My touring bike I use today started it's life as a hard tail mountain bike. A Cube Reaction Race Edition to be precise. A mid range aluminium frame mountain bike that cost me around £1500 at the time. It came with all the usual parts; suspension front forks, hydraulic brakes, typical MTB gearing (triple ring - lots of gears), knobbly tyres, etc... And over the years, I had replaced or serviced just about every part to keep it running in tip top condition. Check out the photo below from after completing the Brecon Beast endurance MTB race in Wales. I have awesome memories of cycling through the Welsh countryside, which is probably why I love cycle touring so much. The bicycle has given me many memories, so why not continue that and convert it?
When starting out in cycle touring, I had dreams of bespoke, hand built, Rohloff geared equipped touring bikes, but I simply didn't have the money to afford these costly machines. I had to make do with what I had in my garage and small budget to get the essentials. I took a good look at my mountain bike. It was comfortable. I knew it could handle a rear rack (support holes already in the frame). It was a little cranky after many years of hard use, but it had always been a pleasure and very comfortable to ride. This is a really important point if you are about to embark on a similar project; make sure the mountain bike is comfortable for YOU before starting. The nature of bicycle touring is to spend many hours on a bicycle. With my days of mountain biking reducing after my family re-locating to the very small Island of Jersey, and it needing some pretty expensive replacements soon, it was decision made. Time to give this bike an overhaul and convert to my very own touring bike.
I made the decision to roll the changes and upgrades to the bicycle over a few months. Two reasons for this. Firstly I was just getting into touring, and it is best to make sure you enjoy things before investing hard earned cash. Secondly, money - I needed to spread the cost. The big bang approach just wasn't possible.
With the bicycle still being ride-able, despite having a few niggles, I started with specific equipment for touring. I got myself a second hand Tarbus rack off Ebay - at this stage it was so I could strap my tent & sleeping bag to the bike. I didn't need anything more. My clothes went in the rucksack. With my first few tours only lasting a couple of days, this setup was perfect, apart from the sweaty back from my ruck sack!
After a few weekends away and some local cycling, the parts in need of replacement, needed replacing. Especially the brakes, which were starting to fail, and it wasn't just a pad change! I started off by reviewing all areas of the bike; frame, wheels, chain-set, brakes, etc.... The aluminium frame itself was in good condition. And as mentioned earlier, with it being comfortable and correctly sized for me, this was a good starting point. If you have concerns regarding comfort, then I really wouldn't go ahead.
Frame: Good condition
Chainset: The Shimano chain-set had been replaced 12 months prior and was still in very good condition. The gearing is perfect for touring, with the triple ring and great selection of gear ratios. My SPD pedals stayed attached too.
Brakes: The original Formula Oro hydraulic brakes were pretty much end of life, and had been used and abused over the past 5 years. I found a good deal on Shimano XT Rim Brakes, so i ordered levers, brakes and cables. My frame and new forks had the brazers for the brakes to screw into, so no issues there.
The switch to rim brakes was a simple one for me to make. Less maintenance and cost - disk brakes can be a pain to fix at home, let alone when out on tour. And cost - a new set of disc brakes, with all the bits that come with them isn't cheap in comparison. Some people say you loose some braking power, but I'm no longer going down mountains in Wales, so I felt I could live with that decision. And to be completely honest, I haven't missed them. The Shimano XT rim brakes I installed are pretty awesome too! They have performed fantastically in all conditions.
Obviously switching to rim brakes over disc meant the wheels needing looking at....
Wheels: Seen better days and were still designed for disc brakes. Ordered a new set of hand built rim brake wheels from Merlin Cycles. A recommendation sent me in their direction. Mavic rims and the awesome Hope hubs to go with them. So smooth to ride and take the excess weight perfectly :-)
Handlebars: These were standard flat bar MTB handlebars. Always comfortable and a good fit for my body. Only change to this area was a set of Ergonomic grips. I always suffered with wrist pain, so these looked like great choice. And they were exactly that!
Forks: The Rockshox forks were 5 years old and had already been serviced a couple of times. They were pretty knackered! I felt I didn't need suspension forks for touring. The extra weight wasn't worth the slightly improved comfort if I ever did go slightly off road. I decided to do a switch for a set of Surly steel forks. These simple steel forks are perfect for cycle touring - taking every lump and bump in their stride and lighter than the suspension forks.
Having never fitted forks before in my life, it was over to Youtube for advice. It doesn't take long to find a helpful video. I was soon sawing off the excess from the tube and attaching the headset.
Touring Accessories & Other Minor Bits:
- Tubus Rack was already in place from my early tours. Still doing me proud to this day
- Ergonomic grips onto the bars: wouldn't live without these now. Now looking to add some bar ends to extra comfort.
- SKS mud guards to keep me dry: rubbish instructions, however a fantastic product once you master how to fit them!
- Brooks leather saddle: I had always been intrigued by these saddles and the reports of how comfortable they are, despite looking like they will hurt your vital areas! Pleased to report that once broken in, these saddles live up to the great reviews.
- Panniers to save my back, I purchased Ortleib roller rear panniers and handlebar bag to carry all my stuff.
- Tyres were switched to Schwalbe Marathon tyres. They have already done a few thousand miles, and dare I say it - no punctures!
I can honestly say that I have been so impressed with this bike and how it has performed over the past few years! Smooth ride, no annoying noises, components all working well and my luggage all fits on perfectly.
It was the best decision to complete this project and I would encourage others to do the same. If you have an old mountain bike or similar hiding in the shed, get it out and see what could be possible. Recycling what you already have to make something truly great!
Who did all the work?
Me! Over the years I have collected many bicycle tools. I'm fairly confident with bike mechanics and anything I don't know, there is always YouTube. To be fair, most of the work I completed was simple swap outs. The brakes and forks were probably the most challenging part to get right. Sawing the forks to the right length can only go one way, right?!
My advice is to be realistic. is the bicycle worth saving - i.e. is the majority of the bicycle salvageable? You need a good starting point to stop it becoming a money pit.
Start with a clean bike. Take your time and investigate anything you are unsure of. You can always use the local bike shop or friends who know what they are doing for areas you are not confident with. Cycle Touring can involve long distances and being miles away from help. Make sure your bicycle is safe and you can get yourself out of trouble.
I hope this post has got you thinking about what you could achieve. Whether you save an old bike from your garage, ebay or local car boot/garage sale and make some minor modifications or undertake a complete over haul. Cycle touring doesn't have to cost lots of money to get started and anyone can achieve what I have if you want to.
The Finished Article - My Beautiful Touring Bike
Hope you enjoyed this post and now have some fresh ideas for your bike conversion.