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Old 02-29-08, 02:31 PM   #1
hubbardude
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Off Road Touring - A Few Questions

First of all, for anyone who has toured off-road (I'm not talking Continental Divide type stuff, mostly just gravel and a few dirt tracks), where do you have suspension on your bike? Since I'm not doing anything hard-core, I don't really need it. But, would it make it easier on my body if I had suspension somewhere, either in front, back, or the seatpost?

Secondly, any saddle recommendations? I've heard raves about Brooks of course, but where I'm going it's probably going to rain a good bit, and I'm not sure if exposing it to the elements would seriously shorten it's life span. Any other saddles you've used that you would recommend for a relatively long trip? (700-800 miles).

Thanks.
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Old 02-29-08, 03:03 PM   #2
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Over the years of off road touring I have had may surprised looks and comments about me riding a rigid bike in these conditions. I usually explain that I prefer simple technology and use as large a tire as possible for maximum air volume and adjust the pressure to the conditions. That is the extent of my suspension on my bike. I also have reduced the weight of equipment that I carry. These simple things have made off road touring easier and less damaging to me and my bicycle.
Much depends on your particular riding style and attitude. If you need to descend at high speed over and through every obstacle then my approach will not help you as much as the newest suspension technology. If you are traveling to see new terrain and let the terrain dictate the pace then my simple technology approach may be a useful option for your off road touring.
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Old 02-29-08, 05:00 PM   #3
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Over the years of off road touring I have had may surprised looks and comments about me riding a rigid bike in these conditions. I usually explain that I prefer simple technology and use as large a tire as possible for maximum air volume and adjust the pressure to the conditions. That is the extent of my suspension on my bike. I also have reduced the weight of equipment that I carry. These simple things have made off road touring easier and less damaging to me and my bicycle.
Much depends on your particular riding style and attitude. If you need to descend at high speed over and through every obstacle then my approach will not help you as much as the newest suspension technology. If you are traveling to see new terrain and let the terrain dictate the pace then my simple technology approach may be a useful option for your off road touring.

I'd vote for simplicity with a twist. Front suspension does more then just smooth out the ride. It does improve your control. If you happen to hit a rut with a rigid bike, your wheel will lock up against the side of the rut and eventually put you on the ground. Front suspension allows the wheel to climb up the side of the rut (we're talking small ruts, not tank traps) without throwing you off...as often. They do add comfort too.

I don't think I'd tour on a dually, however. Way to many things to go wrong and putting a trailer on one would be asking a lot of all those pivots.
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Old 03-03-08, 04:15 PM   #4
Niles H.
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Originally Posted by hubbardude View Post
First of all, for anyone who has toured off-road (I'm not talking Continental Divide type stuff, mostly just gravel and a few dirt tracks), where do you have suspension on your bike? Since I'm not doing anything hard-core, I don't really need it. But, would it make it easier on my body if I had suspension somewhere, either in front, back, or the seatpost?

Secondly, any saddle recommendations? I've heard raves about Brooks of course, but where I'm going it's probably going to rain a good bit, and I'm not sure if exposing it to the elements would seriously shorten it's life span. Any other saddles you've used that you would recommend for a relatively long trip? (700-800 miles).

Thanks.
I've tried all three -- front suspension only, full suspension, and rigid (all with full-on touring loads, and under a variety of conditions, including smooth pavement, rough pavement, very rough pavement, high speed descents, and off-road dirt and gravel of various sorts).

Here is some of what I have found:

The full suspension was a disappointment.

I went way out of my way to achieve a smooth ride. Full suspension can be built up (verbally, or in the mind) into something vastly superior for off-road touring. One can expect a much smoother and more satisfactory ride.

What I found in actual practice is that -- at least 99% of the time -- the rear suspension is not really useful: and much of the time it is actually inferior.

A suspension seatpost is more satisfactory overall.

Having a rear-suspension-free setup allows you to have a much more stable rack in back. It feels more secure. [The loaded rack with suspension in the rear isn't necessarily horribly wobbly or dangerous; it does tend, however, to be more limited in the weight it can handle, and it is not as rigid or flex-free. Also, if your load varies (with variations in the weights of food and water, for example), the suspension is affected. This isn't necessarily a big deal, but it isn't simplicity itself either (whereas the rigid rack in back is -- or starts to seem, or to become appreciated as -- much more satisfying in its simplicity and consistency).]

For doing a lot of riding (rather than occasional riding) on very rough surfaces, it might make more sense to have the rear suspension. Even then, it won't be as smooth as one might imagine. Also, you can simply slow down when it is exceptionally rough; and you can stand, or make use of suspension seatposts, or both.

***
Front suspension, on the other hand, has been very good. I second the comments above about control. The suspension has truly allowed the avoiding of some serious accidents and injuries. It gives added control, which means you can pull off a Save in a variety of situations, rather than going down and injuring yourself, as you would without the added control, breaking a bone or something else.

Front suspension combined with a suspension stem is even better. This is my preferred setup.

It not only increases safety, it can save a lot of jarring action, on hands, wrists, shoulders, neck, etc. [This has been studied by doctors, and the jarring often leads to more rapid fatigue, along with some real wear and tear on tissues and joints. Since you seem to have a concern here, I would say Yes -- it would definitely be easier on your body in a variety of conditions.]

***
Larger tires under lowish pressure are another approach.

It depends on what you are riding over, though.

Large diameter, low pressure tires are excellent for certain conditions. This sort of suspension is quite effective, up to a point. Beyond that, it is better to have some form of added suspension.

(High pressure tires, BTW, will result in a much harsher ride, even with suspension. Lower pressures are easier on your body, and they often do not slow you down as much as people tend to imagine.)

***
It sometimes helps to have an effective, reasonably quick and easy-to-use pump, so you can easily vary the tire pressure according to conditions.

Last edited by Niles H.; 03-03-08 at 05:22 PM.
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Old 03-03-08, 06:27 PM   #5
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Niles, when you rode a front-suspension only, did you have panniers on the front? If so, what kind of rack did you use?

I have a new (to me) Rockhopper with suspension. I'm excited about taking it on some sort of bikehiking adventure. I have a Bob Yak trailer. I don't really like it on the road. I'm going to try it off-road, but I'm curious whether I might prefer panniers better.

Thanks.
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Old 03-03-08, 06:56 PM   #6
Niles H.
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Originally Posted by BigBlueToe View Post
Niles, when you rode a front-suspension only, did you have panniers on the front? If so, what kind of rack did you use?

I have a new (to me) Rockhopper with suspension. I'm excited about taking it on some sort of bikehiking adventure. I have a Bob Yak trailer. I don't really like it on the road. I'm going to try it off-road, but I'm curious whether I might prefer panniers better.

Thanks.
Yes. Bruce Gordon. Light, strong -- nice rack.

I used to carry more weight in front. Now I find that I like having about five to seven pounds (occasionally more, when I add food on the bottom or need to carry more) in each pannier. That is less than most people seem to recommend, but it works better for me.

I also attached some large zippered pockets to the bottom of each (front) pannier. It's good to have the weight low like that. These pockets are great for bananas and other fruits and food. They are easy to access -- I can just reach down and unzip a pocket -- and the fruit doesn't bruise as easily there (the pockets cradle the fruit like a sling). [Sometimes it helps to wrap fragile items in some kind of protective cloth (like a microfiber towel, jersey, etc.), if conditions are rough or long.]

Jandd's stem bag is also very useful. It's mounted on the suspension stem, which I am glad to have.

***
Sometimes, when I need the extra capacity or have an extra large load, I put a daypack on the top platform of the (front) rack. It sits very nicely there, supported and stabilized in part by the tops of the panniers. The hip belt loops around the head tube and helps keep it in place. The shoulder straps and (top) handle can be looped over the bars to keep the top from shifting around. It's much like a handlebar bag this way, but has more capacity and compartments, and the weight is lower. It's also easy to remove and easier to carry around when off the bike.

(With some setups, a carabiner is useful for clipping to and securing the upper part of the pack.)

***
There are some front racks that allow you to suspend the load.

http://www.faiv.de/

There is also an english version: http://www.faiv.de/english/lowrider_gb.htm

This is an interesting website; they also like these racks:

http://www.mountainbike-expedition-t...des/bikes.html

Last edited by Niles H.; 03-03-08 at 09:08 PM.
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Old 03-03-08, 07:36 PM   #7
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...but I'm curious whether I might prefer panniers better.
There are a lot of different opinions on this. Sometimes I think that some of the people just aren't used to panniers off-road. Once you get used to them, they aren't so bad. It helps when you keep the major weight low, even in back (I like having deep panniers in back, with low rails, to get the weight low).

Riding with panniers off-road is one of those things (for some of us at least) that you end up naturally adapting to and feeling at ease with after a while.

***
Xtracycles have some advantages. They make it easy to use front suspension; and having the rear wheel so far back is almost like having a form of rear suspension. They track much better in some situations than bikes with shorter wheelbases.

You can see how stable they are in these clips. (I've ridden them, and there is a major improvement in stability and control when going fast on loose gravel or dirt. They also allow for keeping the weight low.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7ZuGIev9uI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZxe3YHhCJg

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Old 03-04-08, 09:44 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by BigBlueToe View Post
Niles, when you rode a front-suspension only, did you have panniers on the front? If so, what kind of rack did you use?

I have a new (to me) Rockhopper with suspension. I'm excited about taking it on some sort of bikehiking adventure. I have a Bob Yak trailer. I don't really like it on the road. I'm going to try it off-road, but I'm curious whether I might prefer panniers better.

Thanks.
I've done it both ways off-road and much prefer a trailer...and I don't like trailers

With panniers, the bike is much harder to loft over trail obstacles. We're not talking logs here but rather roads that are full of babyheads. You end up having to ride into them rather than lift the bike over them. With a trailer, the bike is easier to lift and it takes some of the punishment out of the ride.
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Old 03-04-08, 10:47 AM   #9
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I also attached some large zippered pockets to the bottom of each (front) pannier. It's good to have the weight low like that. These pockets are great for bananas and other fruits and food. They are easy to access -- I can just reach down and unzip a pocket -- and the fruit doesn't bruise as easily there (the pockets cradle the fruit like a sling). [Sometimes it helps to wrap fragile items in some kind of protective cloth (like a microfiber towel, jersey, etc.), if conditions are rough or long.]
Niles, any pics of your front set-up would be much appreciated! Seems very creative!

I was wondering if having the front panniers that low causes any clearance problems. No scraping on the bottom of your panniers in off-road conditions?
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Old 03-04-08, 11:02 AM   #10
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Secondly, any saddle recommendations? I've heard raves about Brooks of course, but where I'm going it's probably going to rain a good bit, and I'm not sure if exposing it to the elements would seriously shorten it's life span. Any other saddles you've used that you would recommend for a relatively long trip? (700-800 miles).
What about a sprung Brooks? You get "just enough" cushioning in the tush without making things complicated. Just get a good rain cover...and fenders, unless you're going through the sticky stuff
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Old 03-04-08, 04:01 PM   #11
Niles H.
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Niles, any pics of your front set-up would be much appreciated! Seems very creative!

I was wondering if having the front panniers that low causes any clearance problems. No scraping on the bottom of your panniers in off-road conditions?
If I get some pics, I'll post.

Clearance: Yes, occasionally there is a problem, but not often.

There is a sort of balancing act -- too low = too many problems [like collisions with obstacles (rocks, curbs, vegetation, sides of hills or ruts, etc.)], and too high = worse handling (esp. when there is a lot of weight in the panniers).

Or, from the other side: lower = better handling; higher = better clearance.

***
What I have found is that a lot depends on where you ride. If you are mainly on pavement and obstacle-free dirt and gravel roads and trails, you can go pretty low without problems.

***
I have [or have had (so far)] a very low tolerance for scraping the panniers during turns. Lowriders have resulted in this problem at times, and it really bugged me. [I suppose I was imagining that it was destroying the nylon, scraping it like that; so every time I heard it, it was like fingernails on blackboards, coupled with feeling that I was losing some tissue from the treasured panniers, which were almost like part of me -- part of me that I should be protecting and preserving and taking care of (after a while, the bike starts to seem like an extension of your body, and you instinctively avoid scraping it like that...).]

Also, I didn't like the noises themselves; I found them very distracting; and I would complain to myself about the designs.... -- all of which is really unnecessary.

Still, I like to have just enough clearance so that it is rare to hear that ('dreadful,' but only out of habits of thought and perception...) scraping sound.

So, the way my setup is now, it's just right: low but not too low. It's very rare for the panniers to scrape during turns. And the clearance is fine for the vast majority of obstacles.

[Though I have worn through the layer of nylon alongside the lower outside edges of these low rear panniers, which are low enough to have scraped a lot of vegetation (and some rocks and other things as well), which gradually makes the material thinner and thinner until holes open up -- but I found that it takes quite a while to wear through the material; it survives a lot of scraping, and it really only takes a few minutes to cut out some pieces of new replacement material, and then hand-sew it into place -- which then lasts for quite a while yet again, before needing more attention, at which time you just replace some more 'skin'....]

***
For an off-road tour that had a lot of higher obstacles and narrow passageways, and required better clearance, I would change the setup or use another bike.

99.999+% of the time, it's in a sweet spot, and just right where I have it now....
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