Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: London, Ontario, Canada
Bikes: Surly Cross Check, Trek 520, Giant VT1, Norco Scrambler, Norco Unicycle, Dirtsurfer
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During my recent bicycle tour around Lake Huron I had the priviledge of meeting about 14 Cross Canada riders at different points of the northern portion of my circle. The vast majority of the riders were using mountain bikes with either a trailer or everything piled on the rear rack.
During my 2003 Round Lake Erie tour I met numerous Cross US/Northern Tier riders during the southern portion of my circle. Those riders were almost all using touring bikes with four saddlebags and a map holder.
I found the equipment differences interesting and somewhat surprising especially since both groups were touring on similar terrain!
On my website there are several different touring bicycle case studies in the "Bike Stuff" section. You will see that people have succesfully toured long distances using everything from Pennyfarthings, unicycles and singlespeed rickshaws all the way to mountain bikes, recumbents and road bikes.
Both mountain bike case studies mention the easy conversion ability of older pre-suspension mountain bikes as someone else mentioned in this thread. A common comment from the Cross Canada mountain bike riders was how rear end heavy their bikes were. In every case the ones making the comment were riding with front suspension and rear racks only.
Touring bikes generally have non-suspended front forks and the ability to easily carry a front rack. The front rack gives you to the option of moving some of your gear forward and therefore balance the weight better resulting in a much easier ride. I typically have about 60 percent of my gear on the front rack. You can also obtain replacement forks for a suspended mountain bike and largely eliminate this difference too.
Having ridden medium distance tours already and looking forward to my future Cross Canada tour I fully intend to continue using my Trek 520 for my touring bicycle of choice. I may try an offroad tour with a mountain bike and trailer this year just to see what I think.
By the way when you say road bike I am thinking that you mean a touring bicycle with it's ability to carry a lot of weight and provide clearance for your heels. I am not thinking of a lightweight, fragile kind of roadbike.
If you can take a few test rides that might going a long way towards helping you decide. Just to make it more complicated I've noticied that my Trek 520 has a much nicer ride fully loaded then it does when it's unloaded.