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Old 12-08-12, 06:40 PM
Chris Pringle
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Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: The Pearl of the Pacific, Mexico
Posts: 1,265

Bikes: '12 Rodriguez UTB Custom, '83 Miyata 610, '83 Nishiki Century Mixte (Work of Art), '06 Specialized Epic Marathon MTB

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The category of bikes you are referring to is known as "gravel grinders" or "all 'rounders." It's a booming category in the bike industry that's been getting quite a bit of attention in shows like NAHBS.

For a standard fare, Surly and Salsa are pretty much the only two large bike companies producing bikes meeting most of your criteria. You may have to make a few compromises here and there with each frame.

There are some small boutique shops producing gravel grinder frames. The Rawland Nordavinden and Black Mountain Cycles frames come to mind (both 29ers.)

If the above options still don't work, you will need to go custom (and increase your budget.) For a trip to Africa, I would go with:

* 26" wheels - Having ridden so many bikes, I don't know if I buy into the whole 29er vs 26" and now vs 27.5" (650b.) All of them have pros/cons that even out at the end in regard to speed (the big point of debate.) But touring has never been about stepping on the podium. I know this... given the popularity of 26" wheels (rims and tires) in developing nations, this alone can make the difference between finishing on the saddle Vs. finishing sitting in the back of the van (in your supported tour.)
* S&S couplers - Half of the cost for these would be recouped in your very first trip to Africa.
* Disc brake braze-ons with auxiliary brake mounts for V-brakes or canti brakes
* Wheels that will support disc brakes (primary) and rim brakes (back-up)
* Wide tire clearance - something like 2.1" w/ fenders and 2.4" w/o fenders
* Handlebars (drop bars) that will give you the option for on/off-road situations + several hand positions. The Salsa Cowbell 2 and 3 are optimized for this.

I would avoid using a suspension fork, unless a big portion of the tour includes singletracks... It's just one more mechanical part to worry about. I would go for the ability to fit bigger tires instead.

The Salsa Vaya Travel or the Surly LHT Deluxe are the framesets I would go for if I couldn't afford going custom. For custom, my choices would come down to the Rodriguez UTB or the Co-Motion Pangea (Thorn if you're in Europe.) I went with a Rodriguez UTB earlier this year on a similar build.

Last edited by Chris Pringle; 12-09-12 at 10:27 PM.
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