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Old 09-04-12, 02:31 PM   #1
mdilthey
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Choosing a Mountain Bike for a South America Tour

Thanks for all the help in this thread. When I started, I was misled by "experts" at my LBS into things like 29" wheels and carbon fiber frames. Since this thread has an uninformed first post, please visit my new thread where my questions are up to date and in line with what I have learned from the real experts here.

I created the new thread since things like Carbon Fiber were still being discussed long after I settled on steel. The first post was generating confusion.

Everything -positive or negative- that has been said so far has been carefully read and re-read.

Thanks again and I'll see you in the new thread!

http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...7#post14707177

Last edited by mdilthey; 09-08-12 at 06:20 PM.
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Old 09-04-12, 02:40 PM   #2
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My friends and acquaintances who have toured there all used 26" wheels.
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Old 09-04-12, 02:52 PM   #3
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My friends and acquaintances who have toured there all used 26" wheels.
My LBS put it this way... Yes, 26" wheels work, but if you want to move fast (like I do), the large rocks mixed in with the gravel make rolling on 26" a hassle. Add to that the mechanical advantage of 29" wheels for touring, and the difference is pretty vast. That was my understanding, and it seems to be sound. I mean, technically you could do it on a Bike Friday, but i'm looking to limit myself as little as possible as to what the bike can handle.
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Old 09-04-12, 03:11 PM   #4
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Fast and touring aren't exactly on the same end of the scale unless you're going very light and going hard. Taking it easy and riding an extra hour will get you the same miles with less effort. I'd look to 26" , front shock w lockout and as light a load possible while still being comfortable.
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Old 09-04-12, 03:25 PM   #5
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I'm a Surly fan, so I'd go Surly Troll. 26", you'll be able to resupply on the road, about $1300 too. If you buy the complete I'd upgrade the tires.

Edit: If you have to get a 29er--->Surly Ogre

Last edited by BigAura; 09-04-12 at 05:44 PM. Reason: add Ogre
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Old 09-04-12, 03:25 PM   #6
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You'll want to read this blog. http://whileoutriding.com/. And this. http://boundsouth.org/
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Old 09-04-12, 04:18 PM   #7
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If you can find a 90's or earlier pre suspension bike MTB,
that will be a good foundation to build upon.

29ers are hot stuff now, but 26" have had 20 years to spread, so spare tires
have a greater likely hood to be in bike repair shops..,
ask your LBS if they will airmail spare tires to you for cheap if you go for a 29er.

they will be rare as hen's teeth on the Pampas.

Last edited by fietsbob; 09-04-12 at 04:24 PM.
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Old 09-04-12, 04:34 PM   #8
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The assumption is that I WON'T find any 29ers in So. America at all, but the tradeoff in travel will make it worth it to air-drop spares. I'll carry one spare foldable tire all the time and I'll be prepared to ship one to myself if necessary.

I don't want to get an older bike this time, I want a brand-new MTB that I'm sure hasn't seen stresses beyond my control. Less variables, the better.

As for fast and light, my gear weight is like 10lbs. I'm already more than comfortable camping in all conditions with an ultralight hammock and I'm prepared to wear one pair of clothes for the majority of the tour. I'll be rolling with two Ortlieb Front-rollers mounted on the back for food and water and a single dry-sack for gear strapped to a rear rack, plus some frame bags.

Does anyone have some model suggestions? I have looked at Cannondale and Felt and didn't see anything perfect. Most of them seem to be aluminum- does anyone know of any sub-1300 carbon hardtails with the right componentry?
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Old 09-04-12, 04:41 PM   #9
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I want to add that I am not opposed to 26" wheels if someone can further clarify how much easier the tour will be with 29's. Other than that, though, I appreciate comments reccomending slower paces, etc. but please assume I'm more than capable of going very light, and very fast, and prioritize this in your recommendations.

This tour, for me, is about getting from one amazing experience to the next in a minimal amount of time. I want to hike the Andes, see the temples of central america, swim in oceans, visit rainforests, villages, cities, and more.
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Old 09-04-12, 04:44 PM   #10
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I like rigid sixers myself but I just popped in to note that you may go LONG stretches without seeing two trees to string a hammock between.
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Old 09-04-12, 05:57 PM   #11
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I like rigid sixers myself but I just popped in to note that you may go LONG stretches without seeing two trees to string a hammock between.

CHALLENGE GRATEFULLY ACCEPTED!!! Hammock Camping is a significant part of my life... I'll tarp-tent using the hammock rainfly when necessary.
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Old 09-04-12, 06:03 PM   #12
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Hi everyone. First off, thanks in advance for advice, even if it's purely anecdotal. This forum is truly a gift for the unexperienced, as I only have about 5,000 miles under my wheels.

I am planning a trip from Central America, southbound, to the tip of Argentina and Chile. I have already started learning spanish and I am slowly becoming a master of camping and self-sufficiency outdoors.

I do, however, need help choosing a bike!

Here's what I learned so far from my LBS:

1. The only tire common in South America is a 26", but the majority of great touring experiences come from roads that demand a 29" tire. My best bet is to get the burliest possible 29" rims and tires, and carry a spare folding tire and lots of tubes.

2. Because of the quality of roads and the wheel size, I need a mountain bike frame with a front fork.

3. Because of the length of the journey and the demands I'm putting on the bike, I need at least the Deore component group, with an XT rear derailleur. Because of the touring environment, I need to replace the MTB handlebars with Trekking bars and keep the same brakes/shifters.


I don't know anything about mountain bikes! I need a lot of help choosing one that meets the following requirements!

-29" wheels
-Front Fork
-Steel or Carbon Fiber Frame (or Alum if you can convince me)
-Rack mounts in the rear
-Deore or Deore XT Groupset

My budget is $1300. This can be moved a little, but not much. I can rebuild the handlebars myself, with help from my friends.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
LBSs are often not the best sources of information. Recommend best online sources you can find. Get a better, more precise handle on 26 vs 29. The advantages of the latter may not be as significant as some would have it.

Carbon does not take impacts as well as some other materials. See durianrider's carbon fail compilation on youtube, as well as some of his other bike or cycling videos (including best bike vid). I don't agree on every point, but there is good information there. See his bio for his experience level and mileages.

Lifetime warranties are a good thing.

Stout aluminum is perfectly acceptable. See the top of the line Koga Miyatas.

You might also check out the engineering specs for the best of the exotic steels.

You can find a ton of owner reviews over at mtbr.com.

For the sort of riding you'll be doing, carbon has drawbacks. You mention large rocks. Do you really want a material that can't take the spills and impacts well?
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Old 09-04-12, 06:07 PM   #13
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LBSs are often not the best sources of information. Recommend best online sources you can find. Get a better, more precise handle on 26 vs 29. The advantages of the latter may not be as significant as some would have it.

Carbon does not take impacts as well as some other materials. See durianrider's carbon fail compilation on youtube, as well as some of his other bike or cycling videos (including best bike vid). I don't agree on every point, but there is good information there. See his bio for his experience level and mileages.

Lifetime warranties are a good thing.

Stout aluminum is perfectly acceptable. See the top of the line Koga Miyatas.

You might also check out the engineering specs for the best of the exotic steels.

You can find a ton of owner reviews over at mtbr.com.

For the sort of riding you'll be doing, carbon has drawbacks. You mention large rocks. Do you really want a material that can't take the spills and impacts well?
This is kind of the crux of my dilemma, though. My mind says "Steel is bendable, get steel" but there's another logic that says "If it's a bad enough fall to break a carbon MTB, your steel frame would be broken too."

I feel like at the $1300 level, material compromise seems unlikely. It's really hard separating fact from anecdote on material strength, because the aluminum and carbon frames in 2012 are not the same frames that were around in 1990, and the common logic may be wrong.

It may also be right! I don't know. I will check out mtbr.com, but I think I need opinions from people of experience.
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Old 09-04-12, 06:07 PM   #14
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I think a 26 rigid is what you want to do on roads... Yes there are pot holes, but it isn't like you're going to be touring singletrack or technical rock gardens. The availability of spare parts is key. You could be stuck for 2 weeks or more waiting for your spare to come in... Also, you should get a steel frame-- if you have major malfunction, it can be welded almost anywhere. For what it's worth, I have ridden in Costa Rica-- on a 26 on roads and on trails. Never felt the bike was inadequate. (and Costa Rica is high on the list for worst roads around).

Whatever you decide, enjoy--

train safe-
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Old 09-04-12, 06:17 PM   #15
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Whoever told you that the roads demand 29" wheels is mistaken.

Steels like 853 won't have a bending or breaking problem.

More when at a computer. On a Kindle in the forest right now.

Last edited by Niles H.; 09-04-12 at 06:24 PM.
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Old 09-04-12, 06:19 PM   #16
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Well, I am not the most confident rider ever. I second-guess myself a lot, especially on intense hills, and I proceed carefully and slowly. My understanding is that this is where 29's excel, since they offer an easier turn over large objects and their momentum is more difficult to stop.

As for the 2-week wait, I look at it this way: When I'm in the Andes, or in the middle of Argentina, I could easily find myself 100+ miles from a bike shop anyways, so it really doesn't matter what wheel I get. I want to speak to some more people of experience on this end.

The "plan" that I have right now is to just get near-indestructible rims, the upper crust of Schwalbe flat-proof tires, and then carry a foldable spare (plus, obviously, a flat kit and 3+ spare tubes). In the event of a real shred on a tire, I can pop on my foldable and then air-drop the new spare in. Two weeks later, I take the foldable back off and put on the new tire. So, the only way to get grounded completely is to shred a Schwalbe and then a folded tire within 2 weeks of eachother.


I mean, I've toured Maine, VT, Mass, and New Hampshire, which meant some pretty seriously rough riding and bad highways with metal scraps/glass. I even mountain biked on my road frame on Hurricane Mtn, because it was 2 miles to the road. I find the idea of ripping through a tire to be really, really difficult, especially if you have the heaviest duty tires available.


But if I'm absolutely wrong about

A) the 29ers making riding easier
B) the scarcity of bike shops for any size wheel
C) the "plan" of tire replacement

then 26's it is. I just want as much info as I can here, so THANK YOU, very much, for this information. I'm sorry if it seems like I'm arguing, but I feel in my gut that the fun, security, and speed apparently associated with 29's is worth really trying for, logistically.
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Old 09-04-12, 06:35 PM   #17
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at your price point I would order a VSF Farhradmanufaktur TX-400 30-speed. it's ready to roll with excellent equipment and should exceed all of your demand as it's the lowest level of the Expedition bikes these guys make (1299)

http://www.fahrradmanufaktur.de/bike...e-xt-30-gang/#

most bike shops can/will import it from England (Chrisbikes.co.uk)

for a little more money, I'd highly recommend the Tout Terrain Silkroad. It's extremely well designed and configurable ... can be ordered from Peter White cycles ... they'll configure it for whatever you wants (drops/straight/rohloff/30-speed/etc...)

http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/tout-terrain.asp

that would be money EXTREMELY well spent

edit: you can run 700c or 26 inch with the silkroad frame, i linked to above.

Last edited by acidfast7; 09-04-12 at 06:39 PM.
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Old 09-04-12, 06:44 PM   #18
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Here's what I learned so far from my LBS:

1. The only tire common in South America is a 26", but the majority of great touring experiences come from roads that demand a 29" tire.
Huh? You've got to be riding on roads the demand a 29" tire to have a "great touring experience"? Sounds like b******* to me. It also sounds like some gearhead is trying to sell you something that you don't need.

I've had some pretty wonderful touring experiences on 26" wheels, 20" Bike Friday wheels, & 700C wheels. I've toured in Chile & Argentina on 26" tires (on an early 90s no suspension steel frame), including biking over unpaved passes in the Andes and had a "great touring experience". I toured in Costa Rica (which has many awful roads, as buelito mentioned) on 26" wheels. I biked on some paved roads in Costa Rica with huge potholes that forced me to keep my hands on the brakes during long descents, and that would have been true regardless of whatever wheel size I had. I biked on some roads and a trail in Ecuador on 26" wheels, and the experience was great. And I toured on my Bike Friday in the mountains of Mexico and had a great touring experience there, too. You're going to find yourself in some pretty isolated areas. For such a long tour, I wouldn't mess with something that is non-existent in the region, when you have perfectly good alternatives.
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Old 09-04-12, 06:52 PM   #19
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Thanks Axoloti, that's really helpful. I appreciate it! I'll be doing a lot of thinking about this, since the tradeoff now is all speed and handling. I'll have to try some 29's out myself.

When you toured So. America, what was availability like on bike shops? Were you ever very remote?
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Old 09-04-12, 06:55 PM   #20
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And you don't need a "MTB." A solid steel frame adapted to your needs will be fine. I would go for a new steel frame and use framesaver unless you absolutely confident that a used frame has never seen rust.
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Old 09-04-12, 07:11 PM   #21
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When you toured So. America, what was availability like on bike shops? Were you ever very remote?
I was often in pretty remote areas, but not as remote as I could have been. Most of my 3 1/2 weeks were spent riding in the lake & volcano region of south-central Chile and adjacent Argentina. That area is usually considered northern Patagonia. I don't recall seeing a bike shop anywhere except in Bariloche, Argentina. But I never needed a bike shop. Argentina has vast empty stretches. As soon as you pedal out of Bariloche, you're in wide open spaces. If you decide to tackle the Carretera Austral in Chile, I doubt you'll encounter even a basic bike shop anywhere.
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Old 09-04-12, 07:11 PM   #22
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I'm sure it's not a "need" but I felt like I could really use a mtb just touring the northeast. Dirt roads, trails, and backways lead to some of the most interesting areas. As a young photographer, I'll never hesitate to leave a road. I'm pretty sold on bikepacking this trip.
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Old 09-04-12, 07:15 PM   #23
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I'm suspicious of your LBS, they must be either 29er zealots or else not know what they're talking about...there are relative advantages of 26ers and 29ers, but I don't know of a whole lot of places you can't go with one or the other. Almost everyone who tours in South America uses a 26er because of the availability of parts, and I'd do the same even if I were otherwise a devotee of 29er wheels - the peace of mind would be worth it.

That said, check out my favorite blog, whileoutriding.com. He's doing a mountain bike tour through the Americas on a Surly Ogre 29er. His most recent lightweight/bikepacking setup is also pretty inspirational. And he's used four bikes on his trip so far - the Ogre, the Surly Troll (which helped me decide on that bike when I'd narrowed it down to a few), a Thorn, and one other, and his thoughts on all things gear-related will help you a lot. He likes the 29er enough that he's riding on a rigid fork over some truly gnarly roads, but it's not the route I would go. Basically, 29er in the third world can be done, but the idea that it's the only way to go is total nonsense. Examine the relative merits of each before deciding.

Also, the Troll/Ogre are probably really, really good choices for your trip. They'll handle the trip with aplomb and be a great bike back home as your mountain bike, commuter, and tourer all in one.

Edit: Oh yeah - what hammock are you using? I'm a dedicated hammock camper as well, but I sure wouldn't take one to the Andes. It'd get used infrequently enough that I would see it as wasted weight. Then again, if you're moving between wooded and treeless biomes, a very light hammock could be nice to have along...

Anyway, sounds like an amazing trip. I trust you'll keep a photo blog!

Last edited by Jude; 09-04-12 at 07:21 PM.
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Old 09-04-12, 07:15 PM   #24
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But if I'm absolutely wrong about

A) the 29ers making riding easier
B) the scarcity of bike shops for any size wheel
C) the "plan" of tire replacement
A) riding is easy when you go easy. Shocks will make a big difference downhill if speed is a priority. Durability, comfort and safety should be a bigger priority.
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Old 09-04-12, 07:39 PM   #25
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I have not been a huge fan of Surly's, and a lot of other touring-specific rigs like the Silk Road because the frames are such incredible overkill for me. I am 6'1" and 160lbs, and my gear is about 9-15lbs, plus food and water. I never break over 200lbs total and these bikes are designed for 150lbs more than that, so they weigh a ton. The two previously linked bikes were 32 and 34 lbs respectively, and surly's all push 30+. The bike I'm looking at, a Giant XtC 29er, is 27- that's like bringing one less 4-person tent on the tour.

A really lightweight and fast 29er would lend a cyclocross experience to the tour. I can dig that.

Hammocks are so divine. I use a Hennessey Hammock and I love it- the great night's sleep is a huge plus. I will either do some heavy orienteering to stay within trees (with 22 feet maximum on distance, I usually find a setup, and the trees can be the width of my arm and still hold me.) I will practice tarp-tenting using the bike frame and the rainfly to see how that works. Insects might be so brutal that I'll need a tent to keep them away from my body anyways. I wouldn't mind picking up a tent. But the hammock... Aww!
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