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  1. #1
    Prairie Path Commuter
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    Another 26 inch touring frame/ MTB question

    I have been sitting around reading old threads about touring frames. Two points seem to come out.
    1.) 26 inch MTBs make decent touring bikes.
    2.) Touring frames with long chain stays handle better because the pannier can be moved forward over the axel without causing heal strike.

    However, I never see anyone complain about their fully loaded MTB touring bike not handling well. Because most touring frames are designed for 700 cc (622 mm) wheels, I am wondering if the 26 inch (559 mm) wheels on a MTB help mitigate the handling issue. According to my calculation the 26 inch axels are 3.15 cm closer to the ground assuming similar width tires i.e. 1.25 inch vs. 32mm. This is seems like a big difference even if the BB is higher on the MTB. It seems to me there might be other reason why a 26 inch tires may help stability that I am missing.

    Also, I measured my Marin Palisades Trail this morning and there is about 2 3/8 inch space between my size 9 sandle and my Orleib pannier on my Jandd Expediton rack.

    PS I love the Thorns but they cost too much.

  2. #2
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    I suspect you never see complaints about handling problems on MTB tourers, because people don't post their complaints. Instead, they make adjustments and get used to it.

    You can tour on anything, and there good reasons to choose a MTB. Especially the early models with relaxed frames and no suspension. Some of the qualities you look for in a touring bike are ruggedness, reliability, appropriate gearing and ability to handle road/terrain conditions. If you've got a MTB, you've already got these, without spending $XXXX on another bike.

    Yeh, bike geometry changes between 700c and 26" wheels, but this has little to do with eliminating handling issues. There are touring frames in both sizes (e.g., LHT), and it's the angles, chainstay length, toptube, and frame rigidity that really determine that. When my wife toured on her '95 Specialized Rockhopper, she had shimmy problems, especially going downhill. On a later tour, on a 26" LHT, she was amazed at how rock-solid it felt -- and routinely passed me on the downhills. On her MTB, we made adjustments (including her own riding skills) so she wasn't held back by handling problems.

    If you load up a touring bike and a MTB identically, I think the tourer will feel a lot more stable and resistant to outside forces. The key is, minor handling problems can be adjusted and even adapted to. After a while, you're just enjoying the ride.

    -- Mark

  3. #3
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    Speaking of the old MTBs, after I got my new touring frame with long chainstays, I measured the wheel base difference between it and my old Nishiki MTB: .5 inches. I was disappointed for an instant to see how little difference in wheelbase I had splashed out for. Of course there were many other differences also, but on the whole chainstay and bag carrying thing there really wasn't much.

    While there is such a thing as a classic touring bike, I agree with EmmCeeBee that one can tour on anything. So there are endless posts about whether a singlespeed, MTB, Recumbent, cross bike, will "work". It's like hiking you can make a case for any footwear from roller skates to mountaineering double boots. Even a spacesuit with attached boots if you are hiking on the moon. Even when focusing in on touring specific frames there are a very wide range of tours, each with it's own requirements.

    On your specific question about whether the 26" wheel lowers the bag height sufficiently to make it equivalent to a long chainstay touring bike, I don't think it would. There is heel strike clearance to deal with. I can cycle on my MTB without hitting the bags, however in the worst case, my current preferred sandals and a possible really large pannier load (I actually use so called mountain panniers), I wouldn't get clearance, no way. Shimmy is more a problem of horizontal load position than vertical so lower wheels with less longi latitude for moving stuff around would not be a plus. Also longer wheel base is a Cadillac ride issue, and the current preferred CS are just the beginning in wheelbase length, by no means the ultimate. Some makers are using as much as 10" over the standarad 42". But as usual short wheel bases are also advantageous so the "right" answer is all over the map.

  4. #4
    Prairie Path Commuter
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    Thanks for the responses. I measured 106.5 cm wheel base going from axel to axel. Interestingly enough the 52 cm Thorn Nomad was 105.7 and the 52 cm Surly LHT was about the same. My MTB is 52 cm but the chain stays are 16.75", where the LHT is 18.1", the Nomad isn't listed. One more observation though, all the LHT sizes have 18.1 " chain stays. It appears that there is the same amount of space between the pedal and axel for someone wearing a size 7 shoe on a 50 cm frame as there is for some wearing a size 13 shoe on a 60 cm frame.

    It is still too cold and icy to do much here so I have had too much time to think about this lately. All this is more or less cycling's equivalent to baseball's hot stove league. For now the Marin will have to do. Eventually I will probably go to a LHT frame but in the mean time I still have plenty of stuff to spend money on, tent, sleeping bag, front panniers,etc.

    I should add one more thing. I see Tobus makes a rack for bikes with shorter chain stays but it also looks like it lowers the pannier a good 3". I wish I would have known that when I got my rack. Lowering the weight certainly can not hurt any assuming that does not interfer with anything else.
    Last edited by robmcl; 03-03-07 at 04:36 PM.

  5. #5
    Slow Rider bwgride's Avatar
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    I have that Tubus rack you reference above, the logo. While it does lower the panniers, I've not felt any difference whether I put panniers lower or upper. The primary benefit of the logo is that it places the pannier further back so those with shorter chainstays are less likely to have heel strike. When I used it on my old MTB, it worked well, now that I have a LHT, I wish I had a different rear rack because I don't like the small top shelf on the logo.

  6. #6
    Prairie Path Commuter
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    I am surprised that there are not more bikes around like the Novara Sarfari. It seems like most hardtails are 90 to 95% of the way to being touring bikes. The geometry just needs to be tweeked a little bit so that they can better handle a load. It seems like an easy fix for a MTB manufacturor to do this to one of their models. Then you would have a commuter, tourer, and something that could handle single track trails and fire roads. I would bet that a lot of people who ride off road don't do more then that anyway.

  7. #7
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    I'm a big Sarifari fan as well. But don't take my word for it-- test ride it, loaded, unloaded. It's a cool bike.

  8. #8
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    An extra long top tube, short chainstays, high BB height, and low handlebar height seem to make the MTB less than ideal for long distance riding.

  9. #9
    Prairie Path Commuter
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    Quote Originally Posted by tacomee
    I'm a big Sarifari fan as well. But don't take my word for it-- test ride it, loaded, unloaded. It's a cool bike.
    I am strongly thinking about taking a good look at it especially with the 20% off thing going on. It just seems like a good value. I did a rebuild last year and I know a LHT build could get expensive fast. 95% of the miles are going to be commuting miles so I am not thrilled about pumping a lot of money into something that is going to be exposed to the daily grind. I am also not thilled about the disk brakes as I think it makes things overly complicated and I am not sure about a front rack solution.

  10. #10
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    First off, fitting a front rack on a a Sarfari isn't hard-- the bike is made for one.

    Second, I'm not a huge disc brake fan, but the Deore discs on the Sarfari are very nice. So are the SRAM grip shifters (X7 I think), Deore Trekking crankset, Deore derailers. The bike is well put together. Because the bike is made of MTB parts, the upkeep and repair bills are half of a production road bike. Plus if you are on tour and something breaks-- almost every bikeshop in the world has repalcement parts on the shelf, for a reasonable price.

    If you're going to be commuting-- the Sarfari just might be the bike for you.

  11. #11
    Prairie Path Commuter
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    I tested the Safari today unloaded. It's been ewens since I rode anything other than my current bike and I don't know how much I can tell about a bike from tooling around in a parking lot for 20 minutes. Here are a couple of observations.

    1.) The ride did not feel rough to me at all. The stock 1.9" tires probably had a lot to do with this and it has a suspension seat post.

    2.) My current Marin hardtail seems faster and lighter but again the stock 1.9" tires could have an effect here too. If I got this bike I would put my 1.35" Marathon Pluses on.

    3.) Never rode a bike with disk breaks before but they seemed very nice.

    4.)The chain stay length is not listed on the website. The catalog lists them as 16.9" but I measured them to be 17.2" to 17.3". I was a little disappointed with this. My hardtail has 16.75" chain stays and it works great for commuting but the main reason I am considering this bike is for better handling of a full load. I am not sure if I am gaining much here or not. It seems to have a beefier frame and I suspect that this along with the stiffer aluminum and the slight increase in chain stay length helps it handle a heavy load better.

    My thoughts are that it might handle a full load better but that I would be giving up some speed and weight on my commute. Since I have a rather long commute, and this is what the bike would mainly be used for, this is something to think about. Right now I am inclined to load up my hardtail and see what happens with it this summer. For now I don't plan on doing more than 3 or 4 day trips anyway. However, it was worth checking out now with the 20% sale going on.

  12. #12
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    Go back to REI and ride the Safari loaded. It's always an option. It's not a light bike, but seems to be super stable loaded and unloaded. I've known other commuters/tourers who have lots of miles on the Safari under all kinds of conditions, and it has a good track record. I'd put up against any other touring bike on the market for stabilty.

  13. #13
    VWVagabonds.com Losligato's Avatar
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    We've been using two Jandd Expedition Racks on our 1980's MTBs here in Asia. The racks are absolutely bomb proof, so much so that the braze on broke befor the rack. Another great feature is that the packs can be mounted so that they hook onto the rear down-post of the rack, allowing us to shift the packs backward several inches to avoid heel strike.
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  14. #14
    Prairie Path Commuter
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    Quote Originally Posted by tacomee
    Go back to REI and ride the Safari loaded. It's always an option. It's not a light bike, but seems to be super stable loaded and unloaded. I've known other commuters/tourers who have lots of miles on the Safari under all kinds of conditions, and it has a good track record. I'd put up against any other touring bike on the market for stabilty.

    I am actually seriously mulling over getting this bike. What came out of the test ride yesterday is that my hardtail is actually a little too big for me - not enough stand over clearance, top tube too long. To some extent I already knew this but I did not realize how much better the smaller frame would feel. Although I am not sure if the TT is still too long and would need to ride the bike a few more times to be sure.

    I have read and reread the posts about the Safari here and on the Commuting Forum and it is not lost on me that Safari owner seem happy and they put a ton of miles on them. I think the bike is well thought out even if it is a bit of a chunk. Having said that, it seems bomb proof and I would not be afraid to beat on it as a commuter. To some extent the extra weight might be justified because it can be used for loaded touring and off road. The appeal of the Safari is it is ready to go as is. I hardly have to do anything to it except transfer my tires, lights and fenders to it. The disk breaks might be nice for commuting.

    The draw back is that after I transfer my Marathon Plus tires, Mallet C pedals, fenders, bottle racks, and Nashbar front bag, I very well could have a 35 lb bike, which I am not thrilled about. This tends to hit me where it hurts as I have a 23.5 mile commute and I am not sure if this will slow me down. Although I tend to take the train a lot, which cuts it down to 15 miles round trip, which it should be good for, and an extra 5 lbs is only 2 to 3% of the total weight.

    My other option is to strip the hardtail and transfer every thing to an LHT frame. Even though the LHT frame would be lighter and possibly faster, I am only luke warm about doing this. Under the best case scenario I might be able to get the LHT frame and a cheapish headset installed for $400 at my LBS (I know this is being optimistic). I rebuilt the hardtail last year and roughly put $200 worth of parts into it, which is not much. So $600 gets me an LHT with high mileage 12 year old components and cheap parts. On the other hand if I keep the hardtail intact I will try and get $200 for it with the Jandd Expedition rack. The Safari currently costs about $700 so at $500 net I get a new bike with new components.

    To some extent I think analysis only gets you so far with these decisions. My thinking today is that I may have to try the Safari for a season or two and see what happens. If the weight and slowness is killing me I guess I can always pony up for the LHT frame and transfer over the Safari components. At least I would have newer, lower mileage components if I did that . . . . and I am not sure if I am ready for an LHT yet.
    Last edited by robmcl; 03-05-07 at 10:07 AM.

  15. #15
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    Remember that the Safari comes with super heavy wheels and tires. Those Conti town and country are so heavy....but also so sticky and stable. 23 miles is a heck of a long commute. I'm shocked you're not riding a bike with 700c wheels.

    REI also felt the need to toss in, oh, maybe a pound of extra alu in the frame. But it won't fail.

    I also just hate selling any used bike. With the commute you do, do you have a back up bike? I'd look at maybe rebuilding you hardtail-- it's too much to go into on this forum, but you might look at your commute and try to modify your bike to fix it.

  16. #16
    Prairie Path Commuter
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    Quote Originally Posted by tacomee
    Remember that the Safari comes with super heavy wheels and tires. Those Conti town and country are so heavy....but also so sticky and stable.
    The Marthon Pluses I plan on putting on are heavy too but much narrower and faster. However, upgrading the rims might be an affordable, sensible thing to do that may knock some weight off.

    Quote Originally Posted by tacomee
    23 miles is a heck of a long commute.
    I usually take the train and only ride the full 23.5 miles home 1 to 3 times per week when the weather is nice. Even still, speed does count here a little bit.

    Quote Originally Posted by tacomee
    I'm shocked you're not riding a bike with 700c wheels.
    I guess I never really thought that 700c tires do much. On smaller frames they look kind of clunky.

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