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  1. #1
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    touring bike for the long haul teenager

    I donít know much about bicycles, but have been reading the forums and talking to LBS folks. Have done so much research that now I am totally confused.

    I need to get a touring bike for my son, age 14 (5í 7Ē 135#), who will be riding from Seattle from San Francisco (1000 miles in 25 days) this summer. He will be part of a small group but carrying his own gear. In addition, his real goal is to go across the USA next summer or the one thereafter. Part of the challenge is he grew four inches this year and Iíd like to get a bike that fits him now but that can be used next year too.

    I narrowed the search down to something like Trek 520 or the Cannondale T800. I also looked into the Jamis Aurora, Bianchi Volpe and the REI Randonee. Along the way I stumbled upon the Surly frame too. As I'm sure you are well aware, finding touring bikes in stores in the correct size is problematic. So we're taking a big gamble here.

    Conventional wisdom is to stick with a steel frame. However, the T800 is Aluminum and seems to be considered a credible contender. Is a frame repair really something to worry about?

    You experts talk about swapping out components, starting with lower gearing on the Trek 520. Others recommend cantilever brakes for better stopping power. My son wants a horizontal handlebar, so we have to switch that out. Presumably, the shifters then go too. And it seems that a Brooks B17 saddle is required for the long haul rider. 36 spoke wheels, Armadillo tires, etc, etc. Should I really just start with the Surly frame and add all the components?

    Last year he rode an older, smaller bike for two weeks with just rear panniers. Do we need to add front panniers now too?

    I know there is no one answer that works for everyone, but I need to stop researching and buy something so he can get used to the bike and break in the saddle.

    Any specific advice is sincerely welcomed.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Nermal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by southbound123
    I donít know much about bicycles, but have been reading the forums and talking to LBS folks. Have done so much research that now I am totally confused. . . .



    . . . I know there is no one answer that works for everyone, but I need to stop researching and buy something so he can get used to the bike and break in the saddle.

    Any specific advice is sincerely welcomed.

    Thanks.
    I can totally relate toe the confusion that comes with enough research, but can't point you in a good direction. The Kona Sutra looks good to me, but really stretches the budget to the breaking point. The Fuji Touring bike looks great, but the components look like they're ready for an instant upgrade. That REI Randonee looks like a winner, but 29lbs seems a bit overweight. I loved the REI Element in all respects, but if I'm reading right, it's stuck with two instead of three chain rings. Sure wish I had the horsepower to handle that weight and the load as well.

    I do think you might be getting on the wrong track by thinking of a larger bike that anticipates more growth. I'm really fighting the standover height. Most bikes are just too darn big for my short little legs, and I would really have something a bit small, than too big.

    Keep up the research, and maybe it'll all fall into place, but yeah, sooner or later, you've got to pull the trigger. After going this far, you probably won't get something that's too far off the mark.
    Some people are like a Slinky ... not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you shove them down the stairs.

  3. #3
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    just pull the plug on a Long Haul Trucker in the box, complete.1,000 bucks at your LBS.

    it will get you a 'good' set of wheels, the gearing, quality componetry, a sprung leather saddle, etc.

    unless your son and you are about the same size, it is likely he will need another bike before he's 18. A surly long haul trucker will likely keep some value for resale on Craig's List. And its definetly a 'cool' touring frame for road cred for your son's sake.

    swapping stem, bar, shifters and brake levers would set you back mabye 150 bucks more, and you could recoup some of that by selling the barcons, levers, bars, and stem from the Surly on Craigs' list. or getting a swapout credit from the LBS that orders you the Surly.

    Those things size BIG, I'm 5 10" and ride the 56. get your kid a 54 maybe? it has a slightly dropped top tube for better standover clearance. and would come with the tougher, 26" wheels for more rider abuse.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  4. #4
    Walmart bike rider gpsblake's Avatar
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    Comfort is the most important thing when buying a touring bike. Everything else is secondary. If he isn't comfortable, he isn't going to enjoy touring. That needs to be your top priority. And the only person who can determine if the bike is comfortable enough is your son.

    So take him out and let him try out the models himself. Worry more about comfort than about make, gearing, braking etc.

  5. #5
    M_S
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    How much money do you really want to sink into a bike your son could outgrow at any minute?

    When I was 13 I toured with my dad for 5 weeks around the western US with a Gary Fischer hybrid, something like 400 dollars. No mechanical troubles except a few flats, though perhaps I was a little lucky. I say get your son something cheap with reliable parts. Think used. Unless the people he is touring with are planning on going fast, he should be able to do it on just about anything with a sturdy frame, good gearing, and eyelets for a rack. Make sure the bike fits, and make sure the saddle is good. Other than that, try not to over think this. Touring is primarily not about the bike IMO, though I did just buy a new touring bike myself ( ).

    Also, have your son do some weekend tours and long rides with any bike you may happen to have around. If he doesn't enjoy it, no sense buying something expensive. I don't mean to question you or your son's motives, but I'm not far removed from that age myself (I'm 17).

    Again though, I'm just wincing a bit at the thought of buying anything that expensive for someone who will grow out of it soon. Heck, if you buy it now, it might not fit well before the tour starts. yes, you can sell, but expect 50% max of what you payed new). Although I've loved bicycling my whole life, neither I nor my parents would have ever considered buying any kind of expensive bike for me before I stopped growing.

    And if your son likes riding even if the bike isn't super great, you know it isn't just a fad for him. If this is the case, and you have the money, buy a really good bike before he does his cross country tour.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Shemp's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by southbound123
    Part of the challenge is he grew four inches this year and Iíd like to get a bike that fits him now but that can be used next year too.
    14 year old kid that's growing? My 2 cents says find something used he can work with, that way if you need to resell it in a year or two, you're not out a few hundred additional dollars, and you save it now.

    Quote Originally Posted by southbound123
    , finding touring bikes in stores in the correct size is problematic. So we're taking a big gamble here.
    If he can ride a few and find what size fits, or find something he prefers, that's a start. If you still want to go new, you can start looking at geometry specs online and comparing them to the ones that fit when he rode them. Stems and seat posts can be swapped easily and cheaply to make up any minor differences in top tube.


    Quote Originally Posted by southbound123
    Conventional wisdom is to stick with a steel frame. However, the T800 is Aluminum and seems to be considered a credible contender. Is a frame repair really something to worry about?
    The risk is so incredibly small, especially on the proven T800/2000 frame, that it's really only worth worrying about if you're riding in foreign lands or in the remotest of areas with no way to bail and get home.

    Quote Originally Posted by southbound123
    You experts talk about swapping out components, starting with lower gearing on the Trek 520. Others recommend cantilever brakes for better stopping power. My son wants a horizontal handlebar, so we have to switch that out. Presumably, the shifters then go too. And it seems that a Brooks B17 saddle is required for the long haul rider. 36 spoke wheels, Armadillo tires, etc, etc. Should I really just start with the Surly frame and add all the components?
    Gearing is personal. The Trek could be tweaked, but for a young guy with a light load, it may not be of any concern whatsoever. The B17 is by no means "required." It's popular, but my wife is content with her Specialized Body Geometry, and my Terry Liberator has never caused me a problem and we've ridden unloaded and loaded tours for hundreds of miles and done century rides on them. 36 spoke wheel is certainly advisable with a load, but the tires are up for debate. Lots of people have been happy with Armadillos, Marathons, Conti TT's, etc. If the tires that come with the bike work on shakedown rides, then you could probably stick with those. It all depends on whether money's an object or not!


    Quote Originally Posted by southbound123
    Last year he rode an older, smaller bike for two weeks with just rear panniers. Do we need to add front panniers now too?
    Depends, what's he taking? If he can go lightweight, why would he want the extra weight. If he can't compact everything, then there's nothing wrong with a front rack and two more panniers. I think that's probably how the majority pull it off.

    Lastly, all I have to say is, "lucky kid!"

  7. #7
    Slowpoach
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    Compact frame bikes have a much wider sizing range than traditional frames; a Medium size T800 would be OK for him and would last until he's 5'10 or so. That's a drop bar bike, though.

    There's nothing wrong with a MTB frame that has adequate rack mounting - look at the Thorn website for the philosophy ( http://www.thorncycles.co.uk/ ).

    I guess with a growing kid you need a reasonable cost, reliable bike that is just small enough for him now. At 14 he will be quite flexible and starting to enter his physical peak, and with a BMI of 21 at age 14 he sounds a little stocky but not too overweight, so he should be able to cope with whatever you throw at him as long as it fits.

    I'd say forget about aluminium vs. steel vs. whatever unless he knows exactly what he wants.

    Flat bar means either MTB or hybrid/flat bar road unless you start swapping out components. Resist the urge to buy a bike that requires swapping components unless you really know what you are doing. (About the only exceptions are cranks/pedals, small chainring and stem).

    Avoid disc brakes and suspension forks unless you are prepared to pay for quality and unless he is prepared to do maintenance on them. Avoid full suspension.

    32 spoke wheels will be fine on (good quality, hand finished) MTB size wheels unless he is taking the Nintendo and the plasma screen with him. 36 (good quality, hand finished) on 700c rims. My mechanic charges about AUD$20 per wheel for servicing and truing, its worth it.

    Seats are very personal, I'd suggest he will hate a brooks when he first trys it. Look for a saddle that is not too wide for him, get him to try some with and without cutouts in the saddle, avoid saddles with heaps of padding (some is fine) or with stitching on the top. If his current saddle is comfortable, why not stay with that one?

    Basic tyres will last him fine for 1600 miles or so; however, you can swap to better tyres at the time of purchase quite cheaply if you want. Sounds like he is riding on tarmac in the USA, so no need to get "ultimate" durability tyres; something like Gatorskins or Panaracer pasela / rolly polly or Maxis re-fuse or Ritchey Tom Slicks or Continental touring tyres will be fine (ie. light touring/training tyres rather than expedition touring tyres).

    Get good racks/panniers and light/compact camping gear. It is easy to buy too much. Look at ultralight hiking web sites to get an idea of how little is needed and how to save weight/bulk. Don't add extra gear (including front rack) unless he needs it; at 135 lb for him, the rear wheel can take quite a bit of weight, especially with water carried on the frame/fork and perhaps with a handle bar bag for essentials/valuables and a seat bag for repair kit and spare tube.

    Don't get too fixated on the "perfect" bike when it is only going to suit him for a couple of years. Get a bike that will do the job, that is comfortable with some room to grow, and that he likes. If you save some money, spend it on good accessories for him, or on an outing for the two of you!

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cave
    Don't get too fixated on the "perfect" bike when it is only going to suit him for a couple of years. Get a bike that will do the job, that is comfortable with some room to grow, and that he likes. If you save some money, spend it on good accessories for him, or on an outing for the two of you!
    Good advice from Cave and others: my 18-year-old son has an aluminum frame MTB. He doesn't tour but is now commuting to college classes on it. We've upgraded tires to road slicks, changed out rear cassette, etc. I believe in the KISS principle. Until my son spends as much time thinking about his bike as he does about his guitar, music, drawing, video games, girlfriend, etc. then I'm just going to keep upgrading his present bike. When the shift of attention happens, then I'm confident he'll pay way more attention than me and be smart enough to engage in the process of getting the right bike.

    My attitude is not criticism of my son's 'lack of cycling interest', just recognizing that he is capable of focusing on his priorities well enough to know when he needs a 'bigger, better, whatever' cycle. For your son, I'd go with affordable, quality, well-fitting frame (used has been suggested) that is upgraded with good mid-range components.
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  9. #9
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    buy him the long haul trucker, when he outgrows the frame, sell it, and buy a new long haul trucker frame...you shouold only be out $200 or so every time you swap the frame.. a couple year old lht frame in good shape should get about 2/3-3/4 of the new price on ebay or something.

  10. #10
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    My 2 cents: If it was me I wouldn't spend the money on anything new yet, since he'll outgrow it. Fit is key. If it fits now, I doubt it will when he's 18. Does he want drop handlebars? If so, look for something used on Ebay or Craigslist. Trek T520s and Cannondale touring bikes show up from time to time. You'll have to pay for them, because there seem to be plenty of other tourists who know the value of a good touring bike. But you can probably get away with spending around $500, instead of around $1000. When he outgrows it you'll probably be able to get close to what you paid for it.

    If he's okay with a mountain bike, they're much easier to find, and make excellent touring bikes due to their strong 26" wheels, low gears (with a triple chainring) and usually longer chainstays. Put bar ends on for more hand positions, and skinny, slick, high pressure tires for low rolling resistance, and you're good to go.

    If you have money to spend, wait until he's gone on a long, loaded tour or two. Then he'll probably know exactly what he wants, how to carry his stuff, how to pack it, what to bring and what to leave home, etc. You can buy him the perfect bike. (I wish I'd had a dad who could do that. I wish I had one now!)

    I'd recommend both front and rear panniers. It balances your load better, allows you more carrying capacity, and takes some of the load off the rear wheel, for fewer broken spoke problems. I've read lots of recommendations from experts who say you should carry more than half of your weight up front. My front panniers are smaller than my rears, but I put the small heavy stuff up front, like my stove, my pots and pans, my tools, and my books.

    I think a handlebar bag is really nice to have too. It's not good to put much weight up there (at least on mine) because it tends to add to the wheel shimmy I get when I go fast. But it's really handy to have a convenient place for my wallet, chapstick, a map, maybe some beef jerky or a Snickers bar, etc. A handlebar bag does this.

  11. #11
    Senior Member CyKKlist's Avatar
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    +1 on the "outgrowing" argument (both the bike and cycling in general).

    I just faced this problem in December. I have a 14 yr old who hasn't hit peak growth yet (5'2, 100 pounds). I bought him a Schwinn Super Sport at Performance Bike for only $349. I added Performance brand handlebar bag and rear rack and panniers for very little extra, Planet Bike fenders and voila! he has a junior touring bike. I have a Trek 520 so I'll carry the tent, cooking gear, etc, but he has room for his own clothes and his sleeping bag, plus room in the handlebar bag for odds and ends.

    Interesting that you mention the preference for a straight handlebar. My son has the same bias, and the Super Sport has that. It also has fittings for rack and fenders.

    One advantage of aluminum for a 14 yr old boy is that it's FAST. My son's bike feels like it weighs nothing (it's only a 49cm frame) and if even so much as THINKS about accelerating, he's gone.

    I'm not concerned about the gear ratios and finer points on his bike. I did my first tour on a Schwinn Continental in 1978 at age 16, from NYC to Montreal. It weighed 2 metric tons (!) and had "only" 10 gears, but I had the time of my life. Because I was 16, I had all the energy in the world and didn't know I wasn't supposed to be able to pound high gears up the Berkshires in Massachusetts.

    So far, my son still has to be dragged out of the house onto a bike to ride with me, and every time he finishes the ride with a great big smile, wondering why he objected to riding with dad. I don't know if you have experienced this phenomenon.

    Last note - I just bought an REI Half Dome HC 4 tent that will accommodate us both very nicely, plus my 4 yr old son when he's ready to hang with us big dogs.

    Good luck with your research and his ride!

    Ken
    Latest bike tour journal now posted -- PALM ride across Michigan!
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/palm2009

    Also -- NC Courthouse Tour, using Amtrak to Charlotte
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/nccourthousetour

    Trek 520 for commuting, touring, family rides and smiling at life.

  12. #12
    eternalvoyage
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    When I was your son's age, I would have appreciated my father's including me in the decision. All too often, he would decide things for me, and -- especially after a certain age -- it definitely detracted.

    If you or he, or both together, can find something that he really loves, it could make all the difference in the world. It seems important to begin to feel that one is making one's own decisions, more and more, as one matures into adulthood, and that one's judgments and tastes are being more respected....

    At least for some of us -- in my case, this was important.

    Mechanical suggestion: have a good, experienced mechanic go through the bike before the trip, to make sure it is tuned up (especially the wheels). Mechanical problems and failures can really sour a trip. They can be prevented by someone who knows what he (or she) is doing, particularly if you let the person know what you are shooting for -- that a high level of reliability is important to you.

  13. #13
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    I won't lie, he sounds like me. I first started when I was his age (well 15, but close enough) and wanted to get right into touring. I bought my Trek 520 after looking into what I actually planned to do, ride across the country with a camp. It was self supported, and all I had was a bike, rear panniers and some gear. It worked. Now I look to do another tour of the same length and find that I do want to add front panniers. I was lucky and had finished growing by then, so my bias toward just going for it may be a bit off from your case.

  14. #14
    Senior Member ken cummings's Avatar
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    I loved my Volpe so much I've kept the mangled frame. Estimate his final size and see if you can get a bike that can be adjusted to both his current and future sizes. After he is full grown he can buy his own quality touring bike. I recommend www.bgcycles.com for that.
    This space open

  15. #15
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    Thanks to you all for the great information and support. We will be visiting the LBS circuit this weekend. My son is absolutely (begrudgingly) involved in the decision process, but as others pointed out would rather be playing video games or listening to music. He has insisted on horizontal handlebars so bar ends will also be essential to give him more options for hand placement.

    By the way, if he does outgrow the bike next year, it won't be a big problem as it will most likely be a good fit for me. Just wondering, how much fun is it riding an unloaded touring bike ? I suspect it will be stiffer and slower but perhaps more fun than my 20 year old Peugeot racing bike.

    I'll keep the group posted on our decision.

    Thanks again.

  16. #16
    Senior Member DVC45's Avatar
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    Have you or will you consider a high end folding bike (Bike Friday, Swift...) for this tour? I've read in the folding bike forum that some folks are using them for serious touring/long distance cycling with good success. ' seems like a good solution for teenage growth spurts. It offers wide range of adjustments to accomodate different sizes.
    Good luck on his tour!

  17. #17
    practically invincible.
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    Quote Originally Posted by southbound123
    Just wondering, how much fun is it riding an unloaded touring bike ? I suspect it will be stiffer and slower but perhaps more fun than my 20 year old Peugeot racing bike.
    Very fun. A little slower, maybe, maybe not, but infinitely more useful. The closest you'll get to a racing bike while still being able to stop at the video store on your way home.

  18. #18
    M_S
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    Quote Originally Posted by anastrophe
    Very fun. A little slower, maybe, maybe not, but infinitely more useful. The closest you'll get to a racing bike while still being able to stop at the video store on your way home.
    Yes. Touring bikes are generally the best compromise between speed and, well everything else. Fast enough for everyone who isn't racing, generally very durable, and utilitarian enough for anyone without a car. And car-goers in my experienced are equally impressed by anything that's shiny and new, if that makes a difference to you (my ego dictates that it does to me). Plenty of people use "light" touring bikes for long weekend rides, recreational club rides, etc. If you're in good biking shape, any bike will be fast, as demonstrated I suppose by the infamous Denali review thread (check the commuting forums for that, it's an interesting read).

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by southbound123
    By the way, if he does outgrow the bike next year, it won't be a big problem as it will most likely be a good fit for me. Just wondering, how much fun is it riding an unloaded touring bike ? I suspect it will be stiffer and slower but perhaps more fun than my 20 year old Peugeot racing bike.
    Ah, in that case, just go for the LHT!

    And I suspect that once you try riding around on a general-purpose (aka "touring") bike, you may lose interest in most other types of bikes. They truly do everything gracefully [except time trials ]

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