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I saw a fascinating bicycle today with "world traveler" hand-written on the frame. I was awe-struck by this bike. The odometer showed over 2000 km ridden, in freezing winter temperatures. The plastic rear fender looked like it had been hit like by a cannonball. Its Brooks saddle (perhaps this model) and handlebars were very old and worn-out.

The bike had a sturdy headlight in the front, no disc brakes (a good decision, it just had easily fixed rim-brakes), a lock mounted to the frame by tubes wrapped around it, as well as front and rear racks.

There were also many oddities like a Hamex child-carrying-seat without the chair and a metallic chuck under saddle with a hole (perhaps to move something or to attach something).

It did not shine in glory, but it surely is a very well-used bike.

On such a bike, one would have to balance utility, weight, and durability. What do bikes being ridden around the world look like? How should a bike outfitted for an around-the-world tour be equipped?

Please explain why bikes on long-term tours have the equipment they have. I need to know this because I want to understand the differences between different items used on long-term tours.

Resources

  • spare master links (good insurance in the case of a chain break)
  • cable-actuated disc brakes or rim-brakes, more here
  • a lot of good stuff here for traveling
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There's no question here that can be answered in a Stack Exchange format; am closing. –  Neil Fein Feb 15 '11 at 17:49
    
Please feel free to change this into an answerable question, and I'd be happy to re-open this. –  Neil Fein Feb 15 '11 at 18:19
    
There's nothing wrong with telling a story -- it adds to the question and makes it interesting. The problem I had with the question earlier was that it asked people what they had on their bikes; this is essentially a call for discussion. Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum. –  Neil Fein Feb 15 '11 at 19:48
    
Please check my edits before we re-open this. I had to take some guesses in a few places, particularly about your description of the bike. There's a good story in this question, and I tried to preserve that while editing the question into something that potentially has a single answer, even if it will be a complex one. Complex questions that elicit complex answers are great! –  Neil Fein Feb 15 '11 at 20:04
    
done. If I've changed anything too much or changed the intent anywhere, please do edit the question more, or ask questions here. I hope I've been helpful! –  Neil Fein Feb 15 '11 at 20:17
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4 Answers 4

On a very long tour such as this, the cyclist will want to be as self-sufficient as possible. Bike components and accessories are often a trade-off between weight and cost, but touring brings durability and ease of repair to the forefront.

This kind of riding is often called loaded touring, and has the strong implication that the cyclist is carrying everything needed such as food, camping equipment, tools, spare parts, maps, and sometimes more. There are other styles of touring such as supported touring, but I'm guessing the cyclist whose bike you saw wasn't doing this. Features of a bike suitable for extended loaded touring include:

  • A comfortable saddle may well be the most important component of a diamond-frame touring bike. The cyclist will be spending many long days, weeks, months, or even years sitting on that saddle. The Brooks B-17 is an extremely popular saddle, and is common on touring bikes. Brooks has made leather saddles in England for many years. Leather saddles are comfortable because they conform to the wearer's butt over time, and may not be comfortable until they have several hundred miles on them. If you see a bike with an old, ratty-looking leather saddle, there's a good chance you're looking at a well-loved and well-used bike.
  • Touring bikes need to be durable. This is a reason that steel frames are favored. Steel is flexible, strong, and can be fixed by welding. Steel frames are sturdy enough for racks to be installed on them. Other frame materials, such as aluminum and carbon fiber, are lighter than steel but aren't as strong. There are touring bikes made from aluminum, some of them good ones, but carbon fiber cannot at present take the weight of 30-60 pounds of panniers and camping equipment. Steel is also inexpensive. Unfortunately, steel is heavier than other frame materials. (This summary is a significant oversimplification.)
  • Handlebars on a touring bike are a less-critical component, but bars that are a little wider than on a typical road bike are common. Since the posture of the rider on a touring bike will be oriented more towards comfort than on a road bike, riders often favor a more upright posture and handlebars are therefore set higher up. Handlebars may have room for accessories such as computers and lights.
  • Wheels that are stronger are best, since a bike that is carrying a lot of weight will tend to break more spokes. A high spoke-count usually means a stronger wheel. 700c wheels are common on touring bikes, but 26" rims are more commonly found worldwide simply because of the availability of 26" tires and tubes worldwide.
  • Tires will be selected for durability rather than speed. A tire that is faster but is prone to flats will slow the rider down more than a tire that is more durable.
  • Navigation hardware can include a standard bike computer with an odometer paired with maps, a GPS with routing capabilities, or even both.
  • Sturdy racks are important. Weaker, inexpensive racks will bend and break under a heavy load. Most racks used for touring are sold with a maximum weight capacity figure. Tubus makes an excellent selection of touring racks.
  • Panniers will be selected based on durability. The question of whether a rack will have many small pockets or one large one (i.e., a simple sack with attachment hooks) is a matter of packing style and personal preference. Ortlieb and Arkel are two higher-end touring pannier manufacturers.
  • Drivetrain components should be durable and easily fixed on the road. For this reason, internally geared hubs are seldom used, even though they are generally more trouble-free. A traditional derailer can be fixed at the side of the road in many cases. A gear ratio should be selected that allows for hill-climbing, even at the expense of sacrificing speed. Bar-end shifters are often favored, because they're simpler to fix than more complex shifters.
  • Suspension is often not used on a touring bike, since they are less efficient at translating pedaling into forward motion. However, there are offroad touring bikes. Suspension also makes it difficult to attach racks, particularly rear suspension.
  • Brakes are usually rim brakes, for similar reasons as drivetrain components: they can be fixed with few tools. However, disc brakes are starting to be more common on touring bikes.

Common touring bikes include the Surly Long-Haul Trucker and the Trek 520. (The Novara Randonee is essentially a clone of these bikes.) Rivendell and Bike Friday also make well-regarded touring bikes; there are no doubt many other manufacturers of sturdy frames. Steel hardtail (non-suspension) mountain bike frames can be converted into touring bikes relatively easily.

There's an old touring adage: You can tour on any bike. Carbon-fiber racing bikes can pull a trailer full of gear. The above outline of what's helpful on a touring bike is what I would consider a best-case scenario, but is by no means mandatory.

I'll close this with a picture of one of my touring bikes. enter image description here

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1. what are your pedals and why such pedals? 2. Any idea what load an aluminium bike can stand on touring? –  user652 Feb 16 '11 at 0:57
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Sorry, I have a bunch of factual qibbles. Aside from those, good reply. "newer technologies like internal hub gears"? Hub gears are older than most of the other equipment on the bike and possibly even predate derailleur gears. Carbon fibre and alumnium are both more than strong enough for touring, but no-one makes touring bikes from them because they're not fault-tolterant and they're hard to repair. Suspension, again, is difficult to make robust enough for touring. Possibly also mention that recumbents are popular because they solve issue #1: comfortable seat. –  Мסž Feb 16 '11 at 1:51
    
@moz - About internal hubs, you're correct; they date from the beginning of the 20th century; corrected. Carbon and aluminum frames: Have added a note explaining this, but I was simplifying the situation; also, going into that kind of detail wouldn't be necessary to answer the question. (However, that would probably make a good question on its own.) Recumbents: Leaving aside that I don't have one and not an authority on them, it's really not relevant to the question. Although a recumbent tourer would probably be insanely comfortable, I've never considered one because of their length. –  Neil Fein Feb 16 '11 at 4:38
    
@moz: why are you not making your own answer about recumbents? Would like to make points for it? Can you carry large load with it? –  user652 Feb 16 '11 at 19:51
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

In response to the suggestion above, here's an answer about why you might use a recumbent on a world tour.

As Neil Fein says, comfort on the bike is a huge issue on longer rides. A recumbent offers you the "lounge chair" position which is much more comfortable than any upright bike. At the same time, you can also choose a more upright position than most uprights offer, so you see more. Instead of your back sloping forward and making your natural eye-line point at the road by your front wheel, your back slopes the other way and your head is naturally vertical. It's hard to describe the increased comfort because it sounds exaggerated. But I can finish a long day on a recumbent bike and feel tired, rather than really, really sore ... oh, and also tired. All the stuff about a good saddle, cycling knicks, creams, inspecting your crotch every day, caring for saddle sores... it doesn't happen on a recumbent.

There is more variety in recumbents in many ways, but the most common is a short wheelbase bike: short wheelbase bike on world tour

That's Mattheui's bike in Bolivia after some months on the road http://tourdumondeenbent.free.fr/en/index1024_cadres.html In my experience most recumbents end up looking like that after a few months on the road. It's just too easy to strap stuff on and keep going.

All the features listed above are present - considerable load carrying capacity, 26" wheels, V brakes, derailleur gears and so on. It's a bike that can be fixed easily with parts that are readily in most of the world. The features more common on a recumbent are the rear-view mirror on the handlebars, the lack of front panniers, the tubes enclosing the chains and the stick-as-stand. Note that the wind resistance of this bike is probably greater than that of a similar upright bike, so it lacks that advantage that a recumbent would usually have.

There are other choices. If you're not doing much riding on unsealed roads a recumbent trike offers greater stability which saves energy and lets you pay more attention to the scenery. The disadvantage is that a trike has three wheel tracks, so it's harder to avoid bumps (which is an issue for recumbents in general as it's hard to lift your weight off the seat). A long wheelbase bike is more stable than a short wheelbase bike, and it's easier to mount and dismount a loaded bike. As you might expect there is a wide range of strongly held opinions on these questions within the recumbent community.

Personally I have toured on both recumbent bikes and trikes (as well as uprights). I'm unlikely to tour on an upright again, due to the advantages of a recumbent. I did 5Mm or so on a recumbent tandem trike from Broome to Perth, and that was very stable with a huge load capacity, but slow on the hills and gravel. My SWB bike has an extra-long back rack, allowing me to carry a pro camera kit as well as touring load, and I've ridden that on a number of shorter tours (2-3Mm each). I have also toured on a SWB low racer (silly, but fun) and a recumbent four wheeler, which is as slow as the tandem but has a ridiculous load capacity (at one stage I had about 120kg on board when someone I was riding with had problems. So I strapped their Bob trailer to the top and kept going). The problem with the quad was that a chain, cassette and crankset lasted 3Mm before wearing out. All of those bikes had 406 wheels (BMX size), disk brakes on all wheels and various custom-made accessories (I make my own panniers, for instance). The bike has a Rohloff, and after the first tour so does the quad. Here's a shot of my tandem and trailer in Broome

(That's Mattheui's bike in Bolivia after some months on the road http://tourdumondeenbent.free.fr/en/index1024_cadres.html)

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+1 thank you for reply! I like this model over the diamond frame. What is the leg on that bike? Is the wheelbase bike hacked from a standard diamond-framed bike? Can you really DIY? Seems cool...have to tune my bike a bit :) –  user652 Feb 16 '11 at 21:27
    
the leg is a stick. A bit of wood cut to the right length. The bike is (I think) a Challenge. Yes, people build their own recumbents a lot, often starting from an upright. www.moz.geek.nz/mozbike is my "tinkering with bikes" site. –  Мסž Feb 16 '11 at 21:31
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While we were cycling down the pacific coast of the US, my girlfriend and I met a swiss couple who had been touring the world for 15 months. They didn't move very fast, but they had covered thousands of miles. Here is what I remember from their setup:

  • Front and back racks with Ortlieb panniers (waterproofing is critical)
  • Cyclometer (It's nice to know how far you've gone)
  • Schwalbe Marathon XR tires (can't get them any more, but the new Marathon models are good too)
  • 26" wheels, rather than 700c. This means parts (spokes, rims, tires, etc) are more readily available in the less developed parts of the world
  • Flat bars with MTB style shifters. Again: parts are more widely available.
  • Rohloff internally geared hubs (they require a lot less maintenance)
  • A camp stove that burns nearly every fuel imaginable (this isn't part of the bike, but it's certainly an important part of the tour)

On our tour, we met a great number of foreign tourists who had visited many countries by bicycle. Generally, their touring gear was not terribly different from what we ride with in the US. Sometimes it's worth going to a less efficient but more widely available component (like 26" wheels), but generally the most unique thing about a world touring bike is the rider. To make it a good touring bike all you have to do is ride it all over the planet.

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+1 for the "all you have to do is ride". People have ridden all sorts of silly bikes around the world. These guys did round Britain, but on tall bikes: tallbiketourbritain.com and someone rode the Goodies bike through Africa. –  Мסž Feb 15 '11 at 23:08
    
@moz - Yep. There are people who tour on unicycles, trikes, penny-farthings, folding bikes, and scooters. –  Neil Fein Feb 15 '11 at 23:11
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The guy who cycled around the world on the BBC used a "Koga Miyata Signature - custom spec alu alloy frame, 700mm wheel, Rohloff hub, disk brakes, butterfly bars" according to his web site

The faster (and slightly nicer) guy used a Tout Terrain frame equipped with a Rohlhoff hub.

So it seems you splash out on a Rohloff hub at least !

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That's because the Rohloff is likely to survive the trip. I hear too many stories that go "and the rear derailleur broke off 1000km from Ulaanbaatar". Reliability is 90% of everything if your world tour goes outside the first world. –  Мסž Feb 15 '11 at 23:05
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