is clear: No suspension system on a touring bike!
There is one suspension though that I find useful: a suspension seatpost.
A Chris King NoThreadSet and you have one less thing to worry about for the lifetime of your bicycle...
If I check my (and others) breakdown statistics, it is 3 parts that are most vulnerable on a touring bike: the rims, the hubs and the racks. So I rather like to invest a little bit more for those part.
With racks, for me this means: Bruce Gordon. Outrageously expensive but unsurpassed in quality. They are made from welded steel tubes (ChroMoly).
On my last tour I have used Tubus racks. They are good too, but never as long-lasting.
Most parts of the drivetrain system are wear parts. So here not only quality is important but they have to be replaced wherever I am. One pair of cassette, chain wheel and 2 chains usually hold for 12'000km (of course this depends very much on the conditions)
For rear and front derailleur I have chosen the robust and proven XT models. They also have a good price-performance ratio. Bottom brackets have to be replaced while I am on the road. So I want nothing exotic here. On the other hand there is Shimano that delights us with a new system almost every other year: square cone, Octalink and Hollowtech with 4 or 5 bolts and always different pitch circle diameter. The only recognizable system is the constant incompatibility and the need to always replace crank and bottom bracket. I have chosen a Hollowtech II simply because it is the most common system these days.
I use a Deore crank with 22/32/44 chain wheels. One reason for this choice is that the middle chain-wheele here is also made of steel and not of aluminium as with most other cranks
A 9 speed cassette is the most common these days where the chain is also not too thin yet. I use a 11-34 cassette to make sure I get up every hill.
The chain is the most often replaced part and because Shimano is the most common, this is what I use. I often see cyclists using chain links. There is really no reason for that. I open and close every chain multiple times and never had any issues with a good (!) tool.
The wheels clearly the weakest part on a touring bike. I don't make any compromise here. Weight is absolutely secondary it's got to be strong!
Actually I already found my perfect rims. With the Alesa Sputnik I was always very happy. Because if the wear of the flanks it too does not live forever. But until then it is very reliably. That of course is no coincidence. With 630gr they are really heavy ( an 'normal' mountain bike rims is about 450gr).
For some time now the company (Alesa) does not exist anymore. It is not quite clear which is the successor of the legendary Sputnik. Both the SP19 from Exal and the Sputnik from Rigida claim to be it. Their specification look both the same. I have chosen a Sputnik from Rigida. Of course I have taken the 36 whole version. Why would I want to go without the additional stability of those 4 spokes? Certainly not because of the weight. For the last trip I chose the version with CSS coating. Absolutely stunning: after 70 000km the flanks of the rims were just as strong as at the start!
DT spokes have almost become a standard. Their quality is absolutely top. I use DT Alpine III spokes. They are 2.34mm strong at the diameter which makes then the strongest spoke in DT's line-up. A broken spoke has become something quite exotic with this model!
I probably hold the sad record to have broken every hub. The weak part was mostly the freewheel.
For some time I have now been using hubs from White Industries. A masterpiece of a hub that you can completely take apart (with a 2mm allen key) and replace the ball bearing or the pawls of the freewheel. Because I use a hub dynamo, my front hub is a Son Delux.
No fear about building the wheels yourself. It is not that difficult. A good instruction can be found here.
For tires I use Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 2.0" (careful, there are lots of different Marathon models that are by far not all of the same quality). With some luck they are good for about 15 000 - 20 000km. Many 'normal' tires simply cannot cope with the weight of a fully loaded touring bike and therefore don't last for long.
For the handlebars everyone has to find the best solution for his personal taste. For me this one that I have been using for over 10 years already. Even though I always have a look to find something else, I couldn't find anything better yet. Most important is of course that you can hold it in multiple positions. If you spend lots of hours on the bike this is really important.
I use 2 finger brake levers and Grip Shift twist shifters. They are simple, robust, easy to maintain and are not target for kids to play with. To mount them on a handlebar like I have is a bit of a challenge...
I use neoprene handlebars grip from GrabOn. They last quite long and provide some comfort.
A rearview mirror can improve security on roads with heavy traffic very much.
I have used a Brooks leather saddle for many years already. After some time it simply fits best to my butt. A suspension seat post from Thudbuster takes the worts hits on really rough tracks.
I use completely closed cable systems for brakes and gearshift. These systems come from Gore, Jagwire and others. The life expectancy and gearshift quality is increased enormously with such cables.
I mount 2 bottle cages for 1½l pet-bottles and one 7dl bottle in the frame.
Additionally there is a bottle cage for the fuel bottle below the frame.