Iíve been touring on a 2003 Fuji Touring frame with a wide variety of components since 2004. Itís been dedicated to touring for most of its life since I have other bikes to ride close to home. Iíve made a thousand changes to it over the years because I like to tinker and try new things. I can never leave well enough alone.
The Fuji has a persistent problem of the Axix square taper bottom bracket ďclickingĒ slightly under load. Iíve made several attempts to solve it with occasional short-term success. This winter, I decided to try a MTB crank set with outboard bearings. For some reason, it seemed like a good idea to swap out the frame (itís just another component, right?) at the same time.
The Soma Saga looked like a good candidate. I like the way it looks. It has most of the touring features I like and I was able to get one for $369 plus about $15 dollars shipping from OutsideOutfitters.com. Of course, one thing leads to another and I bought a few other new parts for the new frame. Many of the old components from the Fuji were swapped over and a handful of spare components I had laying around were used to complete the bike.
All in all, Iím extremely pleased with the result, as much as I can be without touring on it anyway. Short rides are good. Iíll have to update this after I have some loaded miles under the wheels to report on how well it all works together on the road.
The Saga is Soma Fabricationsí touring specific frame. It has fairly standard touring geometry. I ride the 58 cm (virtual) size.
While the earlier models of the Saga frame came with a lugged, sloping shoulder crown fork, the current model ships with a lugged, flat crown fork. I like the way the flat crown looks, but either way, the lugged fork looks far better than the ďbent pipeĒ look of unicrown forks. The fork tubes have an attractive curve to them with dual eyelets on the dropouts and mid-fork attachment points for low rider racks.
Soma now puts a proper head tube badge on the Saga in place of a decal on earlier models. Itís nowhere near as nice as the badges Rivendell puts on their bikes, but itís a real badge and it looks pretty good.
Youíd have to see the thickness of the butted ends of the head tube to appreciate how strong they look. Iím sorry I didnít snap a picture before I pressed in the headset cups. The head tube is rather long by road bike standards, to allow higher bar height without stacking 6í of spacers under the stem. The thickly butted tube combined with its overall length makes for an exceptionally sturdy steering axis. You wonít ovalize it, even under extreme conditions. Just to be sure, though, I installed an FSA ďThe PigĒ headset.
The FSA Pig headset uses a forged chromoly lower cup and ľĒ lower ball bearings. The upper cup is a more normal 6061-T6 aluminum with 5/32Ē balls. It comes in silver or black. I think the silver looks great with the Soma navy blue frame. Especially, since the FSA painted logo can easily be removed from the lower cup with a razor blade. To top it all off, the Pig is dirt-cheap.
I prefer the graceful look of nice quill stems for threaded headsets. I used a Nitto Technomic Deluxe on my Fuji, but the Saga requires a threadless headset with its associated clamp-on stem. One of the things I like most about quill stems is the level forward extension to the handlebars. I hope I donít offend anyone, but I just canít warm up to the jacked up chicken neck stems used to get the bars up to an acceptable level. Iíd rather stack spacers on the fork steering tube, even though they arenít particularly attractive either. Fortunately, the Saga helps in this regard by extending the head tube well above the top tube joint to cut down on the number of spacers needed for a given height.
The Saga head tube angle is 72į on my frame. An 18į stem would be required to create a level forward extension. Those are rare, but 17į stems are common. Thatís close enough. IRD makes a nicely finished 17į silver stem in the 90mm extension I wanted. Itís pretty cheap as well. About 40mm of silver headset spacers complete the closest approximation I can make to a classic quill stem look.
I use Thomson seatposts on all my bikes. They have no setback, which fits me well, but may make it hard for some people to get the saddle back far enough for their preference. The Thomson is a two-bolt design for easy tilt adjustment. Iím very sensitive to saddle tilt, to the point where I use a level to help make small adjustments. Thomson makes the adjustment process easy and the saddle rails never slip. The overall finish quality is outstanding and the machined micro-ridges along the length of the seatpost allow the use of only moderate force tightening the seatpost collar with no slippage. They arenít cheap, but theyíre worth it.
Iíve tried a Blackburn low-rider, a Surly Nice Rack, and a Tubus Tara on my Fuji. In my experience, the Tara blows everything else away in terms of weight, stability, rotational stiffness, and load carrying ability. The Saga fork appears to have been made with the Tara in mind. Iím a stickler for level rack load bars. I use a level to adjust mine. The Tara rack uses the middle of three possible upper mounting holes for a dead-level installation on the Saga.
The Tubus Cargo rack is the only rear rack Iíve ever used on a touring bike. Itís so close to perfect, I never wanted to try anything else. It mates to the Saga (in my size, at least) so well itís nearly an integrated rack. I use a level here again to install the rack stays properly.
The wheels are constructed from Phil Wood hubs, Mavic T520 48-hole rims (sadly, discontinued), and Wheelsmith DB14 double butted spokes.
Peter White built the wheels in 2003. Theyíre overbuilt for the task, but theyíre rock solid wheels. Iím pretty careful about avoiding hole, cracks, and uneven pavement edges but I occasionally get surprised. Iíve never broken a spoke and theyíre as true today as the day they were built.
Sheldon Brown explained in detail why you should pay attention to your skewers and why the enclosed cam type is superior to the exposed cam models. The Phil Wood hubs my wheels are built around didnít come with skewers. I picked up some XTR models from my local bike shop. I would have been happy with any of the Shimano enclosed cam skewers, but these didnít cost much more than the least expensive ones.
Iíve only used two types of touring-specific tires, both made by Continental. The Top Touring 2000 was the gold standard for touring tires during its reign. I had great luck with them and I still carry a 28mm folding version as a spare tire. Continental discontinued the TT 2000 and began making the Top Contact as their top-of-the-line touring tire. The Top Contact is handmade in Germany. I donít know how much that contributes to the quality, but itís rolls even more smoothly than my previous TT 2000 tires and has been even more durable. At prices that approach the cheapest automobile tires, they better be good. They are.
I had been using Dura-Ace bar end shifters with good success on my Fuji. I mounted them on the bar ends of drop bar handlebars and on Paulís Thumbies shifter pods when I switched to trekking bars. I know all the reasons these shifters are extremely popular for touring bikes. The front shifter is friction and the rear, indexed shifter can easily be switched to friction. People have been skeptical of the durability and complexity of STI shifters for touring applications, particularly when far from a well-stocked bike shop.
Iíve been using STI shifters on a couple of my other bikes for some time with no problems. Iím comfortable with their reliability, but even a catastrophic shifter failure of either shifter wouldnít leave me stranded. If I couldnít fix a broken shifter on the road, I can always use the limit screws to set the affected derailleur to a middle position, leaving me with a 1x9 or 3x1 drivetrain. At that point, the bike is plenty rideable to get me to a decent place to fix the problem. I mounted Shimano Tiagara STI shifters on the Saga and never looked back. I have 105 and Ultegra STI shifters on other bikes. I expected the Tiagara shifters to be crude compared to their more upscale models. Not so. The fit and finish of them is very nice. They might be a bit heavier; I didnít weigh them, but they look good and operate smoothly.
As I explained in the introduction, my Fuji Touring bike had square taper bottom bracket that I wasnít entirely happy with. I loved the gear spacing of my previous crank set, though. The front chain rings were 48, 36, and 22. It shifted well and when combined with Harrisí (Sheldonís) custom Cyclotouriste 13-34 cluster in the rear, gave me 20 (out of 27 possible) well-spaced useable gears with a range from about 18 to 101 gear inches. It would actually give 22, but I don't use (or need) the big-big combinations due to poor chain line.
I wanted to move to the large outboard bearings of modern crank sets, yet keep the same gearing I used on my Fuji. I found the Shimano FC-M590 Deore crank set was available with either 44-32-22 or 48-36-26 chain rings. I bought the 48-36-26 version and the individual 22-tooth ring. After swapping the 22-tooth ring for the original 26-tooth, I had the exact gearing I wanted in an inexpensive crank set with outboard bearings. It couldnít have been easier, except for chain line issues.
The natural chain line for a 135mm rear spacing with a 9-speed cluster is 45mm. The Deore MTB crank set wants to be set up at 50mm, which creates a problem for most road front derailleurs to reach the big chainring. A MTB front derailleur can be used, but then you have to friction shift it or use MTB shifters (which require MTB diameter handlebars, etc.) I want to use Shimano STI road shifters, so I use an IRD Alpina-D front derailleur.
There are three 2.5mm spacers used to center the Deore crank. For a 68mm bottom bracket shell, two spacers normally go on the drive side and one on the non-drive side. Moving all of the spacers to the non-drive side would set it up with a 45mm chainline, but thatís 7.5mm of spacers on the side that is expecting, 2.5mm at most. Iím not sure the threaded cup on the non-drive side would engage enough threads to be safe and solid. I moved only one of the 2.5mm spacers from the drive side to the non-drive side to split the difference and create a 47.5mm chainline.
At 47.5mm, the IRD Alpina-D front derailleur has just enough reach to comfortably shift into to the big chainring. Moving the front chainline out by 2.5mm doesnít really create a chainline problem. The center-to-center spacing of the rear cogs for a Shimano 9-speed cluster is 4.34mm. That means Iíve moved the front chainline out about one-half of a rear cog space. I tend to ride in the outer half of the rear cassette anyway because the front chainrings are only 22-36-48. All in all, it shifts smoothly and pulls a pretty straight chain for the way I normally ride.
I tried butterfly/trekking bars and I didnít really like them much. They werenít horrible, but Iím pleased to move back to traditional dropped bars. And by traditional, I mean traditionally shaped as well. No noodles, splayed randonneers, ergonomic, super shallow drop bars or other new-fangled inventions. I use the regular Nitto M176, a.k.a ďDream Bar,Ē on my touring bike. The only thing unusual about it is the width; itís 46cm center-to-center. Thatís wide. I donít think itís made that wide anymore. When I bought it in 2003 from Rivendell, the web site said the 46cm model was heat treated for strength. The narrower widths didnít need it, apparently. The width gives me plenty of room for a bike computer, a handlebar bag, a map holder and plenty of hand positions.
I double wrap the bars for comfort. I like a thick, meaty bar to hold, but I donít like squishy gel or foam underlayment. I use a base layer of cloth tape wrapped tightly (skipping the shift/brake levers) followed by a firm wrap of Fiízi:k Microtex bar tape. The Microtex looks like leather and wears like iron. It comes in a variety of colors, however the honey color is difficult to find in the US. I made the effort to get the honey tape because it closely matches my saddle. Itís not expensive like leather and it doesnít require the same care. Microtex laughs at the rain.
A mirror is an essential part of my touring bike. I try to choose light traffic routes and, even then, I want to see when Iím being approached from the rear. I donít like helmet mirrors and I donít like convex mirrors much. That doesnít leave much to choose from for road bikes. One of the side benefits of switching to STI shifters is the ability to mount the excellent MirrCycle STI-mount mirror. I use one of these on another bike I ride around town more often and I like it very much.
Paulís Touring Canti brakes fit the Saga well. The return spring is on the outboard (away from the frame) side of the brakes and attached to a 14mm adjustment head. I can dial in exactly the amount of return tension I want on each side to keep them well centered. The brakes are quite powerful when properly set up with a fairly low straddle or link wire. They come with a universal straddle wire, but I prefer to fit a proper length link wire. I think the installation looks cleaner and theyíre easier to adjust.
My only beef with the Paulís brakes is they put the open side of the straddle cable on the right (facing the bike from the front or rear). Thatís backward from the way Shimano and every other canti brake manufacturer does it. Thereís no performance effect, but it means the logo side of the link wire is facing the bike and the ďuglyĒ side is facing out.
The rear brake cable hanger is built into Saga frame. IRD makes a nice front cable hanger for threadless headsets.
A small, but important (to me), feature of the Saga is a built in kickstand plate. Kickstands are something of a love Ďem or hate Ďem accessory for bikes. I think theyíre essential for a touring bike. I stop frequently for food, water, resting, and all sorts of reasons. Iím often stopped in places where there isnít a convenient place to lean my loaded bike. Iíll always have a kickstand on my touring bike. Itís a pleasure to wrench down the kickstand mount bolt without worrying about scratching or crushing the chainstays.
The Saga mounts three water bottle cages on the frame. The two upper ones are nestled low on the frame and leave plenty of room for tall bottles. My front derailleur band clamp is positioned between the mounting holes of the bottle mount on the seat tube. After installing a pair of 2mm nylon spacers, the cages mount perfectly. I like the 27 oz. Klean Kanteen stainless bottles. They have no plastic smell or taste, even when the water is inevitably warm on long summer day touring.
Iíve ridden in enough rain to fully appreciate the value of good fenders on a touring bike. The SKS Longboard fenders are 45mm wide, which covers a 37mm tire, and are the longest full coverage ones around. The extra long coverage in front keeps the road grit off your feet and bottom bracket in both wet and dry weather. Taking the time to carefully mount them to accurately follow the curvature of the tires is essential for a clean look. I think the second biggest bike fashion faux pas (after unlevel racks) is fenders that donít follow the tire curvature.