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Converting old MTB to touring/gravel - sizing help needed

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Converting old MTB to touring/gravel - sizing help needed

Old 10-05-17, 04:50 AM
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deadwax
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Converting old MTB to touring/gravel - sizing help needed

I am at the moment trying to find a cheap steel framed mountain bike from the 80's or 90's to convert to touring and general pack horse use.

I rode a '93 GT Borrego yesterday and came away moderately confused. I'm pretty sure it's my size, in the sense that the next size up would endanger my tender areas, but the setup was so aggressive I felt like I was going to fold in half. It was basically unrideable. I'm sure some of that is just setup and can be corrected, but I spent a bit of time with it and can't really see how it could get near something you'd want to tour on without radical things like a 9" tall stem.

I rode a mid nineties MTB (Giant frame, I think) back then and I don't remember this being the way of it, but I don't have my body of 1997 anymore and I may not be remembering right... Is this aggressive geometry typical of MTB's of the era or are GTs just not for me? Do I need to count on some fairly radical interventions like huge riser bars to get what I'm looking for? What have other people who've gone this route found?
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Old 10-05-17, 05:17 AM
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Try the next size up and see how it fits. It is not uncommon for an old MTB to convert from a quill stem to a threadless setup along the way. Often when this is done the bar is lowered in the process. A lot of spacers on an old converted bike is not unheard of.

Bottom line is a million old MTB are out there. Keep looking until you find one that fits.
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Old 10-05-17, 07:01 AM
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djb
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I would suggest getting some baseline measurements of a bike that fits you moderately well, ie top tube length, and seat to bars drop. I have a late 90s mtb that originally had a super aggressive seat/bar drop, as well as straight bars with no rise, plus a long stem.
Shorter stem that also angled upwards more, two sets of riser bars later (the last one being much higher rise and some angle back in the hands area, cheap ones , new 25 bucks) and some good ergo grips finally made it fit fairly close.

but back to my first point, get some baseline measurements and go from there.

trekking butterfly bars can also help in getting hand positions back more without super short stems, and have the added bonus of being around 25 bucks also and you can use all the existing shifters and brake levers.

If you dont have an appropriate bike, visit a bike store or two with a measuring tape in hand.
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Old 10-05-17, 07:08 AM
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I'd primarily worry about the top tube length.

https://www.sheldonbrown.com/frame-sizing.html
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Old 10-05-17, 01:20 PM
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Conversion of 90s mountain bikes for touring presents some interesting challenges.

Generally, the better quality frames have more aggressive geometries. The chainstays get shorter and the rise is shorter and reach of the handlebars gets longer. You are more stretched out and lower on these bikes.

The challenge is making sure the frame you choose has long enough chainstays and then bringing the handlebar location up and closer in to a more touring-friendly configuration. This can take some creativity in stem and handlebar selection.

The 1993 Borrego is an aggressive setup and the bars are purposely set low and forward. Lower end GTs, like the 1993 Talera, have stems that are much higher and shorter. The rider sits much closer to a touring position.
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Old 10-05-17, 02:50 PM
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deadwax
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I should have mentioned that the top tube length on the GT is within 10 or 20mm of a flat bar road bike I am used to and feel comfortable on. That road bike has the bars 50mm above seat level, the GT has them around 150mm or more below. An 8 to 9" difference for those in imperial land.

Part of my question relates to how likely I am to find a MTB with appropriate geometry given this huge difference.

Would a lower end GT from the same year have a frame with different geometry or the same frame with different components and setup?
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Old 10-05-17, 03:59 PM
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FWIW you can get a complete, new, "touring and general pack horse" bike for $600:

Nashbar's "new" inexpensive touring bike

Nashbar Touring Bike

You'd have a hard time putting together something yourself, that good, for less than $600.
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Old 10-05-17, 04:30 PM
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deadwax
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Originally Posted by tyrion View Post
FWIW you can get a complete, new, "touring and general pack horse" bike for $600
I've got a few issues with going that route. I'd like this as a project as much as a rideable bike at the end of it and I'm not a great fan at all of consumerist "just buy a new one" culture. On top of that US$600 is about $770 of my dollars, without shipping it halfway round the world - which Nashbar won't do in any case.
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Old 10-05-17, 04:31 PM
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Originally Posted by deadwax View Post
I've got a few issues with going that route. I'd like this as a project as much as a rideable bike at the end of it and I'm not a great fan at all of consumerist "just buy a new one" culture.
Perfectly understandable.
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Old 10-05-17, 05:26 PM
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I'd add to watch out for old hybrids in yard sales etc, they can make very good touring setups as well, but of course with all this used stuff, its hit and miss.

depending on your mechanical background and knowledge, bike wise, getting an old bike can be great or it can be poo poo also, with all kinds of issues that end up costing money. It really is hit and miss, but being able to evaluate the condition of hubs, bb's, rims, as well as knowing the quality of stuff to begin with, will go a long way to a successful project without all kinds of surprises and costs.

costs of tools needed can add up also, especially when not bought one at a time over time, but all together. But perhaps you have stuff already...in any case, if you have the interest and ability, doing stuff on your own is cost effective and you'll know its done properly.
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Old 10-05-17, 05:31 PM
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I think the geometry is pretty comparable in the same size. The difference is the stem, tube materials, and grade of components.

I looked at the 1993 GT catalog on Retrobike and overlayed the pictures on top of one another and they looked very similar except for the Borrago's aggressive stem and threaded vs threadless.
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Old 10-05-17, 06:21 PM
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I agree with @bikemig --> Top-tube length should be your primary focus.

As far as avoiding "just buy a new one" it's best to acquire three (or more) old ones for a nice donor assortment to avoid paying 3x the cost on parts. It's all about ingenuity, you've either got it or it'll cost ya!
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Old 10-05-17, 06:53 PM
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Originally Posted by BigAura View Post
I agree with @bikemig --> Top-tube length should be your primary focus.
I also agree.

Old mountain bikes can make great tourers, but they will need some adjustments to be sure everything fits. For example, this Trek Singletrack works really well as a tourer:

I also converted this Bridgestone into a nice touring bike for a friend. This is not by any means the finished bike! But it shows the bones I was using to build it.
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Old 10-05-17, 09:39 PM
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I have an 80's steel Specialized RockHopper, with the stock flat handlebar/stem the forward lean felt moderate. However for a more upright riding style how about a hybrid? It's a popular style, easy to buy good used ones cheap.
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Old 10-05-17, 11:12 PM
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I like older mtb's because they make great touring bikes and allow me to fulfill a creative bent by being easy and affordable to work on. While it is true you can put a lot of money into a cheap initial find it's not quite right to compare to a say $600 new buy. Most people will take that $600 bike and change tires, saddle, pedals, bar wrap, add racks, fenders etc... so the costs add up there too.

Here's my $55 thrift store 91 Marin after I initially fixed it up.



And loaded on my Western Canada tour



I changed things up for my Columbia Icefield tour by using a hybrid backpacking set up because I wanted to do road, gravel and single track riding.



and again doing a Vancouver Island tour.



I changed it up again for a road/gravel Interior BC tour.



It's a very groovy versatile bike



My current project is another 80's era mtb

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Old 10-05-17, 11:37 PM
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Thanks everyone, this is helpful.

I'm mechanically pretty savvy, have worked with my hands most of my life and worked on bikes a bit in the 80's and 90's as a kid and teenager. I know the art of the scrounge. I've got access to tools through a friend that works with folding bikes and the local bike coop. The coop is unfortunately not as helpful when it comes to questions like this. So I'm fairly comfortable this isn't going to end up a money pit. I could work on cars if I wanted one of them

What's interesting is that the GT has basically the same top tube length as my comfortable bike, I assume my discomfort comes from the greatly lower bar height. It's still available, so some food for thought on how radical I want to get raising the bars.
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Old 10-06-17, 03:07 AM
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If you decide to go with the Borrego and it is a threadless stem, you might take a look at the Ergotec High Charisma stem. Something like that would get the handlebar much higher.

Not sure where you are located but I saw it on an MTB drop bar conversion thread. Might be an option if it is available where you are.

Last edited by Arvadaman; 10-06-17 at 03:09 AM. Reason: Spelling error
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Old 10-06-17, 06:19 AM
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The stem on the Borrego is threaded and 1 1/8", which could complicate things some if I was to take it.
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Old 10-06-17, 07:47 AM
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Originally Posted by deadwax View Post
The stem on the Borrego is threaded and 1 1/8", which could complicate things some if I was to take it.
They make adapters for 1-1/8 as well. Use this, and you can use any modern stem: https://www.niagaracycle.com/categor...l-stem-adapter
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Old 10-06-17, 09:47 AM
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Originally Posted by deadwax View Post
The stem on the Borrego is threaded and 1 1/8", which could complicate things some if I was to take it.
Totally understand and support the idea of not wasting what works and i also get the hesitation to buy new and accumulate more stuff.

With that said...a fork is hardly something that should keep you from getting the bike. Buy it, slap a new fork on with an uncut steerer, and DONATE the old fork to that coop you mentioned. A good fork can be used by the coop or by another person to get a different bike up and running that would have otherwise been junked.

This way, you keep from collecting 'stuff' and you help ensure another bike down the line keeps working.

I know this is in the US, but I have to imagine Europe has something similar- its just a generic 26" fork. $45USD
Nashbar Rigid 26" Mountain Bike Fork
Another option- one thats less weight- Kona Project 2 fork.


Low cost, gets you the right fit, and you help the coop out. Thats a win-win-win right there!

Last edited by mstateglfr; 10-06-17 at 09:53 AM.
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Old 10-06-17, 01:28 PM
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1-1/8" threaded is a pain.

You can raise the bars by changing the fork as mentioned above. Some people cannot stomach that cost.

You could look for a GT high rise stem.

You can go with a quill stem adapter. Almost all the 1-1/8" adapters are very short with no more than 1 inch rise.

I just found a new one made by Procraft from Germany. Their black shouldered adapter looks to be longer than any other.

Otherwise, I use a Sunlite 2-bolt quill stem. Has lots of height and a removable faceplate.

Last edited by Arvadaman; 10-06-17 at 01:30 PM. Reason: Spelling errors
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