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  1. #1
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    Crank arm length vs knee/leg problems

    Well, like Titanic firing up the extra boiler while headed for the ice fields, so my preps for an attempted inaugural 2,000 mile pedal to New York State from Texas beginning in June are picking up speed. I have been commuting 10 to 20 miles round trip a day (dependent upon available time) and am fixing to shortly add a BOB trailer to pull around so I can load it up with a couple of bags of sand or something for a training effect.

    My bikes to choose from are a steel framed '89 Schwinn Voyageur touring bike, barely used. A ~2001 Kona Blast aluminum hardtail mountain bike w/Marzocchi fork. An '88 steel-framed Rockhopper with an old ~1991 era polymer fork long since bottomed out and now functionally a rigid fork.

    Oddly enough I like the old Rockhopper best, but I would attempt this tour on any of the above.

    One of the reasons I like the Rockhopper is because when we found it rode hard and put up wet in a pawn shop twenty years back, I promptly had the worn-out crankset replaced with whatever crankset the LBS had on sale ( a Shimano STX RC), as it turns out one with longer than usual crank arms.

    Without measuring them, suffice to say that these crank arms are significantly longer than those on either the Voyageur touring bike or the Kona mountain bike. I'm finding now as I switch between bikes on my commute that I'm really liking these longer crank arms, so much so that I'd even switch out the others (tho they'd come pretty close to the ground on the Voyageur).

    My question is this..... I have done five-six hour days on long rides on the Rockhopper without knee or leg problems, and I really like the greater leverage/longer leg travel these longer crank arms give when climbing hills.

    Is there a downside to longer crank arms on tour, when one will be pedaling long hours most every day for a month or more?

    This is important because at way-past fifty, I'm definitely out-of-warranty

    Thanks,
    Mike

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    Mike, If it's comfortable for you there are no disadvantages.

    Brad

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    Senior Member Bicycle365's Avatar
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    Ditto: What BradTX said.
    In addition think of the longer cranks as a way of making your low gear lower. Longer arm means more leverage, at the expense of increasing the range of flexation in your knees etc.. The old stand by method of seeing that your knee is over the pedal spindle at front dead center only applies if that is your comfort range, if you can "reach" a little further forward during the pedal stroke then good for you, go with it. Just remember that 20 mpd is not the same as (insert estimated daily mileage here). If your actual daily miles will be in the 20 range I want to come along too : )

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    Galveston County Texas 10 Wheels's Avatar
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    Two items:

    On the back of each crank is The Size.

    What size are they? How tall are you?

    You don't need a heavy trailer to train.

    What you need is many 60/75 mile rides to build endurance.
    [SIZE=1][B]What I like about Texas[/B]
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    Set F1re To The Ra1n ( NY Night Rain Ride)
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  5. #5
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    I'm that age also. I got stuck with short 165 cranks on the 3 derailler bikes I've used for 35 years. Damn poor for torque.
    Then last year I built up a custom tourster with a Sturmey Archer 5w. Without hesitation I went for 180s like on my dads
    antique Rudge SS. It was a massive improvement. As for my legs, it seemed to tranfser muscle strength a bit lower to around my knees. My natural cadence is 75, definitely a masher. Still, I have no problem switching back and forth between bikes. I have done lots of century day rides on both bikes, none were ever on weight weenies.

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    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    If you think it matters, It May , but mostly because you think it does...

    I have 170,175 and 180 cranks on various bikes , I ride them all, interchangeable .

    To Me it doesn't matter so It won't.


    I Do stay on top of my gear ratio, not pushing for speed , JRA,
    and watching the Scenery pass..
    Last edited by fietsbob; 11-25-13 at 10:39 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 10 Wheels View Post
    Two items:

    On the back of each crank is The Size.

    What size are they? How tall are you?

    You don't need a heavy trailer to train.

    What you need is many 60/75 mile rides to build endurance.
    I would also ask what is your pants inseam length?

    I have seen reference to someone that races cyclocross with 205mm crankarms, but he is really tall.

    For a long tour, try to get used to staying in the saddle to pedal hard by gearing down instead of standing on the pedals. I used to stand to accelerate from stops and to power up short hills, but my knees have objected too much so I stay in the saddle now.

  8. #8
    Senior Member LuckySailor's Avatar
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    With the absence of time, why could one not load up the BOB. 50 pounds is alot of extra weight to pull around when you're not used to it. Granted 10-20 mpd isn't that much. I think when you're training, you gotta get what you can when you can get it. If it's only 10 today and 50 tomorrow that'll have to work. When you're on tour, you'll figure it out.

    Now, I'm 5'11", with a 23" Trek 520. I ordered it with 175's. My MTB has 180's, and I find that when I'm in an aero position, my knees are up to my chest and rolling out at the top. I'm wondering about swapping out to 165's before I build up the 520 to give myself some extra room.

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    As far as the OP is concerned, what are the leg problems?

    I have serious knee problems, namely loosing my knee cap in a crash. I just have a small chip of it in there, and low rigging angles. Arthritis wise, I don't know that a lot of training is the best idea. Often the thing will wear out, and then it takes a while for it to get better, and then you can go again. Stimulating training effect, is a bad idea in that kind of case.

    Leverage shouldn't mater, or other stuff related to effort. That is what gears are for. Long cranks, as you point out, have the additional effect of a longer range of motion, so while you can gear down with shorter cranks but lower gears, with long cranks you still have a longer arc. But bad knee wise, I would be looking at your comfortable range of motion. A longer arc, means less pressure, but you have to move your feet faster.

    I think the three biggest issues are:

    - Lots of low gear riding to build up general strength, and lots of exercise on the ham strings. Hook your heels under something and pull. It is common to experience pain in the knees when you start cycling at a higher rate. It happens because you get the knee cap off center, by building strength unevenly.

    - Remember that the bike with the longer arms, and presumably a different geometry, may simply fit you differently. That can be as big and issue as anything else.

    - If you actually have bad knees with potential for real problems, you have to decide what will drive you. A partner, goals, whatever, should all be secondary to riding in comfort. You will do yourself a real harm if you push on through. Training and pace wise, it can all be about your conditioning, and resolve, but if you have a body part that through injury or age is giving out, then it has to set the pace for you. You can come out of a long tour stronger than you went in, if you don't push yourself at the wrong times. You can come away with strengthened legs that will greatly help your body function.
    Last edited by MassiveD; 11-27-13 at 04:21 AM.

  10. #10
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    I'm 6'2" and have fairly long legs. I started with 172.5mm cranks, which felt a bit long so I tried 170. They work well for me. I tried 175 just to see, and they hurt my knees, so I have been using 170 for the last 40 yrs. and it looks like I will be using them for as long as I can continue to ride.

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    Thanks for all the helpful replies (woulda got back sooner but I've been busy riding )

    I'm 5'6'' , 30" inseam, the long cranks on my Rockhopper are 175 mm. Interestingly enough the shorter cranks on my Voyageur are marked 170, I would have sworn the difference was greater.

    I think part of the reason is frame geometry and the angle of the upright (seat tube??) on the frame. On the Rockhopper the crank is further forward relative to the seat than it is on the Voyageur, where the crank is more nearly beneath the seat. Also, the crankset is set higher relative to the rest of the bike on the Rockhopper than it is on the Voyageur, which has the crankset lower to the ground.

    On this vacation week I have been able to complete four fifty-mile rides, no muscle, tendon or knee pain during any of these rides, but noticeable lower back pain, especially over the left hip, today (tho' I haven't ridden in two days).

    My concern with injury is of the sort that come with repetition, what is likely to happen if I really am able to put in fifty hours a week in the saddle for a month as planned.

    As for pace, I am unconcerned with it, going at whatever speed feels comfortable, taking the tortoise approach rather than the hare. At present, on a mostly unloaded bike, I am averaging about twelve miles an hour.

    I have decided to go with panniers rather than a trailer, this based on conversations with people who have done both, the deciding factors being folks mentioning the persistent rearward tugs from the trailer and especially two independent accounts of jackknife wrecks while towing trailers.

    Anyhoo... I have a set of the big Ortlieb rear panniers inbound and next month, as budget permits will add a front rack and another set of bags.

    What I plan to do is to do my daily commute with a gallon container of water in each, to add close to 40lbs of weight evenly distributed around the bike. I have also found routes that would let me do 10 miles in/20 miles back from work (time permitting) for a total of up to 30 miles a day. This I figure will give me a feel for what a loaded-up bike would feel like on a long tour.

    I will say that I am amazed I can already do as much as I can without stress or strain injury thus far.

    Mike.

  12. #12
    Member lastostrogoth's Avatar
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    I have a Rock Hopper Comp FS that I built up back in the mid 90s. I had used Deore XT cranks on it up until this year. What happened is that I bought a new Orbea Orca road bike which came with 172.5 cranks. I have always ridden 170s on my road bike, so after a few rides I bought 170s and replaced the 172.5. The I rode my Rock Hopper and realized that it really wore me out to spin those 175s. I am about 5'7" with a 30 inch inseam. I am also 68. I think my younger body adjusted to longer cranks a lot better than my older body does. I went on Ebay and found a set of Deore Hollowtech cranks in 170 and put them on the Rock Hopper. I had swap out the bottom bracket because the XTs wanted a 122.5 MM spindle and the newer Deores wanted a 113, but that was a simple operation. The bike is much more fun to ride now. I really wonder why they put 175s on small framed mountain bikes when they really do not serve a shorter rider well. I have done several 20+ mile rides with the new set up and can tell you that I am much happier with it.
    I was very surprised that 2.5 MM in crank length made as much difference as it did on the Orbea. It doesn't seem significant until you make the change and see how much difference it makes.

  13. #13
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    Crank arm length does not matter much except in a few circumstances:

    Longer arms give more leverage, which is an advantage at low cadence situations, like when you have to muscle over rocks, through snow, sand, etc. Otherwise, not so much.

    Shorter arms let you spin, which is an advantage if you're riding all day.

    Do not switch to much larger crank arms than your knees are already accustomed to; the increased motion will not be good for your knees.

    I'm 6' tall and ride mostly on 165 and 160 cranks; I have 170's (and even 171's on one) on other bikes and that's okay. I'd go with shorter if it were easy; but there is only a limited selection of cranks shorter than 165 mm.

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    MY GOSH what a difference pedals make.

    Took that 27" Schwinn Voyageur out for a three hour ride today wondering what I was missing about it. I mean it was BUILT for touring weren't it and I wanted to try and work up a spin on those shorter cranks.

    Nope, felt awful. Worse, after climbing a hill I started to feel serious pain on the outside of my right knee. Developing an unavoidable physical limitation like that has been a constant worry since I started getting serious about cycling these last few months.

    Stopped the bike, could barely walk, almost turned around to go home.

    Then it came to me.... Eureka! I had been jamming my feet into the aluminum toe clips, forcing my feet further back on the pedals. The knee pain came about on account of the slight angle the toe clips forced my right foot into. I was riding that way on account of these original 1989 pedals that came with the bike when new were "one sided" ie flip 'em upside down and there was no good surface to place a foot on.

    A few minutes work with the ol' Leatherman removed the toe clips... immediate relief! But pedals still too small.

    Changed my route to take in a LBS about an hour away, switched out the pedals for a set of inexpensive broad platform pedals, two sided.

    Omygosh what a difference, transformed my perception of the whole bike, had a great ride home.

    Back at home tho', off of the bike for a bit, turns out my knee ain't forgot about the abuse I dealt it.......

    And a new quandary, do I take the Voyageur or the Rockhopper on tour in June? Gonna have to do a lot of riding on both to decide.

    Might seem to be a rookie mistake, but I was floored that a) I didn't realize months ago what the real problem was with the Voyageur and that b) pedals can make that much difference to ride comfort.

    Mike

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    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    You may have had a forced angle , the way the toeclip made your foot set on the pedal

    without it the natural angle that your feet wanted , was allowed.

    so , you might just seek out a nice pair of platform pedals for your tour,

    the MTB sector has made a busy market for a lot of different designs.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 12-16-13 at 10:28 AM.

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    Mike, You're not the first nor the last to solve a long term niggling problem. Congrats!

    Brad

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    Quote Originally Posted by bradtx View Post
    Mike, You're not the first nor the last to solve a long term niggling problem. Congrats!

    Brad
    Well, I must be serious, I just picked up another set of bags and a front rack from REI last night (ouch! sticker shock) so now have four Ortlieb Panniers and the racks to hang 'em on.

    Got a bike stand inbound too from Nashbar (already got their tool kit) and am shortly gonna endeavor to start servicing re-packing everything that needs it. Ain't done hardly any of that sort of thing yet beyond shifters and cables, but wrenching on a bike sure sounds simple enough on youtube

    Mike

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    ? Rockhoppers geometry sits you on the seat post for.....rockhopping. Your road frames geometry positions you for driving ahead power with roll over the barrel crank/pedal action.

    You began with the Hopper ? and now do not feel this difference ?

    Is the Hopper's top tube longer than the road tubing ? Maybe try longer road tubing and shorter cranks for spinning.

    Generally figure the Hopper is a zero, touring with an enourmous energy waste compared to a road frame and hard on knees with more of a push down crank/pedal action.

    Chondromalcia and vastus medialis exercise with lunges on ankle weights. Visit EXRX.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sharpshin View Post
    Well, I must be serious, I just picked up another set of bags and a front rack from REI last night (ouch! sticker shock) so now have four Ortlieb Panniers and the racks to hang 'em on.

    Got a bike stand inbound too from Nashbar (already got their tool kit) and am shortly gonna endeavor to start servicing re-packing everything that needs it. Ain't done hardly any of that sort of thing yet beyond shifters and cables, but wrenching on a bike sure sounds simple enough on youtube

    Mike
    Pick up a general bicyle maintenance manual (I like Bicycling Magazine's) to supplant youtube. Just remember that the devil is in the details.

    Brad

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    THE RIDE IS STRAIGHT THRU ? 50hrs week/month to where ? Why not interesting place A to interesting place B at 50 miles ?

    Check your shoe heels, worn ? add heel inserts pushing pelvis forward. Stretching exercises for lower back and situps, Place hands on ground, move feet back and aside a bit then see what the lower back and vastus medialus are doing today.


    A flat terrain ride suggests longer cranks than a hilly routing.


    If you ride BIG GEARS be warned knee cartilage separation may occur without warning or significant pain.

    My experience suggests if you plan to ride 50 then train 80 4 times a week: time consuming.

    If you can ride 50-80 4 times a week with a 60-75 pound load, do intervals....then not feel ANY strain during or after then go go go....

    if not revise the so called plan.

    How's the ticker ? wear a monitor...if your rate is down from average the morning after a ride or workout then take a break and/or review the exercise load as too grate.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BLYTZPK View Post
    ? Rockhoppers geometry sits you on the seat post for.....rockhopping. Your road frames geometry positions you for driving ahead power with roll over the barrel crank/pedal action.

    You began with the Hopper ? and now do not feel this difference ?......

    .....Generally figure the Hopper is a zero, touring with an enourmous energy waste compared to a road frame and hard on knees with more of a push down crank/pedal action.
    All logical and makes sense, except why are folks building touring bikes on '80's era mountain bike steel frames?

    I will say now the pedal thing is worked out the Voyageur has it all over the Rockhopper in speed/rolling resistance.

    The Rockhopper is more fun to ride is all.

    Given the diversity of bikes used in the tour logs on crazyguyonabike folk are actually pulling off distances on all sorts of bikes.


    Mike
    Last edited by Sharpshin; 12-17-13 at 10:31 PM.

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    THE RIDE IS STRAIGHT THRU ? 50hrs week/month to where ? Why not interesting place A to interesting place B at 50 miles ?
    The trip would be straight through, San Antonio Texas to the Port Jervis NY/Matamoras PA area, then across the Hudson to Dutchess County NY.

    About 1,900 - 2,000 miles. Figuring on northeast through Texas and Arkansas to Cairo IL more or less direct to the Indianapolis area (1,100 miles give or take, the rest more or less direct east through Columbus and across PA.

    I'm a high school teacher and could take two months, hoping for less. Ain't been apart from my wife more'n three weeks since we met more'n 25 years back, and that one three-week episode was a cross-country motorcycle trip with my brother. I'd do this ride and then take rapid transit back home.

    Just crossing this continent at all is interesting to me, and flat and buggy East Arkansas as interesting to me as hilly W.Va (I've already been all over the US, much of it on motorcycles).

    The goal is just to do it. Had a college buddy who rode from NY to CA (or set out, never did hear the ending) 35 years back, always thought I'd give it a go. I'm late middling fifties in age, this is a now or maybe never bucket list item for me while everything still works OK, including my heart.

    Plus, ol' Uncle Mike nonchalantly rolling up the driveway on a bicycle from Texas would seriously notch me up the coolness factor in the eyes of my kin and numerous young nephews and nieces in NY State, and be an inspiration to them. Understand, my mom is 82 and still skydives on her birthday (started on her 70th :grin, so the bar for "cool" has already been set pretty high.

    My own grown son here is blown away I would even think about a ride of this magnitude, I gotta set an example for him too, and then the multiple students in the big city urban high school where I teach. Which is why I ain't gonna mention it to anyone outside of wife and son and here until its done. That way, if I dont make it all of the way, its not that big of a deal. Just gonna load up, head out and see what happens.

    If you can ride 50-80 4 times a week with a 60-75 pound load, do intervals....then not feel ANY strain during or after then go go go....

    if not revise the so called plan.
    Realistically I think I can manage 150 mostly commuting miles a week, all while carrying 50 pounds. This of course a function of time rather than fitness level. I feel like I could just dawdle along on a bike most of the day even now and this trip is still nearly six months out.

    Since sleeping outside on the ground is absolutely no problem for me and I require no cooking gear I'm hoping to pack 40 lbs or less on the actual trip. I'm gonna peruse the gear lists on the crazyguyonabike touring blogs.

    If the above degree of preparation ain't enough then I guess I wont make it all the way <shrug>

    Like I said my goal is to average 10 miles an hour, 50 hours a week, absolutely no big gear episodes planned.

    Seems like a slow enough pace on paper, and I wont have much else to do but ride and watch birds along the way. But, if that is un-doable at my age/fitness level, I guess I'm gonna find that out.

    Not really concerned about tendons separating, or other health problems/accidents happening at this point, stuff happens yannow.... worst comes to worst and something fatal happens everyone around me would be well provided for. You do what you can to prepare/prevent and then see what happens is all.

    Thanks for the input,

    Mike
    Last edited by Sharpshin; 12-17-13 at 10:23 PM.

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    road/mtb/cyclocross/freighter, different frames requiring different muscle groups, mind planning.

    So mtb 'touring' with mtb skills is 'more fun' maybe because the rider hasn't developed skills necessary to CROSSOVER to sports-touring frame skills.

    There's a lot of thick headedness in this area. Shall we start WW3 ?

    I scratched the surface for using a sports tourer then built a trekking cyclocrosser: a dog on the road. I spend/waste energy struggling to the next rock/stump so I can deftly pivot around it.

    Marty writes a mind expansive chuckler when struggling along he was overtaken by a retired machinist slogging into the wind cross country on a '56 Schwinn.

    But after 100 miles (incrementally fersure), I did grin pivoting around the lightpole at Whitewater and San Carlos.

    What my '78 Raleigh needs for NM CDT is fat tires. The '78 does not have rrrr space for 35c's.

    oh well. fewer stiches.
    Last edited by BLYTZPK; 12-19-13 at 08:10 AM. Reason: cant spel

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by BLYTZPK View Post
    road/mtb/cyclocross/freighter, different frames requiring different muscle groups, mind planning.

    So mtb 'touring' with mtb skills is 'more fun' maybe because the rider hasn't developed skills necessary to CROSSOVER to sports-touring frame skills.
    I will say this; as I get in better shape I'm riding on the pedals now more than just sitting on the seat and peddling, and that Voyageur is a whole different bike now that I can pick/shift my own foot position on those broad platform pedals, that stretched-out mild steel frame is just a joy to ride and soaks up road bumps at leat as well as my fat-tired Rockhopper, and rolls so easily at 95psi front and back its like I got a motor.

    That kind of "give" in a frame slows down a road bike I guess, but work well at the sort of speeds I roll at (sub 15mph).

    I'm working on that "spin" someone mentioned too, and have found roomy plastic clips to attach to those wide platforms.

    Mike

  25. #25
    The Left Coast, USA FrenchFit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sharpshin View Post
    MY GOSH what a difference pedals make.

    Took that 27" Schwinn Voyageur out for a three hour ride today wondering what I was missing about it. I mean it was BUILT for touring weren't it and I wanted to try and work up a spin on those shorter cranks.

    Nope, felt awful. Worse, after climbing a hill I started to feel serious pain on the outside of my right knee. Developing an unavoidable physical limitation like that has been a constant worry since I started getting serious about cycling these last few months.

    Stopped the bike, could barely walk, almost turned around to go home.

    Then it came to me.... Eureka! I had been jamming my feet into the aluminum toe clips, forcing my feet further back on the pedals. The knee pain came about on account of the slight angle the toe clips forced my right foot into. I was riding that way on account of these original 1989 pedals that came with the bike when new were "one sided" ie flip 'em upside down and there was no good surface to place a foot on.

    A few minutes work with the ol' Leatherman removed the toe clips... immediate relief! But pedals still too small.

    Changed my route to take in a LBS about an hour away, switched out the pedals for a set of inexpensive broad platform pedals, two sided.

    Omygosh what a difference, transformed my perception of the whole bike, had a great ride home.

    Back at home tho', off of the bike for a bit, turns out my knee ain't forgot about the abuse I dealt it.......

    And a new quandary, do I take the Voyageur or the Rockhopper on tour in June? Gonna have to do a lot of riding on both to decide.

    Might seem to be a rookie mistake, but I was floored that a) I didn't realize months ago what the real problem was with the Voyageur and that b) pedals can make that much difference to ride comfort.

    Mike
    I have a dressed out '90 Voyageur and a late '90s Trek 7000ZX MTB that's built out for touring. Like you, I could argue to take either bike. But, for really long rides it's a no-brainer, the Voyageur is significantly faster and a more appropriate riding position for long days in the saddle. The V's riding position is also more supportive for spinning up hills, the Trek tempts you to stand and power up. If the roads are going to be bad I'm taking the Trek and it's 26" rims, and if I'm purely sight-seeing and sitting back most of the time the Trek is the fun, leisurely bike to take. But if it's about the miles, then I'm not going to think twice. I suggest you keep working your Voyageur and get it right, it's a terrific long distance bike (though hardly the lightest).

    I put an aftermarket 172.5 triple on my V, but the stock 170 wasn't really a problem. A 175 would make spinning less efficient for me.

    Note: I use Thermalite pedals (cheap) and fixie straps on my V because of the warm or cold weather flat soled shoes I prefer to wear on all day rides. This is something for you to figure out, you need to have a zero tolerance attitude about getting the right shoe, pedal, retention system for your journey - suffering through a bad fit or bad shoes is not an option.
    Last edited by FrenchFit; 12-19-13 at 10:23 AM.

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