Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tour Bikes

I thought I'd dig into tour bikes a bit. Again, I'm not talking about that French tour that's going on right now. I'm talking about loaded touring bikes.

My last post outlined a few self proclaimed categories for tour bikes. They are Ultra Lite, Luxury and Expedition. This blog is about bikes so I thought I'd start off my touring equipment reviews with what bike I'd want to use for each of these categories.

Now, asking a bike guy to outline what bike they'd want is a difficult task. My tendency is to go into every painful detail. I'm going to to save that for another day. Today, I'm going to share a few good representative bikes for a few of these categories.

One last detail before I get to bikes. Depending on the category, I may be listing one, two or three bikes depending on the surface of the tour. Gravel? Pavement? Singletrack? For others, I may not list any because I am not aware of a bike that fits my needs & wants.

So....onto bikes.

Ultra Lite

For a pavement Ultra Lite tour, I'd probably use my Salsa Casseroll. The bike isn't built to carry panniers with more than 15-20lbs. But for Ultra Lite road touring/riding, I think this bike would be great. It is so comfortable. I could easily put together about 15-20lbs of stuff to do some ultra lite road stuff. Heck, Gran Fondo Fixies rode this bike in RAAM 2008 with great results. It's one sweet and versatile bike.

For a gravel Ultralite, I'd probably pic my Salsa La Cruz. I'd set it up with a road triple and modify some custom racks. You can fit some big and comfy tires in this frame and it's been proven in miles and miles of gravel throughout the country. It's also proven itself on some mild single track. It's not quite enough bike for GDR, but for many, many lite gravel based "tours", I think its hard to beat this bike.

I'm struggling to find the right Ultra Lite Off Road touring model. In my mind, this bike just isn't out there yet. Right now, I'd have to build this bike from the ground up based on the desired route. It would have 29" wheels, would likely be titanium, and would have a slew of attachments points for bags, straps, and water bottles. It would also likely have some serious custom racks to meet my packing needs.

Luxury Touring

Looking back at my tour, I rode a 26" off road bike that I modified with braze ons for racks and what not. It was a great bike because I knew it and it was comfortable. That said, I'd never do that again. I'd take a bike with a longer wheel base. Again, I'd now choose 700c or 29"wheels. Many folks are pulling trailers. I think that is great, but in my mind I'd have to carry extra parts, tubes, tires, etc for a trailer. This is the luxury category so extra weight is OK, but nope, I'd use a single purpose built bike.

So...what are the options here.

Pavement and/or mild gravel Luxury touring. One of the nicer and proven designs is the Co-Motion Americano.

* Pic from Co-Motion website

This bike has been ridden all over the world with great results. Its simple, durable, innovative and unique. Still not quite the right bike for me and a luxury tour. For my big tour, this bike would have been great until we hit Utah. It would have gobbled up the gravel and rough pavement between Alaska and Utah, but I can't even think of riding the Kokopelli trail, loaded with this bike...which I did at the end of my tour.

For the sheer fun factor, I'd seriously consider this.

* Photo from Surly website.

You can carry everything with this. Surly's are built to last and its steel meaning you can repair it if absolutely needed. It would be just a bit heavy, but fun. Turn that luxury tour into a little bit more of an adventure. Besides, you could pick up the occasional hitch hiker. Now that is luxury.

Expedition - Currently, I wouldn't use any production bike on the market. I'd have to build this bike from the ground up. The Americano listed above is proven as is the Surly Long Haul Trucker, but those are both primarily pavement and mild to medium gravel bikes. When I think expedition, I think foreign, remote, survival & ready for anything. Ideally, they'd also be serviceable and wouldn't require custom parts.

So...there you go. My 2 cent opinions. I really don't want to offend those 650b touring and Rivendell super fans. Please don't take my opinions as what is best for you. I'm sure some of the readers here have nice touring bikes and do some of the stuff that I call out above. I'm not trying to say other bikes aren't capable. I'm saying they aren't what I would personally want.

Anyway, I'm calling it a day and I'm heading to the garage to clean my La Cruz and make it gravel worthy. This is long overdue. Stay tuned for a blog entry dedicated to the La Cruz.


blackmountaincycles said...

The Bruce Gordon Rock n Road in 26" wheel would make a pretty dandy expedition bike as well.

GNAT said...

Mike, thanks. It is a nice bike and I used to love working on these bikes. Funny thing, I tried to get Bruce Gordon to build me racks for my bike and after I told him what I was doing with it and what bike I modified for my tour, he said no. Since then, I've simply not looked at his stuff.

That Rock N Road is a nice bike though.

chuck said...

Thanks for the Co-Motion props. I will admit the Americano is a true luxury touring bike that can handle seriously heavy loads on improved roads and gravel. However, we know the limitations of the bike for "expedition" style touring and are addressing that with a new model at Interbike this year. Think of it as the Americano with an extra double-shot of espresso and a stout flavor.

Guitar Ted said...

Nice post, gets me to thinking.

I worked on a really cool Co-Motion Americano just the other day. Those are some great rigs. Well thought out details.

It's funny how some of the lines get blurred. Think Mike Curiak and "ultra-light-touring- suspended-off road/extreme" know what I mean!

Marty said...

I saw some Thorns come through the shop a while back that really impressed me with the build details. Lots of beefing up of the frame. Oversized here'n there. Filletbrazed construction. Integrated racks. They certainly appeared ready for expedition style touring.

But what do I know. I've never toured. Pretty dang impressive stuff though.

Anonymous said...


I like your take on the concept. Very much like my own direction in thinging.

I did plenty of off-road touring in the 90's on a modified cro-mo Mongoose IBOC Pro with full panniers in the Australian outback and I'll never use panniers for "expedition" touring again.

So now... I'd look at a Karate Monkey or El Mariachi. Either one would be hauling a BOB trailer so braze-ons wouldn't be an issue.

Steel is real and for expedition work... the only option.

Anonymous said...

and in thinking further... (and after reading more of your ramblings...)

let me suggest the Pugsley (with custom trailer)