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

Last updated on February 16, 2022. Like all my most helpful and therefore popular posts, I regularly revise this one to reflect the most current thinking on the subject at hand – in this case, the design and building of expedition-grade touring bikes.

By far the most frequently-asked questions I get on this blog are about buying or building touring bikes. Many are from people planning epic cycling expeditions across continents or around the planet – or at least waiting until the time is right to do so.

The “round-the-world epic” is a particularly valuable and life-changing type of cycle tour that I encourage everyone to try once in their lives. This principle is one of the foundations of this blog, and what’s motivated me to keep it running for so long.

So a couple of years ago I decided to take all of my experience and knowledge on the subject and design and build the ultimate expedition touring bike for a round-the-world ride.

Now, when anyone asks me how to build an expedition touring bike for a multi-year cycling journey, I simply point them to this post and say: “Here’s one I made earlier – and here’s how it was designed and built!”

The bike pictured above is the end result of that process, which involved over a year of development in partnership with Richard Delacour of Oxford Bike Works in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

This first prototype has since evolved to become the baseline specification for Richard’s flagship hand-built expedition touring bike.

Since the original “Tom’s Expedition Bike” was created, Richard has sent dozens of intrepid riders off from his Oxfordshire workshop on customised, hand-built versions of this bike – and between them they’ve circled the planet not just once but several times over.

In this 10,000-word mega-article, I’ll describe the process of designing and building this bike in an insane level of detail.

So grab yourself a cup of tea and prepare for possibly the most in-depth look at building an expedition touring bike you’ll ever read…

Tom’s Expedition Bike: First Principles

For this idea to be relevant to as many people as possible, my task was not to design my ultimate expedition bike.

Instead, it was to find a precise balance of expedition touring bike design principles, distilling years of accumulated thinking on the engineering of round-the-world touring bikes into a standard baseline specification – one which could then be tweaked and built upon, rather than reinvented completely, to suit each individual rider.

Some of the details should always reflect personal preferences and riding styles – usually the choice of fitting parts like saddles, handlebars – and there are a few purely aesthetic decisions involved, such as frame colour, black or silver components, and the like. Luggage systems are also much more diverse than they used to be.

But behind that, there’s a surprising amount of consensus on good design principles for a bike built to take you round the planet.

And that’s because the only real test for a bike like this is time and miles.

Until the pandemic hit, my favourite story-in-progress was that of Adam Sultan, who had (by the time of the first global lockdown) crossed a continent and a half since 2016 and was somewhere in deepest Southeast Asia after several years on the road.

Richard often shares his customers’ adventures on the Oxford Bike Works Facebook page – and yet more stories from the saddle can be see on Instagram by searching for the #oxfordbikeworks hashtag.

Now a confession: this was actually the second time I’d built a bike for a round-the-world trip.

Way back in 2007, when I put together a bike for my own round-the-world attempt, I made a few mistakes.

Sure, I knew how to use the tools and put all the bits together. But coming from a mountain-biking background and with no touring experience, I didn’t understand the subtle needs of the long-distance travelling cyclist.

(This is something I’ve also found to be true of many sales assistants in high-street bike shops, which is why it’s best to hunt down a specialist).

Needless to say, the resulting bike turned into a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster.

The second time in 2015 was very different. 

Why? Well, I had almost a decade of adventure cycle touring and bikepacking experience to go on, with all the daily maintenance, tweaking, repairing and rebuilding that entails.

During that time, I’d also spent a year volunteering for a charity who upcycled donated bikes for people in need of transport, during which time I’m pretty sure I fixed pretty much every kind of bicycle-related mechanical problem imaginable.

Plus, during the 9 years I’d been running this blog at the time, I’d also become acquainted with hundreds of other world bicycle travellers who’d shared what worked and what hadn’t regarding bicycles for expedition-grade journeys.

Finally, while researching other posts for this blog, I’d pored over the design concepts and specifications of every world touring bike built by every specialist manufacturer I could find the world over.

In other words, I’d done my riding – and my research.

Despite many attempts by readers of this blog to come up with an awesome name, the resulting bike became known simply as “Tom’s Expedition Bike”.

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


6 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 that’s because from the perspective of world bicycle travel, these choices look very different.

A few months of cycle touring will eradicate any interest in shiny components and new-fangled technologies. As mentioned earlier, what matters in a world touring bike (and what doesn’t) is what’s proven by time and miles, not marketing and innovation. This is a sentiment I hear time and time again from countless bicycle travellers.

In my view, then, the priorities for a world touring bike boil down to six things:

  1. comfort during long days in the saddle in all conditions,
  2. strength overall and especially in the bike’s luggage-carrying capabilities,
  3. versatility in the bike’s ability to handle the majority of what the world is likely to throw at it,
  4. durability in the bike’s core structure and in the components that experience wear,
  5. compatibility in the parts that’ll inevitably need replacement over time and miles, and
  6. 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 six 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. There’s a time and a place to experiment with unproven technology, and cycling round the world is probably not it.

A Quick Note On The Superficial Boringness 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 and unremarkable.

That’s because such a bike has only one specialisation, and that is being a generalist.

If you’re used to 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 become visible once you’ve actually spent time travelling the world on a bicycle. Otherwise, you’ll probably 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 & Forks For Expedition Touring

As a starting point for the expedition bike, I chose the Oxford Bike Works expedition touring frameset in its V‑brake incarnation (there’s also a disc version).

After spending a day at Richard’s workshop near Steventon in Oxfordshire, we determined that the medium (19-inch) frame with 26 inch wheels would fit me best. For the colour, I chose a neutral shade of beige (the current stock colours are red, blue and khaki green; Richard does custom paint-jobs on demand).

This purpose-designed expedition touring frame reminded me of those reliable old-school steel mountain bikes I used to ride as a teenager, such as the Specialized Rockhopper used by Alastair Humphreys on the first part of his round-the-world ride, and earlier versions of my beloved Kona Explosif.

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

The Oxford Bike Works frameset is built from Reynolds 525 chrome-molybdenum (aka: cromo or cromoly) steel alloy tubing. There are lots of good tubesets out there, none better or worse than another in the hands of a good frame builder. Reynolds 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 reviewed 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 upright geometry and reassuring handling characteristics.

Did I consider other frames?

Of course! Ultimately I chose Oxford Bike Works because of the personal service and the customisation options, the fact that the workshop was UK-based and I could visit it in person, and because I wanted to support a small, independent, local bike builder.

More advice & retailers

  • Read more about frame material choice for touring bikes here
  • You can get the frameset direct from Oxford Bike Works if you ask nicely, though Richard’s primary business is complete, custom-built bikes.

Headsets For Expedition Touring Bikes

Frame and forks are wedded together by means of a headset. This is a stack of bearings, races and seals that is pressed into each end of the frame’s head tube to allow the fork to rotate within the frame and thus for steering to happen.

It’s the most permanent of all the components fitted to a frame, and while it’s possible to remove and replace a headset, it’s not the kind of thing you’ll want to be doing on the roadside – not least because it’s easy to permanently damage your frame without the right tools.

Cheap headsets with cheap bearings are fine for cheap bikes. But it’s false economy when building a bike for fully-loaded long-term touring. The punishment dished out to a headset’s bearings on an expedition makes short work of cheap headsets. Fully-loaded front panniers, poor road surfaces, and the sheer volume of miles and hours spent riding will all work together to place exorbitant demands upon the humble headset.

When considering most expedition bike components, we’ll be looking at parts which are not only simple and durable but also easily replaceable worldwide. But the headset is a legitimate exception in that you’ll want to fit it… and forget about it.


There was no question in my mind about which headset fitted the bill: a Chris King 1 1/8” NoThreadSet threadless headset.

Of all the high-end headsets available, the Chris King had 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 inventing the much-imitated ‘threadless’ headset design, 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 nearly 30 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.

Alternative candidate headsets included the Hope conventional 1 1/8‑inch headset, FSA Orbit MX and Cane Creek 40, all of which are modelled on the same design. Ultimately I chose the King based on its reputation for longevity.

When buying a headset, remember to get the correct size and type for your frame – for most steel frames like this one, 1 1/8‑inch is the norm.

Reviews, Installation Advice and Retailers for Headsets

Wheelsets For Expedition Cycle Touring

A wheel is not a single item but an assembly of individual parts. It’s the combination of those parts and the way they’re put together that results in a true expedition-grade wheelset (or not).

What you’ll need from your wheels, first and foremost, is the ability to take thousands of miles of gruelling, heavily-loaded, all-terrain riding in their stride. Your average machine-built wheel is not designed for this kind of abuse. An extremely strong wheel is particularly needed at the rear of the bike where the weight of rider and luggage are most concentrated and rotational forces from the drivetrain are at their greatest.

Compatibility is also important, and this is mainly about the serviceability of the hubs and the availability of tyres and innertubes where you’re planning to ride. Globally speaking, 26-inch tyres and tubes are more widely available, though this statement is somewhat simplistic. V‑brakes will eventually wear down the braking surface of a rim, necessitating replacement, but if you choose a durable rim in the first place and actively avoid the worst conditions (ie: combinations of abrasive dust or mud, wet, and very long downhills), you might well never live to see this day.

For the rims, I chose the Ryde Sputnik, primarily for its reputation as a seriously bomb-proof world touring rim. It’s available in 26-inch and 700C sizes, and with 32 or 36 spoke holed. (The same rim was previously known as the Rigida Sputnik – only the name has changed.)

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.

Strength being key, the extruded box-section rims are more rigid and less in need of truing than other designs. Double spoke eyelets will help distribute stress more evenly, and double sidewalls combined with a thick, durable alloy (and regular cleaning) will ensure braking surfaces will last as long as possible – plus, the wheel won’t collapse if the braking surface wears too thin. Wear line indicators will help with planning ahead for wheel rebuilds, should that ever be necessary.

I chose 36 spokes per wheel, which is accepted wisdom in long-term touring circles, as well as common sense. More spokes means greater strength, all else being equal – plus, if a spoke does break (it happens), it’s less detrimental to the wheel as a whole. (Thought experiment – imagine a 48-spoke tandem wheel next to a 28-spoke racing bike wheel. Which is stronger?)

The Schrader valve holes (that’s the larger of the two, used on practically every motor vehicle in the world) of the Sputnik will allow for tubes with either valve type, and on a world tour you never know when such options might be your saviour. In a pinch, you could always take a drill to the rim and enlarge the valve hole, but it’s better to start out with maximum compatibility options.

For hubs, the key is durability in the first place, followed by ease of maintenance worldwide. This points to hubs that use cup-and-cone ball bearings for maximum compatibility, bike-mechanic familiarity and ease of adjustment and replacement with basic tools and spares.

The same goes for the compatibility of parts in the case of the rear hub. Cassette-compatible freehubs are now the standard on all decent-quality bikes and spare cassettes are easily found. SRAM and Shimano cassettes tend to be interchangeable as long as they have the same number of sprockets, and Shimano freehub bodies can be mixed and matched between several different ranges and generations, making Shimano hubs a good bet.

Some will argue that high-end hubs with sealed cartridge bearings are also a valid choice for world touring. There is certainly something in this: they don’t just run maintenance-free for longer, but they’re also easier to service, changing the bearings being a simple job of slotting in the new cartridge bearings you’ll be carrying with you. However, you’ll also pay several hundred pounds extra for the privilege, and your wheels will eventually need overhauling or rebuilding for some other reason. When this happens, all you’ll need to service a standard Shimano hub is some standard grease, some standard 3/16” ball-bearings and some standard cone spanners. Cartridge bearings and other parts for high-end hubs are non-standard and thus hard to find, and if you suddenly need them in the middle of Africa, you’re in trouble.

Hubs can be susceptible to the infiltration of dirt and water over time, so hubs with good-quality seals are infinitely preferable to those without. Seals keep out road grime and moisture and ensure that your wheels run smoothly for longer through the extreme conditions you’re likely to encounter.

To tick these boxes, it was a toss-up between steel-axled Shimano LX HB-T670 (front) and FH-T670 (rear) hubs, as pictured below, and the similar but aluminium-axled XT hubs with additional weather sealing from rubber dust caps.

Unfortunately, according to feedback from Richard’s customers, the XT hubs seemed to exhibit reliability problems on long tours. LX hubs, then, are what I used and what you’ll still find on the current specification of the Oxford Bike Works Expedition. Regularly checked and serviced, there’s no reason they shouldn’t last a lifetime.

In the meantime, we await Shimano’s next generation of trekking hubs in the hope that they will feature both steel axles and rubber dust caps for double-defence sealing. (If you really wanted to, you could probably butcher one hub from each range and create your own.)

Remember that these hubs are designed for V‑brakes and don’t have disc rotor mounts. If you go with disc brakes, you’ll need disc-compatible hubs, of which the equivalents from the Shimano LX range are the HB-T675 and FH-T675.

(Even if you do start out with V‑brakes, you could always have your wheels built for future disc compatibility – some would argue that the slightly shorter spoke length also translates to a marginal increase in strength.)

When it came to spokes, the front wheel was laced with 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 – which is where the chain and cassette are located, the rotational forces at their greatest, and breakages most likely to occur – for extra strength.

Sapim spokes are commonly considered the best in the industry in terms of quality and strength. DT Swiss also have a very strong reputation.

If you don’t want to build your own wheels, you’ll quickly discover that it’s possible to buy factory-built wheelsets off the peg, but I strongly recommend ordering a pair of hand-built wheels from a reputable wheelbuilder who is used to building touring and expedition wheels, which gets you the advice of a specialist wheelbuilder into the bargain. Just ensure they give you 3–4 spares to take with you.

Though I’ve built wheels myself in the past, hand-built wheels are among the most critical parts of an expedition touring bike, so wheelbuilding is one thing I’d rather leave to an artisan. Ross Speirs built mine, though he’s since retired. Your local specialist touring bike shop will almost definitely help you here.

Reviews, Building & Installation Advice, and Retailers for Wheelsets

Tyres For A Round-The-World Cycling Expedition

Once upon a time there was one tyre to rule them all in the expedition touring scene: the Schwalbe Marathon XR. Hard-wearing, impervious to punctures and with enough tread to tackle pretty much anything, the XR was the default choice for anyone doing anything interesting on a touring bike. (I’ve still got a few pairs stockpiled in a basement somewhere.)

Now they’ve been discontinued, however, things aren’t quite so clear-cut when choosing tyres for expedition touring.

Other tyres from Schwalbe’s Marathon range are still top of the pile due to their proven longevity and world-class puncture resistance. The most robust models are rather heavy, and they aren’t particularly cheap, but they do incredibly well on long term tours, as thousands of riders have proved.

When you’re putting together an expedition bike, of course, you choose only the first set of tyres. Tyres are consumable – even the best ones wear out – and there are different tyres for different jobs. So the most appropriate tyres for crossing Europe on good roads this summer aren’t necessarily the same as the pair you’ll want for dirt tracks in Central Asia and Mongolia next year. A round-the-world will involve several pairs of tyres, and those chosen are likely to vary over the course of the journey.

Comfort being more important than speed, many long-haul riders will choose relatively wide (ie: high volume) tyres. A off-the-peg touring bike might be specified with 700×28C tyres (ie: 28mm-wide tyres for the 700C rim size), whereas a custom-built expedition bike might have 26×1.75” tyres (ie: 1.75 inch-wide tyres for the 26-inch rim size). Higher-volume tyres at lower pressures are more comfortable in the long run, as well as having better traction on rough road surfaces.

Don’t forget to factor in the tyre clearance offered by your frameset. A good expedition-specific frame should offer more space for fatter tyres than most regular touring frames.

For my build, I decided upon a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Plus 26x1.5″ tyres – fitted with the embossed air pressure figures mounted directly alongside the valve for easy readability while pumping. (It’s the little things.)

I know these tyres will happily cross a continent or two before they wear thin, probably having had fewer punctures than I’ll have crossed borders. They’re available in a range of sizes and diameters to fit all frames, wheels and rider preferences.

If I were hitting more than a few dirt roads from the word go, I’d probably go with the Plus Tour or Mondial and upsize to 1.75″ or 2.00″.

Retailers for Expedition Bike Tyres

Drivetrain Components For Expedition Cycle Touring

The term drivetrain refers to the sprockets, chains and other mechanisms that transfer rotational kinetic energy from your legs to the rear wheel.

First, though, let’s remind ourselves of some of the core principles of world touring – strengthdurability, compatibility and simplicity. Remembering these will help us wade through the ever-changing swamp of drivetrain technologies that the cycling industry has cultivated for us.

A Brief Rant On Product Diversification, Planned Obsolescence & Marketing Departments

So. Rather than make just one derailleur, one crankset, one bottom bracket, etc., Shimano and others make seemingly thousands of different versions of each part. Their marketing teams would have you believe that the newer, shinier and more expensive something is, the better it must be. This strategy makes Shimano et al a lot of money, and it could easily waste you a lot of money too.

There are indeed differences between ranges, but the truth is that they are utterly marginal. These margins are interesting to bike nerds and competitive cyclists but should be of no interest to you whatsoever. Lots of clever tricks are used save weight – but we’re talking grams here. We’re talking prices rocketing by hundreds of pounds to shave off fewer grams than the weight of your toolkit.

Remember: what you should care about is strength, durability and simplicity. These are qualities that mid-range Deore parts deliver better than high-end XTR parts because they haven’t been compromised in order to shave off a few more slivers of metal.

Bottom line: a drivetrain either works or it doesn’t. The bike either goes when you pedal or it doesn’t. That’s about how the bike as a whole has been built and maintained, not how much a derailleur costs or how shiny it is.

Shimano still have the longest reputation for making drivetrain products that are reliably fit for purpose at every price-point. If properly installed and maintained, a Shimano drivetrain from pretty much anywhere on the spectrum will work well for years or decades to come, with occasional replacement of basic wearing parts such as cables, chains, sprocket cassettes and jocky wheels. This is evidenced by any number of touring bikes still running on Shimano drivetrains from back when there really was only one derailleur to choose from, and so there’s very little reason to look elsewhere.

(When a double-blind experiment is conducted in which a hundred people are sent off to cycle round the world on 8‑speed Shimano Acera drivetrains, and another hundred on 12-speed Shimano XTR, and the latter group proven to have had a better time than the former, I will happily change my tune. Rant over.)

Gearing Recommendations For Expedition Touring Bikes

A bicycle for expedition touring needs a wide range of gear ratios. This doesn’t mean ‘lots of gears’ – it means, very specifically, a wide range of them.

You’ll use three or four gear combinations for 99% of your riding: a couple of cruising gears, a ‘tailwind’ gear, and one very low gear for climbing hills. And that one low gear needs to be really low.

But you’ll find the same three or four gear ratios on basic 21-speed bikes from twenty years ago as on expensive 36-speed bikes straight out of the factory today.

Mountain biking tends to require a broader range of gearing than road riding, due to the heavier bikes and more challenging terrain involved, so expedition bikes almost always incorporate mountain bike component ranges in their drivetrains. Look for triple chainsets with 22 or 24 teeth on the smallest sprocket, and cassettes with 32 or more teeth on the largest sprocket. A 26–36-48t chainset and an 11–32t cassette might be a typical combination; a 22–32-44t chainset and a 11–34t cassette, however, would give you more torque on the steeper climbs.

Compatibility in this field means Shimano, or at least Shimano-compatible, because their components still dominate from a worldwide perspective.


My expedition bike was fitted with a basic, durable Shimano Deore front derailleur and a matching long-cage rear derailleur.

Honestly, Alivio derailleurs would have been fine too, except that in their 2016 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 (especially while new gear cables are bedding in), and you’ll benefit from the quick and easy tuning available from a barrel adjuster.

Today’s Alivio rear derailleurs do indeed have barrel adjusters and I’d happily choose them over the Deore to save a little extra cash towards my trip.

When ordering a front derailleur, make sure it has the correct clamp size for your frame. The terms ‘top pull’ and ‘bottom pull’ refer to the direction from which the gear cable approaches the mechanism, so again, check your frame’s cable routing lugs to determine which type you need (‘dual pull’ derailleurs are compatible with both).

With rear derailleurs, check whether you’re ordering a ‘normal’ or ‘rapid rise’ model, which basically refers to whether the derailleur shifts up or down the gears when the cable is pulled. Normal-type derailleurs are the appropriate choice in 99% of scenarios.

Cage length also varies with rear derailleurs, with most lines coming in two or three types (short/medium/long). Long cages are slightly more vulnerable to being damaged by trail features while riding off-road, but they’re often necessary to maintain chain tension across a wide-range cassette (see above) – and how much hardcore mountain biking are you really likely to do? Check the stated ‘tooth capacity’ of a derailleur and make sure it’s equal to or greater than the number of teeth on the largest sprocket in the cassette. If it’s lower, you’ll need to upsize.

Further Reading & Retailer Links

Cassette & Chainset

Choose a sprocket cassette with a large lower sprocket – 32 teeth at the minimum, 34 or 36 if possible – in the knowledge that as soon as you take a fully-loaded expedition touring bike up any kind of gradient, you can never have a low enough bottom gear. Make sure your rear derailleur matches (see above).

Choose a chainset (the pedal cranks and the chainrings that attach to them) firstly to match the bottom bracket interface (see below). Look for individually replaceable chainrings, using standard Allen-key chainring bolts in a standard 4‑bolt pattern. Choosing such a chainset, rather than a permanently riveted model, means that chainrings can be replaced individually in the case of damage or uneven wear. Chainsets usually come in a variety of crank lengths from 165–175mm; which to choose is a function of your leg length and the frame size of your bike.

(By the way, doesn’t matter if you use a chainset described as 9‑speed with an 8‑speed chain and cassette system – there’s more compatibility here than manufacturers might have you believe.)

I chose a Shimano Acera HG41 11–34-tooth 8‑speed Megarange cassette, and 170mm Shimano FC-M361 cranks sporting 22–32-44T chainrings, plus a Connex-Wipperman 808 8‑speed chain. (Richard uses the KMC X8 99 chain on his current bikes.)

The crankset was chosen for the wide range of gear ratios it would offer, compatibility with square taper bottom brackets, 8‑speed chain compatibility (though chainrings rarely have cross-range compatibility issues in reality), the ability to replace individual chainrings using standard Allen key chainring bolts, unlike some other 8sp cranksets which feature riveted chainrings.

(You might notice in the photos that I also upgraded the middle chainring to a Middleburn Hardcoat 32t model, whose longevity was well known in touring lore. Sadly they’re no longer made…)

Further Reading & Retailer Links


There is one requirement of a shifter: to pull a gear cable in order to move a derailleur. Given that, it is amazing how many complicated ways the bicycle industry has come up with to do this.

For a round-the-world trip, we are interested in something that works, reliably, and with which there’s as little to go wrong as possible. By default, this means STI integrated shifters are out, as mechanical separation of shifting and braking will minimise complexity and prevent knock-on issues.

This all points to a gear-shifting mechanism that didn’t change for decades and didn’t need to: friction-based thumbshifters.

On road bikes of yore, you would usually find these bolted to the down-tube, having the rider reach down to change gear. When mountain bikes came to prominence, they moved to the handlebars, where they were operated by the thumbs – much more convenient, and resulting in the name thumbshifter. Sadly, it is now nearly impossible to find a set of brand new, good quality, friction-based thumbshifters, but what you can still find are old-school downtube and bar-end friction shifters.

Turns out that these can be repurposed these as thumbshifters using the mounts borrowed from a pair of cheaper SunRace 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.

In this way, I fitted a pair of classic 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.

The friction-operated left shifter would allow me to ‘trim’ my gears on the fly, finely adjusting the front derailleur with a precision beyond that offered by indexed systems. Trimming gears in this way is a habit that fast becomes second nature on the road.

If something did go wrong with the rear end of the drivetrain, I’d be able to switch the right (rear) shifter over to friction mode with a quarter-turn of a thumb screw, eliminating any compatibility issues that might come up when combining spare parts from different ages and manufacturers. I’d even be able to fit a cassette with the wrong number of sprockets and continue shifting happily away. No indexed shifter can offer this level of backup.

If you’re considering drop handlebars, of course there’s no need to hack the shifter mounts at all – just install them in the bar-ends as designed. Many popular touring bikes have just this setup, including the long-time favourite Kona Sutra.

After a long period of road-testing, Oxford Bike Works now fit the microSHIFT SL-N08 thumbshifters as standard, which are equivalent in functionality and – importantly – now proven reliable over time on tour.

Retailer Links

Bottom Bracket

The bottom bracket is the rotating axle and bearing assembly that sits at the intersection of the seat tube, the down tube and the chainstays, and to which the crank arms are attached. They come in a variety of styles, some being sealed cartridges units, and some featuring a number of pieces that come together when installed on the bike.

Many bottom bracket technologies have come and gone over the years. As ever, we are concerned with what will not change with the whims of fashion, which is tried and tested, and which will allow for the readiest worldwide access to spares. This points to the three-piece, square taper style still used on the vast majority of cheap and cheerful bicycles currently in production.

Quality modern square taper units are typically sealed cartridges, which don’t allow access to the bearings for servicing but are far easier to install and replace. Choosing one of these means that when the unit inevitably begins to rattle and loosen after a few continents, you can either install a like-for-like replacement using standard-issue tools, or build a replacement from the old fashioned loose-bearing bottom bracket parts you’re likely to find in the back-street repair shops of the world.

Of these mid-range cartridge models – Shimano’s classic BB-UN5x line has been going for decades. At the top end is expensive precision-engineered units, such as those from Phil Wood which have developed a cult following on a par with the Chris King headset and will cost as much as an entry-level touring bicycle. Units come in a variety of sizes for different bottom bracket shell and chainset combinations, so again, make sure you get the right version for your frame and chainset.

There is certainly a case for going down the fit-and-forget route, splashing more cash on a unit which will never wear out. On the other hand, a correctly installed bottom bracket is much easier to replace than a headset. They’re also not the kind of component that’ll suddenly and catastrophically fail. You’ll usually get plenty of warning if your bottom bracket bearings are on their way out.


We fitted the expedition bike with a Shimano BB-UN55 square taper bottom bracket cartridge.

The vast majority of (affordable, utilitarian) bicycles on the road today use the square taper system, which is why Shimano are still making them – although you won’t find them advertised as part of any modern groupset.

This particular model has an excellent reputation for longevity, which is why it still turns up on commercial expedition bikes like Surly’s Long Haul Trucker and Disc 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. On the other hand, it’ll be significantly more durable than a loose-bearing bottom bracket for the same reason.

When it does one day start to deteriorate – something that will happen over a period of time, giving you 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. You’ll find the size information on a sticker when you remove the old unit so you can match it with the correct replacement.

When buying a bottom bracket, you need to know that various shell sizes and thread types will be available to match your frame, and different spindle lengths available to allow correct clearance between the chainrings and the chainstays, as well as to achieve the correct chainline (as specified in your crankset and derailleur specifications).

For this build, a 68mm shell, 113mm spindle and British/ISO thread was the appropriate choice.

(If you’re confused by all this, the easiest thing to do is look at what’s specified on commercially-available complete bikes based on your frameset, and use the same parts.)

Further Reading & Retailer Links

Brake Choice For Expedition Touring Bikes

Braking systems vary in where the braking force is applied:

  • Rim brakes act upon the outer wheel rim,
  • Disc brakes act upon an inner metal rotor.

and in how that force is transmitted from the brake levers:

  • Cable brakes transmit force through a wire cable
  • Hydraulic brakes transmit force through fluid-filled hoses

Disc Brakes Vs Rim Brakes

The big plus points for rim brakes are simplicity and compatibility: they’re standard issue on cheap mass-produced bikes the world over, meaning you replacement brake shoes in pretty much any bike shop on Earth. The same goes for cables, levers, even a complete brake set if need be – it all helps keep you on the road.

Disc brakes’ biggest advantage for tourers is longevity and, secondarily, performance in challenging conditions. They won’t wear out the wheel rims, as rim brakes inevitably will in the (very) long run. All else being equal, disc brakes might afford a slight increase in stopping power more precise control over braking. But how often this would actually matter is very much dependent on your trip. On a dirt-road ride in the Andes or the Himalaya – maybe quite frequently. On a long road tour of years in length – not very often.

The performance benefits of disc brakes are often overstated. And remember that not all brake setups are equal – a well-adjusted rim brake will still outperform badly-calibrated disc brakes.

V‑Brakes vs Cantilever Brakes

On touring bikes with dropped handlebars, you will often see road-oriented cantilever brakes instead of mountain bike V‑brakes. They both act on the rim of the wheel, and use cables for actuation, but the mechanism is slightly different.

The key is matching the brake mechanism with the brake lever. Drop bar cantilever brake levers and calipers pull a shorter length of cable when used, and V‑brake brake levers and calipers pull a longer length of cable. Both systems, if properly set up, will function equally well – there’s no inherent braking advantage or disadvantage to either – just remember that they aren’t cross-compatible out of the box.

For the expedition bike we went with a V‑brake setup, fitting black Shimano Deore BR-610 calipers and silver Shimano Alivio T4000 levers. (Deore BL-T610 levers would also have done the job, as they’re practically identical.)

Cables and brake shoes are standard Shimano all round; the shoes feature replaceable inserts, and once I run out of those I can fit any standard V‑brake shoe I can get my hands on.

The rims will eventually start to wear through from all that braking – but not until after literally tens of thousands of kilometres of riding. I’ll prolong their life by regularly cleaning the rims, especially after rain and muddy conditions and in mountainous terrain; I’ll changing the brake shoes well before they wear out completely; and I’ll keep an eye on the rim braking surface’s wear indicators (see above), planning well ahead for a wheel rebuild.

Had I gone for disc brakes (since 2019, Oxford Bike Works have offered a disc-specific frameset and build), I would have chosen one of the few models of cable-actuated (aka: mechanical) disc brake that have actually proven themselves on long distance tours: the Avid BB7, Hayes MX or CX, or TRP Spyre. You’ll find these specified on plenty of commercial high-end touring bikes.

The Avid and Hayes models are comparable in price and functionality and come in both road and MTB lever compatible versions. The TRP model is slightly more expensive and only compatible with road levers, but sports dual-sided actuation, theoretically reducing the risk of rubbing and providing more fine-grained braking control.

Ensure you choose disc calipers to match your brake levers – road and MTB parts don’t mix here. Caliper mount type and rotor size are functions of frame and fork design, so check the frameset manufacturer’s recommendations. Don’t forget that disc brakes also call for disc-specific hubs and special attention to rack and lowrider compatibility, especially at the front.

Further Reading & Retailer Links

  • Read more about the rim brake vs disc brake ‘argument’ here
  • Order Shimano Deore BR-T610 V‑brake calipers* and BL-T610 levers* from Chain Reaction Cycles
  • Order Avid BB7 disc brakes for road* or MTB* levers from Chain Reaction Cycles
  • Order TRP Spyre road disc brake calipers* and rotors* from Chain Reaction Cycles


Cockpit Design For Expedition Cycle Touring

So-called ‘cockpit’ components are the parts of the bicycle that interface with your body: the saddle, the handlebars, the grips, and the pedals.

Needless to say, you’re going to get to know these parts rather intimately over the course of your journey, so you want to get them right before you hit the road.


There are some saddles you simply tolerate. With others – just as with your favourite pair of shoes – you enter into a kind of symbiotic relationship. The Brooks B17 is one such saddle and has been a touring favourite for many decades. For most people (about 80%, according to one bike builder I know), the saddle question ends here.

A minority of people, however, discover they do not get on with the leather Brooks, whether for physical or ideological reasons. If that’s you, there’s no remedy other than to try as many alternatives as you can until you find one that feels right. Padded shorts may help, as may gel saddles or covers, but there are no shortcuts around trial and error. Alternative saddles often suggested include those from Specialized’s Body Geometry range, and those from Terry Saddles, both of which include women’s specific models.

When fitting a saddle, consider a micro-adjustable seatpost to allow fine-tuning of the saddle tilt angle, which is an often overlooked factor in saddle comfort.


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 fits my anatomy more perfectly than any other saddle on Earth – because my anatomy created its shape in the first place.

Until some bugger stole mine, at least.

Retailer Links

Handlebars & Stem

When choosing handlebars and a stem, you’ll be concerned with achieving a comfortable riding position, rather than worrying about what kind of aluminium the handlebars are made from, or how aerodynamic you’re going to be on the downhills.

Getting the combination right is more art than science. The best recipe combines intuition on the part of the person building the bike, self-knowledge on the part of the person riding the bike (who may the same person), and a lot of trial and error. This is why spending time trying out lots of options at a local bike shop comes so highly recommended, and why many bike shops offer like-for-like replacements of cockpit components at no extra charge.

Newcomers to cycling often gravitate towards flat bars or riser bars, which offer a more upright riding position; less efficient but more comfortable. Almost all touring bikes of continental European origin are set up in this way. Flat and riser bars put the hands and arms in a more natural position for most riders, and longer bars offer more leverage over heavy front panniers or handlebar bags. Some people like butterfly bars for the variety of handlebar positions on offer, though others dislike their lack of rigidity and find bar-ends offer the same benefits without the compromises.

Drop bars are a common feature of road-oriented British and American touring bikes. Unless you are coming from a road-riding background and/or are used to the feel of drops, they are unlikely to be most comfortable choice for long-term world touring. Even if you’re a roadie, it may be worth at least trying out a more relaxed flat/riser bar option.

Achieving a comfortable, relatively upright riding position that’ll make long days of leisurely riding more pleasant is often helped by adding appropriately angled stem and steerer tube spacers.


After several hours of trial and error, my bike was fitted with a 610mm flat bar and an 85mm stem with a 15-degree rise.

After a few weeks of test-riding, I changed the flat bars for risers.

(Did I mention a substantial test riding period is recommended 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.

Now, when Richard consults with a new customer, he has them try out many different options. There’s more variation in this part of the custom build than in any other department – an Expedition might go out the door with flats, risers, drops, butterfly bars, or something else altogether.

Grips & Bar-Ends

What matters most when choosing grips (or grip tape for drop bars) for expedition touring is – again – durability and comfort, but also consider ease of installation and removal. Gear shifters and brake levers sometimes need to be removed during maintenance and repairs, and lock-on grips really help in this situation.

You should expect grips to wear out over time. Cheap grips and those made of softer rubber might feel more comfortable to start with but usually wear out faster. Prolong the life of your grips by wearing riding mitts or gloves.

On drop bars, good cork or leather grip tape should last for many thousands of miles – make sure you install it correctly. (On my road tourer I’ve got on very well with Fat Wrap bar tape from Tasis Bikes.)

As mentioned above, many people add bar-ends for a variety of hand positions during long days of riding, for efficiency on long climbs, and to make your bike look super retro.


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.

Richard added a pair of his own low-profile rubberised anatomical bar ends, which plugged into the ends of the handlebars. I’ve since found this low-profile combination suits me perfectly – the only minor issue is that I don’t have anywhere to put my mirror!

(The current specification of the Expedition includes the Ergon GP5 combination grips and bar-ends, which have proven the most popular choice among Richard’s customers so far.)

Retailer Links


Pedal choice is firstly about footwear – mainly, whether or not you intend to wear SPD shoes. If you do, then you’ll probably be bringing SPD/clipless pedals over from another bike. If you’d prefer to wear ‘normal’ footwear (or you have no idea what SPD means), you’ll probably be looking at flat pedals.

After that, it’s all about durability. Cheap pedals are found even on high-end bikes, because you can’t sell a bike without them, but these stock pedals will disintegrate fast on an expedition. Pedals rotate on their axles thanks to lots of tiny ball bearings, and cheap, badly-sealed (or unsealed) bearings won’t take kindly to the sheer volume of daily pedalling to which they’ll be subjected.

You could bring a service kit and several sets of new bearings, but buying good quality flat pedals in the first place is a better choice for minimising maintenance. Even so, expect pedals to need servicing on your way round the world. Thankfully, 15mm is the worldwide standard thread for pedals, so finding compatible tools and parts is unlikely to be an issue. (Just make sure you install them with a dab of grease so they don’t fuse to your cranks!)

There are few SPD/clipless pedals that can boast the proven longevity of the Shimano Deore PD-M324, which features an SPD clip on one side and a flat platform on the other, making for a very versatile expedition pedal if you do intend to wear SPD shoes.

DMR’s much-imitated classic V8 pedals – originally a favourite among BMX riders wearing big flat skate shoes – are another good bet for expedition touring if you want lots of grip and surface area for use with chunky hiking shoes (or flip-flops). The V12 model has sealed cartridge bearings and, while more expensive, will prove more durable in the really long haul.

I went with the Shimano Deore PD-M324 combination pedals for this build. I usually prefer to wear light, versatile hiking shoes for cycle touring, for comfort and because I know my feet are strong enough to pedal in them – but I also have a nice old pair of SPD boots and I’d like to be able to use them.

Retailer Links

Carrier Racks & Lowriders For Expedition Cycle Touring

Racks and lowriders bolt onto the forks at the front and the frame at the rear of the bike, and allow you to sling panniers off the sides, and in the case of racks strap pretty much anything on top of them too. (Usually this is a tent, but I’ve seen acoustic guitars, cooking pots, wooden crates containing small dogs, scuba diving equipment, and all manner of other accessories lashed to the rear racks of bikes.)

There’s nothing glamorous about these parts, but they’re pretty critical. If the tubing snaps at a stress point, a weld fails, or a bolt shears off, your worldly possessions are going to be bouncing around without support. The likelihood of such a breakage increases with time and miles, with additional weight, and with the roughness of road surfaces.

Cheap racks are fine for short tours, but it should be obvious why for a heavily-loaded expedition bike you should choose models that are as strong and durable as possible.

The main brand you’ll hear about is Tubus from Germany, who manufacture a range of tubular steel rear racks and lowriders. Under normal expedition use, the chances of them breaking are practically zero, except in an unlucky accident – when the steel construction will make it possible to get them temporarily repaired by welders the world over. Their model range is compatible with many frames and panniers, with adaptor kits for lots of unusual configurations, and they’re extremely simple. That’s why you’ll see see thousands of tourers on the roads of the world using the classic combination of the Cargo rear rack and Tara lowrider.

Other reputable rack manufacturers include Blackburn, Surly and Old Man Mountain; Thorn specify their own-brand racks on their expedition bikes; and Tout Terrain even incorporate a permanent rear rack into their framesets  – but Tubus still top the longevity podium.


For my 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).

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.

Also popular is the Tubus Logo, which is designed for bikes with shorter wheelbases (eg: gravel bikes or old-school mountain bikes) where additional heel clearance is needed. I previously fitted one to my Kona Explosif for that exact reason.


For the front rack (or, to be 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 most frames and panniers and almost definitely will not break.

Retailer Links

  • Order the Tubus Cargo and Tara online from Spa Cycles

Tom’s Expedition Bike: The Final Specification & Parts List

And there we have it. For convenience, here is the complete specification of the original bike build described above and illustrated in the photos:

Frame:Oxford Bike Works cromoly touring/expedition frame (Reynolds 525), 19″ frame size, 26″ wheel size, rim brake compatible
Forks:Oxford Bike Works cromoly touring forks, rim brake compatible
Colour:Desert Sand (custom colour)
Headset:Chris King NoThreadSet 1 1/8”, black
Rear Derailleur:Shimano Deore RD-M591, top normal, long cage, black
Front Derailleur:Shimano Deore FD-M590, low clamp, dual pull, black
Cassette:Shimano CS-HG41-8ao, 11–34T, 8‑speed
Shifter Levers:Shimano Ultegra SL-BS64 bar end, friction front, 8sp indexed/friction rear
Shifter Mounts:from SunRace M96 thumbshifters
Chainset:Shimano FC-M361, 170mm, 22–32-44T
Middle Chainring:Middleburn Hardcoat 32T (CR-104–90-32)
Bottom Bracket:Shimano UN55, 68mm, British thread
Chain:Wippermann Connex 808s 8‑speed with connector link
Rims:Ryde Sputnik 26” (559), 36H, silver, Schrader valve
Front Hub:Shimano Deore XT HB-T780‑S, 36H, silver
Rear Freehub:Shimano Deore XT FH-T780‑S, 36H, silver
Spokes:Sapim Race double butted (front, rear non-driveside), Sapim Strong PG (rear driveside)
Rim Tape:Velox 19mm cloth
Skewers:Allen/hex key (non-QR)
Tyres:Schwalbe Marathon Plus 26x1.75” with SmartGuard
Innertubes:Schwalbe AV13, 26”, Schrader valve
Brake Levers:Shimano Alivio BL-T4000, silver, pair (mmm… BLT)
Brake Calipers:Shimano Deore BR-T610‑L, black
Brake Shoes:Shimano S70C with cartridge shoe inserts (re-order code Y‑8A2 98030)
Pedals:Shimano PD-M324, combination SPD/flat
Saddle:Brooks B17 Champion Special
Handlebars:Deda 610mm flat bars
Grips:Ergon GP1 BioKork lock-on, standard diameter, large size
Bar-Ends:Oxford Bike Works rubberised anatomical bar-ends
Rear Carrier Rack:Tubus Cargo (Classic) 26″
Front Lowrider:Tubus Tara
Mudguards:Axiom Rainrunner LX Reflex, 26″, to fit 1.5–2.2″ tyres, with rubber mudflaps
Extras:Marine-grade stainless steel bolt replacements, full-length outer cables, steerer tube spacers, Pletscher centre kickstand, System EX steerer-tube bell, custom frame decals

(To see the updated specification of the Oxford Bike Works Expedition, which is based on this design, check out the Oxford Bike Works website.)

How To Actually Build Your Own Expedition Touring Bike

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 built many bikes 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.

Pro Tips For Budding Expedition 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-built for you if you like the idea of a personalised specification but lack the experience to put it together yourself.

Go Ride!

I hope that this article has comprehensively covered the process of designing and building a touring bike for a round-the-world cycling 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.

Don’t get hung up on the cost of such a bike, 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 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!

I’d love to hear about your own experiences and the bikes you end up building, so feel free to post your story in the comments below.

And if you’re interested in taking a bike like this one on a massive cycling adventure, you could do a lot worse than dropping Oxford Bike Works a line to discuss your plans and book a consultation – as many happy riders have done over the last five years – with no obligation whatsoever.

79 replies on “How To Build The Ultimate Round-The-World Expedition Touring Bike (With Pictures)”

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!

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!

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)

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…

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.

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.

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

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?

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

Just had the same issue. Installed bottom bracket to find the lowest chainring on the chainwheel is too close to the frame. I think the bottom bracket is too short. WIll be starting again

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

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.

Hello Tom, i dont understund the compatibility if the “microshift sl-n08” because evrybody says me that IS just for Nexus/alfine internal gesr if Shimano. Can u use It for a 8speed normal transmitió like your bike? It works the same for back and front derailleur?
Shoud i use a Shimano ultegra 6480? Or i can use the microshift?
Thankyou so much, Sory my english

Best to contact Microshift directly in case they’ve changed the design. Until last year it was definitely derailleur compatible.

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?



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!

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?

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.

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 .

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 🙂

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 622x35 tires and the original Deore LX canti breaks of the frame. It rolls fantastic : pavement, gravel roads, forest trails…

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.


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.

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 (3x9), 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.

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.

Agree on the dynohub and, price not being an issue, I’d probably go with a Rohloff. too (although mine is fitted with a 3x10 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.

All traditional old-school thinking, some good, some less good. A leather Brooks saddle is not the best choice for long-distance touring anymore (my opinion). I also didn’t want to ride for long periods of time without simple common amenities and being able to stay clean (me, my clothes, and the bike) while riding. 

Full suspension mid-drive ebike and trailer evolution

I have an inexpensive Decathlon bike purchased 4 years ago — a Rockrider 300, still in excellent condition. It looks like a Thorn Sherpa or one of your OxfordBW jobs, but costing about 10% of the price, and it’s black… 🙂 

Framewise & wheelwise it ticks the tour boxes — bombproof steel frame,
26″ wheels, and, it’s pretty comfortable. The frame welding is surprisingly
neat. However, most (all?) of the components I wouldn’t trust on anything more
than local riding close to home, which is all it does. The cassette wobbles and the BB makes occasional ticking sounds. All this with < 1000 miles.

The idea is to disassemble it down to the bare frame and have me or my LBS rebuild it using top quality gear: Groupset, wheels, brakes, headset — the works. My question is, pricewise, would that be practical, or, would it be similar money to just buy a new Thorn/OxfordBW/Surly?


If cost is your main concern, I think this is unlikely to make sense. The rationale for building your own is usually for the huge customisation potential, for getting to know your bike extremely intimately, or simply for the enjoyment of it. But buying all of the individual components at consumer prices usually works out more expensive. Bike manufacturers, on the other hand, get trade discounts on parts and this tends to bring the overall cost of the bike down, even with the extra labour and logistics involved.

As for the Rockrider 300, you can expect the quality of the frame to match that of the components! 🙂 this just might not become apparent for a while…

Hi! Great resource Tom thanks! Building a tourer at the moment. For the shifters, am I right in thinking all I need are a set of microSHIFT SL-N08 thumbshifters? And if I wanted your set up of switching between friction and indexing on the rear, what else would I need? Thanks again!!!

Hi Tom,

Your blog has such an abundance of information and encouragement, thank you! 

I have a steel framed hybrid bike that I am hoping to convert for some touring, initially around europe and potentially further. I wanted to ask your opinion on touring racks that are designed to fit onto the quick release skewer. Reputable brands like blackburn offer the outpost front world touring rack.

For the rear I was looking at the Axiom streamliner disc dlx, which I have seen a lot of positive reviews for, admittedly not for touring though.

As you might have guessed I dont have an abundance of eyelets. One set on the rear and none on the front for a rack.

If you could spare a minute I would really appreciate your feedback. 

Many thanks,


Hi Tom, and thanks for your article!
Chain wear has become my obsession: I made several tours in Spain, France, India, Tajikistan, Morocco during the last 7 years, with my 700c 3×9 speed bike (44 32 22, and 11 34 Deore XT cassette that now I’ll swap with a more reliable and maybe stronger Alivio CS 400 HG 12 36). I use a KMC 9 speed for e bikes (wrong choice the “E” model for a no E bike?), that lasted less than 2500 km, even by lubricating it every 150 km, and dry cleaning it (with toilet paper…) every 500 km, with new cassette and small and mid chainrings. Now, my question is: while on very long tours around the word, and knowing that in developing countries is very difficult to find good quality spare parts, how did you manage your chain/cassette wear? For example, by swapping 2 Wippermann Connex 9SX (or SP) chains every 1000 km, how many km is possible to do before chain and cassette replacement? For a long tour will you carry with you additional spare cassette and chains, other than the two ones I would use to swap? By the way, reading your article, my first step for long tours will be to try these Wippermann Connex chains. Will they last more than my KMC? Thanks in advance for your reply.

Hi Rob. My personal experience with this extends to fitting a Tubus Logo rear rack to my Kona Explosif. It didn’t have seatstay braze-ons and my disc brake calipers interfered with the dropout eyelets, so I used both the skewer and seatstay clamp adapter kits from Tubus to make it work. This setup lasted a very long time with no issues whatsoever, and of course Tubus’ reputation is second to none. As for the front, I don’t have any personal experience here, but for touring in Europe you might well manage with rear rack and handlebar luggage anyway. Hope that helps!

Hi Tom,

Thanks for getting back to me. Very helpful, I’ll move ahead with this setup I think!

All the best 🙂

Just an aside note. The expedition bike could be considered to be the bicycle equivalent of the Toyota Land Cruiser, or perhaps the Land Rover Defender, when in stock form. In custom form, I’d liken them more like a Unimog, or perhaps a good mule.
Something else that doesn’t get mentioned about bicycle touring is that when touring in a group, that one rider can become the designated “mule” of the group to carry extra stuff beyond their own to help riders who may be struggling. This sometimes also means they carry spare parts. This places more emphasis on having an expedition style bike. A secondary, and social, advantage is that generally the mule will wind up riding slower than others in a group, and hence can keep the person who is struggling company. I’ve been on rides where the leaders of the group often leave those struggling behind to fend for themselves, which usually means that the stragglers won’t want to continue with the pastime. If one takes on the responsibility to lead a tour, they should be caring for the others of their pack, just as wolves do. In a wolf pack, the alpha male usually travels behind the rest of the pack to make sure it doesn’t become scattered, and to protect the weak and old from any dangers coming from behind. This is the perfect position for an expedition touring bike on a group tour. Any thoughts on touring etiquette?

I’m on my second traveling bike build, The first was built area dawes reddle which I rebuilt with xt parts and had a nice bob yak and a rack as I had suspension forks on it.. That was sold to fund another trip..
Now onto a new build based on a CUBE attention frame set.. xt again and botranger wheels.. surly Front forks (suspension turned out a bad idea last time) which have been added braze ons for front rack.. (surly again) and a blackburn rear rack. A 9 speed gear along with BB7 brakes to provide good service (same as I used on the DAWES). As I’m based in the UK my bike will be used for camping trips with on and offroad sections to make the journey Fun.…. well see how this one works out 🙂 aluminium frame again 🙂

I’ve just bought some shimano bar end shifters and thumb brackets to fit them on to the bars as the set up above. Anyone know of any videos/instructions on how to fit them?

There are a few things I would disagree. Biggest one would be you are choosing 8 speed. I toured around the world 8 times. And I know you would definitely have problems around Himalayas and Karakoram. Not just with speed issues.

Thanks for your comment, Fatih. Would you care to let us know what problems you think an 8‑speed drivetrain would create? I only ask because dozens of people have now cycled round the world on bikes built to this specification, and I haven’t yet had any such feedback. So it would be useful to know the reasons for citing it as a potential issue. Cheers!

Hi Tom, really good recommendations and timeless guide. I just wonder why not front dynamo hub and lights? Probably intention is to only ride with daylight but you never know. And even if not for lightning, there are options for also charging via USB. Thanks.

Hi Karen! Being on the road in the dark is the single best way to put yourself at serious risk when you’re travelling, so most tourers avoid it like the plague. For the unavoidable occasions when you have to, however, it’s much simpler and cheaper to put a couple of battery powered LED lights on your bike. USB power on the go is useful if you’re navigating with a smartphone, but not everyone does that. For both of those reasons I would not consider a dynamo hub an essential piece of equipment. A popular upgrade for many, for sure, but not essential. Hope that makes sense!

Hi Tom,
Love the tutorial and the build! I am wondering about transport of your rig and gear. While I understand that you live in England and so Europe is a simple Chunnel ride away most of us do not have that luxury. We have to pack our bikes and gear up and check it on the airplane to get to where the fun and adventure is. For this reason I am wondering if you have ever considered folding or pack able bikes such as Montague, Dahon, Fuji Marlboro, old Montague biFrame, Richie Breakaway, or S&S bikes? There are many examples of people using and loving these bikes on long adventures like yours. I am an avid lover of Montague bikes because they are full size, infinitely configurable with all the standard world wide parts you mention in this article. You can find the old hummer version for a reasonable price online all the time. I know that they are hard to come by in England as they are highly desired. I own three of these bikes. Two I have configured as trail mountain bikes and can swap the tires from slicks for paved paths and knobbies for some pretty hardcore single track. The third is my road bike with 700c wheels, carbon drop bars, carbon road fork, carbon seat post, and SRAM 2×10 drive train. Contrary to what most people think these bikes are as stable as any hard tail on the market. They are aluminum frames which when stripped down to bare frame, only weigh around 8lbs. If you go to the Montague website there is a posting of a Russian guy that did a bike packing Eastern Russia on the Paratrooper Pro. I bring this one up because it also incorporated a pack able kayak. Way COOL! I have also considered the S&S coupler route because you can take a bike such as yours and add the couplers which then allow the bike to come apart and fit in a 26x26x10 travel case which by the way is 62 inches and can be checked as a normal bag as long as it doesn’t weigh more the 50lbs. My last trip with my Hummer the bag with bike and everything in it was 43lbs. Granted all of these options require disassembly and reassembly but last time I checked a bike on a major airline was $175.00 one way. I know I spent a lot of time on the Montague bike and I do not work for them. This is just the bike I have a lot of experience with and plan to do a lot more traveling with. So I was hoping you could share some of your best travel tips for shipping and transporting your bikes to all the wonderful places you go.

You are a KISS fan:

8sp friction with a triple is such a wonderfully flexible combo and an incredible value.
Schrader drilled 26in rims.
Square taper BB unless dealing with folding/break apart bikes.
Mmm rim breaks. I might switch to external locking disc rotors on my next folding bike just because the BB tool and the locking tool are the same.

Take a look at the Sun Race 12–34 cassette vs Shimino 11–34. I find the ratios are just better.

I have a high end touring bike now but considering touring more remote areas (India) where it will not be possible to buy an 11 speed chain and I’ve been pondering what components I should have. 

Great article. Loved all the detail. Thanks.

Hi Tom,

I’m obsessed of chain wear: I used 9 speeds KMC chains (for E bikes!), but now, after a disappointed chain wear of about 2000 km (though lubing them every 180/200 km with the Finish Line Wet Conditions) I want to try 2 Wippermann Connex 9SX chains to be swapped every 1000 km as two guys use to do on this blog:

So what is your experience with the Connex chains so far?

Great write-up! I read your book back in 2016, and on your advice I built my touring wheels with Shimano LX hubs. But I went with an old pair from around 1990. Back then Shimano LX had rubber dust caps (I don’t know when they stopped including them, and I sure as hell don’t know why). You can find unused hubs from this era on EBay. I got mine for $60.

Those older hubs are 8 speed, but I agree with you that this is the way to go. Aside from simplicity, they are easier to clean, and most importantly an 8 speed drivetrain does not wear out as fast – particularly the chain. 

A note on gearing – I am very sensitive to Q‑factor (the distance between pedals) so I cannot use a triple crank. Hence I don’t achieve the low gear ratios that you do. But I’ve found that I don’t mind. If I cannot make it up a long steep hill, I just get off and walk. After hours on the bike it’s good to get off and stretch, and not much time is lost. Of course a reasonably low gear ratio is sensible, but you don’t need gearing low enough to pedal up every hill that comes your way.

Great article and I love you commentary on the tiny incremental weight savings at the sacrifice to longevity. I am leaning more towards the thorn nomad MK3 but the oxford looks like a great bike also.

A Different Approach
First, Tom, let me congratulate you on your excellent website.
I’ve been cycling since childhood and still enjoy it as much as ever. I am somewhat dismayed by the commercial hijacking of what was once very affordable. With thoughts of competing in time trials in my late teens, I built a suitable bike with what I could afford, based around a new Claud Butler track frame. That item cost £10–10-6d in 1968 and whatever price index increases you apply, the costs of bicycle components have grown disproportionately.
At 69, I now indulge in very gentle touring and prefer to set up camp in a suitable location and explore from there. The last time was in Brittany, although a previous trip to France took me down a fair bit of the Loire Valley.
My bike is a Dahon Vitesse, yes, a folding bicycle, which I would find very hard to part with. Yes, there are disadvantages, but equally, it can be a great travelling companion when using trains, etc. Its strength was demonstrated when I hit a verge when freewheeling downhill (trying to get a fly out of my sunglasses!). I went end over end, landing on my back and breaking a chunk out of the back of my helmet. The bike was undamaged, apart from the front (singlewall rim) running slightly out of true!
It has become something of a “Trigger’s Broom” over the ten years I have owned it and some may find the modifications interesting.
The first thing to go was the over-large (52t) front chainring. Through a couple of iterations I am now using an unbranded, but perfectly serviceable, 165mm crankset with a 34t stainless chainring.
In a moment of weakness, I swapped the wheels for a set of stronger, double-wall, 36 spoke wheels, with the enhanced option of using a rear cassette with more than 7 speeds. It’s currently got an 11–32 cassette in combination with a Shimano Alivio rear mech. The original rear mech would only accommodate 28 teeth and the upgraded version is a silly price for what you get. It was easier to change the hanger. A couple in France questioned my lack of high gearing. I like freewheeling. Some searching has equipped me with a friction thumbshifter. The cage’s proximity to the ground was only ever a problem on a rack on an Irish train. My fault — I should have folded it instead of being lazy.
I have also swapped the original bottom bracket for a sealed bearing Shimano clone. Finally, transmission-wise, the original folding pedals were both poor and flimsy and I now use a pair of Wellgo alloy platforms, with Jtek pedal extenders. I’m a fair-weather and minimalist sort, so sandals are my preferred choice for cycling and walking.
I have also opted for Schwalbe Kojacks and have had no punctures since. There is no danger of getting grit lodged in the tread.
Cockpit-wise, the Handlebars have been through several iterations, including wobbly butterflies and slightly shortened bullhorns. I’m now back to straight bars with Velo Ergogel Lock grips. This is partly for ease of folding, although I find the straights as comfortable as any others I’ve tried. Another folder advantage is that you can easily raise the bars for a while to take some load off the wrists.
The saddle is a matter of increasing concern with the passing years. Until recently I used a Selle SMP TRK, which was pretty good. I was on the verge of going for a B17 but instead opted for a Spongy Wonder noseless device. Rather weird, but no complaints so far.
I’ve never liked the feel of vee brakes, although their logical engineering appeals. I now use Tektro CR720 cantilevers with suitable levers. The pedal extenders have the secondary advantage of keeping heels clear of the long brake arms.
I had front and rear racks, but have recently removed them and disposed of my panniers and in keeping with my minimalist ways I plan to use bikepacking luggage for future trips.
The whole accent has been on suitability and reliability. Folders are not from another world, There is a lot of interchangeability.

Thanks for flagging that post up, Gillian! Yes, Tern/Biologic belongs to Joshua Hon, son of the Dahon founder. I had the pleasure of visiting their factory and office in Taiwan a few years back. A very forward-thinking company who make some very well thought out folding bikes!

Hi Tom.
First let me congratulate you on the article for being very complete and detailed for anyone who is starting to ride a bike and starting touring, which is my case. I just wanted to know if you would see any advantage and disadvantage in using a 9‑speed Cassette 11–34 on that bike, instead of the one you used 8‑speed 11–34 with Mega arrangement from 26 to 34 since they require a 30.8% change . Would you have to change Shimano Ultrega shifters too?
Do you currently think that it would be feasible to take a sightseeing trip with Shimano Acera groupset?
Good expeditions and best regards!

Thank you for the kind words, Hélder! In response to your questions: the main advantage to an 8sp drivetrain IMHO is a thicker and more durable chain, as well as easy-to-find spares in basic bike shops the world over. The Megarange cassette simply provides one very low hill-climbing gear; the step-down ratio is not important here. For the shifters, you always need to match indexed shifters to the drivetrain, but non-indexed (friction) shifters are much more widely compatible. Finally, there should be no problem using Acera components for a tour. Hope this helps!

It was great to read through this when I built my touring bike, but it’s funny how this type of planning comes undone by prices and availability of parts. For contact points (grips, pedals, tyres, saddle) I couldn’t agree more. I personally built a 29er as I’m happier on a larger frame, spend a lot of time normally on a road bike and had an old Trek 29er frame sitting around to build on. I decided on Shimano XT disc hubs with Mavic719 rims, 3x9 XT/Deore drivetrain with an 11–32 cassette. 

The main suggestion I’d make to the “ultimate” bike is for a 90mm adjustable stem; The ability to shift riding profile quickly makes a big difference if you’ve ever suffered back cramps or stiffness. 

Since building, I’ve also thrown out the Avid BB7s that fell apart somewhere in Myanmar and replaced with new Shimano XT M8000 Hydraulic… I’m so glad I did. When my old Trek frame snapped (was really just a flatbar road frame that dealt with a lot of punishment) I spoiled myself with a Lynskey Backroad. The only bike frame without a weight restriction. It was like going from a Corolla to a Lexus.

Thank you for the detailed comment, Stuart! I too used to have an adjustable stem, but once I found the ‘right’ position I preferred the added stiffness of a regular stem, especially with luggage on the front. As for prices and part availability, it can certainly take time to get everything together… my friend Richard at Oxford Bike Works buys parts in bulk whenever they become available for that reason… bike manufacturers also get access to different supply chains than us consumers, which can also be frustrating… a friend of mine once bought a complete second-hand bike just to strip the parts and build up a different frame. I think he saved a lot of cash by doing so!

Hi Tom,

great site.

Regarding flat bars, as someone who always previously used drop bars, I have found (Qlabs) inner bar ends to be a great addition to the flat bar on my expedition bike. Now I have three hand positions, the outer bar ends (Ergon GP3), the flat bar, and the inner bar end, This last hand position is somewhat similar to the hoods on a road bike set up.

As it happens I also fitted a second stem to take a set of tri bars with the pop up arm rests. This is not for aerodynamics but for comfort. I can change the pressure points on my hands, torso and rear end. It fires different leg muscles and just allows for variety and more comfort.

My bike is a KTM Life Lontano Deore that I picked up new for €835 when it was a discontinued prior year model. Has some things I don’t like (hydraulic discs for example) but overall it was a complete bargain that I couldn’t ignore. Came fully fitted fitted with Tubus racks, Brooks B17 etc.

This is one of the best articles ever written, except one mistake: I would never drive anything else, then the legendary Rohloff Speedhub. 1 X 12 wears out quickly and this is the trend: Wear and Tear by Shimano…
One Day, you won‘t get the 3 X 7 Drivetrain in your Shop. The big pizza cassettes are expensive also and wear out quickly. Also the chain, by driving diagonal. So, if you go for serious bikepacking and travelling, choose the Rohloff Speedhub. Pinion needs a special frame, so your tour is over, when the drivetrain is damaged and Kindernay is just new to the market. Rohloff is extremely testet, for more than 24 years now. I drive two Speedhubs for 34.000 Kilometers now and will never go back to derailleur drivetrain. But be careful: Don‘t let the Speedhub go down in rivers, take the oil change seriously, don‘t get the oil change screw let go to deep and use an expert for building the wheels. Then you have the best drivetrain for decades.

Hi Tom, fantastic build. I enjoyed reading every sentence of your article.
I’m planning to build a bike similar to yours. Love your colour choice. Would you mind to tell me the RAL code of your frame colour?
Best wishes from Germany.

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