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  1. #1
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    Upgrading My Cheap MTB for Touring/Commuting

    I Have a Trek 4100 MTB. Its a cheap bike ($270) with only the cheapest components. I really want to upgrade it because I want to ride from NYC to Montreal this summer.

    Am I crazy for thinking I can do it on this bike?

    I'm looking at purchasing some good Shimano group sets and wondering if I should even bother. How would my biking experience differ by upgrading the components. I will probably purchase a decent frame (LHT) in the near future as well and put the components on it.

    Or maybe should I do it the other way around? Get a good frame now and put my cheap components on it then get the quality components later?


    Thanks.

  2. #2
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    Well Steve the good news is that you aren't crazy. The bad news is that although that's not a bad bike, by the time you put together the cost of upgrading it you could sell it and use all the money to buy a better bike than you'd have the other way.

    There are some strikingly good deals on craigslist if you know what to look for. And if you don't then go into a descent bike shop and tell them what you want to do.

    I'm sure that there are people here from your area that could suggest a good shop.

  3. #3
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    Heck, it's 500 miles. Put slicks on, make sure the chain/sprockets are good, and go. The bike should hold up fine if you don't overload it.
    Specialized Roubaix SL4 Disc, Cannondale T2000 (touring), Stumpjumper M5 (Mtn - hardtail), Cannondale Rize4 (Mtn - full susp)

  4. #4
    jcm
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtnroads
    Heck, it's 500 miles. Put slicks on, make sure the chain/sprockets are good, and go. The bike should hold up fine if you don't overload it.
    Yup. My '88 Trek 830 has never been touched except for tires, h'bars and saddle. Sakae and low-end Deore. Tough as a cob.

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    OK, thanks. So You think I can count on my MTB to get me to Montreal (and maybe back!)?

    I've searched around and it looks like I should maybe get some new tires, pedals and bar ends.

    What type of tires should I get? I checked out the marathon (no flat) tires. How are those? Do I have to get a new wheel to fit road tires?

    thnx.

  6. #6
    Just ride it. MrPolak's Avatar
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    Mountain bikes can make good touring bikes. They are tough and have tough components. You want to decrease your rolling resistance, increase cargo capacity and comfort. I rode my Specialized Hardrock from Asheville to Mt. Mitchell up the blue ridge parkway on WTB Allterrainasaurus tires. My butt hurt but the rest of me was comfortable.

    Does your Trek have a suspension fork? If not, do you have touring rack braze-ons? Do the seatstays have provisions for mounting racks? You will want some touring racks on the front and back or a touring trailer for your stuff. Your gearing is fine and your wheels are fine. Get some puncture resistant slicks of about 1.5'' size for your 26'' wheels. You might want to get a trekking handlebar to keep your hands comfy. Prepare ahead of time and have fun! The trailer will be your biggest expense, but you might be able to borrow one.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by macaroni steve
    I Have a Trek 4100 MTB. Its a cheap bike ($270) with only the cheapest components. I really want to upgrade it because I want to ride from NYC to Montreal this summer.

    Am I crazy for thinking I can do it on this bike?

    I'm looking at purchasing some good Shimano group sets and wondering if I should even bother. How would my biking experience differ by upgrading the components. I will probably purchase a decent frame (LHT) in the near future as well and put the components on it.

    Or maybe should I do it the other way around? Get a good frame now and put my cheap components on it then get the quality components later?


    Thanks.
    First of all, the old story about "you could buy a new bike for that" always misses the point....you like the bike and are thinking of upgrading it. That's OK. For that matter I ride a 97 Schwinn 21 speed hybrid that is my touring bike. And I did a 45 mile ride on it this morning. Over time I have changed everything about it except for the brakes, deraillers, and the crank. But it's my bike and its dependable. Maybe a LHT someday, but my Schwinn is all I need.

    Your mountain bike will be fine for what you are doing. Put some smaller tires on it, rig yourself at least some back panniers, put some good bar ends on it, and go for it. You're not racing here so you don't have to have lighting speed shifts, and all that stuff. Your bike, if you have been riding it everyday, will be fine with a tuneup.

    I have also toured on a Schwinn Mesa mountain bike with a Deore STX group, rear panniers, and big tires. For 40-60 miles per day its fine. I'm planning to take that bike, with smaller tires, on the Katy Trail in a few weeks.

    Depending upon age you may want to really check your spokes and know how to fix one. Worst case, get a new set wheels to go with your new tires and then travel worry free. The total to change wheels, at least the back one, and new tires and tubes would be less than $150 if the LBS does it. Trust me, you can't buy a new bike for that.

    Good luck.

  8. #8
    Senior Member pmseattle's Avatar
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    One thing I find annoying about mountain bikes used on pavement is the extremely low ( stock ) gearing range. The 22 tooth chain ring provides such a low ratio that it is nearly useless, and the large 42 or 44 tooth ring isn't quite high enough. I installed a cheap but stout Sugino XD crankset which came with 26-34-46 on my old mountain bike. I was never able to find chainrings in these sizes for the original crankset.

  9. #9
    Urban Biker jimmuter's Avatar
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    If you have lots of money, buy a new bike made specifically for touring. If you have lots of money but also like to work on your bike, buy new components and upgrade your current rig. Otherwise, you can make some minor adjustments as others have listed and your bike will do fine. Have fun.

  10. #10
    jcm
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    Quote Originally Posted by macaroni steve
    OK, thanks. So You think I can count on my MTB to get me to Montreal (and maybe back!)?

    I've searched around and it looks like I should maybe get some new tires, pedals and bar ends.

    What type of tires should I get? I checked out the marathon (no flat) tires. How are those? Do I have to get a new wheel to fit road tires?

    thnx.
    I use 26x1.5" Armadillos inflated to 90lbs. But, honestly, I don't know if I would use them on a tour. Same goes for the Marathons. Both are very rugged tires, though. I like them for rough urban use but would probably look into something lighter for a long trip. These guys around here can steer you onto something that will roll a little easier. Flats are actually pretty easy to deal with and I'd rather have the lesser rolling resistance over distance. Just bring extra tubes and patch later. I've heard good things about Continentals, or just about any slick.

    You shouldn't need to replace your wheels. My old, cheap Arayas are super strong. Yours are probably better. Armadillos are extremely easy to slip on and off the rims. This may be typical of 26" wheels. I've struggled mightily with my 700's on the other bike. Wouldn't want to do that on a rainy, miserable roadside.

    Bar ends? Just get North Road bars and set the grip height equal with the saddle and about level with the ground. You'll never go back. Besides, they can be had for as little as the cost of bar-ends as long as you get the steel ones. They also seem to absorb some road shock better than alloy, too. A few ounces more will not be noticed.

    Whats up with your pedals? Got platforms? Nothing wrong with 'em but SPD's are a little less fatigueing(sp?).

    One poster mentioned an extremely low gearing mix. Even the 26x34x46 he re-fitted seems low to me. That's probably going to generate a sustainable cruising speed on the flats of only about 12-13mph. I agree that that would be frustrating over time. My Trek 830 has 28x38x48 and glides along the flats at 14-15mph with little effort. What are your rings?

    You didn't mention a saddle. You will do well to ride some long day trips (to 80 miles) to find out how your backside holds up. There's a reason why there is so much discussion of saddles.

    I think your biggest challenge will be eating and drinking to avoid bonking.

  11. #11
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    Any entry-level bike from a major brand is strong enough for touring. As long as the basic layout is suitable (eg rack and fender mounts) you make make it work.
    Entry-level bike compromise on some components. I would upgrade the bottom bracket unit to a higher end Shimano one (UN72??) stick on a new (Sachs PC48) chain but leave the rest as it is.
    Check the spoke tension and the trueness of the wheels. Build quality is more importatnt than fancy components and a tune up will make them much stronger.
    You may want to use metal pedals. If platforms are your thing, MKS touring pedals are great. Add some toe clips for efficiency at a low price.
    Some bar ends or clip-on aerobars will add alternative hand positions.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Nigeyy's Avatar
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    It looks like your question has been answered, but I thought I'd reply as well -as others have pointed out, the frame should be strong enough. I toured from Prague to the Dutch coast on an old Raleigh Technium I bought for $100 used (and that was way back in the very early 1990's). The Technium was a mountain bike, but its geometry was more than suitable for touring. You are not crazy for thinking you can do a NYC-Montreal on this bike. I'm sure your current bike is certainly alot better than the Raleigh Technium I used. There is no doubt your bike would not stop me from doing the tour you suggest (well, assuming it was the right size ;^).

    To change your current bike over as cheaply as possible -think efficiency, comfort and storage -I'd suggest the following (assuming you have good shorts, gloves, saddle, helmet, etc already and are planning to tour with baggage):

    -bar ends to enable you to change hand position (essential for comfort!)
    -slick tyres (I use 26x1.25" Specialized Fatboys, ok not the best).
    -change in gearing (if necessary, there are some hills between NYC and Montreal, trust me!)
    -a trailer or rear rack and panniers and front ones if you can do it (some front racks may be attached by p-clips if you do not have mounting points on your fork).
    -I don't know how heavy you are, or how much stuff you plan on cycling with, but make sure your bike and wheels are in good order (if you have a 32h rear wheel, I'd try testing it out first to see how it holds up).

    And some things to consider on upgrading/buying a new bike:

    i. generally speaking, upgrading a bike with new components is expensive, and my rules of thumb are to a. only ever buy components on sale and with a coupon(!) or that are in great condition but used, and b. only do this if your current component is broken or does not work, or c. you absolutely love your current bike, and its worth it to you to add some really snazzy component to it.

    ii. Work out the cost before you do it -you might be surprized how much those components can be. Then look at the cost of a fully equipped bike you'd really like. Work from there -you might be surprized how close you are to the bike you really want.

    iii. ....and don't forget that installing these components might not come for free. Will you have to pay a bike store to do this? Or are you planning on doing this yourself? What tools have you got? What tools do you need, and do you know how much they are going to cost?

    iv. are you planning to tour again? Or is this just a "one off"? Or will you use a touring bike to commute to work regularly? Do you really need to invest in a touring bike?

  13. #13
    The Site Administrator: Currently at home recovering from a couple of strokes,please contact my assistnt admins for forum issues Tom Stormcrowe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nigeyy
    It looks like your question has been answered, but I thought I'd reply as well -as others have pointed out, the frame should be strong enough. I toured from Prague to the Dutch coast on an old Raleigh Technium I bought for $100 used (and that was way back in the very early 1990's). The Technium was a mountain bike, but its geometry was more than suitable for touring. You are not crazy for thinking you can do a NYC-Montreal on this bike. I'm sure your current bike is certainly alot better than the Raleigh Technium I used. There is no doubt your bike would not stop me from doing the tour you suggest (well, assuming it was the right size ;^).

    To change your current bike over as cheaply as possible -think efficiency, comfort and storage -I'd suggest the following (assuming you have good shorts, gloves, saddle, helmet, etc already and are planning to tour with baggage):

    -bar ends to enable you to change hand position (essential for comfort!)
    -slick tyres (I use 26x1.25" Specialized Fatboys, ok not the best).
    -change in gearing (if necessary, there are some hills between NYC and Montreal, trust me!)
    -a trailer or rear rack and panniers and front ones if you can do it (some front racks may be attached by p-clips if you do not have mounting points on your fork).
    -I don't know how heavy you are, or how much stuff you plan on cycling with, but make sure your bike and wheels are in good order (if you have a 32h rear wheel, I'd try testing it out first to see how it holds up).

    And some things to consider on upgrading/buying a new bike:

    i. generally speaking, upgrading a bike with new components is expensive, and my rules of thumb are to a. only ever buy components on sale and with a coupon(!) or that are in great condition but used, and b. only do this if your current component is broken or does not work, or c. you absolutely love your current bike, and its worth it to you to add some really snazzy component to it.

    ii. Work out the cost before you do it -you might be surprized how much those components can be. Then look at the cost of a fully equipped bike you'd really like. Work from there -you might be surprized how close you are to the bike you really want.

    iii. ....and don't forget that installing these components might not come for free. Will you have to pay a bike store to do this? Or are you planning on doing this yourself? What tools have you got? What tools do you need, and do you know how much they are going to cost?

    iv. are you planning to tour again? Or is this just a "one off"? Or will you use a touring bike to commute to work regularly? Do you really need to invest in a touring bike?
    For what it's worth, I've toured on a glorified Huffy mountainbike. Royce Union Gibraltar to be precise. It actually did a surprisingly good job and I still have the heavy old tank! Still have the racks and everything on it for unsupported touring, and the only real complaont I've ever had about it was that it WON'T BREAK so I have a valid excuse to get another bike! I'm running 26X1.95 commuter tires on it from Geax, called Evolutions and they are pretty well bulletproof. I just recently acquired a vintage Raleigh in a yard sale as well and ot has since become my primary ride. Don't underestimate the older bikes, as you can often get a heck of a bike from a yard sale to less than $50.00! Have the LBS go through it or do it yourself and you wind up with a pretty decent ride for not a lot of money!
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by pmseattle
    One thing I find annoying about mountain bikes used on pavement is the extremely low ( stock ) gearing range. The 22 tooth chain ring provides such a low ratio that it is nearly useless, and the large 42 or 44 tooth ring isn't quite high enough. I installed a cheap but stout Sugino XD crankset which came with 26-34-46 on my old mountain bike. I was never able to find chainrings in these sizes for the original crankset.
    Wow, i can't believe I just read that. I have a MTB that I used with a bob trailer w/ ~60-70 pounds of gear on it. I rode it last summer from seattle->olympia national park->vancouver->san juan island->glacier NP in montana.

    I had swapped out for best climbing gear ratio I could fit on my mtb which i think is 22 front, 36 rear. I used that all the time.

    My only suggestion depending on how much gear you have for the tour you're discussing is to consider replacing your gearing to give yourself as easy a time climbing as possible. I did a previous tour on my mtb with a lot less gear (in scotland) and on every major hill, I found myself wanting a lower gear.

    Other than that, my experience is almost exactly like yours. I have a '91 diamondback ascent with decent components, and my first tour I did without any major modifications. I used armadillo tires for the ride, and they held up extremely well, and went pretty fast, while giving a lot of traction. I liked having traction, because I was nervious going downhill with the extra weight on the bike especially when it was wet. I can't imagine doing that with slicks. As I said, on that trip, i wanted to have lower gears. I did end up blowing out the pedals during that trip.

    For my second tour, I used my previous experience to replace both wheels, the crankset, chain, and cassette (all of which were pretty well shot after 15 years And I replaced the pedals that I pretty much killed on the previous tour.

    My advice regarding flats would just be to get a patch kit and know how to use it. Carry an extra tube (some people carry 2). I did a few practice rides before the trips to test the setup. As for larger breakdowns, I never worried about it. YMMV, I always felt I'd just hitch to the next town.

    Most of all: have a great time! Don't forget your passport to get into canada!
    Last edited by gregk; 05-15-06 at 01:49 PM.

  15. #15
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    Great advice, so I wont add any more. PM me before you arrive in Montreal, because I would like to meet, but I will be away for most of July.

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