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  1. #1
    The bike plague MightyLegnano's Avatar
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    Big touring on cheap bike? Is it possible?

    I have this idea to plan a big tour (around europe or something) on a cheap aluminium bike with bucket panniers even.

    Any of you did a tour on a cheap bicycle?

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    I've overnight camped on a low-mid quality 80s road bike.

    Also, there's this picture of an old dude with a bottom-of-the-barrel Walmart mountain bike loaded to the brim up with stuff, who apparently rode across the country on it. It gets posted every time a thread comes up, without any other comment. And the countdown to seeing it starts now...

    To better answer your presumed question: Yes, it can be done. No, it's not guaranteed to be cheaper than buying a decent touring bike (especially if your mechanical knowledge is not such that you can fix most things by yourself). Having ridden a fair number of cheap bikes in my life, I can say that they do tend to wear out parts at a pretty depressing rate, and getting those replaced and installed can really start to add up.

    However, assuming you have the right gear ratio and the frame is strong enough to handle the weight of you and your gear, there's no reason why you can't do it whatsoever. Just be ready for lots of holdups due to components wearing out, failing, lots of flat tires, etc.

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    I have done my tours on a Windsor Touring at $599 (delivered). I guess you can count that as a cheap bike. It worked out fine and I have no desire to replace it for tours where I pack a "normal" load.

    I am using a 1990-ish aluminum road bike for my upcoming Southern Tier. You could probably find a similar one for $150 without too much effort. I wanted a lighter bike than my touring bike since I am packing ultralight. I expect it will be fine.

    I met a Japanese guy on the Pacific coast who was doing the whole coast on what looked like all walmart grade bike and gear. I think he was planning to leave it all behind when he flew home. He seemed to be having a great time and I doubt that his gear impacted the experience much in a negative way.

    I have met others on a wide range of bikes and gear. I could see no correlation between their success and the amount they spent on their bikes and gear.

    I like the fact that I could afford to replace everything without too much pain if it all went missing. Also when I think back on my tours the bike itself does not figure all that prominently.

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    I toured for a week in Ireland on a Raleigh Pioneer rental hybrid. It was low end but not discount store quality. The rear mech was Shimano steel SIS (lowest grade) but worked just fine.
    People do tour on discount store $99 bikes but I wouldn't recommend them. The alignment is often way off and the main bearings are very low grade. You are better off with a decent used hybrid.

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    Okay so I haven't but here is my Story in short:

    I went to France for 3 weeks of bike touring with my own bike and pannier set-up, flew the bike over, used technicalities to avoid fees stored the bike box with friends who lived in Paris, long and short of it was I brought a REALLY nice bike (relatively speaking) to tour on. My friend, who I met up with in Paris, was slightly more of a "As the wind takes you" person then me (I am very calculating) so he buys a bike when he flies to England for 50 Pounds, the "Probike".

    So lets just say that he rode this bike through about 1000 miles of French rodes for 3 weeks, while riding it his tire was shredded by rough roads (Due to it being already basically worn to the threads when he got it), broke 5 spokes in the rear wheel, had all but inoperable brakes, and crappy plastic pedals (no toe clips) and was essentially a flat-bar touring bike. He made it work (I still am amazed the pace he kept on that thing, the guy could probably get a real road bike and ride the TdF with enough training).

    The link to my journal is also in my sig if you want to read a bit more about it. In any case I would say this from my experience. You can tour on anything aslong as you are somewhat prepared for mechanical trouble. My friend was lucky I had brought every tool in the book and was able to fix the bike. A low quality bike will have a higher chance of breaking on you sadly enough.

    The funny thing I joke about in Retrospect is that if I was to go again I would bring my Carbon Fiber road bike and some real high end Mavic wheels.


    IN ANY CASE: Moral of my story from the soapbox is simply, yes, but be prepared to deal with technical troubles. Bring(Among other tools like allen wrenches) a spoke wrench ,cassette tool , vise grips, a few extra bolts (an extra chainring bolt is good aswell) a REALLY good pump (Lezyne makes some amazing frame/hand pumps). And either bring with you or be sure to purchase 2 derailleur cables, 2 brake cables, an extra tire, patch kit, rim tape, a few extra spokes. And be certain you have atleast a general idea of how to use all these tools.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    A cheap bike doesn't have to be a low-quality bike. A modern, cheap bike will likely be a lesser quality bike than a more expensive bike, but often a decent, inexpensive, used bike can be had for cheap. Some older bikes were built to last and have done just that. If I were trying to get on the road cheaply, I would shop for cheap, used bikes and then completely dismantle, inspect, relube, and, where feasible, upgrade. At the end of that process, the bike should be in great shape, and you will be familiar with every part of it in case you do need to repair something.
    My theory is that a bike that has been kicking around 20 years and is still rideable is probably good for another few years. On the other hand, while the quality of your average department store bike isn't great, a little preventive maintenance like retensioning the tires, regreasing the bearings, and maybe swapping out a couple of critical parts could keep you on the road for a while.
    I covered my little corner of the state, including several overnight trips, on an old Schwinn that had been rusting in my yard. It had a 3 speed hub, but I knew nothing of those things, so it never got fixed, and I stayed in one gear.
    I think the biggest thing money gets you is more comfort. Expensive bikes are lighter and hopefully don't spend as much time upside down at the side of the road. Expensive gear is lighter, keeps you warmer/cooler, and packs smaller. There's a lot of comfort to be had with the "right" gear, and the older I get, the more I appreciate it, but that's what you're paying extra money for, comfort. The amount of money you need to make a tour possible is not that much. The amount you need to make a tour pleasant is up to you.
    Took a week long "tour" going from home to college on a second-hand bike. "Pannier" was not a word I knew. I put some wire-frame baskets on my bike, hung a mini cooler off the back, turned on my awesome portable cassette player (with an "auto-reverse" feature so I didn't have to flip the tape every time one side finished), and headed across the state. Mechanically there were flat tires to deal with and nothing else.
    These days, when I find myself thinking about all of the things I "need" to make a bike trip happen, I occasionally remind myself that my first trips were done on cheap bikes with second hand gear that any serious tourer would cringe at. While I try and decide if the comparatively cheap Topeak handlebar bag will suffice, or if I need to save my pennies for a real rando bag, my 20 year old self has already thrown his crap into backpack, and is halfway to his destination. And he had a lot more fun riding than I have shopping.

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dnuzzomueller View Post
    IN ANY CASE: Moral of my story from the soapbox is simply, yes, but be prepared to deal with technical troubles. Bring(Among other tools like allen wrenches) a spoke wrench ,cassette tool , vise grips, a few extra bolts (an extra chainring bolt is good aswell) a REALLY good pump (Lezyne makes some amazing frame/hand pumps). And either bring with you or be sure to purchase 2 derailleur cables, 2 brake cables, an extra tire, patch kit, rim tape, a few extra spokes. And be certain you have atleast a general idea of how to use all these tools.
    Different strokes, but I really think some of that stuff is far from mandatory.
    1. vise grips - really? I don't think I have ever in 50+ years of messing with bikes needed vise grips.
    2. extra chainring bolt - Never heard of any one carrying one. Never had one fail or disappear and if one did the bike would remain ride able until the next bike shop. I guess the weight is near nothing, bit it seems like a 1 in a million chance of needing one.
    3. 2 derailleur cables - Maybe, but... They don't fail often and you could limp along rigged to be in whatever gear you want and still have some range by using the other derailleur.
    4. 2 brake cables - Again maybe, but...Never had one fail that wasn't pretty old and even then they failed in a manner that gave some warning as they frayed.
    5. an extra tire - Maybe if you are touring somewhere really remote. In the US or Europe, not worth carrying IMO.
    6. rim tape - Again never heard of anyone carrying that and can't imagine why you would need it. Even when there are wheel problems like broken spokes I have never need to touch the rim tape.


    I don't think any of those are mandatory. I consider items 3 and 4 iffy but not unreasonable, item 5 overkill in most places, and can't imagine carrying items 1, 2 and 6 in any case.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MightyLegnano View Post
    I have this idea to plan a big tour (around europe or something) on a cheap aluminium bike with bucket panniers even.

    Any of you did a tour on a cheap bicycle?

    yes

  9. #9
    Senior Member simplygib's Avatar
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    It depends on the "cheap" bike. There are cheap bikes that are crap, and there are cheap bikes that aren't. I pretty much do all my riding on my "cheap" bike (5 or 6 tours now, 14 years of recreational day rides, ten years of commuting). It cost $290 new in 1998. Steel, rigid-frame mtb, Specialized Hard Rock. No plans on ever replacing it.

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    By today's standards,I've been riding the same cheap bike for the last 34 years........I distroyed the original back wheel in the first year of touring.Short of that,no major problems.
    Last edited by Booger1; 02-03-12 at 11:10 AM.
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    The one thing I would probably do for any bike, cheap or otherwise but especially cheap, would be re-tension the wheels, check the lube in the headset and hubs before setting out for a tour.
    I don't do off road or expedition touring so I kind of tend to relax the brain on the repair issues and go for having the stuff to fix flats and doing the basic adjustments. For everything else I use a thumb, cell phone and credit card as I am positive that I cannot carry enough stuff to meet all the "what ifs."

  12. #12
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    A bike is a frame with components hung here and there, all of which are replaceable. Fit is First. Especially for a tour of any length.

    As long as your 'cheap' bike is mechanically sound, you're good to go. 'Course, never hurts to know how to fix a few things. Good advice about wheels and tires. And go for those bucket panniers. The cat litter type make a great camp stool and table. For saving weight, these trash basket panniers look doable.
    The bicycle is one of the great inventions of mankind. Delights children, challenges young men to feats of daring, and turns old men into boys again.--Me

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    Senior Member MNBikeguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    I have done my tours on a Windsor Touring at $599 (delivered). I guess you can count that as a cheap bike. It worked out fine and I have no desire to replace it for tours where I pack a "normal" load.

    I am using a 1990-ish aluminum road bike for my upcoming Southern Tier. You could probably find a similar one for $150 without too much effort. I wanted a lighter bike than my touring bike since I am packing ultralight. I expect it will be fine.

    I met a Japanese guy on the Pacific coast who was doing the whole coast on what looked like all walmart grade bike and gear. I think he was planning to leave it all behind when he flew home. He seemed to be having a great time and I doubt that his gear impacted the experience much in a negative way.

    I have met others on a wide range of bikes and gear. I could see no correlation between their success and the amount they spent on their bikes and gear.

    I like the fact that I could afford to replace everything without too much pain if it all went missing. Also when I think back on my tours the bike itself does not figure all that prominently.
    Apologies for the hijack, but I am looking forward to your experiences on the ST.
    By far, my favorite to date.
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  14. #14
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Just see to it you can stand to ride it all day long for months..
    and fit racks that will not fail at the worst moments.

    Maybe get racks & bags and such, that may cost more than the bike ,
    and replace the horse under them if needed .

  15. #15
    Walmart bike rider gpsblake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MightyLegnano View Post
    I have this idea to plan a big tour (around europe or something) on a cheap aluminium bike with bucket panniers even.

    Any of you did a tour on a cheap bicycle?
    Yes, toured 2,000 miles a on Walmart Schwinn. Comfort, comfort and comfort in your bicycle is the key to a good tour, not just throwing big money into a bike. An expensive bike will get just as many flats, just as many broken spokes, etc as a Walmart bicycle will.

    Other then a few flats (especially in Texas), no mechanical problems at all with the Walmart bike.

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    If cheaper means older I would point out that things like headsets and bottom brackets have changed a lot. I generally prefer cartridge bearings to free balls (but I do have some ancient BB's that are still rock solid). I used to seek out vintage touring machines (80's Trek 520, etc) but stopped looking because modern headsets seem less finicky.
    David Green, Naperville, IL USA "The older I get, the better I used to be" --Lee Trevino

  17. #17
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    There is a difference between cheap quality and inexpensive price.. Here is an article where someone purchased inexpensive decent quality MTB's and toured the world on them.

    Aaron
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  18. #18
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    I worked in a bike shop a few miles off of the Bikecentennial route back in the '70s. Lots of people made it across the country on cheap bikes, and back then, cheap bikes weren't nearly as good as today's cheap bikes. Of course, I mostly saw the people that were having problems with their bikes, but then again I was at mile 2500 or so.

  19. #19
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Europe, you have the advantage , if the bike fails , you can always take the train.

  20. #20
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    ML, While there are many opinions as to what should or shouldn't be used for touring (I tend to be conservative with advice), a well prepared bike capable of carrying the weight of the gear you want to take along is a touring bike candidate regardless of it's position on any Ideal Touring Bike list.

    Brad

  21. #21
    Wild Horse Country revelo's Avatar
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    Cheap, lightweight, durable: pick two. Cheap bikes often pick durable rather than lightweight as the second option. Thick and heavy frames, rims, stems, etc are cheaper and more durable than lightweight versions.

    There are two concerns with cheap bikes. First, the bike may be improperly assembled and this will cause it fall apart very quickly. So make sure you buy from someone who can be trusted to put the bike together properly. Also, any bike, cheap or otherwise, will need a tuneup after the first 150 miles of use. So make sure you take the cheap bike on some shakedown rides, then bring it to a bike-shop for the tuneup before going off on a tour. In particular, get the spokes properly tensioned.

    Second, when the components on a cheap bike start to need replacing, you will typically find it impossible to get standard replacements. For example, if and when I need to replace any part of the drive train on my cheap MTB, I will probably have to replace the whole damn thing: BB, Cranks, chainrings, perhaps the front derailleur too, because everything is proprietary design. Whereas with standard Shimano components, I could just replace the part that is worn. So what is cheap in the short-run may not be cheap in the long run.

    I second the advice someone else made about buying a cheap bike but outfitting with the high-quality rack, panniers, tires, inner tubes, tools and other add-ons. That way, if the bike starts to fall apart and is not worth fixing, you can just move all these add-ons to another cheap bike.

    I think you will be sorry if you go with cheap panniers and rack, since failures here are very common when carrying large loads.

  22. #22
    The bike plague MightyLegnano's Avatar
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    It's incredible how much interesting info you can get here! Really great answers!

    Judging from your answers I could go on and buy an old steel mountain bike and add some better components (racks, panniers). If I take it apart and repair any loosen or worn out component I think I'll be ok.

    I wish we had the Craiglist option here to collect a cheap old bike like an 90's Specialized rockhopper.

    Rob_E :
    if I need to save my pennies for a real rando bag, my 20 year old self has already thrown his crap into backpack, and is halfway to his destination. And he had a lot more fun riding than I have shopping.
    Great saying, so true...
    Last edited by MightyLegnano; 02-04-12 at 12:33 PM.

  23. #23
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by revelo View Post
    Cheap, lightweight, durable: pick two. Cheap bikes often pick durable rather than lightweight as the second option. Thick and heavy frames, rims, stems, etc are cheaper and more durable than lightweight versions.

    There are two concerns with cheap bikes. First, the bike may be improperly assembled and this will cause it fall apart very quickly. So make sure you buy from someone who can be trusted to put the bike together properly. Also, any bike, cheap or otherwise, will need a tuneup after the first 150 miles of use. So make sure you take the cheap bike on some shakedown rides, then bring it to a bike-shop for the tuneup before going off on a tour. In particular, get the spokes properly tensioned.

    Second, when the components on a cheap bike start to need replacing, you will typically find it impossible to get standard replacements. For example, if and when I need to replace any part of the drive train on my cheap MTB, I will probably have to replace the whole damn thing: BB, Cranks, chainrings, perhaps the front derailleur too, because everything is proprietary design. Whereas with standard Shimano components, I could just replace the part that is worn. So what is cheap in the short-run may not be cheap in the long run.

    I second the advice someone else made about buying a cheap bike but outfitting with the high-quality rack, panniers, tires, inner tubes, tools and other add-ons. That way, if the bike starts to fall apart and is not worth fixing, you can just move all these add-ons to another cheap bike.

    I think you will be sorry if you go with cheap panniers and rack, since failures here are very common when carrying large loads.
    I agree with most of your assessment except parts being easily replaceable. Somethings maybe, maybe not. Shimano has gotten into the bad habit of constantly bringing out "new and improved" products every couple of years, what was durable and fit 5 years ago is probably not available today and you will end up getting something that you hope works. I have run into this more and more. The best bet IMHO is to make sure your stuff is a simple as possible, in top shape and if possible have a backup part left with someone that can ship it to you via overnight in an emergency. Depending on where you are touring this could make or break a tour.

    Aaron
    Webshots is bailing out, if you find any of my posts with corrupt picture files and want to see them corrected please let me know. :(

    ISO: A late 1980's Giant Iguana MTB frameset (or complete bike) 23" Red with yellow graphics.

    "Cycling should be a way of life, not a hobby.
    RIDE, YOU FOOL, RIDE!"
    _Nicodemus

    "Steel: nearly a thousand years of metallurgical development
    Aluminum: barely a hundred
    Which one would you rather have under your butt at 30mph?"
    _krazygluon

  24. #24
    Wild Horse Country revelo's Avatar
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    @Aaron: yes, I think you're right about the "new and improved" issue, unfortunately.

    Regarding the panniers and racks: actually, SOME of the cheap stuff is plenty durable enough for touring. When I was growing up in the 1960's, we had those old-fashioned dual rear baskets made of steel on our coaster-brake bikes. We used to carry each other around as passengers on these racks, so clearly these racks (if you can still find them) are durable enough for the heaviest touring load. I was thinking of the lightweight aluminum racks commonly sold nowadays in Walmart. These will fall apart very quickly under touring loads. Similar story for panniers: SOME of the cheap stuff is quite durable.

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    My first tour was 400 miles on a Trek 7.2 FX. not completely bottom of the spectrum, but as far as names like Trek go, it's pretty far down.

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