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Loaded Tour FAIL - What went wrong?

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Loaded Tour FAIL - What went wrong?

Old 05-11-12, 03:29 PM
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Loaded Tour FAIL - What went wrong?

I have never done a loaded tour, although I typically ride several supported tours every year. This year I decided I wanted to try some loaded trips, and this weekend was supposed to be the maiden voyage -- 160 miles over two days from Raleigh to the NC coast. The weather was ideal -- sunny and mild with favorable winds.

So I finally got my Bob Jackson World Tour back from the bike shop, where it was being rebuilt for loaded touring. I added a Sugino triple crank, a Shimano long-cage mtn bike derailleur and 12-32 cassette. Put the old Brooks B17 saddle back on it, as well as a Tubus Cargo rear rack and Nitto M12 front rack. I tried to keep my load fairly light, and ended up with about 40 lbs of gear including the Ortlieb panniers in back and a Rivendell Lil' Loafer bag on the front rack. Most of the weight was in the back, but I tried to put some heavier small items (eg, bike tools, wallet, flashlight, etc.) in the front bag to better distribute the weight.

However, when I headed down the driveway and up the street, it soon became apparent that something was wrong. The whole bike was handling very strange, with the fork very wobbly and the entire frame feeling like it was flexing. It felt like the frame was made of rubber. There was no way I could ride it like that, it just felt unsafe. Needless to say, I called off the trip for now.

What could have caused the flexing/wobbling problems? The frame is Bob Jackson's touring frame made of Reynolds 631 with stouter tubing designed for touring. The load I was carrying certainly shouldn't have been too much -- after all there are plenty of cyclists who weigh as much as the total weight of me, the bike and the load on it (about 236 lbs loaded). In fact, I have lost about 32 lbs over the past year, so the total weight of my bike with the load was not much different than the total weight would have been a year ago with my typical commuting load. The bike never handled like this before.

Here are some photos of the bike as built and loaded up for the trip. It has 36H Velocity Dyad/Ultegra wheels with 28 mm Conti GP 4 Season tires.
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Old 05-11-12, 03:41 PM
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You might find the problem if you ride around the block a few times, unloaded.
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Old 05-11-12, 03:44 PM
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pretty simple, it's the weight. You might like it better if you put more weight on the front
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Old 05-11-12, 03:46 PM
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I rode the bike 30s miles to work yesterday with a typical commuter load, about 5 lbs of gear. I also rode it 61 miles this afternoon with a small racktop bag. It handled fine in both cases, nothing unusual at all.
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Old 05-11-12, 03:56 PM
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Most likely too much weight in the back, it makes the front end feel wobbly. Try to lighten your load, or move some gear to the front.
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Old 05-11-12, 04:09 PM
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I haven't done any touring, but I have found when the weight on the front is so high up, it will make things a little squirrely.
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Old 05-11-12, 04:12 PM
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You might want to re-distribute the weight more evenly, perhaps 50/50. The other thing to look at is how tight everything is packed
in the panniers. Looser stowed items can have a tendency to shift, especially when accelerating or you're out of the seat.

Personally, I think it's the weight distribution. Shift it around a bit, and take short test rides to test your packing. You and the bike will be fine.
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Old 05-11-12, 04:15 PM
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Lighten the load as much as you can. Distribute the weight better, as the others have pointed out.

But the most important factor is to give it YOUR BODY a little time to adjust. Riding a fully loaded bike is awkward at first but your body will quickly adjust. You're over-steering and under-steering because you're not use to the weight. I feel awkward and wobbly the first moment I get on my loaded bike after having not ridden it loaded for some time. You need to test ride your LOADED bike for a couple of miles on some extra safe roads or a parking lot. Your body muscles will adapt in no time, probably less than fifteen minutes.

Last edited by BigAura; 05-11-12 at 04:20 PM.
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Old 05-11-12, 04:18 PM
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Hmmm ... Sounds like I'll have to invest in some front panniers and rack. This all gets very expensive! I've been buying touring parts in bits and pieces over several years and just saved enough to get the bike built up and rear panniers. My tent is also heavy and bulky, too large to put in panniers, but a lighter one would be even more money to plunk down.
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Old 05-11-12, 04:23 PM
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Originally Posted by BigAura
Lighten the load as much as you can. Distribute the weight better, as the others have pointed out.

But the most important factor is to give it YOUR BODY a little time to adjust. Riding a fully loaded bike is awkward at first but your body will quickly adjust. You're over-steering and under-steering because you're not use to the weight. I feel awkward and wobbly the first moment I get a my loaded bike after have not ridden it load for some time. You need to test ride your LOADED bike for a couple of miles on some extra safe roads or a parking lot. Your body muscles will adapt in no time, probably less than fifteen minutes.
I was about to say almost exactly that. So... I agree except I'd allow a good bit more than 15 minutes if necessary.
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Old 05-11-12, 04:24 PM
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I concur with the others. It's almost certainly too much weight in the back.

My son had this problem with his bike -- same kind of handling you describe -- and he had lots on the back, a bit on the front. The setup now (admittedly with a different bike) with lowriders (Salsa Down Under racks) in front, and the rest in back -- feels rock solid.

Does your bike have the mid fork eyelets?
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Old 05-11-12, 04:28 PM
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Originally Posted by tarwheel
Hmmm ... Sounds like I'll have to invest in some front panniers and rack. This all gets very expensive! I've been buying touring parts in bits and pieces over several years and just saved enough to get the bike built up and rear panniers. My tent is also heavy and bulky, too large to put in panniers, but a lighter one would be even more money to plunk down.
Lightening the load means getting rid of stuff, not necessarily buying more. That tent looks huge, how much does it weigh? I'd also try and move the compression sack up front.

Last edited by BigAura; 05-11-12 at 04:41 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 05-11-12, 04:36 PM
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It looks like the tent is hanging off the back of the rack a bit. That can make things sway, particularly when its that high up. Try riding it without the tent on, see what happens. Then if it handles ok, try loading the tent sideways near the front, with the compression bag sideways just behind it. The bags will be harder to get into, but it might work. Otherwise, look into a smaller tent.

Heavy items in the bottom of the bags. Also, as was said, a loaded bike does feel different, but it should just feel not as nimble.
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Old 05-11-12, 04:47 PM
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I tried riding it with the tent, sleeping bag and mat removed and it still felt squirrelly. The tent is a 2 man but weighs about 8 lbs. Unfortunately I don't have the funds now to buy front panniers, rack and a lighter tent. Looks like I'll have to postpone my loaded touring plans a while longer
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Old 05-11-12, 04:53 PM
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I haven't done any touring myself but it does seem to me from your pictures that the weight is too unevenly distributed. If your normal rides have a 60% rear and 40% weight distribution on the tires then I would guess that you would want to try to maintain a similar distribution when you're riding loaded. So maybe around 40% of your load should be in front to maintain similar handling qualities, albeit more sluggish due to the weight.
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Old 05-11-12, 05:05 PM
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To me, the loaded photo suggests the rear load is too high and too far back so the tail is wagging the dog. I don't suppose there is much you can do about it without getting another rack. although on second look, the panniers seem to sit higher than needed. Double-tiered top-loads aren't such a good thing, either, in my experience.

FWIW, we have new Thorns. I put the racks on so they were dead level longitudinally on the tops. We ride these days as a matter of course with most stuff on the back. Machka found her handling to be "spongy" on our shakedown ride, so when we got home, I moved the front of the rack forward so the top now slopes downward slightly. With the long chainstays, there was no issue with heel clearance. Another test ride confirmed the handling was good.

I did the same on mine, and all has worked out perfectly. The changes were very subtle, but very effective.

We use Topeak racks, the model with the lower rail for clipping on the panniers. That means the weight is lower straight off. The only things I have on top of the rack are our tent, its groundsheet, and a pair of Crocs. I can put a five-litre bladder on water on there, too, if needed, but the handling isn't quite so right.

The worst case of wobble I had was with my Fuji Touring when it was loaded to the gills with touring and work gear, including front rack and panniers. But, I got used to it after a while; low speed manoeuvring and standing to pedal uphill were things to avoid, however.
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Old 05-11-12, 05:16 PM
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Originally Posted by tarwheel
I tried riding it with the tent, sleeping bag and mat removed and it still felt squirrelly.
I still say the most important factor is to give it your body a little time to adjust. How long did you ride?
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Old 05-11-12, 05:20 PM
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I agree with all the above. Too much weight at the back, further complicated by high centre of gravity.

The only other thing I'd comment on is your assertion that you tried to keep your load fairly light, and ended up with 40lbs of gear on the bike. I took 40lbs of gear on my last tour, but I was going to be away for two months, not two days. And even then, I found I had more than I strictly needed.
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Old 05-11-12, 05:37 PM
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One other thought... grab the top of your unloaded rack at the back and give it a good reefing side to side. The result might be enlightening.
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Old 05-11-12, 05:44 PM
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Good points and possibilities so far.

Some other factors to check on, which may or may not be significant here:

Are the contents of the panniers (and the other loads) able to shift? When the loads are very secure, and unable to shift, I've experienced a noticeable improvement when riding (with some setups).

Some racks (and rack mounting hardware) allow for more movement (or wobbling) than others. I've experienced a radical improvement here with extra-stable racks and mounting systems. P-clamps can aggravate things here.

If you can arrange the loads so more of the weight is low and inside (inboard), it can help at times.

Getting used to keeping the bike and load from wobbling, by not oversteering or overcorrecting or correcting too soon -- learning a different response or timing, so you avoid a kind of wobble-aggravation timing, can help a lot. Experimenting with responding differently has helped with some of my setups at times.

Some combinations of racks, loads, hardware, and flex characteristics are just bad. They have a weird and disconcerting 'schwinnnng' factor.

You just gotta change something, or find the right thing to change here.
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Old 05-11-12, 05:49 PM
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I was hoping to point an laugh at an overloaded 25in vintage bike and then tell you to get a c-dale. After the login my comment would be, "Weight distribution and practice rides."

PS: Front low rider racks are da bomb.
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Old 05-11-12, 05:53 PM
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Weight that is high, and weight that is far back (or far forward) can aggravate things.

Learning to use the right body English can really help. On one setup that had some bad flex or wobble, I was able to steer or correct less with the bars, and more by shifting my body or weight, and this helped. It felt as though I was putting my attention on keeping the bike itself stable and 'over center', and letting my body be the variable. Hard to put into words, but once I tuned into this approach, it worked very well.

Last edited by Niles H.; 05-11-12 at 06:28 PM.
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Old 05-11-12, 05:57 PM
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Getting the front load into lowriders and off the bars and the Nitto might also help.

If necessary, a more rigid rear rack (like the Tubus Locc) might also help. It also has a rail for lower pannier attachment. And it uses beefier, more rigid tubing.

(The Locc was where my series of rack experiments and trials culminated. It is significantly more rigid.)
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Old 05-11-12, 05:58 PM
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First, I would make a test ride only with the back panniers (loaded) and see the results. If everything seems normal, add the front bag and again see the results. Then go from there.

Also, check the tyre pressure.
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Old 05-11-12, 06:04 PM
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The tubing on your frame looks as if it could be a bit more rigid as well. Larger diameter tubing can help with frame flex. My most stable bikes have this sort of tubing. If you like this frame, though, you can probably make it work better without going to a new one (by making the rest of the system more stable)(or by making the existing frame more rigid, which is an unusual step but, it seems to me, a possible one).
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