Author Topic: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.  (Read 1266 times)

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Offline Westinghouse

Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« on: November 29, 2020, 03:10:02 am »
There is a young man who toured by bicycle across the USA on a mountain bike. He thought it was great. He has a video on You Tube. On two other videos questions were raised about the practicality of using the mountain bikes for long-distance touring. Some people had bikes in the garage or in a shed and they asked about using them for that purpose. Two people said such bikes were not suitable for loaded touring. They stated the reasons why, and they suggested they should buy touring bicycles. They pointed out three features of the MTBs that they said made them unsuitable. I will take those features one a a time and show it it just is not so.

1  They said the chain stays on MTBs are shorter than on road bikes and touring machines. They said panniers could not be positioned far enough back to avoid heel strike. Well, I compared the length of the stays on the MTB here with the stays on the touring bike. Sure enough, the MTB stays are about 30 millimeters shorter just like they said. It has eyelets above the dropouts, so I mounter a rack and fastened it. I put my shoe in position on the pedal and rotated backwards.There is plenty of clearance.

2.  They said that MTB handlebars are typically set well below the level of the saddle. This sets the rider in a too far forward front leaning rest position. It causes excess pressure on hands and ulnar nerve, pain, numbness, a sore back and sore neck. All of that is true. It is a problem, but also one of the easiest in the world to solve.  It is a simple matter to get a riser to raise the position of the bars, and put on drop bars. You may have to buy new cables and housings for the extra length to brakes and deraileurs, but that is a very small cost compared to the price of a new touring bicycle.

3.  They said that there would typically be no eyelets for mounting racks. That is true, and it is irrelevant
Mine has eyelets on  the rear and not on the front. Rear eyelets can be drilled. Very easy thing to do. And rather than spend $1500---$2000 on a new bike I opted for putting out $2.50 for a set of P clamps. Fasten the clamps and put your screws through the eyelets of the clamps and the holes on the struts of the racks, and done. It is a very simple and inexpensive matter to modify an MTB  for long-term, loaded touring.

If you are one of those people with an MTB out back in the shed or in the garage, and you want to tour, do not be deterred by the high costs of gearing up. Go ahead and make your dream a reality. I have done this similar thing many times and it worked out just fine. Do not be persuaded to shell out money for a new touring bike. It is not necessary.

Another matter is panniers. The big items these days are Ortlieb panniers. Described as indestructible, which they definitely are not, and as water proof, which they definitely are, they are displayed in bright pleasing colors and a very high price. Totally unnecessary for wheeling across the continent. Any old panniers do the job just as well. Get an old used set. Line them with industrial strength, contractors' plastic, trash bags. I have done it many times. It keeps everything dry even in an extended driving rain for hours and hours as long as it rains.

Now come tents and other shelters for camping. They might try to sell you a very expensive nylon tent. That night be a very good thing for sleeping. It repels the rain and dew and keeps out the bugs. People are using them on every cycling video I see. But you need not go to the expense. A home made tarp of tyvek is ultra light and completely water proof. There are effective ways of keeping insects away. I used tarps on quite a few winter tours across the southern tier of states. No problem, but bugs in summer can be a son of a bitch. There are ways of keeping them off you completely. A $10.00, 8 by 10 poly tarp will stand a powerful driving rain long after an expensive fabric tent is wetted through and hammered to the ground.

Before you let a bike business shill influence you to dish out large bills for your ride, remember you can easily and cheaply improvise. I have outfitted a bike completely, got all my gear, and completed a transcontinental bicycle adventure for less than 30 % of what some people paid only for gearing up before getting out the door. Judging from the many cycle touring journals I have read, I always got there every bit as fast as efficiently and as comfortably as the big spenders who threw their money down the hole.

If you have the bike, fit it out and go. Do not let them get their hands in your pockets. Use the cash you save by not throwing it away on a useless bike, and fund your trip with it.

Offline toadmeister

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2020, 09:03:25 am »
Good to be reminded of this once in a while.    Great stuff.


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Offline John Nettles

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2020, 11:53:42 am »
While I agree with all you say (that it is possible to tour with the equipment you described), I would say it is better to have purpose built equipment.  As with anything, a better tool makes life more enjoyable.  Do you NEED better bike/equipment?  No, but it sure makes things nicer.   It is a lot like being in riding shape before a tour.  You don't have to be in great shape (I usually am not) but it does make it easier and more enjoyable if you are.

I would like to know who thinks Ortliebs are indestructible?  I have found they are not by any means.   

Out of curiosity, what do you normally ride on tour and what is your normal equipment?

Tailwinds, John

Offline Westinghouse

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2020, 05:54:17 pm »
While I agree with all you say (that it is possible to tour with the equipment you described), I would say it is better to have purpose built equipment.  As with anything, a better tool makes life more enjoyable.  Do you NEED better bike/equipment?  No, but it sure makes things nicer.   It is a lot like being in riding shape before a tour.  You don't have to be in great shape (I usually am not) but it does make it easier and more enjoyable if you are.

I would like to know who thinks Ortliebs are indestructible?  I have found they are not by any means.   

Out of curiosity, what do you normally ride on tour and what is your normal equipment?

Tailwinds, John

I  cannot argue against that. The thing is that many people simply cannot spend the money for a bunch of expensive bicycling equipment. They already have these bikes. It is easy to modify them to eliminate whatever it is about them that makes them less than highly suitable for loaded, transcontinental cycling. No question that  a new expensive touring bicycle is the best bike to have, but in terms of actual function cycling across a continent, there is little to no difference at all, but a very large difference in cost.

I have modified an old Mongoose IBOC mountain bike, $1500.00---$2000.00 when new, exactly as I have described here. I have cycled around locally on it. It is surprisingly responsive. It is perhaps the most responsive bicycle I have ever ridden. I say perhaps because I have no way of precisely measuring cycling efficiency except by giving an observation of how it feels. I have not used it fully loaded at distances, yet. I am looking at the ST east to west for this winter which I have already done 7 times, 5 times completely, and twice from Florida to El Paso. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. There is one way to find out, and that is by doing it. I have familiarized myself with the experiences of others who used MTBs  for fully-loaded, long distance touring, modified or unmodified. From what I have learned, there should be no problem with it, but I cannot really know until I know. I will let experience my teacher.

I did not say in any way shape or form that doing this is a mere possibility. I stated it in terms of hard tangible realities. People have toured around the world on MTBs. I notice on this forum posts starting out with misstatements of original posts, and continuing a line of reasoning or argument based on a false premise. I have not read or heard any complaints from people using MTB frames.

Once a bike is modified to exactly the same riding geometry as a touring bicycle, or nearly so, how can the expensive bicycle provide a superior function? The fact is it cannot.

Pulling into a camp ground or hostel or some place along an etablished touring route with a $2000.00 bicycle, and panniers and handlebar bag that cost $500.00, with a jersey that cost $75.00 and $125 shorts and $150 shoes, all shining and glistening in the sun conveys a sense of finance and status, and that is what that is mostly about. That is not what cycle touring is about. It is about travel, healthful exercise, fitness, discovery, exhilerating the senses, increasing the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. It is a beneficial way of expressing personal freedom. It can have its hardships, yes, but that is life. Fact is, many people cannot afford the status symbol equipment. Fact is they can do the same thing for far less.

After the MTB's geometry is the same or nearly the same as the touring bike, what makes the high dollar machine superior in function? It is easy to say the touring bike is better, so, exactly what is its function that is so much better, precisely? I can think of one thing. The 26 inch wheels and tires seem to pick up every little bump and crack and deliver it through the frame. That is one difference I have noticed between a touring bike and MTB. I do not like that at all. It feels weird, but I suppose one can adjust to it and not be bothered about it after a while.
« Last Edit: November 29, 2020, 06:42:02 pm by Westinghouse »

Offline John Nettles

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2020, 08:16:11 pm »
I would agree that any functioning bike can be, and probably has been, used to do a tour.  I have personally met two people riding old Huffy bikes they bought from walmart.  While I do have an expensive touring bike, I can tell a difference of how they ride.  Like you I am not able to scientifically quantify it but can tell you that a high end bike does indeed ride better, makes the handling better, carries the load better, etc. than even a "ordinary" touring bike. 

I would caution you though that while I agree with most of your qualities of "what touring is all about", there are others who may have vastly different qualities and needs, i.e. they enjoy seeing the world or parts they are unfamiliar with; they enjoy the pace of touring vs. a car or plane or hiking; they are carrying a ton of gear due to an worldwide adventure or just like to bring the kitchen sink with them; they like to go fast and light; they like to have extreme reliability where-ever they go; they want to be physically as comfortable as possible; etc.  No one quality is better than others; they are just different.

Personally, I am fortunate enough to have any bike out there.  However, my last new bike was in 1990.  Since then, I have only bought high quality bikes (and most equipment) used for a minimum 50% of the list price.  I once got a 6-month old Thorn Nomad MkII with 1100km (less than 700 miles) on it for ~58% off the new price.  My current "most favored" bike I got at 51% off new.  My mantra for beginners or for those who have a restrictive budget (or even those who don't) is to buy quality gear used. The quality lasts for years or even decades.

All that said, I totally agree with you that almost anything that will work, works.  It is just a personal value choice as to what is important to you.

Tailwinds, John

Offline TCS

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2020, 06:31:11 pm »
I enjoy Adventure Cycling's annual Touring Bike Buyers Guide issue, but to quote myself from a post to this forum just two weeks ago, "we have learned and continue to learn how to optimize bicycles for specific use.  But I bet I could grab any of those bikes, attach my dunnage in some secure way and go on a pretty good tour."  Also from Adventure Cycing:

"My name is Pither.  I am at present on a cycling tour of the North Cornwall area taking in Bude and..."

Offline David W Pratt

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Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2020, 06:44:31 pm »
Probably anyone who has toured has thought of changes they would make to what ever they were riding, if they could commission an ultra custom bike.

Offline hikerjer

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2020, 11:58:56 pm »
I'm certainly not going to argue with the OP's post. All very true. However, if you can afford it, I think it's usually better to pursue an activity with gear that's designed specifically for it. I've toured and camped with lousy equipment and with good equipment. I prefer good equipment. But like the OP said, do not let the lack of high end gear prevent you from following your dreams.
« Last Edit: December 01, 2020, 12:02:56 am by hikerjer »

Offline TCS

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #8 on: December 01, 2020, 11:03:43 am »
No problem, but bugs in summer... There are ways of keeping them off you completely.

Share, please.

Quote
A $10.00, 8 by 10 poly tarp will stand a powerful driving rain long after an expensive fabric tent is wetted through and hammered to the ground.

I'm interested in your pitching technique(s) that allows Tyvek tarps to outperform expensive tents in storm conditions.
"My name is Pither.  I am at present on a cycling tour of the North Cornwall area taking in Bude and..."

Offline Westinghouse

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2020, 07:56:53 pm »
Good to be reminded of this once in a while.    Great stuff.


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Thank you. I am one of those who who cannot afford to spend so much on a bicycle. I always rebuild.

Offline Westinghouse

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2020, 08:07:28 pm »
I'm certainly not going to argue with the OP's post. All very true. However, if you can afford it, I think it's usually better to pursue an activity with gear that's designed specifically for it. I've toured and camped with lousy equipment and with good equipment. I prefer good equipment. But like the OP said, do not let the lack of high end gear prevent you from following your dreams.

That is all true what you say, but let's get this false dichotomy out of the discussion. This is not and never was a matter of using the best equipment as opposed to lousy equipment. Some of these MTBs are very good quality. They need only minor, easy, inexpensive modifications to match the touring bicycles.


Offline Westinghouse

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2020, 09:11:36 pm »


I would agree that any functioning bike can be, and probably has been, used to do a tour.  I have personally met two people riding old Huffy bikes they bought from walmart.  While I do have an expensive touring bike, I can tell a difference of how they ride.  Like you I am not able to scientifically quantify it but can tell you that a high end bike does indeed ride better, makes the handling better, carries the load better, etc. than even a "ordinary" touring bike. 

I would caution you though that while I agree with most of your qualities of "what touring is all about", there are others who may have vastly different qualities and needs, i.e. they enjoy seeing the world or parts they are unfamiliar with; they enjoy the pace of touring vs. a car or plane or hiking; they are carrying a ton of gear due to an worldwide adventure or just like to bring the kitchen sink with them; they like to go fast and light; they like to have extreme reliability where-ever they go; they want to be physically as comfortable as possible; etc.  No one quality is better than others; they are just different.

Personally, I am fortunate enough to have any bike out there.  However, my last new bike was in 1990.  Since then, I have only bought high quality bikes (and most equipment) used for a minimum 50% of the list price.  I once got a 6-month old Thorn Nomad MkII with 1100km (less than 700 miles) on it for ~58% off the new price.  My current "most favored" bike I got at 51% off new.  My mantra for beginners or for those who have a restrictive budget (or even those who don't) is to buy quality gear used. The quality lasts for years or even decades.

All that said, I totally agree with you that almost anything that will work, works.  It is just a personal value choice as to what is important to you.

Tailwinds, John
                       


Using a cheap old Huffy will get the person there, but it is not advisable. Those bikes are too much of a drag. I knew almost nothing about bicycles when planning my first long tour. So, of course, me and my ignorance went to Target and got a Huffy for something like $79.00. I put on a $7.00 rack, tied a 20 pound weight on the rack and went riding for practice. It felt OK to me, but I had nothing for comparison.

I took a break at a riverfront park in Fort Pierce, Florida. A young man approached and started a conversation. I told him I was training for a long bicycle tour through England, Scotland and Wales. He said, "On THAT bike?" The message was clear as a bell. As they say--A word to the wise.

I went to the library and found books on bicycles and bicycle touring. I followed the advice. I got a Schwinn Le Tour with all the necessities for racks. I could have raised the handlebars, but I did not know to do that, then. One thing is for sure, the difference in speed and overall efficiency was definitely noticeable. It was a big change. I rode that bike all over hell and back with all kinds of loads. The frame is still in very good condition. Well, one seat stay weld broke at the top, but that was the airline's mishandling. They did pay for the repair.

Offline DaveB

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #12 on: December 19, 2020, 10:49:21 am »
One comment on your OP, item #2.  Converting an MTB to a more tour-friendly rider position requires much more than just switching handlebars and cable lengths.  To fit drop bars to an MTB also requires new brake levers and shifters and probably a new stem.  Replacing the knobby tires with more roadworthy tires is also a highly recommended change. 

This is quite possible and several years ago I "roadified" an old rigid fork, hardtail Trek MTB doing what I mentioned above and it was relatively cheap since I had the needed extra components in my parts boxes as take-offs from other bikes but it would not have been particularly cheap if I had to buy new parts.


Offline canalligators

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #13 on: December 19, 2020, 10:32:29 pm »
A touring bike needs to be comfortable before all else.  If you can achieve that, you’re probably good.  Get a good setup from a pro.  But the mods might cost a lot.

You will also need low enough gearing.  Most MTBs will work here.

Next comes carrying capacity.  Suggestions above answer this.  If cash is short, inexpensive bags lined with heavy plastic garbage bags are kind of annoying to use, but do the job.  Or make buckets from kitty litter buckets.

You want reliability.  Might want to fit a pair of good touring tires.  Make sure it’s in top shape before you depart.

If you make sure these few functional requirements are met, the bike will work well.  And... don’t neglect training your body.

Offline DaveB

Re: Newbie bicycle tourists, Don't get fooled.
« Reply #14 on: December 20, 2020, 09:03:26 am »
You want reliability.
Comfort is indeed important but reliability is at least equally important and that's what disqualifies most Big Box and Department store bikes.  I recall reading an interview with the President of one of the big box bike brands like Huffy who said the average LIFETIME expected distance for one of their bikes is about 75 miles.  That doesn't make for a lot of confidence as a touring bike.     

To keep the cost down a used, good condition MTB or road bike by a big name bike shop brand like Trek, Cannondale, Specialized, Fuji, etc is a great starting point.  Routing checking of your local Craigslist should eventually turn up something suitable and some judicious modifications can make it a very suitable touring bike without great expense.  Ideally a used touring bike would be the best starting point but there are few and far between.
« Last Edit: December 20, 2020, 09:07:08 am by DaveB »