Get Bike. Build Bike. Ride. Is it that really easy? Or more accurately, “Get a massive pile of parts. Spend quite a few hours assembling said parts. Too knackered to ride”. And that doesn’t include the weeks of research into which parts to use in the first place!
I imagine that the bike build and bike choice can be pretty daunting for cycle tourists planning a big trip, especially if they don’t have a whole bunch of experience. But I was really looking forward to it. It’s what I do for a living, and I really enjoy it. But as the first law of bicycle mechanics goes, “If it’s your own bike everything takes longer, much longer”. From the start this was true, even choosing the parts involved far more deliberation than would have been required had we been building new mountain bikes. Spreadsheets were made, spec, cost and weight were all evaluated until after several weeks of agonising we had something I was pretty happy with. To keep things simple the spec for both Steph’s and my own bike was going to be the identical bar the frame, due to her needing a much smaller size. Eventually we had a massive pile of bike bits and the build could begin!
Before I go into some details of the build I want to talk about some of our bike spec choices as they aren’t what you would call traditional touring bikes. From the off we knew we wanted the big trip to involve plenty of dirt roads and off-road trails that might be beyond the scope of normal touring bike. So naturally we went for a mountain bike frameset.
Both Steph’s Surly ECR, and my Genesis Longitude are designed for bikepacking. This type of riding has been around for ages but it has grown massively in popularity recently, it involves travelling light while still being self sufficient. Essentially it allows you to get off the beaten track for multi-day adventures, but the bike will still be enjoyable to ride when pointed down a technical descent. We will likely be carrying more luggage than your average bikepacker, but the ethos fits in with what we want to achieve while on the road. A typical bikepacking setup, using more minimal luggage than racks and panniers, looks something like the photo below.
We don’t know if we will go fully “bikepacking” or rack-less, but that’s something that we need to experiment with before we leave later this year (September 2017).
Also it is worth explaining that we are not sponsored or supported by any brands, all of the bike and gear choices are our own and bought with our own money.
Another decision that goes against the majority of thinking is that we have gone for 29″ wheels. Traditionally 26″ is the one for a global expedition as spares are available nearly anywhere in the world, there is also the argument that they have a smaller diameter, thus stronger. However, 29ers roll over rough ground more easily and they have more grip in loose/wet conditions. I have been riding 29″ mountain bikes for a while now and I have given the wheels I’ve used some serious abuse without any more issues arising than when I used to ride 26″. I know loaded touring every day is a whole different ball game, but I’m (possibly naively) confident that our wheels will hold up. Oh, they are also tubeless. Through all of our research this seems nearly unheard of, but I haven’t ridden with tubes in any of my wheels since 2009 and in my opinion there is no other way to set a wheel up. Time will tell if these decisions were horribly incorrect!
Anyway, on with the build…
Step 1 – Frame and fork prep for the bike build.
This is the stuff that takes ages but doesn’t actually add much progress to a build! All the usual things were done, face/chase/ream BB, headset, fork crown, brake mounts etc. But with a very long trip on the cards I went one step further and applied a rust inhibitor to the inside of all of the tubes, and clear protective tape to the outside. They should be good for a long while now!
Step 2 – Wheels.
Arguably the most important part of any bike, and also my favourite part of any bike build. We went with Mavic EN827 rims, a fairly bombproof MTB rim that’s plenty wide enough to give a good profile on the ~2.2″ tyres we are planning on running. Our front hub was always going to be a dynamo and we decided on the SP PD-8 due it being super efficient, reliable and lightweight. Rear hub was to be a Shimano XT because it’s easy to rebuild and parts should be straightforward to source regardless of where we are in the world(-ish). The wheels went together really nicely using DT Swiss Competition spokes and prolock nipples. Our Continental Race King tyres went on and set up tubeless without any hassle, using Gorilla Tape as the rim tape. We now had some rolling stock.
Step 3 – Assemble the rest of the parts.
All of the other components don’t require much assembly so it’s a case of bolt them on and connect them up. Nice and easy. They are starting to look like real bikes by now.
Step 4 – Accessories and extras for a bike build.
We had a long weekend planned at the end of February and we wanted to take the new bikes away for a couple of days. With only a vague idea of what we would take or how we would carry it we went for the easy option and bought a rear rack and panniers to go on the bikes. At the very least it was enough to carry everything for a few days away. Finishing touches also included connecting up our dynamo hubs to our charging device – The Plug 3 from Cinq5, adding bottle cages and bodging on some mudguards (it was February!). Finally we had some sweet bikes that looked like they would do the job of transporting us around the world.
Step 5 – Ride!
For a more detailed spec list of the bikes check out the Americas trip page. We also plan to update and review the bike spec as time goes on, so keep checking back to see how we get on!