How to choose a touring bicycle.
My bike, Yerba Mate, is quite famous. It has been requested to appear on TV numerous times, featured in newspaper articles (without me), been photographed 1000’s of times and Yerba has even won a place on the race podium without having to win the race. If your hankering for even more about the bike, please read about Yerba Mate in the Gear Junkie’s, nationally syndicated newspaper column, including Outside Magazine. The Bike that went Around the World.
One of the most popular questions asked these days: Is that the same bike? (The most popular question regarding my bike used to be: How many flat tires do you get? Or, Doesn’t your butt hurt?) It reminds me of a joke: I’ve had this axe my entire life. I’ve only replaced the handle 3 times and the head twice. Everything on my bike has been replaced but the frame, handlebars, cranks and surprisingly the aluminum rear rack. But those are almost ready to go. The frame is more or less okay, except for some potential corrosion, but if that gets replaced, will it still be the same bike? What about my body? Is that the same body I had when I started the trip?
So far this bike has about 33,000 miles and it’s still going. It’s a Gunnar mountain bike with a steel frame and components customized for heavy touring on the road. I have a peculiar love for my bike as if it were a real person. In fact, I think it has a life of its own. It’s enormously popular. Everywhere I go people want me to bring my bike. They ooh and aah and run their hands down the frames, caressing the nicks and scratches.
Recently it was rebuilt courtesy of Shelley and Forrest Smith. If being a bike mechanic is not an art form, it is certainly beautiful to watch a talented bike mechanic strip down a bike and rebuild it bolt by bolt and spoke by spoke.
You can view the slideshow below with some interesting descriptions of each slide. Among other things, you’ll see the box of worn out parts. It’s amazing the wear and tear a bike goes through. By brute determination and sheer human power, I’ve worn down steel, cracked aluminum, snapped titanium, and rubbed my handlebars smooth as glass with my hands, I feel like I left a trail of metal dust around the world.
Thanks to Forrest my steel horse has never been better. I think he must dirt from over 59 countries on the floor of his workshop. (PS. Forrest, save the dirt; and can you build a pare of spare knees?)
What touring bicycle do you recommend?
The latest and greatest racing gadget mindframe is antithetical to touring. You want a bike that’s more like a trusty workhorse.
My bike was made by Waterford Precision Cycles in Wisconsin. (I’m hoping that they’ll be able to make me a stainless steel bike next time.) Yerba and I got a personal tour of the factory and met the owner, Richard Schwinn, and the man who made my bike. He said, “Don’t get me wrong, this is a great bike, but you shouldn’t have been able to do what you did.” I replied: “So, I’ve heard….”
The key factor for me in deciding which bike to purchase was a combination of strength, longevity and riding position, thus the mountain bike with an more relaxed handle bar position. Touring is not a race. I have ridden a Trek touring bike and did not like being in that cramped position with drop bars. A essential factor was riding a steel bike, just in case it somehow got damaged any welder would be able to fix it. I also prefer the feel of riding a steel bike.
I did miss some of the extra’s that touring bikes have to offer; for example, 3 water bottle mounts are essential. And the bike got a little wobbly if I carried too much weight. And it was very slow. But it could go and off roads without a problem, and there were times the roads were literally rivers. I can’t imagine using a touring bike with 700 cc wheels.
The braze-ons are another key factor. On most bikes the eyelets are just stuck on with some brass. Appearing like an “0” sitting on a flat surface. They will eventually snap off. What you want is the dropout, where the wheels attach and they eyelets, to be all one piece of machine tooled metal. If not, make sure the braze-on uses a lot of brass filling in all the spaces, so that it looks more like a triangle (with a hole in the middle) sitting on a flat surface. And attached to all that you’ll want the best steel racks for your panniers.
I would absolutely get a frame geometry for 26″ wheels. I’d even use downhill mountain racing deep-dish, double-walled rims with at least 36 spokes. Get the strongest wheels possible. Trust me on that one.
And for a list of the hundreds of items and hundred pounds of gear that this bike carried around the world, visit the Supply List.