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Bikes Equipment Philosophy Of Travel Planning & Logistics

What’s Really The Difference Between Bikepacking & Cycle Touring?

Over the last few years we have seen the rise of a new sub-discipline of bicycle travel.

It’s called ‘bikepacking’, and it’s become such a hit that almost every mainstream bike manufacturer now produces at least one ‘adventure bike’ or ‘bikepacking rig’, or includes the word in their marketing spiel for bikes that might fit the bill.

Specialised bikepacking luggage, too, has proliferated, from a few cottage industries turning out bespoke, hand-stitched frame bags to pannier giant Ortlieb launching a line.

Someone I know who helps run a bikepacking website told me they get over one million hits per month. (For comparison, this blog has been getting a steady 50,000 monthly pageviews for the last several years, or about 5% of that.)

So today, unlike in days gone by, I think it’s a fair bet that when a newcomer happens upon the idea of going on a bike trip, one of the first things they find is a dichotomy between ‘cycle touring’ and ‘bikepacking’.

In this piece I want to explore the difference, as I see it, between these two different versions of the same basic idea. Because while the difference seems to be portrayed mainly in terms of equipment, I don’t think it actually has anything to do with bikes or luggage at all. And I want to help those newcomers who get sucked into all that stuff about bikes and gear to understand what’s actually going on beneath it all.

(At 2,942 words, you might want to get a cup of tea for this.)


Some context.

I’m a mountain biker first and foremost. Back in 2006, when I was 22, me and my mates bought 1‑berth ultralight tents from Lidl, threw them in army-surplus backpacks and set off on full-suspension mountain bikes to ride across the Scottish Highlands.

After a couple of days we strapped our luggage to the bike frames to lighten the load. So we were mountain biking with stuff strapped to our bikes. But we weren’t bikepacking. That hadn’t been invented yet.

(It’s funny how similar this photo from 12 years ago looks to what bikepackers are doing today. Check out the Gaffa Tape seat-pack.)

I was inspired. And a year later I set out to cycle round the world. By now I had come across ‘cycle touring’. People had, I discovered, been going cycle touring for years. Decades. That’s why it sounds slightly old-fashioned. ‘Touring’. So Victorian.

At this point it is customary to mention Thomas Stevens’ bicycle odyssey across America and Eurasia of 1896. But preceding that by some 18 years was the founding in 1878 of the Bicycle Touring Club of Great Britain (now Cycling UK).

That point is that ‘cycle touring’ – the phrase, and the activity it described – has been established for at the very least 140 years.

How long has ‘bikepacking’ been around?

To take a crude measurement I looked at Google Trends. This tool uses the entire history of Google’s indexing of the contents of the internet to calculate the relative interest in any given phrase over time.

It gives the term ‘bikepacking’ a rating of zero as recently as April 2010.

From that starting point, the data shows an exponential upward curve, from 15% in June 2013, to 49% in 2016, all the way up to the benchmark of 100% it has today (March 2020).

In other words, bikepacking has never been more popular than it is right now, yet less than a decade ago, basically nobody knew what it was.

It gets more interesting when you overlay the popularity ratings for ‘cycle touring’. Taking again April 2010 as the starting point, when bikepacking could be argued to have begun its rise to popularity, the same dataset shows cycle touring’s popularity as a linear line, maintaining more or less steady popularity throughout the decade or so. Bikepacking seems to have surpassed cycle touring some time in the middle of 2015.

(If anything, cycle touring has seen an ever-so-slight decline. I think I know why that is, and I’ll come back to it later on.)

The data would seem to support anecdotal evidence.

Today, my social media feeds are awash with images of happy, tired, mud-splattered faces astride lightly-loaded off-road bikes with big, knobbly tyres, with yearning mountain vistas or forest singletrack in the (slightly out of focus) distance.

They drown out the images I used to see a lot more of – tanned, weathered people astride heavily loaded touring bikes in places entirely unrecognisable – or more often, images that were not of the riders at all but of the people they’d been hanging out with and the curiosities they’d encountered on the roadside.

There is something telling in this, too, which feeds directly into what I think the difference between cycle touring and bikepacking really is. But more groundwork still needs to be done.

Superficially, the difference is obvious. Bikepacking looks different. The bikes look different. The stuff people strap to them look different. The places they ride them often look different.

Bikepacking looks like a different kind of experience.

“Simply put,” says Bikepacking.com’s introductory paragraph under the heading ‘What is Bikepacking?’, “bikepacking is the synthesis of mountain biking and minimalist camping; it evokes the freedom of multi-day backcountry hiking, with the range and thrill of riding a mountain bike.”

Cycle touring is a bit more abstract.

“Cycle touring is whatever you want it to be,” I wrote in the first chapter of my beginners’ guidebook. (I can quote myself, can’t I? Is that OK these days? Just the literary equivalent of posting a selfie, right?) “And you can call it whatever you like – cycle touring, adventure cycling, bikepacking, even simply travelling by bicycle; these are all nuanced terms for the act of getting on a bike and going on a journey with it.”

There’s a formula for how the regular form of cycle touring looks, too. Again, a photo or two makes the difference obvious. On the surface, I mean.

(OK, extreme example. But you know what I mean).

But the popularity graphs – the changing social media trends – even the nuances of the language used in the descriptions above – all of these are pointers, in my opinion, to a deeper motivation for what is essentially the splitting of the adventure cycling community into two distinct camps.

One camp really just wants to go travelling.

The other camp really just wants go biking.

To me, this is what defines the split.

And of course, there is a middle ground between the two, and loads of overlap, and exceptions that prove the rule, because we’re talking about generalisations here, and life’s not really that simple. And I’m not suggesting that the emergence of two camps suggests any rivalry or conflict, and certainly not any mutual exclusivity. The people who inhabit this scene generally aren’t like that.

But this is the internet, and so before anyone starts to formulate an emotionally charged disagreement to post in the comments, let me explain the reasons why I think this is generally true.

The running theme I have seen over more than a decade of being involved in all this stuff is that people who choose the bicycle as a means of seeing the world tend to do so because of the many advantages it confers upon the traveller. It is a tool, and a very good one at that. It is a mode of transport. And the world these people imagine travelling through tends to be that of people and the roads that connect them and the cultures that spring forth when they meet, settle and grow into that thing we call human civilisation.

Cycle touring is about enabling one to practice the art of travel, to live life on the road.

It consequently tends to attract those who see travel itself as the end, to which getting on a bike is the means.

That’s also, in my view, why their social media feeds are not of themselves or their bikes but of what they saw and who they met along the way.

Bikepacking, too, absolutely involves a big element of travel, adventure, exploration, or whatever you wish to call it.

But bikepacking is primarily a way of going on a longer bike ride.

Bikepacking is for bikers – bikers who want to get away from busy roads and the man-made world and ride their bikes in nature, or something approximating it. They always have wanted this. Now they can ride further, for longer and with less fuss. The community’s prime obsessions are bikes, gear to attach to bikes, and riding bikes.

And there is a point to all this obsessiveness. It is to tailor and to optimise the ‘rig’ to deliver the best possible ride under conditions often far more challenging than those encountered on a regular cycle tour. Off-road biking requires skill, and just as in other specialist discipline requiring skill, the tools involved must be designed and honed to allow those skills to be maximised.

This emphasis on bikes and gear has made bikepacking the lucrative niche for the bicycle industry that cycle touring never was. Trek doesn’t noisily launch a 2,500-dollar “bikepacker’s dream” unless the executives think it’s going to sell. And check out the top posts on Instagram for #bikepacking. At the time of writing, the subject of each of the nine featured photos was a either a bike or someone riding one. Manicured. Artistic. Posed. Paid-for.

Touring bikes, on the other hand, tend to stay the same year after year after year; always there, rarely noticed, usually buried under some other ill-fitting category, and probably not making much money.

There is nothing particularly wrong with any of this. Mass consumption funds research & development which in turn makes products more tuned to the priorities of their buyers. And this matches the bikepacking ideal just perfectly. The holy grail is a bikepacking bike with so little baggage that it has basically reverted back to being a mountain bike.

The industry will eventually help deliver something approaching this ideal if people keep pumping money into the machine. This will, in turn, benefit enormously the members of the bikepacking community who spend more time riding bikes than talking about it on the internet.

Cycle tourists, on the other hand, start out in the knowledge they’ll just have to lug a big bunch of stuff around with them, probably in a set of Ortliebs. It’s just as inevitable a compromise of travel as a suitcase or a backpack. And while some may occasionally curse the weight on the way up a big mountain pass, I’ll bet the only people who actually switch to bikepacking for this reason are those who, all along, really just wanted to ride their bike.

Please don’t get the impression I’m pro-cycle touring and anti-bikepacking or taking any kind of partisan stance.

I love bikepacking. Not because I’m also jumping the bandwagon, but because, as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I was a mountain biker long before I was a traveller. I spent years hucking bikes off-road through woods and muddy fields in England before I did anything more interesting on a bike. But, as noted above, bikepacking as we now know it didn’t exist back then.

In the meantime I went cycle touring, fell in love with the act of travel and consequently missed the bikepacking boat while I was riding around in far-off lands and making films about my love life.

And today I am discovering the joys of bikepacking retroactively (though I can’t afford the posh gear). It’s not a replacement for cycle touring. It just ticks a different set of boxes which were there waiting to be ticked. I wish it had been invented earlier!

Thanks to Chris Goodman for this one!

I’m hardly alone on this. Look hard enough and you’ll find plentiful examples from back in the day of mountain bikers trying to wrestle cycle touring to fit their priorities.

In fact, one of my inspirations to take cycle touring to places like Mongolia was Cass Gilbert, whose evocative photos of trailer-laden mountain bikes in the Himalaya I remember distinctly from the first edition of the Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook, which I read back in 2006. He went on to become one of bikepacking’s progenitors, doing the same thing before it was even a word, all in pursuit of being able to go mountain biking for longer. (Do they even make the Bob Yak any more?)

Logan Watts, whose travel blog Pedalling Nowhere later became Bikepacking.com, also played an instrumental part in developing bikepacking into a ‘thing’. He too was a mountain biker forced into the cycle touring mould until he started tinkering with options that better suited his preferences. Now he runs what is probably bikepacking’s most successful community website and has written a full-length manifesto on the topic.

And I will never forget reading about Janne Corax’s mountain bike crossing of the Changtang plateau in northwest Tibet, which remains the single most extreme-sounding wilderness bicycle journey about which I have ever read. That was 15 years ago and I can’t find the article any more. (I wonder how such an expedition would look today?)

These and many other bikepacking pioneers are doubtless somewhat baffled at the explosion of bikepacking’s popularity. They probably can’t help questioning whether or not it’s a good thing, and probably come back to the conclusion that it is – a sentiment I share, because it ultimately means more humans falling in love with Earth again at a time when we’re collectively screwing it up.

I think I can offer some thoughts, too, on why bikepacking’s sudden popularity.

Sure, there is today an element of corporate hijacking. (Trek, for god’s sake.) But the wagon was already rolling, and I think at least some of it – at least in the UK – can be attributed to the rise of the microadventure in combination with that of cycling in general. Bikepacking neatly merges both.

These two trends express the yearning of an overworked, overstressed society (with plenty of cash) not to think, say or post on Facebook but to do something to disconnect from so-called ‘reality’ and rediscover what had always been there: a world we can see, hear, taste and smell, and a body that can sweat and strain in order to change its environment from one of dull, nagging discomfort to one which at least satisfies our romantic vision of being at one with nature, however misguided, and if not on the daily commute then at least on a big escape at the weekend.

The focus on gear makes bikepacking a hobby that can be practiced online during lunch breaks and through tinkering in the garage after work. This can be fun.

And the extremely active community – not just discussing gear ad infinitum but proactively developing and sharing new routes – imparts the sense of tribal belonging that so often underscores people’s life choices.

In short, bikepacking ticks a lot of boxes past which traditional cycle touring has tended to swerve around.

Cycle touring will always be there.

There will always be people who want to travel the world, and who figure (correctly) that the bike would be the best way of doing so.

Some will be seduced by bikepacking’s shiny trinkets and end up wishing they had more space for home comforts and noticing none of the advantages they never needed in the first place.

But others will figure that there’s no need to change the tried and tested formula and set off to explore the world on a bog standard touring bike with panniers and a tent strapped to the rear rack, rarely thinking again about their bike or gear because their journey was never about that anyway.

And bikepacking is unlikely to be just a passing trend.

Beyond the commercialisation and the rabble of noisy opinion that comes with anything new and popular, the ability to ride a bike off-road deep into the wilderness with ever fewer compromises holds a deep attraction for a great many people – including me.

But does this fully explain the bikepacking boom?

Not quite. A final suggestion, then. I think the bikepacking obsession with whittling the experience ever closer back towards ‘pure’ biking is also what pushes people who are already cyclists over to bikepacking – people who would never have considered cycle touring because of the many ways in which they feel it would compromise the act of cycling itself.

In other words, I would wager that many of those swelling the bikepacking ranks are, weirdly, cyclists. Bikepacking is a natural step forward from what they already do into something slightly more adventure-tinged. It is now less of a leap for someone with cyclists’ priorities to choose bikepacking over cycle touring – which might explain why cycle touring’s popularity is dropping slightly.

It’ll be interesting to see where it all leads. Perhaps one day every bike will be sold with a tinny bell, a crap saddle, cheap reflectors and an emergency overnight seat-pack. Just in case.

Personally?

Heck, if I’m moving, I’m learning, and if I’m learning, I can make myself useful in the world. The rest is secondary. Cycle touring? Love it. Bikepacking? Love it too. I’m lucky enough to spend much of my time trying out new ways of exploring, and certainly not defined by any one discipline. (Check out that ill-advised packrafting expedition or that snazzy Land Rover I borrowed.)

So what’s really the difference between bikepacking and cycle touring?

I think people ask this question to understand where they fit into this rapidly diversifying collection of adventure cycling subcultures.

But I think a better question is – do you really just want to go travelling, or do you really just want to go biking?

Categories
Bikes News Personal Updates

Oxford Bike Works & Tom’s Expedition Bike: The Story So Far

Just before I flew out to Bangkok for my current trip, I paid a visit to Richard Delacour at Oxford Bike Works to collect Tenny’s newly upgraded tourer. Based on a vintage steel Trek frame, the lovingly recycled bike is a tidy piece of work, naturally — but it got me reflecting on the story of my acquaintance with Richard and his company; a tale of serendipity and good timing that still elicits a smile.

I first met Richard in 2014 when he wrote to me asking if I’d promote a new range of touring bikes he was launching. At that time I was publishing a lot of gear reviews, so I suggested he lend me one for a write-up, to which he responded by promptly driving a hundred miles from Oxfordshire with an early version of the Oxford Bike Works Model 2 in the boot. We had a cup of tea, did a quick fitting session in the basement, and off he went. I spent the next month pootling around the backroads of the Midlands, putting the bike through its paces, before he came back to pick it up. (The resulting review is here.)

Beyond the bike itself, which had impressed me with its thoughtful, unorthodox design choices, my curiosity had been piqued by Richard’s story. Previously a schoolteacher with a passion for cycling and bike-building in his free time, he’d taken what must have been a daunting leap of faith, especially with a young family to support: quitting his career, designing his first touring frameset, and investing a hefty sum in the manufacture and shipping of a first batch of frames, which he stored in his garage while seeking out a local paint shop to do the coating. The Model 2 was one of three initial offers launched under his new Oxford Bike Works brand, each one built to order in an outbuilding behind his house repurposed as a workshop. Now Richard was doing all he could to get the word out with a marketing budget of precisely zero.

A while later, as I was riding the delightful riverside trails of Germany and Austria on a cumbersome Frankenstein’s monster of a bike, dreaming of the perfect do-everything tourer I wished I’d been riding all these years, I had a lightbulb moment. What if…?

That evening I fired off an email to Richard with the idea of actually prototyping “Tom’s Expedition Bike” with his frameset as the starting point. He liked the idea, so I drafted a brief and a spec, went over to his workshop, and spent a day bouncing around ideas for component combinations, fitting options for different riders, and extra touches that would make the most of Richard’s ability to customise each bike to order. The goal would be a bike built ground-up for long-haul expedition touring, customised for each rider, and at an accessible price point. No small ask.

A little over three years later, the slightly less narcissistically-named “Oxford Bike Works Expedition” has not just debuted but matured and carved out its very own niche, with a veritable fleet of happy riders now doing the rounds. Of course, the spec has been tweaked in line with the ever-shifting bike industry (excuse the pun), and the pricing and options have been tuned until they work consistently for both Richard and his customers, but the package as a whole remains as we originally envisaged, and it’s now a core part of the OBW line-up.

Critically, these bikes have now been inching their way across the globe for long enough to be scattered far and wide and prove that they’re up to the job. Time and miles: the only test of a expedition touring bike that really matters to a buyer with a journey of several years ahead of them. Ironically, most of the road-testing hasn’t been on my watch, instead on that of riders like Renee Rowland and Adam Sultan — not to mention the effervescent Anna McNuff — who have put many more thousands of far more arduous miles under their wheels than I have. No transcontinental tour is without its mechanicals, of course, but the reports Richard’s been getting back from his customers indicate that they’re inevitably of the predictable, easily fixable kind we anticipated in the design from the word go. Phew!

Here in Thailand, where the going is rarely that tough, I’m still riding the original “Tom’s Expedition Bike” prototype. My only issue so far is no fault of the bike: a bent front fork as the result of an abrupt and unhappy fusion of dog and bicycle while riding across Burgess Park in South London last year (the red replacement fork adds a nice splash of colour to the original beige). Otherwise, it’s a total dream. As I ride the thing, I still catch myself thinking on an almost daily basis:

“Man, this really is the bike I wish I’d been riding all those years…!”

(Which probably says as much about my bad first choice of bike as anything else.)

Richard reckons he’ll hand-build around a hundred bikes in the coming year, of which a dozen or so will be Expedition spec, and while there’s constant pressure to scale up, he’s deliberately resisting doing so. Bike building is what he loves, he says; he didn’t start this to end up as a business manager, and as long as he can pay the bills, he’ll be happy. It takes courage to stick to principles like that, and I have a huge amount of respect for him for doing so.

Staying small doesn’t mean stagnating. Richard’s proactive with his obsession, enthusiastically showing off a prototype disc-equipped adventure bike, born in response to growing demand and being put through its paces right now. And he talked me through some of the smaller components he was fitting to test models for research purposes, including new generator hubs priced to appeal to those who want on-the-go power but without the Schmidt price-tag, and some Microshift 3x8 thumbshifters that would — if durable enough — bypass the current Shimano bar-end shifter hack, and add barrel adjusters to boot.

So that’s the story so far. And I’m proud to have played a tiny part in helping a fellow idealist and lover of all things cycle touring to get a dream off the ground and make it a sustainable reality, beating the big players at their own game, and helping more people see the world from the seat of a bicycle.

Speaking of which, I’m off to ride mine

Categories
Bikes

A Pro Bike Builder Reviews The ‘Adventure Flat White’ Budget Touring Bike

New this year at the budget end of the UK touring bike market is the Adventure Flat White, an entry-level road tourer whose RRP of £430 makes it the cheapest off-the-peg touring bike in the UK (at the time of writing).

Being abroad for an extended period of time and thus unable to try the bike myself, I invited Richard of Oxford Bike Works (who recently bought himself a Flat White to see how they’d made it so cheap) to deliver his verdict on it. Take it away, Richard…

Two disclaimers from the outset:

  1. These comments are written very much from a specification point of view.
  2. As the owner of Oxford Bike Works and a designer and maker of my own touring bikes, I have a vested interest in getting people into touring in the hope that they may one day buy one of my bikes.

The Flat White has a steel frame, and it’s not that heavy. Unsurprisingly, the white paintwork looks a bit, er, flat…

adventure_flat_white_lifestyle_04

Unusually at this price point, the frame is of lugged construction, except at the bottom bracket shell (which is tig welded).

Amazingly, the frame has every single braze-on you’d expect of a good touring bike – a third set of bottle cage mounts under the downtube, lowrider braze-ons on the front forks, and rack and mudguard braze-ons at the rear.

That said, everything about the frame is executed with a crudeness that you might expect for such a cheap bike. The frame’s lugs are very thick, and there are signs of excess solder on the tubes and the lugs that have been painted over. In places, you can see where an angle grinder has been used to smooth off imperfections.

Despite all this, there’s no evidence to suggest the frame is weak – it’s just a bit agricultural in its construction.

adventure_flat_white_lifestyle_03

For me, the real compromises start with the equipment hung on the frame.

The saddle is hard and poorly padded with a fragile covering, and if there’s one thing that needs to be right on a touring bike, it’s the saddle.

The mudguards are equally flimsy and unlikely to get you out of England unscathed. The tight clearances mean it won’t allow stuff flung up by the tyres to go anywhere.

The rear rack is equally flimsy and has a spring clip on it that will probably rattle and annoy the rider to insanity before too long.

adventure_flat_white_lifestyle_02

The gearing range is limited – a compact double chainring at the front and 12–28 tooth cassette at the rear won’t help people grow to love cycle touring, because what a cycle tourist needs from a touring bike is gears that will keep him or her moving regardless of gradient and load.

Another criticism is the use of cantilever brakes, which never have much stopping power. In the Alps with a heavy load, for example, this could be quite stressful.

The bar tape is flimsy and lacks padding, and the plastic pedals won’t last very long at all.

adventure_flat_white_lifestyle_01

Apart from these shortcomings, the bike is awesome.

What amazes me about Shimano is the ability of the company to produce gearing systems at every price point that still work. Unlike other commenters, I’d have no qualms about touring on a Shimano Tourney groupset – I know that Shimano components work if properly adjusted. Okay, it might not last as long as higher-end groupsets, and the shifting won’t be as refined. But on tour you just want stuff to work, which it does, and I think Madison have got it right with this groupset at this price.

The Schwalbe Tyrago 700x35 tyres look like cyclocross tyres, but should serve admirably in the short term. The wheels are machine built from unbranded rims and hubs – again, fit for purpose in the short term.

Adventure Flat White

This is the perfect entry level touring bike for someone who’d like to try cycle touring without spending a load of money.

You could buy this bike new for £430 take it on a tour, and if you decided you hated cycle touring (unlikely) you could sell it for £300 when you got back.

If you loved it, on the other hand, you could sell the bike and use the money as a downpayment on something better suited to your new aspirations and broader horizons.

Either way, it’s an inexpensive way to get started.

In summary:

If you want to try cycle touring for the first time, this is a good bike to buy. If you already have experience of cycle touring, there are probably too many annoying compromises to make it a sensible choice.

Thanks, Richard! Check out the Adventure Flat White budget touring bike here. It’s available from a growing number of UK bike retailers.

Categories
Bikes Product Launches

Just Announced – Kona’s Updated 2016 Sutra Touring Bike + New Sutra LTD

I’ve been a fan of Kona’s bikes and their corporate ethos for donkey’s years. Today they’re announcing their new season bike line-up, which includes not just an updated 2016 Kona Sutra (their mid-range disc-equipped 700C tourer) but also a brand new variant, the 2016 Kona Sutra LTD, aimed even more squarely at short-haul adventures on mixed terrain.

Both the 2016 Kona Sutra and the Sutra LTD share an updated frameset, similar to last season’s frame (which was shared with the gravel-racing Rove), but this year with heavier-gauge tubing, acknowledging the benefits of a burlier build for luggage-carrying applications.

sutra

Other improvements to the 2016 Sutra’s frameset include better tyre clearance, a replaceable gear hanger, and more options for lowrider mounting, including the ability to mount bottle cages on the forks, which will undoubtedly please bikepackers no end.

The basic Kona Sutra 2016 specifications remain broadly the same as 2015’s model; just a couple of minor differences of little consequence. The switch from an 11–32t cassette to an 11–34t, however, will be a welcome one – as we all know, tourers can never have a low enough bottom gear.

Here’s Kona chief designer Ian Schmitt’s personal take on the updates:

“From the outset we sought to develop a new touring bike that checked all the boxes we felt necessary for touring in a variety of conditions: wider tire clearance, better handling when loaded, improved ride feel and improved carrier compatibility. The frame’s geometry uses a lower bottom bracket (72mm drop all sizes), consistent head tube angle (71° all sizes) and 50mm offset fork to improve carrying with a front load as well as improving tire clearance on smaller frame sizes.

“We based the sizing of the Sutra off of our new cyclocross geometry. The Sutra features higher stack and longer reach and is designed to pair with a slightly wider bar and slightly shorter stem compared to our cyclocross offering, which helps with stability and ride feel. The new Sutra frame also uses a specific tube set (thicker than Rove) to maintain stiffness when loaded.”

sutra_ltd

The new Sutra LTD, on the other hand, looks to have diverged considerably from your standard tourer, with hydraulic disc brakes and no racks supplied, though given that the frameset is shared with the Sutra, it wouldn’t take much to kit it out for light touring.

The drivetrain choice is the most interesting feature, doing away with a front derailleur entirely in favour of a ludicrously wide-ranged 10–42t cassette, with a single 36t chainring up front. Doing the maths reveals that you’ll get a surprisingly wide range of useful gears out of this setup.

sutraltd5

sutraltd6

While it won’t be much good for winning road races or lugging tons of luggage around the planet, that clearly isn’t the point of the Sutra LTD. I can certainly imagine fitting it out with some minimal frame luggage and taking it off for a long weekend of fun and fast-paced trail riding with a wild-camp or two thrown in.

Here’s Ian again on the new Kona Sutra LTD:

“The Sutra LTD represents the nexus of mountain bike and road bike drivetrains. I had personally been playing around with 1x drivetrains on my touring bike for several months before SRAM had told us they were developing a derailleur to work with their XD driver and 10–42t cassette. I had spent an appreciable amount of time toying with various gear ranges and had found that for my personal use a bike with an 11–40t cassette and a 38t chainring afforded me pretty much all of the gearing options I required. The addition of 10t and 42t cogs plus an additional gear in the middle was enough to push the concept into production.

“The LTD is aimed at a variety of riders. It is a bike that can be used for week long tours, month long tours, gravel rides, single track, commuting etc. We wanted to highlight the fun of big tires, simple gearing and hydraulic brakes and feel that this bike has done it on all fronts. I’m not joking when I say that this is the most fun drop bar bike I’ve had the pleasure of riding.”

Expect the 2016 Kona Sutra and Sutra LTD to hit stores in a few weeks’ time.

Categories
Bikes Product Launches

New Ebook Released Today: The Complete Expedition Touring Bike Buyer’s Guide

Today I’m publishing my second ebook – a follow-up to last year’s cycle touring equipment guide.

[Link: Get the new ebook here.]

This new ebook, The Complete Expedition Touring Bike Buyer’s Guide, aims to tackle one very big and very specific question:

“Exactly what kind of bicycle should I take on a huge worldwide cycling adventure?”

In doing so, it also aims to answer the two underlying questions most newcomers have:

“I don’t know anything about bikes – how the heck am I supposed to know what I’m looking for?”

And:

“Even if I do figure out what bike I need, where and how am I supposed to get one?”

You see, the most common type of person I hear from who is considering such an adventure is not a cyclist.

He or she (or you?) is someone who, for one reason or another, has realised that travelling by bicycle will give them what they’re looking for from the travelling experience – access to the great outdoors, enviable independence, exercise, cultural immersion, thinking time, the ability to travel on a super low budget – whatever it may be.

The point is that – for most of us – the touring bicycle is a tool to do a job, not an object of desire per se.

So the intention behind the guide is similar to that of my previous guide: to cut through the endless arguments and conflicting advice surrounding the topic of expedition touring bike choice, specifically for the benefit of non-gear nerds.

The reader of The Complete Expedition Touring Bike Buyer’s Guide will be able to bypass the endless debates on internet forums over whether one might be best off with derailleur gears or a Rohloff hub, disc brakes or rim brakes, 26-inch or 700C wheels, or steel or aluminium frames.

The truth is that these questions have all been answered a hundred times already – plus, there are far more important things to think about when choosing an expedition touring bike anyway. (If you had no idea these debates existed, by the way, trust me: you don’t want to go there.)

The guide does cover many of the technicalities (with illustrations), simply because I do believe that it’s important to know how the bike you’re riding has been put together – chances are you’ll need to get your hands dirty with maintenance and repairs sooner or later.

The guide wraps up with a nice big listing of expedition-grade touring bike manufacturers whose bikes are available around the world, either direct, through dealerships, as frames for building a bike upon, or as custom-built offerings.

Making the best choice is more about the bikes you have actual, physical access to as about which bike looks ‘best’ on paper, so this listing is likely to come in very useful. (A constantly-updated version of this listing is also freely available here on the blog.)

The 72-page, fully-illustrated PDF guide is released today at the ultra-affordable price of £9 (about $15) – an infinitesimally tiny fraction of the average budget for actually buying such a bicycle.

Head over here to check it out.

And if the idea takes you, why not buy yourself a copy? As well as having the contents of the touring-bike portion of my brain at your fingertips, you’ll be helping keep this blog alive into its 9th year, and for that I shall thank you greatly.