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  1. #1
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    What is a touring bike? Good summary from Adventure Cyclist

    Seems that this forum has daily posts/queries on which touring bike to buy, with a healthy mix of debates over fine details vs. new riders asking, "I own X. Can I tour on that?"

    The new Adventure Cyclist Magazine (April 2009) has a cover story by John Schubert on buying a touring bike. I liked his concise summary, which can summarized in a couple of sentences:

    "A lot of manufacturers make touring bikes and they are all reasonably well suited for touring...they aren't all exactly the same, but they're fairly close....

    "...the basic requirements: chainstays of 17.5 to 18 inches, a low gear of 20 to 25 gear inches, a frame that fits you, and (the ability to) distribute your heavy camping load between front and rear bags."


    There is a lot more to the article, which is worth reading, but I liked his summary.

    The magazine also has a nice full-page list of touring bike makers and a full-page discussion of the Salsa Fargo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BengeBoy View Post
    "...the basic requirements: chainstays of 17.5 to 18 inches, a low gear of 20 to 25 gear inches, a frame that fits you, and (the ability to) distribute your heavy camping load between front and rear bags."
    Guess I'll have to stop touring since my most frequent bike camping bike meets none of those requirements: chainstays are much too short, low gear is too high, frame is a bit too large, and no front rack. Odd that it seems to work so well.

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    I thought the name made it pretty obvious; A touring bike is a bicycle that you take on tour.

  4. #4
    nun
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    +1. You can tour on almost any bike. Whether you need a 20 to 25" low gear depends on your strength and load. Many great touring bikes have chainstays shorter than 17.5". I don't really like such categorization, the article only describes one style of suitable bike.

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    I don't see the need for chain stays that long either. In my mind they may or may not be desirable, but certainly aren't required. My bike has 16.5" chain stays according to the specs on the vendors site and it has plenty of heel clearance (size 45 shoes and 49cm frame). The ride and handling are near ideal in my mind.

    Gearing, I think that 20-25" is about right for most riders that will be doing any substantial climbing with a load, but this does vary with rider, load, and terrain.

    Proper fit is a no-brainer, but again various riders idea of proper fit vary widely. I tend to like frames small and riding position aggressive. Rivendell would say I should be on a frame three sizes larger. I like my bars maybe 4" below the saddle. While that was fine for me on a coast to coast tour, I met at least one rider who had his bars about a foot higher. He was doing really high mileage and was near the end of a fast coast to coast tour. Despite the huge difference we both did fine on a very long tour.

    My point is that there really is no one answer and what works best for any given rider is what they should do. There are some things like lower gearing and packing light that new tourists should be encouraged to do because most err in the other direction in the beginning of their riding careers, but ultimately the line will be drawn in different places for different riders.

  6. #6
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    10 experienced tourers will have 10 different ideal gear configurations, but the noobie asks the question anyway. Over and over again. What's the ideal touring bike? The answer that its different for everybody is understandably unsatisfying.

    My approach would be to tell the noobie to try to use whatever she has at hand and then address deficiencies as she runs into them. A trailer can be used with any bike. If in the course of touring, the now not-so-noobie decides that the trailer is annoying, that the bike's gearing is unreasonable, that she gets too many pinch flats, that braking is inadequate, then these issues can all be addressed together - if necesssary - in view of her budget. Yes, selling a used trailer is a little bit of a hassle and moderate waste of money, but the upfront cost is low compared to buying a whole rig and finding out that it wasn't really wasn't what was wanted.
    Last edited by Cyclesafe; 04-24-09 at 08:02 AM.

  7. #7
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    I agree with BengeBoy: I thought it was a well-written article with sensible information. Your opinion may vary. (God knows, the opinions on this forum certainly vary!)

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclesafe View Post
    10 experienced tourers will have 10 different ideal gear configurations, but the noobie asks the question anyway. Over and over again. What's the ideal touring bike? The answer that its different for everybody is understandably unsatisfying.

    My approach would be to tell the noobie to try to use whatever she has at hand and then address deficiencies as she runs into them. A trailer can be used with any bike. If in the course of touring, the now not-so-noobie decides that the trailer is annoying, that the bike's gearing is unreasonable, that she gets too many pinch flats, that braking is inadequate, then these issues can all be addressed together - if necesssary - in view of her budget. Yes, selling a used trailer is a little bit of a hassle and moderate waste of money, but the upfront cost is low compared to buying a whole rig and finding out that it wasn't really wasn't what was wanted.
    I agree with some of that, but...
    Not sure I agree on the cost issue. Decent trailers aren't cheap and decent racks and panniers can be. It is quite possible to get new front and rear racks and panniers for about $100 total. See Most cost effective rack & panniers I did and found them to be fine. They have held up well on our three bikes for a TransAmerica in all three cases and an additional 2 years of touring in one. I doubt you can find a decent new trailer for that.

    Your approach of just using what they have and addressing deficiencies as they are found would probably work if they ease into the sport. In the case of folks who start out with a multi-month tour that would be a poor approach if they didn't at least be sure of suitable gearing. People starting out with a long tour like the NT, ST, or TA as their first tour is a fairly common thing. People are likely to do this after graduation as an after college fling or right of passage and may not have even been cyclists previously. The number of folks we met on the TA who were on their first tour was not the majority, but still a significant percentage.

    Some of these folks were riding bikes that were just what ever they had, but most had at least gotten lower gearing. The one who had regular road bike gearing was young and strong and was the first one over the passes. Unfortunately he only made it through two and a half states before going home and ultimately facing knee surgery.

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigBlueToe View Post
    I agree with BengeBoy: I thought it was a well-written article with sensible information. Your opinion may vary. (God knows, the opinions on this forum certainly vary!)
    I would argue that when they say ""...the basic requirements: chainstays of 17.5 to 18 inches" they are saying that some very nice dedicated touring bikes don't meet the basic requirements. Otherwise yeah it was fairly sensible.

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    Well, I guess I'm assuming that there would be some period of training while loaded before an epic ride. It would be during that phase that the bugs could be worked out. When person sets out on a cross-country unprepared and clueless, then they're likely not asking for or heeding any advice anyway. And they either do just fine or bail.

    Yes, a trailer would cost more than cheap racks and panniers, but most bikes cannot accommodate racks. And I think your perceived utility of your set is really your subjective assessment. Otherwise, companies like Tubus and Arkel wouldn't be in business. Our hypothetical dissatisfied noobie would still have to sell the cheap racks and panniers or more likely suffer with (in her own mind) inferior gear.

    My first tour at 50YO was on a Trek 5200 triple with a 12-25 cassette pulling a BOB. I kicked ass.

  11. #11
    Senior Member tarwheel's Avatar
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    I thought it was a good article, but they left out my bike, a Bob Jackson World Tour. Apparently they only considered touring bikes available as complete bikes, not frames. Although you can order a complete touring bike from Bob Jackson (and Mercian), they seem to deal mostly in frames.

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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    I would argue that when they say ""...the basic requirements: chainstays of 17.5 to 18 inches" they are saying that some very nice dedicated touring bikes don't meet the basic requirements. Otherwise yeah it was fairly sensible.
    I am curious what your shoe size is. It seems like the length of the chainstay is most important for avoiding heel strike. If you have small feet, it's probably not an issue for you even if you had 16 inch chainstays rather than the 17.5 to 18 inches that the article mentions as a basic requirement. Maybe what you think of as a very nice dedicated touring bike would be a terrible bike for someone in a size 13 shoe because their heel would hit the pannier 90 times a minute. And since touring bikes aren't carried in large numbers at LBSes and it will likely be a special order, this is something a large-footed person would want to pay special attention to when ordering their bike.

    He further explains the chainstay issue later in the article and in other articles on the website. After reading the whole article, it seems clear that the basic requirements are really guidelines more than hard-and-fast rules on what you can tour on and what you can't. Maybe he should have used the word guidelines rather than requirements.

    At any rate, I read this article and some of the other articles they have posted on their website, and I thought they were very helpful. Does it mean that I won't buy a bike with chainstays shorter than 17.5 inches? No. It means that I am going make sure to get a very good idea of how long the chainstays need to be for me to avoid heel strike before I buy my next bike.

  13. #13
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by onnestabe View Post
    I am curious what your shoe size is. It seems like the length of the chainstay is most important for avoiding heel strike. If you have small feet, it's probably not an issue for you even if you had 16 inch chainstays rather than the 17.5 to 18 inches that the article mentions as a basic requirement.
    Size 11 (45 EUR) on a bike with a 49cm frame. Not huge feet, but not small either. I mount the panniers about as far forward as they go and could probably move them back a good bit further. I am pretty sure there is room for even a size 13 especially if they were moved back a bit. I should qualify that by saying that I don't like really big panniers and that helps with heel clearance.

    I mostly agree with the article and just think they overstated that one point.

  14. #14
    Recovering mentalist Randochap's Avatar
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    The recommendations are sound.

    I did my first tour through the mountains of British Columbia on a racing bike with gears too high and tubular tyres. I spent each night around the camp fire, patching and stitching tyres.

    It was a great adventure, but I eventually got a bike more suited to touring.

    My take on touring bikes.
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  15. #15
    Chilled Member alaska joe's Avatar
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    i say, bless the manufacturers for returning to touring bikes. not so many years ago it was impossible to find many choices at all for an honest to goodness touring bike. now everyone has one. (kind of like every bike clothing manufacturer now sells knickers.)

    while i agree that a touring bike is simply a bike you take on tour, the whole debate about what makes a good touring bike just feeds the fire to get more folks out there touring. if you buy a LHT you can use it to commute to work but at some point you pretty much feel compelled to take out on tour.

  16. #16
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclesafe View Post
    And I think your perceived utility of your set is really your subjective assessment. Otherwise, companies like Tubus and Arkel wouldn't be in business. Our hypothetical dissatisfied noobie would still have to sell the cheap racks and panniers or more likely suffer with (in her own mind) inferior gear.
    Of course it is subjective, as is pretty much any assessment of touring gear. I think that seeing how between the three of us, from my TA, we have 15,000 miles on them, we are in a position to make a somewhat useful assessment. I know that there are folks who have 10 or more times that mileage, but I think three peoples coast to coast tours ought to be enough to have a pretty good idea if the racks and bags work or not.

    By your logic Toyotas and Hondas must lack utility or they wouldn't make Mercedes or Lexus. Or perhaps a better example $10 cork bar tape must be inadequate or they wouldn't make $70+ brooks bar tape. If someone has to have $70 bar tape fine, but it doesn't mean that Nashbar or Cinelli cork tape isn't a good product.

    I think that often fashion has more to do with many choices than utility. Some expensive items are quite good, but in some cases I actually prefer cheaper stuff. For example if my bike had the set of Arkel Bags (4 on the sides + handlebar bag + rain covers) = 16 lbs. as mentioned in the 52 pound bike thread and a set of Surley Nice Racks (5.4 pounds for the set), I would take the lot of it off and sell it. I'd be happy replace them with much lighter much cheaper stuff. Someone else might consider that 21.4 pound set of racks and bags to be the best available.

    On the other hand some expensive items like the Tubus racks are actually very nice. They just cost more than I think they are worth when some of the cheaper stuff is plenty adequate.

    We all make our own choices and use what makes us happy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by prathmann View Post
    Guess I'll have to stop touring since my most frequent bike camping bike meets none of those requirements: chainstays are much too short, low gear is too high, frame is a bit too large, and no front rack. Odd that it seems to work so well.
    I'll bet you can squeeze one more trip to Paso Robles out of it.

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