I'm planning a 4-6 month tour of Europe and am trying to sort out a few things.
First of all, I'd like to tour on a full suspension GT idrive mtn bike. I haven't seen too much discussion of touring on FS. Please tell me if I'm crazy, but my reasons are:
1. It's all I have right now and would rather not buy another bike
2. I did a week long tour in Korea on it and it worked fine. In fact, it was quite nice to have suspension on bumpy roads and dirt.
3. I'm a mountain biker at heart and would like to take as many off road/singletrack routes as possible (even though the majority of miles will be on road). In Korea I did this using performance brand fastrac 1.9 tires (very light tread with knobs on corners only).
4. I'm not on a budget of time, so speed is not too much of an issue.
My possible concerns would be:
1. It may be significantly slower/more painful (don't get me wrong though, I'm a 24 hour mtn. bike racer so I'm willing to face a reasonable amount of pain).
2. Maintance issues. I tend to think that my alum frame, manitou fork, fox rearshock, and double wall wheels are bombproof, and that the amount of abuse I've put them through on rugged trails is so much more than they'll take on roads fully loaded. Everybody is so big on steel, but my thought is that modern alum mtn. bike frames are made to take lots of abuse. Any thoughts?
3. Loading. I got an old man mountain rear rack used (mounts via the axel skewer) and suspension fork racks are around $50, but it still may be an issue.
4. Theft. My bike's only worth about $500 I'd say, but it still worries me (vs. a cheap old steel rigid bike).
One more thing... My current sleeping bag is a 0 deg, 5 pound qualliofil bag. Is that beyond what is considered a reasonable weight for a touring bag? I would like the warmth, and do not want to spend $300 to save 2 pounds. I also like the fact that I can get it wet and it will still be warm. My tent is 4.5 lbs, and I'll pack light otherwise. Thoughts?
Thanks in advance for any insight you can provide!
MTB with FS might not be the most efficient thing for this trip, but it's not all that bad either. The main thing is to make sure you are comfortable riding that bike, day after day, for however many miles you plan to ride. So you might want to get bar-ends and Ergon grips (and use SPD's with recessed cleats on the shoes), that combo works pretty well for me.
Not sure what kind of saddle you use, but avoid the gel kind. It tends to cut off circulation in a few *cough* critical spots. AFAIK road cycling is different than MTB in this respect in that you don't spend a lot of time out of the saddle.
If cost is a huge issue, you could always fly over, buy a bike at the start and sell it at the end. This might even be around the same cost as getting your bike to Europe in the first place, since airlines are now charging $100 each way to take a bike, more if the box is over 50 lbs or so.
"Slower" isn't all that important, touring is not about speed.
I wouldn't worry much about frame material, as long as you believe the frame itself is in good enough shape that it will hold up while on tour. Steel is nice because it has a smoother ride, but the suspension should cover that.
Re: loads, don't take a lot of stuff. Keep an eye on the weight requirements for the rack. You can get lighter sleeping bags fairly affordably, but they will not be rated for 0º.
In terms of theft, get a lock. And avoid Amsterdam.
Personally I'd ditch the knobbies altogether, from what I know (which is far from exhaustive, mind you) the quasi-knobby tires are a gimmick that don't work. Look for a wide treaded tire with a moderate psi rating.
I'm going to be touring this summer on a FS mtb as well. But the destination of one of those is full on off-road trails and two of the trips are completely off-road. My first trip will be entirely on-road, but I' dont' have money to get a road bike. I'm hoping to get some semi-slicks, but we'll see how much money there is when I leave.
Because of the fs, I'm using a seatpost rack and a small bag with built in pseudo panniers. The loaded weight will be around 15 lbs. The rack is rated to hold up to 25 lbs, but I don't want to tempt fate. The rest of the gear goes into the the trailer. I've got that load down to 20 lbs.
Right now, all of my riding is on the fs mtb knobbies and all. Commuting a few times a week 30 miles rt and riding 30-50 miles rt on the weekends. It definitely is not the efficient way to go and I wish I had chosen better when shopping instead of going FS. But it is what it is riding is still riding.
Is the bike painful to ride now? Was it painful when you were in Korea? If you're comfy, it doesn't matter what you're riding, but if a day's ride leaves you limping, days 2 and 3 will be horrible.
The main reason that touring bikes are recommended is because they tend to be kinder to the rear end than racing bikes. I imagine your FS is even more gentle, so you should be fine.
Have you checked for heel strike with your load? That's the only issue I see with your setup; kicking your panniers on each stroke gets annoying FAST, and can be hard to fix.
As far as the tires, if you're not using knobs, go with slicks; small tread doesn't help your traction even in wet or mud, and may even decrease it, but it will increase your rolling resistance. Slicks are also appropriate for most offroad riding; you may need to slow cornering in loose sand, gravel, or powdery dirt, but you should be doing that anyway (and they're much cheaper than treaded tires). What would be perfect would be a semi-slick version of your fastracs (I like the occasional recessed nub for grippiness), but without the side knobs. I have no idea where you could find tires like this. I would stick with the 1.5-1.9 range, though, and keep them at the max PSI; any less and riding on concrete will be painfully inefficient.
When I was in Korea I did have some comfort issues, but my seat was old and had way too many hours on it. Also, this was after 4-5 days of hard riding (80+ miles per day, mountain roads) with very little build up. My hands also got a bit sore, so I may get some bigger barend (vs. stubby singletrack solutions race type I have mounted now). In europe I plan on taking a slower pace (50 miles or so) and to do many multiday rests. I'm not going to be a 'purist' and feel that I have to ride every single mile I travel, and will stop in amazing places and rest, explore by foot, often. The bike will be the major means of transportation, and the carrier of the gear I need to camp, etc. Foot clearance wasn't a problem with the rack I used in Korea: A seatpost mount pannier rack from performance- this rack worked well for me, and I actually loaded it quite heavy because I had no front panniers- probably over 30 lbs. It held fine, but I wouldn't want to load it that much for a longer tour, thus I picked up and old man mountain rack. It was nice to be able to slide the whole seat post and rack combo off when I was going into a motel as my luggage- not sure how I'll work this with the omm.
Don't worry, while it is nice to have a touring oriented bike it's not essential. Only the manufacturers and magazines would paint you nuts, because the manufacturers want to sell everyone as many bikes as they can and the magazines want to sell as many advertisements for as much as they can to the manufacturers. They'd all be hurtin' financialy if it went back to the old ways of one bike for everything.
Full bar ends are the best thing that ever happened to straight bars. You will be fine with your setup, and have such a great time. I'm jealous it's not me (I'm spending the summer in Minneapolis; looking forward to what riding on flats feels like).