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I have seen a few bikes marketed as "Expedition Bikes". They seem to be designed for the purpose of touring off-the-beaten-track. Typically they have 26 inch wheels and either butterfly or flat bars, though I have seen a couple with drops. Some even have internal hub gears. The one defining characteristic seems to be the 26 inch wheels though.

What is the advantage, specifically, of the 26 inch wheels over 700c when on an 'Expedition' type tour? And more in general, are there other advantages to buying (or building) an Expedition Bike rather than just modifying an existing road tourer?

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My impression is that these bikes are for trail riding vs highway riding, and hence are more mountain-bike-like. The slightly smaller wheels are generally considered to be better for off-road use. And the steering geometry and handlebar setup are chosen more for off-road control/stability than for highway comfort/speed. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 9 at 0:17
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possible duplicate of 26" vs 28" wheels for touring –  PeteH Jul 9 at 7:07
    
Yes that does cover the part of the question about the wheel size (for touring), but my question also asks about the differences/advantages of expedition bikes in general over tourers, it is not just restricted to an answer about the wheel size. –  decvalts Jul 9 at 9:28
    
I think what I'm getting at with the 26 inch wheels is, why are they almost always chosen for expedition bikes? Whereas the answer to the other question suggested either size could work for touring. (I think reasons are given in Moz's answer) –  decvalts Jul 9 at 9:38

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

You should find that on those bikes everything is a bit stronger and heavier than a standard touring bike. Not only are they expected to carry more weight, they're designed to be ridden into places where failures are more difficult to recover from. As well, because they're designed to be ridden off road they'll usually have a lower top tube for better stand-over height, and there are fewer compromises in building a frame like that with smaller wheels.

Smaller wheels are stronger than larger ones, mostly laterally but also weight-for-weight vertically (shorter circumference means more material per unit length). This is most obvious with the 306 and 406 wheels used on trikes, but applies also to larger wheels except that the differences are smaller. Larger wheels mean the axle is higher, but also the top of the fork crown and so on, so you're adding the change in diameter to the frame height, not the change in radius.

Decent 26" tyres are more available in small towns. With a 700c or 27" wheel you may find that you have a choice of flimsy, skinny tyres and nothing else. (thanks Batman). In a pinch you can tour on cheap MTB tyres more easily than cheap 700c tyres, because a cheap, skinny tyre is going to puncture more easily and not deal with touring loads as well. I've seen a lot of bike shops in small towns in the first world that have BMX tyres, 26" off-road and city tyres, and 700c "race" tyres, all cheap unbranded tyres. It's not a choice between an expensive good brand and a cheap one, it's a choice between two widths or styles of the cheap one. If you have a choice. Or wait a week or more for mail order, because your order goes by air to a major city, then road to a minor city, then bus freight to where you are. Ideally you'd always carry a spare tyre, but in practice that just means you're waiting to replace the spare rather than the currently wrecked tyre.

Another factor is ease of building a frame that will accept fat tyres with the wheel size. Once you add a 2.5" tyre to your 700c wheel the frame gets quite large (29er MTB frames), which makes designing for low stand-over height harder and all the stresses on the frame get larger because the tubes are longer making for longer levers. The differences are small, but they add up - a slightly longer lever needs a slightly stronger tube, so now you have a longer tube that's also heavier per unit length, and overall the 10% extra length means a 25% heavier tube.

You are also more likely to find disk brakes on expedition bikes, because again they're more robust. Not necessarily the caliper and rotor, but the wheel as a whole. If you get a buckled wheel, with disk brakes the critical question is "does the buckle clear the frame" (ie, does the wheel go round), but with rim brakes it's "can I adjust the brakes to clear the rim" (that ignores "do the brakes still work like that").

The reason you see Rohloff hub gears on expedition bikes is the same. Sure, they add cost, but they are reliable. Not only do you lose the low-hanging, fragile rear derailleur, the straight chain line and high chain-ground clearance means chains last longer. The hubs go 5000km between oil changes and 150,000km or more before needing replacement. As a bonus you get a stronger wheel from wider spaced, symmetrical flanges (that are also taller). Again, it might be 1kg heavier, but when you're loading 50kg or more of stuff on the bike, do you really care?

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The motivation for a lot of this is that it's all very well saying "I'll just get a lift to the next town", but if you're riding the Birdsville Track in the off season (recommended to avoid getting run over by tourists) you might wait several days for the next car to arrive. And they might not be able to carry your bike as well as you. So not only do you need enough food for 500km, you need water for at least a week (2-3 days between water supplies, plus a reserve). Then you have to get a lift back to your bike with parts, fix it, and ride on. Much better to pay a bit extra and get a bike that doesn't break in the first place...

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Another thing is you're most likely to find 26" wheels out of all the wheel sizes anyway, if you're in a town. –  Batman Jul 9 at 3:12
    
Very helpful answer, thanks, Once I get enough rep I'll come back to upvote! –  decvalts Jul 9 at 9:30
    
@decvalts give it a day or two to see if you get a better answer, and accept it. Thanks for the thanks :) –  Mσᶎ Jul 9 at 9:32

Expedition bikes

You will see "expedition" bike at manufacturers who are specialized in touring bikes, and have many models. The marketing department needs to differentiate somehow, so the common groups are called trekking, touring, expedition. But this can vary, and for me the expedition is usually the top bike in their offering, with the most expensive gear.

Usually there are three categories in marketing to sell products, a low range (silver), a medium range (gold), and a top of the range (platinum), or whatever name you call it. The top of the range is usually the product with all the bells and whistles. Only a few customers buy it, but the idea behind is to make it available, so if somebody wants to buy it, it is there.

http://www.roseversand.de/produkte/fahrraeder/trekking-bikes/

http://www.en.tout-terrain.de/

26" vs. 700C

More of a personal preference choice then a real rational one.

People often quote that 26" wheels are easier to come by in rural areas. This is a myth:

  • Schwalbe Marathon (or similar from Schwalbe) has a history to go 10-20000 km without puncture on tours. Read the blogs.
  • Carry one or two sets of spare tyres. You don't want to continue on cheap tires for 1000+ miles/km.
  • In the very rare case that you blow up your spare tire, you can mail order to your next destination. Of course, you need to get the contacts of the shop before you leave home.
  • If you rims fail, this because you had poor rims. Get a Rigida Andra 30 frame before you leave on a longer tour.

Before mail order, and before Schwalbe this myth was true, but it is not anymore. Now we have DHL, TNT, internet, mobile phone, iPad, and a whole range of puncture proof, long lasting tyres, comfortable ballon tyres in foldable version.

For me, the wheel size preference on a single bike boils down to:

  • 26" is easier to maneuver (lower center of gravity), and has an extra gear uphill
  • 700C is faster, has an extra gear to go fast

Read this article: http://cyclingabout.com/index.php/2011/12/700c-vs-26-inch-wheel-size-for-touring/ The writer chose 700C for single bike (speed preference), and 26" for tandem (strength preference).

Handlebars:

  • UK, US, Australia - almost always drop bars
  • Europe (Germany, Netherlands, France, etc.) - flat or butterfly bars

The important thing of a touring handlebar is to offer at least two positions for the hand, to prevent sore. A butterfly offers 5, a drop bar offers typically 3, a flat bar with Ergon grips offers 2. Note that you cannot convert a bike from drop bars to butterfly/flat without compromising your sitting positon. Thorn bikes have a long article on this in their bike selector booklet.

What is important for me in a touring bike:

  1. Geometry: 45 cm chainstay to fit panniers. Long wheelbase (110 cm) also helps.
  2. Comfortable contact points: saddle, handlebar, pedals. Probably you need to change these.
  3. Strong rims (Rigida Andra 30), strong racks (Tubus), strong-puncture proof tyres (Schwalbe Marathon).

The rest is personal preference, and depends on the budget.

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It should be noted that in a pinch one can install 26" wheels on a 700c bike. Rim brakes won't work, but (assuming you only replace one wheel) with reasonable care one should be able to progress to a larger city where a proper replacement can be obtained. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 10 at 21:58
    
The CyclingAbout article is interesting but repeats "10% more rolling resistance" and says "Many studies" but doesn't link to any and I can't find them. The whole site seems to have a "no external links" policy which I find repugnant, especially since they copy a lot of content from other sites without attribution. I think you'd be better off relying on the original sources than that site. –  Mσᶎ Jul 10 at 23:31
    
Thanks for the points. I contact the authors to quote the studies. –  olee22 Jul 11 at 5:07
    
"Drop bar offers ... 3". On the back of the drops, on the front of the drops, on the hoods, behind the hoods, on the bends, on the tops, ... I count at least 6. –  andy256 Jul 15 at 1:39
    
@andy256 I didn't count the drops, because it is not a position I use on touring for a half an hour or so, only for decents to go fast. I never used behind the hoods on my drop bar. Do you? The main position for me on a drop bar is on the hoods. –  olee22 Jul 20 at 19:39

But expedition bikes are not limited 26".

Salsa makes two:
Vaya
Fargo

I see no advantage to a 26" wheel

  • 700 / 29 is more efficient (both 622 iso)
  • 29 off roads better than 26
  • They are making very strong 700 / 29 now. Downhill bikes use 29.
  • With disc brake my experience is better wheel availability than 26".
  • My experience is a more availability of 700 / 29 tires than 26"

As far as building:

  • If you start from a 700 road tourer they are not designed for wider tires you want for off road. And is not going to have the ground clearance you want for off road. I would say a high end tourer is rugged enough. You are going to get a bike that is designed to carry a load.
  • If you start with a 29 mtn bike then you get all the off road characteristics you want. You can put large tires on it that go from street to trail. The problem there is you are not going to get a bike that was designed to carry a load. Many will have braze on for a rear rack. Most likely no mounts for a front rack. And it was not designed for more inclined road touring position. If you just put mtn drop bars on it then it is going to be low. You need a frame that was designed for mtn drops.
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