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Build Your Very Own Touring Machine: Guide for Building a Touring Bike

Almost any bike can be a touring bike as long as you travel with it. If you already have a vintage trail bike laying in your garage, you can convert it into a long-haul comfort machine by just adding some specific componentry and customizing some details. Not only will this be a lot cheaper than sinking lots of money into expensive upgrades, but the process of building the bike will be a rewarding experience (especially for wannabe gearheads) that will come in handy when you plug into your next touring bicycle. 

But before you start assembling your bike parts, it’s worth noting that there is a certain standard of touring-worthiness that not all used bikes meet. So, it is important to make sure that your bike is up for the task, is a good fit, and in decent condition.  

In this guide, we’ll provide you with some tips on how you can transform your old vintage into an almost touring bike. Follow these tips to build your very own elegant touring bike.

Touring Bike Setup

No matter what bike you’ll use for bike touring, it’s important to note that you’ll need to customize your bike differently than you would for other types of bikes. Expedition touring bikes involve long hours spent on the saddle. As a result, you would need to customize your bike in a way that is more comfortable, durable, and puts less strain on your body. Below we will discuss some of the best bike components and features that can be great for touring.

Frame

Even though you can tour with any frame material, bike tourers commonly choose steel due to its strength and durability to absorb road vibrations, the ability to handle heavy loads, and their relatively affordable price. When looking for a frame, make sure it has the following characteristics: 

  • Chromoly 4130. This steel alloy is known to be durable, comfortable, long-lasting, and easy to work with. Chromoly 4130 is unlikely to break but you can wield the damage in case if it does break. Avoid poorly-made aluminum and carbon frames. Carbon frames are good for off-roading and traveling fast and light, but Chromoly poses less trouble for repairing and is longer-lived.
  • Rigid or no suspension. Suspension plus the combination of additional weight and mounting racks adds redundant weight and complexity. Since you’re not planning to use it on rough roads, adding suspension would be unnecessary. Moreover, full-suspension systems require frequent maintenance and additional tools and supplies.
  • Braze-ons. If you’re planning to go fully loaded, you’re gonna need fenders and racks. Make sure your frame comes outfitted with braze-ons, also known as bolt holes, to attach the panniers.
  • Good fit. Having a frame that fits your body size is crucial for maximum comfort and efficiency. If the frame is too large or small, you will start to feel pain in your hands and back after clocking a few miles and you will have trouble steering the bike. So, make sure to choose a frame that fully fits you.

Wheels

Provided that you’ll be hauling heavy cargo while touring, the wheels will take a lot of abuse especially so when the roads get really rough. Best wheels for touring are 26” (700cc) with 36 spokes especially if you’re using v-brakes. Try to avoid wheels with fewer than 32 spokes and non-standard 27”. The size of your wheels will not necessarily break or ruin your touring, it will just add more comfort and performance benefits. 

Tires

Getting tires with the wrong diameter becomes frustrating after a few miles and it becomes difficult to pedal. Make sure to choose tires that are not too slick or knobby or too narrow or wide.  Wide tires are good for rough and dirty roads but not for touring expeditions. Best tires for touring are usually thicker than 1.5”- 33mm—you’ll need tires that go fast enough on the road but also tires that have more grip in case of bad weather or rougher terrain.

Handlebars

While the best handlebars usually depend on what you find most suitable for your riding style, for a touring bike, you’ll probably need something that allows you to ride more comfortably and efficiently on long rides. Best handlebars for touring are butterfly bars; they are designed with comfort and efficiency in mind, offering a variety of hand positions when you feel pain in your wrists. 

Other options include flat and alt bars which also offer excellent bike control and lots of space for accessories. Just try to avoid anything too aggressive or aerodynamic since you’re not going for a competition, and speed isn’t really necessary.

Gearing 

An expedition touring bike requires a broad range of gear ratios, something similar to a mountain bike. The best practice is to choose a triple chainset with 20 up to 35 teeth on both the small and large sprocket and a 9-10 speed cassette. This will give you enough gear ratios for neutral cruising speed, high speed, and enough torque for climbing uphill.

Saddle

When pedaling long distances, you’d want a saddle that feels right and makes you want to sit on it for long hours. While saddle choice always depends on your personal preferences—some opt for smaller, harder saddles, others large and cushiony ones—the majority of touring bikers find that they get along with the leather Brooks. 

Other options might include those from Specialized and Terry saddles which are also comfortable for long-distance traveling. When fitting a saddle, consider also fine-tuning the saddle height and its position as these are essential factors for saddle comfort and preventing injuries.

Load carrying components

load-carrying-components-touring-bike

When you prepare for a long-ride adventure you’ll need handlebar bags and panniers.  

Panniers will be responsible for carrying most of your supplies. They are basically saddlebags that connect with your racks. They are easy to get on and off and won’t get in the way of your pedaling. There are many types of panniers but tourers usually choose those made of nylon or coated polyester to prevent the stuff from getting wet in case it rains during the journey.  

Handlebar bags are great for organizing stuff that you want to have access to while riding without much of a hassle. For instance, you can put snacks there and you can eat all day while pedaling or put on a windbreaker jacket when the weather suddenly changes. Just make sure to not put heavy stuff there as it will hinder your steering.

Building a touring bike involves choosing durable components that keep running over the long haul. This doesn’t mean having high-end, specialized, and custom-made components that look awesome. Rather, make sure to opt for comfort and efficiency. Follow the tips above, add a set of panniers, install some new tires, handlebars, fix your saddle and you’ll have your very own cute touring bike.

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