Convert an old bike into a new cycle touring bike...
The touring bike I use today started its life as a hardtail mountain bike. A Cube Reaction Race Edition to be precise. A mid-range aluminum 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. The photo below is 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 I wanted to convert it and keep that happy feeling when riding it continue.
When I started bicycle touring, I had dreams of bespoke, hand-built, Rohloff geared equipped touring bike, but I simply didn't have the money. I had to make do with what I had in my garage and a 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 bicycle is comfortable for YOU before starting. The nature of bicycle touring is to spend many hours on a bicycle.
I made the decision to make the changes and upgrades to the bicycle over a few months. I was just getting into touring and thought it would be best to make sure you enjoy things before investing hard-earned cash.
With the bicycle still riding pretty well, I knew I had a good foundation to build on. I didn't want to jump in straight away and replace everything as I wanted to do a few short trips, so I made a few tweaks. To get started, I purchased a second-hand Tarbus rack off eBay so I could strap my tent and sleeping bag to the bike. If I wanted to progress to panniers, I had the option ready to go. For now, my clothes and other items of kit went in a rucksack. With my first few tours only lasting a couple of days, this setup was perfect, apart from the sweaty back from my rucksack!
After a few weekends away and some local cycling, it was clear to me that a few parts were in need of replacement or weren't compatible with touring. Sadly the hydraulic brakes were starting to fail and the wheel hubs were knackered! I needed something reliable and easy to fix on the road, so I switched to some Shimano rim brakes and ordered some hand-built wheels designed for rim brakes. The forks also needed a service after years of abuse, so I replaced these with non-suspension Surly forks to take away the extra weight of the suspension forks, and to be able to mount the rim brakes.
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 a 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 the cost of a new set of disc brakes isn't cheap in comparison. You do lose 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 weather conditions.
Wheels: They had seen better days and were designed for disc brakes. Ordered a new set of hand-built rim brake wheels from Merlin Cycles. Mavic rims and the awesome Hope hubs are a perfect combination. So smooth to ride and take the extra weight of my kit perfectly.
Handlebars: These were standard flat bar MTB handlebars. Always comfortable and a good fit for my body. The only change I made was to add a set of Ergonomic grips for the longer days in the saddle. I always suffered from wrist pain, so these looked like a great choice and they have not disappointed.
Forks: The RockShox forks were old and had already been serviced a couple of times. They were pretty knackered! I felt I didn't need suspension forks for bicycle touring. The extra weight wasn't worth the slightly improved comfort if I ever did go off-road. I decided to do a switch for a set of Surly forks. These simple forks are perfect for cycle touring - taking every lump and bump in their stride and lighter than the suspension forks.
If you have never fitted forks before, there are plenty of Youtube videos with advice. As with any bicycle maintenance, if you are not confident in your abilities, do take advice, or use a local bicycle mechanic.
Touring Accessories & Other Minor Bits:
- Tubus Rack: was already in place from my early tours. Still doing me proud to this day
- Ergonomic grips: I wouldn't live without these now. Now looking to add some bar ends for extra comfort.
- SKS mudguards: whilst they came with rubbish instructions, they are a fantastic product once you master how to fit them!
- Brooks leather saddle: I had always been intrigued by these saddles. They look painful, however, I'm pleased to report that once broken in, these saddles live up to the great reviews.
- Tyres: switched to Schwalbe Marathon tyres. They are a little harsh and rigid, however, I have already done a few thousand miles, and dare I say it - no punctures!
I have been so impressed with this bike and how it has performed over the past few years! Smooth ride, has no annoying noises, is reliable and the new components are working well. I did find I needed to invest in panniers - using a rucksack eventually drove me crazy.
Who did all the work?
I did it all myself. Over the years I have collected many bicycle tools and I'm fairly confident with bike mechanics. Anything I'm unsure of I use YouTube. 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 was something I had to measure multiple times.
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 from 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. Bicycle 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.
It was a good 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!
I hope this post has got you thinking. Please don't let having the best bike be a barrier that prevents you from going bicycle touring. Whether you save an old bike from your garage, eBay, or local car boot/garage sale, bicycle touring doesn't have to cost lots of money, and is possible on any bicycle.
My Beautiful Touring Bike
Hope you enjoyed this post and now have some fresh ideas for your bike conversion.
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