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I'm planning on going bike touring in S.East Asia. I've been planning which bike to get.

Companies like Thorn offer custom made bikes (specially designed for adventure-style cycle touring), but they somewhat expensive and I have enough expertise to build something similar myself.

I was thinking to use a mountain bike frame because they are designed to take more abuse than road bikes and I plan to ride on rough tracks.

A mountain bike seems to offer much of the ruggedness offered by a custom made bike, but then not being a bike designer there must be some shortcoming using it to carry luggage and over long distances.

  • If you ask about the frame only, the major difference is weight and aerodynamics. MTB frame will be slightly heavier and your position won't be as aero as on a road frame. There are also some changes in steering characteristics, but they won't be too important for touring. I've done a 3-day trip on my mountain bike and would be quite happy to do more than this. – Slovakov Dec 20 '14 at 19:37
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    You can tour with a mountain bike, but the variance in mountain bikes and their suitability for touring is quite wide (e.g. full suspension is probably a no-go). There are also a lot of touring bikes which aren't super expensive (Trek 520, Surly LHT, Novara Randonee, etc.). You should clarify what kind of MTB you're looking at. – Batman Dec 20 '14 at 19:37
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    If you can fit racks to the frame, then in theory you can use it for touring. But before deciding on a specific bike you should work out what kind of volume/weight your luggage will be, and make sure your proposed bike can handle it. You'll find that some frames don't support racks, period, so that will limit the choice. – PeteH Dec 20 '14 at 19:42
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    I cheap do you want to go? Would you consider used? – paparazzo Dec 20 '14 at 20:03
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    This woman uses a Surly Troll for self-contained offroad touring, and only broke it once. She's broken a number of bikes, so her recommendation for that one should (ahem) carry some weight. Her blog is worth reading even though she tours outback Australia rather than SE Asia, because she talks a lot about gear choices and how she breaks things. – Nuі Dec 23 '14 at 21:22
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I know people that have done extensive touring on a mounting bike. You have a sturdy stable frame and gear ratios for climbing. Look for a steel frame that has lugs for racks. And a solid fork over suspension.

The disadvantage is not quite as efficient. And the single hand position is more fatiguing.

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    Addition of bar ends can give another hand position. – mattnz Dec 20 '14 at 21:44
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    Or butterfly bars or something. – Batman Dec 20 '14 at 22:37
  • And, as @QuinnComendant mentions below, at leas 2 water bottle positons. – Vorac Dec 23 '14 at 8:30
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You certainly can use a mountain bike for touring, and many people have done so. They have suitable gearing for climbing and are generally stout enough to support the weight and abuse of loaded touring (caveats below). However it is worth noting the differences between a mountain bike and a touring bike, and consider these factors for your trip:

  • MTB frames usually have a more responsive geometry with shorter chain stays and wheelbase, steeper steering angle, and a higher bottom bracket. These features make a MTB more nimble on trails, but less stable when loaded and traveling at high speed.
  • MTB frames are usually aluminum which often doesn't provide as much vibration dampening. Aluminum is also more prone to structural fatigue than steel and with many miles can crack or worse. Carbon fiber is even less suitable than aluminum and should never be used for loaded touring for safety reasons (until a carbon frame purposefully built for touring is available).
  • MTB frames with rear disc brakes often do not have rack mounts; the usual location of a rack's lower connection point conflicts with the brake calipers. Old Man Mountain makes touring racks which fit bikes with this limitation.
  • MTB frames usually have fewer water bottle mounts.
  • A MTB with suspension, unless locked-out, will decrease peddling efficiency. Unless you're touring on very rough roads the suspension is just added weight.
  • A MTB's straight handlebars do not provide different hand positions for avoiding hand and arm fatigue, and potential hand nerve damage from extended compression of the ulnar nerve.
  • Smaller wheels, such as the 26" wheels commonly used on MTB, are stronger than larger wheels such as the 700c of road and touring bikes. These wheel's replacement parts (tires, spokes, and rims) have also traditionally been easier to find in less developed countries.
  • MTB tires with aggressive tread can have lower rolling efficiency than slick tires, and at least contributes to a noisier ride. Tread can, counterintuitively, decrease the traction of the tire on a smooth road.

Despite these differences, a MTB can be a very suitable touring machine. Some of the best touring options are early (1980s–90s) rigid (no suspension) steel frame mountain bikes, which can be found second-hand very inexpensively. Some MTBs may even be converted to use drop bars with road brake levers and bar-end shifters (you'll want to get an expert opinion from a local bike shop as some MTB brakes or derailleurs aren't compatible with road brake levers or shifters).

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