How To Build The Ultimate Round-The-World Expedition Touring Bike (With Pictures)

Questions about touring bikes are by far and away the most frequently asked on this blog. And a significant proportion of these questions are from people planning epic tours across multiple continents, or even cycling round the world.

So I recently set out to design and build the ultimate touring bike for a round-the-world expedition.

What better way to make my personal advice on the subject as tangible as possible?

If anyone now asks me what bike I’d recommend for a huge cycling journey, I will be able to point to the bike I designed and built and say: “Here’s one I made earlier. Check it out!”

The resulting bike – of which two or three per month are now being built to order by Richard at Oxford Bike Works – looks something like this:


This article describes the complete design and build process of the bike.

While the details of such a bike are always going to reflect personal preference to a certain extent, there’s a surprising amount of agreement on what constitutes good design decisions for a bike serving this purpose.

(A quick look through the details of the most popular bikes in this epic list of expedition tourers will demonstrate this.)

My remit was to find the closest possible approximation of ‘ultimate’, distilling the design processes behind these bikes into a single machine. There is always going to be a certain amount of personal taste involved, and there will always be people who want to argue about things like whether V-brakes or disc brakes are ‘better’.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and there are now growing numbers of these bikes circling the planet. My favourite story-in-progress is that of Renée Rowland, who has (at the time of writing) crossed a continent and a half on one and is now somewhere in deepest Iran.

This was actually the second time I’d built a bike for a round-the-world trip.

I’d made a few mistakes the first time round, way back in 2007, when I put together a bike for my own round-the-world attempt. Sure, I knew how to use the tools and put the thing together. But coming from a mountain-biking background and with no touring experience, I didn’t understand the subtle needs of the long-distance touring cyclist.

(This is something I’ve also found to be true of many sales assistants in non-specialist bike shops).

This time was very different. I had almost a decade of adventure cycle touring experience to go on, with all the daily maintenance, tweaking, repairing and rebuilding that entails.

During that time, I’d also worked in ‘proper’ bike workshops, restoring bikes of all types and ages, coming across and fixing pretty much every kind of bicycle-related mechanical problem there is.

In the 9 years I’ve been running this blog, I’ve also become acquainted with dozens of other world bicycle travellers who’ve shared with me their own experiences on the subject of designing and building a bicycle for a truly expedition-level cycle tour.

And I’d pored over the design concepts and specifications of dozens of similar bikes built by specialist manufacturers the world over.

In other words, I’d done my research.

Despite many attempts to come up with an awesome name, the resulting bike became known as Tom’s Expedition Bike.

(That’s fine with me – I’ve always been of a utilitarian mindset.)


Design Priorities For A World Touring Bike

If you come from another discipline of cycling – road racing or mountain biking, say, or even old-school leisure touring – some of the choices we made while designing it may seem unusual.

But from the perspective of world travel, modern notions of what’s good and bad can seem a little odd.

That’s partly because a few months of cycle touring will eradicate any interest in shiny components and new-fangled technologies.

What matters in a world touring bike (and what doesn’t) has been proven by time and miles, not marketing and innovation.

And that’s a sentiment I hear time and time again from countless other bicycle travellers.

The priorities for a world touring bike boil down to:

  • comfort during long days in the saddle in all conditions,
  • strength overall and especially in the bike’s luggage-carrying capabilities,
  • versatility in the bike’s ability to handle the majority of what the world is likely to throw at it,
  • durability in the bike’s core structure and in the components that experience wear,
  • compatibility in the parts that’ll inevitably need replacement over time and miles, and
  • simplicity in the machine as a whole, as its use and maintenance becomes part of your daily routine.

(Note that newness, shininess, costliness, lightness, beauty, and so-called ‘performance’ do not feature in this list.)

A world touring bike succeeds or fails based on these criteria.

And the best way to ensure success is to stick to tried and tested solutions and concepts – those that have been tried and tested in the real world on real long-haul bicycle journeys.


On The Superficial Ordinariness Of A World Touring Bike

An expedition touring bicycle built on tried and tested principles and designed to do pretty much everything is, by definition, likely to appear pretty ordinary.

Such a bike has only one specialisation, and that is being a generalist.

If you spend time around high-performance competition bikes with price tags in the thousands, the superficial ordinariness of an expedition touring bike can take a bit of getting used to.

The magic, however, is in the details – the details of the parts used and of the way they’re put together.

These details will be visible if you’ve spent any time travelling the world on a bicycle. Everyone else will just see a pretty normal-looking bike.

So if you’re looking for style over substance, speed over strength, innovation over reliability, or the impossibility of a zero-maintenance world touring bike, then I am afraid this article will not help you.

If, on the other hand, you’re getting a nice firm grasp of what really matters on a world-ranging cycle tour, read on…

Framesets For Expedition Cycle Touring

As a starting point for the expedition bike, I chose the Oxford Bike Works 26 inch wheel expedition touring frameset (which ultimately led to me working with its designer and manufacturer on the complete build).





This purpose-designed 26-inch-wheel touring frame reminded me of those reliable old-school steel mountain bikes I used to ride.

As such, it could be described as a ‘classic’ expedition touring frame design.

Richard’s frameset is built from Reynolds 525 chrome-molybdenum steel alloy tubing. There are lots of appropriate tubing lines out there, none better or worse than another in the hands of a good frame builder. 525 is one of them, prioritising strength rather than lightness for long-term robustness and resilience to denting (both when riding and when transporting the bike).

You’ll hear many framebuilders recommending 525 for heavy-duty touring bikes instead of other ‘better’ – i.e. more expensive – tubing lines.

In terms of frame features and compatibility with the racks I was planning on fitting, Oxford Bike Works’ frame ticked all the boxes – and I’d test-ridden a bike built on the same frameset the previous year, so I knew that it’d be a good fit for me and that I got on well with its relaxed geometry and reassuring handling characteristics.

  • Read more about frame material choice for cycle touring here.
  • You can order the frame direct from Oxford Bike Works, if you ask nicely.

Headsets For Expedition Cycle Touring

There was little question about fitting a Chris King 1 1/8” NoThreadSet threadless headset (for the prototype in black & silver; for the final spec in plain black).


Of all the high-grade headsets available, the Chris King has the longest and strongest track record of the lot.

In fact, this small Oregon-based machine shop was originally founded when Chris, then a young engineer, couldn’t find a headset with strong enough bearings for touring. He responded by designing and building pretty much the most durable bearings on Earth, in the process reinventing how headsets worked, and setting a standard of engineering precision that every other serious headset maker has attempted to imitate since.

The standard-issue NoThreadSet has been made in Oregon and sold worldwide for over 20 years, each unit coming with a 10-year guarantee, practically none of which ever get returned. That’s why the product has a cult following among mountain bikers (another category of riders who routinely trash their bikes). And it’s why it was the ideal headset for this particular job.

Rather than buy a new one for the prototype – they aren’t cheap – I did what Chris King envisions all his customers doing: removing the headset from my old bike and installing it on the new one. So my own expedition bike actually features a headset that’s been halfway round the world already. It was second-hand when I bought it in 2007, and it is still rotating as smoothly today as the day it left the factory in Portland – which rather speaks for itself when it comes to why I’ve chosen it.

There’s always the buy-cheap-and-replace-often approach, of course. But I decided this was false economy. I’ll spend more on replacement bearings and getting them fitted over a 10-year period than the Chris King unit would cost in the first place.

Wheelsets For Expedition Cycle Touring

I chose the Ryde Sputnik rims for both wheels, primarily for their reputation as seriously bomb-proof world touring rims.

The extruded box-section design, double eyeletted spoke holes and a Schrader-sized valve hole make the Sputnik ideal from a functional perspective too.

(Another candidate was the Sun Ringlé Rhyno Lite, older models of which I’ve used in the past, but Sun have a habit of changing their designs rather frequently.)



It was a toss-up between steel axled Shimano LX HB-T670 36-hole hubs (as pictured here), and aluminium-axled XT hubs with additional sealing from rubber dust caps. Unfortunately, the latest version of the XT hubs turn out to exhibit reliability problems on tour, being engineered for lightness rather than longevity.

Servicing being preferable to replacement, then, LX hubs are what you’ll find on the current specification. Regularly checked and serviced, there’s no reason they shouldn’t last a lifetime.

(In the meantime, we await Shimano’s next iteration in the hope that they will feature both steel axles and rubber dust caps for doubled sealing.)



The front wheel was laced with 36 silver Sapim Race double-butted spokes in a three-cross pattern. The rear was laced with the Race on the non-driveside and Sapim Strong plain-gauge spokes on the drive-side (where the chain and cassette are located).

Sapim spokes are commonly considered the best in the industry in terms of quality and strength. DT Swiss also have a very strong reputation. Both companies’ websites feature a spoke length calculator if you’re building your own wheels.

As for the wheel build, the rigidity of the plain-gauge spokes combats the increased stresses placed on the rear drive-side spokes by hauling a full complement of luggage around.

On the other hand, the increased flex of the double-butted spokes elsewhere serves to make the wheels more shock-resistant and therefore durable.

Or so my wheelbuilder Ross Speirs tells me. And he should know – he’s the professional, after all.

Though I’ve built wheels myself in the past, hand-built wheels are among the most critical parts of an expedition touring bike, so for a bike of this calibre, wheelbuilding is one thing I’d rather leave to an expert.

Tyres For Expedition Cycle Touring

I chose tyres on the basis that I’d be using the bike on relatively good roads in the developed world for the first few months of its life. And I’ve mentioned before that comfort is usually more important than pure speed.

These considerations pointed to a model in which higher volume options were available for cushioning and comfort, and with a little tread but not too much to make road-riding a chore.




I eventually decided upon a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Plus 26×1.5″ tyres – fitted with the embossed air pressure figures mounted directly alongside the valve for readability. (It’s the little things.)

If I were building this bike for someone heading out on more dirt roads, I’d go with the Plus Tours or Mondials and upsize to 1.75″ or 2.00″.

Drivetrain Components For Expedition Cycle Touring


The expedition bike was fitted with a basic but very durable Shimano Deore front derailleur (twin pull) and a matching Deore long-cage rear derailleur (standard pull).

Alivio derailleurs would have been fine too, except that in their current incarnation the rear derailleur didn’t have a barrel adjuster, which – given the shifters I was fitting – was enough to warrant the Deore.

On long tours, gear indexing is a relatively common area of tweaking, and I knew I would benefit from the quick and easy tuning available from a barrel adjuster.



  • Order the Shimano Deore M590 front and M591 rear derailleurs from Chain Reaction. Ignore the ‘9 speed’ listing; they’re fully 8 speed compatible.

Cassette & Chainset

I chose a Shimano HG41 11-34-tooth 8-speed Megarange cassette, and Shimano FC-M361 cranks sporting 22-32-44T chainrings, with the middle ring swapped for a Middleburn Hardcoat 32T chainring, plus a Connex-Wipperman 808 8-speed chain. (Richard has since moved to using the KMC X8 99 chain on his production bikes.)

The crankset was chosen for the mountain bike style gear ratios it would offer, compatibility with square taper bottom brackets (on which more shortly), 8 speed chain compatibility (though chainrings rarely have cross-range compatibility issues in reality), and – importantly – the ability to replace individual chainrings using standard Allen key chainring bolts, unlike many new 8sp cranksets which feature riveted chainrings.

By upgrading to a longer-lasting middle chainring, I’d stave off the scenario in which a new chain won’t play ball with excessively worn chainrings, necessitating a full drivetrain replacement.

This isn’t just hypothetical. I’m still using the same original chainring today on my mountain bike – and the same 8-speed XTR titanium cassette, for that matter – as I fitted to my first expedition tourer almost a decade ago.

This legendary longevity of Middleburn Hardcoat chainrings is anecdotal but well known in touring lore. Better to spend a little more on an ultra-durable chainring, then inexpensively replace the chain every few thousand miles, prolonging the life of the chainrings and sprockets indefinitely.

In a perfect world, I’d add a SRAM powerlink or similar to the chain for easier maintenance.




(Read more about drivetrain choice for cycle touring – including why I didn’t choose a Rohloff Speedhub – here.)


I fitted a pair of old-scheel Shimano SL-6480 bar-end shifters (sold under the Ultegra brand), with the left (front) running on friction and the right (rear) switchable between friction and 8-speed indexing.

In terms of simplicity and inherent durability, there’s nothing to go wrong, unlike the complex internals of indexed trigger shifter pods, let alone road-style STI integrated shifters.

Richard mounted them on the handlebars using the mounts borrowed from a pair of Sturmey Archer thumbshifters – a well-established trick, as we discovered when researching the topic.

(Paul’s Components also make ‘thumbies‘ for achieving the same hack, thoughtfully including built-in barrel adjusters.)



This rear shifter’s indexing ability will make for the easy, carefree shifting we’re all now so used to, with the barrel adjuster on the derailleur to make any tweaks.

The friction-operated left shifter, on the other hand, would allow me to ‘trim’ my gears on the fly, finely adjusting the front derailleur with a precision beyond that offered by indexed systems, which are almost never capable of fully eliminating chain rub on the front derailleur. Trimming gears in this way is a habit that’ll fast become second nature.

If something does go wrong with the drivetrain and all sorts of unforeseen bodging is required to get it up and running again, I’ll be able to switch the right (rear) shifter over to friction mode with a quarter-turn of a thumb screw, eliminating all of the compatibility issues that come up when combining indexing systems from different ages and manufacturers.

I’ll even be able to fit a cassette with the wrong number of sprockets and continue shifting happily away. No indexed rear shifter can offer this level of compatibility.

Bottom Bracket

We fitted the expedition bike with a Shimano UN55 square taper bottom bracket unit (68mm shell, 113mm spindle and British thread for this frame and crankset combo).


Despite being conspicuously absent from Shimano’s website, this model series has remained in production for many years (a big hint that Shimano know the square taper interface isn’t going anywhere, despite their efforts to exterminate what is still the most universal type of bottom bracket on Earth).

It has an excellent reputation for longevity, which is why it still turns up on commercial expedition bikes like Surly’s Long Haul Trucker.

It’s a sealed cartridge unit, which means that the bearings aren’t serviceable in the way that cup-and-cone bottom brackets with loose bearings are. But the long-term rationale is that it’ll be significantly more durable than a loose-bearing bottom bracket in the first place. (This was a natural weakness of several now-defunct systems with thicker spindles, such as ISIS.)

When it does one day start to deteriorate – something that will happen over a period of time, giving me plenty of advance warning – you’ll be able to easily replace the entire unit with either an identical or compatible square taper bottom bracket, using standard tools.


For the expedition bike we fitted black Shimano Deore V-brake calipers front and rear.


And we chose silver Shimano Alivio levers – identical in functionality to the Deore equivalent but without too much flashy branding making my bike look any more expensive and steal-able than necessary.


Cables and brake shoes are standard-issue Shimano all round; the shoes feature replaceable inserts, and once you run out of those you can fit any bog-standard V-brake shoe you can get your hands on. No point spending extra for marginal benefits on basic consumables that can be replaced cheaply and easily the world over.

Yes, the rims will eventually start to wear through from all that braking – but not until after tens of thousands of kilometres of touring. Prolong their life by regularly cleaning the rims, especially after rain and muddy conditions, and changing the brake shoes without delay as soon as you hear that scraping sound (preferably before).

It’s worth mentioning that this is a normal set of considerations for fully-loaded world touring, which is just about the most heavy-duty type of service into which a bicycle can be called.

Keep mechanical failures predictable by keeping an eye on the braking surface’s wear indicators, budgeting for a full wheel rebuild, and anticipating where I’m going to have it done ahead of time – all part of life on the road.

(Wondering why no disc brakes? Read more about the old V-brake / disc brake saga here.)

Cockpit Design For Expedition Cycle Touring


The expedition bike was fitted with the Brooks B17 Special I’d been transplanting from bike to bike long before hipsters discovered them.

(This is the whole point of Brooks’ flagship leather saddle: you should only ever need to buy one in your lifetime.)




I’m just one of thousands of riders who’ve come out of the Brooks Breaking-In Period™ with a saddle that fitted their anatomy more perfectly than any other saddle on Earth – because their anatomy created its shape in the first place.

Until some bugger stole mine, at least.

Handlebars & Stem

After several iterations of fitting and testing, my bike was fitted with a 610mm flat bar and an 85mm stem with a 15-degree rise.

After a few weeks of riding, I changed them.

(This is pretty typical behaviour when getting a bike tweaked to perfection for expedition touring.)



It’s unlikely that my setup would work for you, but I can guarantee that time spent trying a range of options, rather than relying on guesswork, will deliver you the best possible results. Bad fit isn’t something you want to discover when you’re already on the road.

Grips & Bar-Ends

I chose to fit Ergon’s GP1 BioKork grips, which get a multitude of positive reviews from tourers and other cyclists alike as a high quality, long-lasting ergonomic lock-on grip.

Rather than Ergon’s own bar ends, Richard fitted a pair of Oxford Bike Works’ own low-profile rubberised anatomical bar ends, which plug into the ends of the handlebars, and are a damn sight more affordable too.


  • Ergon GP1 BioKork grips are tough to find in the UK, but you might try Amazon


Pedals are a very personal choice, and depend largely on footwear.

I prefer to wear hiking shoes for cycle touring, because they’re comfortable, because I know my feet are strong enough to pedal in them, and because if I wanted the extra efficiency I would fit toe clips and cages rather than lug an extra pair of shoes around the world with me.

I also dislike clattering around in supermarkets and people’s houses like I’m wearing wooden clogs.

I was looking for something a little higher grade in a pedal, a little more time-proven, to get my expedition bike built. So I went with a pair of Shimano PD-M324 combination pedals, which feature an SPD fitting on one side and a traditional metal cage on the other.



I would have chosen this exact same model of pedal whether I was in the SPD or flat-pedal camp, simply because it’s proven itself an extremely reliable pedal. That it caters for both systems is incidental. If I change my mind, of course, I’m already in luck!

(For what it’s worth, the DMR V8 flat pedal was a very close second choice.)

Carrier Racks & Lowriders For Expedition Cycle Touring

For the expedition bike I chose a Tubus Cargo cromoly steel rear rack, rated conservatively to 40kg (though I’ve happily given people much heavier than this a ‘backie’ on it).

It’s got a wider top platform than the also-popular Tubus Logo. I prefer having more space for additional rack-top luggage.

The Cargo has been in production, all but unchanged, since 1988. And while Tubus have recently launched the Cargo Evo, only the original Cargo can boast 27 years of proven reliability on world tours – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The 30-year guarantee, plus the company’s free worldwide replacement service, is reassurance of their durability.


For the front rack (or, to be technically correct, the lowrider), I chose the Tubus Tara.

My rationale here was similar: Tubus have a second-to-none reputation, and the Tara is their longest-standing lowrider compatible with all the most popular pannier models.

It’s covered by the same 30-year guarantee. I could discuss its design at tedious length, but the bottom line is that it fits my frame and panniers and almost definitely will not break.


The Tubus Ergo would have done just as well, but – as with the Logo – it’d bring no benefit to the Oxford Bike Works frameset and Crosso pannier combination.

It would, however, add cost, weight and complexity – things I am in the habit of avoiding.

  • Order the Tubus Cargo and Tara online from Spa Cycles

How To Build Your Own Expedition Touring Bike

A complete listing of the parts and components mentioned in this article can be found here if you wish to have a go at building a similar bike of your own.

The DIY approach to putting together a touring bike involves a bit of mechanical know-how, some tools, a lot of patience, and a willingness to get your hands dirty.

If you have all of these things, or are happy to acquire them, then building your own bike is an entirely feasible goal if you are mechanically inclined, and a very satisfying thing to do.

I’ve done it several times over the years, for myself and for others. In doing so, you’ll get to know your bike intimately; useful indeed when carrying out routine maintenance or roadside repairs.

For beginner learning resources, I would suggest a combination of local bike shops’ maintenance courses together with Youtube, Park Tool & Sheldon Brown’s websites, plus trial and error – however you learn best. Bicycles are really pretty simple.

If you’re completely tool-less, you’ll need to budget for tools & supplies (both workshop tools and the portable ones you’ll want to take with you). This may negate what you will save by doing it yourself, but a good set of tools should last a lifetime.

Allow several days to accomplish the build, swap parts, and fettle. Multiply the time required extensively if it’s the first time you’ve done this. Even a professional builder would still need at least one full day to assemble an expedition bike, test ride it, tweak it, and get everything just right.

Insider Tips For DIY Touring Bike Builders

Professional touring bike builders and assemblers also know a few additional tricks of the trade which may be omitted in factory-built bikes.

These little points of detail are not just the icing on the cake; they’re part of what brings and keeps a really top-quality touring bike going stronger and for longer.

These touches come from an understanding of common long- term touring ailments. Here are a few to help you get going:

  • Apply a threadlocking solution to the bolts that attach the racks to the frame. This’ll prevent the bolts from coming loose while still allowing deliberate removal if need be. These bolts are some of the most likely to shake themselves loose over time, and you can bet it’ll happen when you’re not paying attention.
  • Leave the mounting bolts of the shifters and brake levers a tiny bit looser than normal – just enough to ensure that in case of a crash they’d get knocked out of place rather than breaking off completely. If you can’t twist the mounting by hand (with a good bit of effort), the bolt is too tight.
  • Run a full-length rear gear cable from the shifter to the derailleur, protecting its internals from dirt and grime and maximising its life.
  • Many otherwise durable components come fitted with cheap, corrosion-prone bolts, so replace all such cheap and nasty fittings with rust-resistant marine-grade stainless steel bolts.
  • Get at least 3 spare spokes for the drive side of your rear wheel and Gaffa Tape them to a seatstay.

These are delicate touches. A professional builder will include many more as part of the individual service you can expect – one of the many reasons you might choose to have a bike like this custom-assembled if you like the idea of a personalised build specification but lack the experience to put it together yourself.


Go Ride!

I hope this article has comprehensively detailed the thought process that goes into designing and building a touring bike for a round-the-world expedition. Every bike builder would end up with something slightly different, but there’d be far more in common between such bikes than there would be differences. If you’re hungry for more, I’ve written a low-cost eBook that covers the entire topic in much more detail.

I’d love to hear about your own experiences and the bikes you end up building!

Don’t get hung up on the cost of such an escapade, by the way. Top end bikes aren’t cheap, but if you don’t have the money, you’ll be able to go just as far – if not further – using literally any old bike and packing plenty of initiative, flexibility and open-mindedness alongside your stove, tent and sleeping bag.

Yes – I will reiterate this advice until the day I die – you do not need bags of money and top-end gear to go cycle touring.

Have fun!

Don’t forget that expedition touring bikes based on the above design are being built to order by Richard at Oxford Bike Works. He offers practically unlimited options for customisation, and cost-wise, it actually works out about the same as buying all the parts and tools yourself. Check out the offer here.

35 Responses to “How To Build The Ultimate Round-The-World Expedition Touring Bike (With Pictures)”

  1. Jamie

    Nice bike!

    With regards to the pedals, Tom, you know you can get SPD shoes with sunken cleats? No more walking around supermarkets like you’re on ice-skates, no spare shoes, better power transfer – especially for hill climbing – and a bit of weight saved too!

  2. Andrew Norris

    Great advise there! I esp. liked the shifters, and the LX being better than XT. Plus the choice of plain gauge spokes for one side of rear wheel. Have you seen these re: protecting the saddle and wheels? Perhaps not proven yet though. I imagine for those taking electronic gadgets you would recommend a son hub as the most proven? Great to know v brakes rims last that long on tours. In the peak district mountain biking I used to have to change a rim once a year, but that’s very different conditions. On the frame, I was always told that 853 is best, at dints and strength? Great article. Choices in work prevents me touring long distance at the mo. but hopefully some time in the not too distant future. Despite that I like reliable workhorse bikes anyway!

  3. Oakland SPOKES

    Great article. We have Surley and Co-motion both ends of the money spectrum for touring bikes. I think there is great merit to the DIY bike with Deore and parsing out parts. There is also a great rush in getting a hand made bike that has bomb proof carbon belt and internal Roloff hub technology fitted to a bike made for you .
    I go both ways … But then I’m a Bi-Cyclist so what do you expect… 🙂

    Oakand SPOKES ( why recreate the wheel… When you can tighten the spokes)

  4. Joe

    Excellent article, as usual! Thanks for all the amount of detail!!

    One tip from my side. The crankset chosen (as well as most of the square taper range in Shimano) can also be had with a “chainguard” for no extra cost, which is just an extra plastic ring screwed into the big chainring. Very simple, but extremely effective to protect your trousers, from own experience.

    Also, the lower range of Shimano comes with steel chainrings and not the butter soft aluminium rings of the higher models. Quite long lasting…

  5. Shaun

    There’s one reason to choose the Tubus Ergo low rider over the Tara. The Tara uses 14mm tubes in the hoop (10mm in the straight bar). Some panniers such as Ortlieb will require a larger lower clamp than supplied. Weight isn’t really an issue. There’s about 50g difference between them.

  6. Steve

    All good advice. I rode Marathon Plus for about 3 or 4 years on my old Schwinn mountain bike and try as I might I could not wear out those tires no matter what, trail or road. However when I did eventually put different tires on the bike from the same brand, I realized how sluggish those tires had been on paved roads because of the weight, They sure had built up my leg muscles but I think I’d choose something with a better ride quality for long miles in the saddle. Maybe Marathon Extreme ( pricey ) or the mondials you suggested.
    Lucky me, I’ve still got 2 sets of the old XR’s fitted on my touring bikes and they are still good for more trips. Ergon grips are great. I do find the cork to be a fairly soft material and not as durable as the rubber versions. Got some nice gouges in mine! they are comfy though!
    For shoes I can’t find anything more comfortable than Five Ten impacts, of course this depends on the shape of your feet. They don’t do well in the wet though, You definitely need Goretex on your feet for wet weather riding.

  7. vincent

    well I have not much money ,I tried to build up a trek shift 1 ,I put 4 to 5 hundred bucks into it ,and well traded it in lost most money as well ,but I have a trek dual sport 8.1 ,I tried rigid forks wider tires on it but well that steel thing got me though .so I thought id try to just get a cromolly old mtb frame ,which I got an 1991 Giant Butte fram delivered for 107 buchs ,just ordered trek cro molly fork looks much like yours with braze ons for rack and fenders ,34 bucks ,so after reading your story I think ill just get the same parts for this build ,but I am in usa so I will have bike shop build it ,so I hope at last this will work

  8. Ethan

    Beautiful bike and thoughtful build! Thank you very much for sharing the detailed parts list and your thought process. I know that 26 in. wheels are more common around the world and are more compact for packing. That said, do you think 29 in. wheels, which offer smoother riding over obstacles, could work just as well, including for more remote areas? Or their lower availability and larger packing size will be a problem?

  9. Tommaso Savoia

    Hello thank you for your very accurate description of all the bike details. I have a question: I red that you use a BB UN55 68- 113 (“68mm shell, 113mm spindle and British thread for this frame and crankset combo”). But the Shimano M 361 crankset is indicated to need a 122,5 spindle, so did you mistake to write or there is something (more) that I don’t Know? Thank you very much Tommaso

  10. Stephen K. Seymour

    Very detailed guide and useful tips. Thank you so much for the post. I think with this guide I’ll soon prepare for my first tour. Your bike is very beautiful, I like it!

  11. Gabriel

    Looks really good.
    Just a nope for the “V-brakes” and standard derailleurs.
    Unless you want to stay only in nicely paved roads.

    • Tom Allen

      Decades of bicycle tourers using rim brakes and derailleurs on badly-paved roads can’t be wrong – can they?

      • Gabriel

        I can’t choose to have my testicles protected inside a thick bone like a skull but I can choose to have a speed system inside a Hub and brakes that don’t damage my rims.
        And if you do just a little bit of research you will understand.
        But unlike the body parts in the bike you have the choice.

  12. Scott

    Hi Tom,

    Great article! In fact the entire website has been a real help in the last few months.

    I’m currently in the process of building up a Surly LHT for a round the world bike tour and have been looking at crankset options. I see that the Shimano Deore cranksets are set up for the external bearing bottom brackets, such as the Hollowtech 2.

    Do you see any advantage of staying with the older internal square taper bottom brackets, such as the Shimano UN55 that is fitted on your custom build bike?



    • Robin

      Hey Scott, good luck with the tour! I started out with a very second hand square bracket (from a second hand bike in Australia that was apparently found in a ditch) when I did a 10,000 mile ride through Asia a few years ago. The square bracket died after a few thousand miles and was replaced by a hollowtech. But then that broke quite quickly too. I don’t know if the installation was duff, or what, but I’m not too keen on the hollowtech as a result. I’m going to be trying the square bracket again.

      And Tom, thanks for the enormous trove of information. I’m inspired to start building a new tourer. Cheers!

  13. Keith Wilson

    Hi tom, how’s the bike doing? Would be good to have an update review? I have been looking for a new bike to build for some time and have got the frame list down to , surly troll, thorn Sherpa and Oxford bike works. How does Richards frame set compare?

  14. AlexD

    Scrounge, scrounge some more and compromise,many a trip has failed or hasn’t even started because everything wasn’t just right. As nice as all this new gear is they didn’t make crap in the past. I recently picked up a 80’s vintage Maruishi TA 18, direct competition to the Trek620.
    What drew me to the bike was that it was ridden across Canada after its original purchase with no appreciable ware other than its owner discarded it for the next 30 years in his garage.
    Cost after new brake pads brake cables shifter cables, saddle, bar tape, tires and tubes, front and rear racks used, fenders water bottle cages and peddles, $400. And the scrounging continued until I found Axiom dry bags used once front and rear with two additional dry bags and a bunch of camping gear for $150. The guy bought them new for one ten day tour and never rode again.
    Now a tent a sleeping bag a camp stove and I’m gone.
    It took a while to find it all but the roads not going anywhere it’ll be there tomorrow or six months from now. All in I should come in under a G-note, and after 1000km this season the bike rides like a dream. Soooo looking forward to next year’s summer touring.

  15. Marty

    Hi Tom ,
    I see your running a 9 speed front deraileur on that bike but with everything else 8 speed . Hows that working out ? I ask as I need a new deraileur for an 8 speed tourer with a 42t outer ring and am having trouble finding one so I might get that 9 speed FD that your using .

    • Tom Allen

      From a mechanical point of view there’s no difference between so-called 8-speed and 9-speed front derailleurs – it’s just how they’re sold. So you’re good to go 🙂

  16. Gilbert

    Hi! Amazing article,I love it. I have built my own adventure bike more or less based on the same logic before I read this. I have used a Giant cyclocross CrMo frame, with Deore cranket and shifting, Schwable Marathon Plus 622×35 tires and the original Deore LX canti breaks of the frame. It rolls fantastic : pavement, gravel roads, forest trails…

  17. James Einloth

    Hi Tom,
    I am new to touring, but I’ve seized on a plan that I hope to carry out next summer: to ride the remote highways of northern Canada. It will be a radical departure from the car-choked suburbia I contend with every day, but that’s the idea. I read your guide “Understanding Touring Bikes” (great job on pictures and layout!) and am looking forward to assembling my own machine. While your emphasis on simplicity and durability sounds right for my adventure, my trip may differ from others in a couple respects. First, my trip will be extremely remote, so it is not a question of finding a bike shop with compatible spares – there will be no bike shop. I need to be entirely self-sufficient. On the other hand, my rides will be only a few weeks (< 3,000 km) duration. The roads are primarily "gravel" meaning dirt packed with small pebbles. But they are real roads suitable for normal passenger cars. I won't necessarily die if my bike breaks, but I may be in for a hell of a walk. Any additional thoughts you might have on bike design for such a trip would be most appreciated. In return I will share my wisdom on merino wool. As a mountain climber I prefer it to other base layers because when it's wet, it doesn't feel as wet. At least on my torso. My lower half doesn't seem to care.

  18. Karl

    Hi Tom,

    what a wonderful website you got here, loads of useful information for me as a beginner in long term touring. Thank you.
    I have one question. It seems to me you use quite a lot of spacers to rise your handlebar. Is that an issue? I always thought, the use of many spacers is a sign of a too small frame?

    • Joe

      His bike just have a longer steerer tube on the fork, so the handlebar can be set up higher. For touring, you need the handlebar at about the same level as your saddle as you need to be comfortable during many hours on the bike (if you check the Surly LHT, it also has a lot of spacers). More aggressive/racing bikes can afford to have a lower handlebar, and hence less spacers.

      Still, no matter what kind of bike, I always prefer to have a longer steerer tube and many spacers. There’s always time to cut it down if needed. If it’s too short, it’s already too late.

      • Karl

        Ah, yes, makes sense. I always thought frame manufactures use longer steering tubes and move them up slightly to make excessive spacer usage unnecessary. Plus, I really never understood why they moved towards 1 1/8 inch ahead-style stems. 1″ stems were so much more comfortable for height adjustments. Nobody can tell me 1/8 of an inch makes a considerable difference for a steel frame.

  19. Stephen

    Hey Tom,
    you got a Chris King headset but a un-55 bottom bracket? That’s odd. I would have expected another King or a skf bas-600.


  20. Medawk

    On the last photo your bike’s fork looks bent, like after a severe front impact. What happened?

  21. Yara

    Hi Tom!
    I was wondering, what spoke lengths did you use for both the front and rear wheels?

  22. Branko

    Lovely bike, very well thought out.

    I have something similar (Poison Morphin, somewhat customized from standard), while I don’t exactly take it out of reach of civilization just yet (family obligations and all that), a nicely setup expedition bike is also great for doing loaded shorter range tours in comfort.

  23. Simon

    Hi Tom,
    I just ordered a new mountain bike, my first new bike in 28 years, and have been wondering what to do with my old one. Its nothing exotic, a 1990 Raleigh Massif MTB. Over the last few years I’ve updated parts using my employer’s £100 per year ‘environmental travel subsidy’. I was amazed to stumble across your website and find my bike is incredibly similar to yours! The frame is a lot cheaper, but also a rigid steel frame, brazed & butted, 26″ wheels, same tyres, drivetrain, brakes, grips, etc. I fitted Shimano SLX shifters (3×9), but still have the old friction ones. I use the bike for commuting, but now I realise I should be touring round the world on it instead!
    Thanks for the inspiration, I’ll definitely keep it now, and sort out those brakes so they actually stop the bike.

  24. Brian Bassett

    All your suggestions and recommendations have been being regurgitated for a while now, perhaps decades. I started looking at assembling an expedition grade tour bike in 2015. I read everything I could find on the subject. I agree with everything on “your” list but didn’t want to stop there. You tout reliability as the primary factor in touring, and I agree that no one wants to break down. But technology and reliability have advanced to the point that not only front suspensions but also rear suspensions should be standard on the Ultimate Expedition Tour Bike (UETB). For years disc-brakes were shunned by riders and now without a doubt are far superior performing and more reliable. I chose a Rohloff Speed-hub for performance, durability, reliability, looks, it quiet and I think it even smells better. I know it’s easier to keep clean and serviceable. Was surprised you didn’t suggest one. Also a dynamo hub, almost necessary now with all the toys we take riding. I agree that racks are absolutely necessary but don’t want an add-on rack even if I get to glue the bolts on. I have never seen a bolt-on rack that I thought was adequate. The (UETB) should have an integrated rear rack that can take twice the weight you want to carry. The front rack should suspend the weight in the panniers so it doesn’t get rattled to pieces on a 70-mile washboard. As you can imagine this type of rack is rare, check the Faiv Hoogar. We do agree on headsets with Chris King but I suppose it more because I think it is still the best you can find. I went with 26″ X 2″ after riding in mud for a couple hundred miles. The old thought went that 26″ wheels were the most easily found anywhere you might be. That may still be true, but I chose 26″ because with full panniers they are way easier to turn and control in difficult riding conditions. Not much difference in rolling resistance with the extra 1/2″ width. A superior light and any bike carrying over 100 lbs. of gear needs a great stand. It becomes even more necessary when towing a trailer. So much more convenient than circling like a supertanker coming into dock. I admit that the level of touring that I aim for requires me to carry more spare parts than a 1970s tour bike would ever have to. I now took quite possibly the (Ultimate) expedition tour bike and mounted a 750W center-drive motor. My front left pannier carries full toolset, tires, tubes, pumps (tire, CO2, and shock), spare parts for brakes, shocks, front rack, motor parts and then I put Cuben fiber kilt and Dyneema poncho on top. That bag pretty much stays on the bike unless I am riding a fast single-track. You don’t drive a steam engine car now because technology moved on. Although it might be time to bring them back what with Li-ion battery tech. what it is. It’s also time to update what makes a tour bike and Ultimate Expedition Tour Bike.

    • Brian Bassett – Here’s some shots of my UETB.

    • Branko

      Agree on the dynohub and, price not being an issue, I’d probably go with a Rohloff. too (although mine is fitted with a 3×10 Deore/XT derailleur system). Dynohubs do have one downside, though; they’re not really field serviceable (short of Shimano’s dynohubs, which can be disassembled and reassembled, provided one is extremely careful not to break the soldered wire). Otherwise, if something goes wrong – you’re unlacing the wheel and shipping the hub away to the factory. I’d still go with one, but would either choose SON for their more or less bombproof construction and first-rate efficiency (just accepting that when it breaks – I’ll have to stay put and wait for a replacement), or top of the line Shimano ones for repairability.

      I’d add a frame mounted o-lock to the bike, too. It’s just super convenient when making stops in front of shops, cafes, etc. Very useful if your touring bike is also your daily riding bike at home, too.

      I would avoid any suspension on a touring bike, myself. Front and rear suspensions require regular servicing. I do know mountain bikers who don’t service their cheaper front shocks and just replace them every few years, but if you want to keep them working properly – servicing is a must. This is not something which you can really do yourself without special tools. Plus, they undeniably add weight. While a touring bike is possibly the heaviest type of well built bike, there’s no reason to add to it without necessity. Every kilogram you will end up hauling uphill.It’s rarely necessary, anyway – if you go a bit slower, macadame and dirt roads are not an issue on a rigid 26″ touring bike. You only want suspension descending steeper offroad bits, where you lack traction with a fully rigid bike; but that’s easily solved by, well, walking the bike over the worst bits.

      Personally, I’d also go with drop bars but that’s more of a comfort thing; I actually replaced the flat bars on my tourer with drop bars, using brake levers which incorporate modified bar-end shifters on top of the brake levers (manufactured by Gevenalle) which is a rather nifty solution and quite bombproof. Flat bars generated some hand pain for me on long rides. It you prefer a relatively low front end (I do), odds are drop bars will end up being more comfortable…. but again, that’s highly individual.


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