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  1. #1
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    Cycling the silk road - steel frame "expedition" touring bikes?

    Hi there,

    Help! I'm a novice cyclist setting out on a 2.5 month cycling jaunt around Xinjiang, China, where I'll be roughly following Marco Polo's route along the ancient Silk Road. I've heard a lot of conflicting advice on what kind of bike to get for the trip, and I guess I'm posting this to hear even more!

    Basically, I'm looking for a steel frame touring bike suitable for carrying a heavy load over rough terrain (ranging from paved roads to gravel, and lots of steep climbs and descents) for an extended period of time. The Trek 520 bike looks promising, but can you guys suggest any other bikes or bike parts for such an adventure?

    Many thanks,
    Kate

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by kateonmars
    Basically, I'm looking for a steel frame touring bike suitable for carrying a heavy load over rough terrain (ranging from paved roads to gravel, and lots of steep climbs and descents) for an extended period of time.
    then youīve come to the right place, these guys are great.

    hereīs my 2 cents, surly LHT would be a nice investment, the frame is $348 on spicercycles.com, with that frame you can get a decent tourer cheaper than the trek 520. the following is my preferred setup,

    XT rear derailleur
    Ultegra triple front derailleur
    Sugino XD 24-36-46
    UN-72, 107mm BB
    SRAM 7 speed cassette 12-32
    SRAM chain
    XT hubs 36 hole
    Rhyno Lite 36 hole
    cantis
    downtube shifters (friction)

  3. #3
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    Hi, this has also been a long held dream for me, to cycle western china/tibet/xinjiang.
    When i go (if only it could be soon) im taking a mountain bike to be sure. I've got an old St GT rigid that can really take a beating.
    Check out : http://www3.utsidan.se/corax-e/ - this guy's been everywhere, also reccomnends a mountain bike. I tihnk its good advice, 26" wheels are much stronger than 700c (assuming eqaully good build etc) and there are many more tire options.

  4. #4
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    The best ready-built expedition bike in the US is probably the Bruce Gordon BLT, in MTB-wheel version.
    MTB wheels will be easier to use then 700c for spares and tyres.
    The steel luggage racks are excellent and the bike is specced how most experienced tourists would choose.
    You can build a Surley LHT frame in a similar manner. Note that Surley produce this frame in both 700c and 26" wheeled versions.
    The Trek 520 is a reasonably good frame but needs some modification, esp wheels, transmission, racks and for this kind of expedition, shifters. Is that cost-effective?

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    I talked to a guy who toured 9 months thru China, and he said it tooks weeks to find a replacement 700c tire while his wife could get a 26" replacement everywhere.
    Here are a few 'expedition' touring bikes, basically mountain bikes with a long wheelbase and chainstays.
    Bruce Gordon BLT (US)
    Thorn Nomad (UK)
    Beckman Sakkit Expedition 26

  6. #6
    aspiring wannabe hoogie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bokes
    I talked to a guy who toured 9 months thru China, and he said it tooks weeks to find a replacement 700c tire while his wife could get a 26" replacement everywhere.
    Here are a few 'expedition' touring bikes, basically mountain bikes with a long wheelbase and chainstays.
    Bruce Gordon BLT (US)
    Thorn Nomad (UK)
    Beckman Sakkit Expedition 26
    Also
    Bruce Gordon rock 'n' road
    Thorn eXp ... awesome strongly built expedition bike
    Thorn Raven [rohloff hub]
    Roberts roughstuff
    Orbit carraway
    Atlantis models
    thought for today: "Does my ass look fast on this bike?"

  7. #7
    contrarian lala's Avatar
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    older (steel) koga-miyatas world travellers
    Higher ground for the apocalypse!

  8. #8
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    I'd look for an older steel frame mountain bike.

    Like this one

    I'm pretty sure Paul did the silk road on this beast.

    In any event he did go to some rough places on it.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelW
    The best ready-built expedition bike in the US is probably the Bruce Gordon BLT, in MTB-wheel version.
    MTB wheels will be easier to use then 700c for spares and tyres.
    The steel luggage racks are excellent and the bike is specced how most experienced tourists would choose.
    You can build a Surley LHT frame in a similar manner. Note that Surley produce this frame in both 700c and 26" wheeled versions.
    The Trek 520 is a reasonably good frame but needs some modification, esp wheels, transmission, racks and for this kind of expedition, shifters. Is that cost-effective?
    Shifters? Why shifters? They come with barcons which are rock solid. And the wheels are excellent now. I agree that the gearing is too high out of the box, and you will need racks and quality tires, but with those changes , a 520 should do the job fine. That said, a hardtail mtn bike would be excellent also.
    Specialized Roubaix SL4 Disc, Cannondale T2000 (touring), Stumpjumper M5 (Mtn - hardtail), Cannondale Rize4 (Mtn - full susp)

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    Hey again,

    Thanks for all the tips so far! A few of you have mentioned hardtail frames as a possibility; what do you think of the Trek 820?

    http://www2.trekbikes.com/Bikes/Moun.../820/index.php

    What modifications to this bike would you suggest to improve it for the purpose of expedition touring in northwestern China?

    peace,
    Kate

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by kateonmars
    Hey again,

    Thanks for all the tips so far! A few of you have mentioned hardtail frames as a possibility; what do you think of the Trek 820?

    http://www2.trekbikes.com/Bikes/Moun.../820/index.php

    What modifications to this bike would you suggest to improve it for the purpose of expedition touring in northwestern China?

    peace,
    Kate
    For the type of touring you're planning to do, this bike is not what you should be looking at. The components, in a word, are junk. Short of building up from a bare frame, a good used older mountain bike with a longish chainstay if at all possible, with a few upgrades, should serve you well.
    .cinelli.olympic.surly.long.haul.trucker.kona.ku.surly.steamroller.
    .litespeed.classic.litespeed.firenze.bianchi.pista.dean.colonel.plus.more.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Fixer
    For the type of touring you're planning to do, this bike is not what you should be looking at. The components, in a word, are junk. Short of building up from a bare frame, a good used older mountain bike with a longish chainstay if at all possible, with a few upgrades, should serve you well.
    well, i have to say, i agree with fixer. but (there's a but), if this is the first time you tour itīs possible that you don't know what you want in a bike for touring so i would say that this bike is ok because it's not expensive, you can convert it to commuting later if you want/want another bike. but if you do go for this bike, do swap that small chainring to the smallest you can find.

  13. #13
    dangerous with tools halfbiked's Avatar
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    If I were going on a tour of that area and didn't already have a bike, my #1 selection criteria would be durability of parts, followed by replacement availability. If the poster above is correct that 26" tires are available, get those. Otherwise find out what size tires chinese bikes have & find a way to get a bike with appropriate wheels.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by halfbiked
    If I were going on a tour of that area and didn't already have a bike, my #1 selection criteria would be durability of parts, followed by replacement availability. If the poster above is correct that 26" tires are available, get those. Otherwise find out what size tires chinese bikes have & find a way to get a bike with appropriate wheels.
    As I understand it, "standard" Chinese bikes (big black heavy road bikes) still have 27"'s, but my info might be a little outdated. Due to the spread of MTB style bikes around the world, my experience is that 26's are generally available world-wide, and I assume China as well, IMHO. I have traveled in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and S. Europe.
    In other words, 26" is the most available world standard tire size, for the moment.
    Go big.

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    I would advise against the Trek 820 (Not that I have anythign against Trek - I ride a Trek when it snows... ) I had a Trek 820 and as soon as I started pushing it hard the rear dropouts bent and beceame misaligned. I am afraid that the steel used in the frame won't take the rigours of serious touring. Especially off road touring.
    This is, of course, based only on my personal experience. The Trek 820 is a fine commuter/entry level mtb, but I wouldn't trust it as a tourer.

    Magnus Thor
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    Dear Kateonmars,

    Starting from your statement that you are a novice cyclist, I have to ask you why you as a woman (I suppose) as your first touring are choosing such a difficult trip.

    Karakorum Highway area is a conflict area with a lot of criminals populated with muslims who donīt have any regard for women.

    But anyway, if I should plan going there as my first tour I would go buying an ordinary equipped touringbike. F.ex Cannondale T800 or Trek touring bike – perhaps an old and cheaper model and then the most important to such a tour find out what fits best to you regarding proper gearing and saddle, 26" wheels with strong spokes. A strong rack is essential.

    Your Bike and your gear must be in a very good condition, elsewhere the tour which should be a joyfull an beautiful experience will end up in a mess.

    1989 I rode China from the the eastern part into the middle – around Lanzhou as the westernmost. A great experience on a french steel touringbike, Motobecane Grand Touring with 27" wheels and 1ž" tyres. My only problem was broken spokes. Gravel roads was not a problem and talking about the todays possibilties of buying combined touring and mountain bikes as Trek and Cannondale I donīt think you will meet problems.

    I recently toured New Zealand, incl. a lot of gravel road, on a new Cannondale T2000 with the same tyres as T800, 700 x 37c and I will put it in that way, you have to be very unlucky if you will need new tyres on a 2― months touring.

    By the way, when are you going?

    Best regards
    Per

  17. #17
    In Memory of One Cool Cat Blackberry's Avatar
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    I realize this is very much a matter of choice, but I am not a big fan of mountain bikes for loaded touring because flat bar bikes--even with bar ends--don't offer me enough hand positions when riding all day for weeks or months on end.

    Lost of info here from the Adventure Cycling Association on possible touring bikes (I hope not too much info!) http://www.adventurecycling.org/feat..._bikes2004.cfm
    Dead last finish is better than did not finish and infinitely better than did not start.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Per Kuhlwein
    Dear Kateonmars,

    Starting from your statement that you are a novice cyclist, I have to ask you why you as a woman (I suppose) as your first touring are choosing such a difficult trip.

    Karakorum Highway area is a conflict area with a lot of criminals populated with muslims who donīt have any regard for women.
    I don't think she is going anywhere near Karakorum, the historic Silk Road winds way North and West.
    http://www.newton.mec.edu/Angier/Dim...d.%20Maps.html
    As for being a woman, several years ago a woman friend of mine did the Karakorum on a Chinese bike (with a male friend) and her biggest complaint was kids throwing rocks at them. She was a novice. Eh, who knows? Off-topic, at any rate.

    And for the poster about flat handlebars, I think when people were speaking of an MTB bike, they meant "tourified" with drops.
    Go big.

  19. #19
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    Hey Tourbike

    Does it matter? But anyway as far as I know the route to China via Karakorum Highway with a part of the old Silk Road is the most challenging and spectacular. But let the lady tell us about her plans ;-)
    Perhaps it was easyer several years ago. Americans are not the most popular people among muslims.
    Per

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Per Kuhlwein
    Hey Tourbike
    Americans are not the most popular people among muslims.
    Per
    Bull****. Most Muslims I know have the intelligence to separate the American people from the American political process, and have no problem with Americans, unlike many American's perpective on the opinions of Muslims. I have had the privilege of being the guest of many Muslims in Egypt, Tanzania/Zanzibar and Palestine, and I can tell you that to a person they were the most gracious hosts and every one wished for better relations between the US and the Muslim world. To say nothing of Muslim Americans, but again, this is all off-topic. I don't think this is the proper forum for discussing whether Muslims hate Americans, anyhow.
    Quote Originally Posted by Per Kuhlwein
    But let the lady tell us about her plans ;-)
    Cheers to that.
    Go big.

  21. #21
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    No worries gang, I'm no Yankee, I'm Canadian! And the Chinese stretch of the Karakorum highway hasn't been the source of any political strife, as far as I'm aware. I'm not planning to venture beyond Chinese borders - sticking to Xinjiang. I'm also traveling with a friend - another female - which augments the safety factor.

    Thank you SO MUCH for all the feedback! Has anyone cycled around Xinjiang before?

    cheers,
    Kate

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    Quote Originally Posted by kateonmars
    No worries gang, I'm no Yankee, I'm Canadian!
    cheers,
    Kate
    Jealous. Ever think on marrying an American? PM me for a "mutually beneficial" arrangement. Just kidding. I want to go to Iran!
    Go big.

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