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Bikes Touring Bike FAQ

Touring Bike FAQ #2: 26-Inch vs 700C Wheel Size?

This is #2 in an ever-growing series of answers to frequently-asked questions about touring bikes. If you’re new here, why not start with #1: What Exactly Defines A Touring Bike?

Many folk seem to think that the choice of touring bike wheel size – specifically, 26-inch (classic mountain bike) or 700C/28″ (road bike) – is a big deal.

It isn’t.

You can make this decision by answering two very simple questions:

  1. Am I, to put it bluntly, short? (In other words, do I or will I ride a small or extra-small frame?)
  2. Am I likely to spend a lot of time touring in remote regions of the developing or semi-developed world?

If the answer to either of the above questions is ‘yes’, get a bike based on the 26-inch wheel size.

Regardless of what the industry would have you believe and/or which wheel size is trendy this week, the most important criteria for bicycle wheel size choice is actually that it matches the size and geometry of the frame – which, of course, should be chosen to match the rider’s anatomy.

You can confirm this next time you visit a bike shop and look at the range of bikes designed for variously-sized children. Nobody’s trying to wedge a 29-inch wheel onto a bike for a 5‑year-old just because 29ers are cool right now.

Enlightened manufacturers such as Surly don’t even bother offering popular touring bikes like the Disc Trucker in extra-small sizes with larger wheels. Instead, they downsize to 26-inch wheels at the smaller end of the frame size range, because that’s what intelligent bike design looks like.

So that’s the first and most important thing to know.

Incidentally, there are also a couple of other marginal benefits to going with the tried-and-tested 26-inch wheel size, which until very recently was what all mountain bikes at every price point were built with:

  • If you’re looking in the right type of bike shops – that is, mainstream stores like Halfords as opposed to trendy specialist boutiques which also serve artisan coffee – 26-inch tyres, tubes and spokes are available as widely or more so than larger sizes.
  • Further afield, not every Chinese spam-bike shop in Tazbekistan will carry the latest trendy tyre size, but they will almost certainly have 26-inch ones for all the 26-inch-wheeled Chinese spam bikes they sell.
  • Shorter spokes means that – all else being equal – a 26-inch wheel is stronger than a larger-diameter equivalent. Stronger wheels are less liable to fail, thus increasing a given bike’s overall durability. (Of course, it helps if they’re hand-built by an artisan wheelbuilder in the first place.)

If, on the other hand, the answer to both of the above questions is ‘no’, the best wheel size is whatever comes fitted to the bike that feels right when you test-ride it.

In other words, feel free to move on from the question of wheel size and focus on more important things, such as finding a local bike shop to test-ride touring bikes in your budget range which suit your style of touring. 

Then, having chosen the right touring bike, simply check what size wheels and tyres it has and prepare your tools and spares package accordingly.

You will not spend your days on the road wondering how much more enjoyable today’s riding would be if you’d got an extra half-inche of diameter on your rims. You will find expensive spares for diverse wheel sizes in specialist bike shops across the developed world, as well as in the major cities of the developing world where there’s enough of a middle-income population to support a small retail industry for cyclists. And you will find cheap spares in the mainstream bike shops the industry wants you to overlook.

For what it’s worth, if you’re buying a new mainstream touring bike for a road tour in the UK or USA, it’s more likely you’ll end up with a 700C- (aka: 28″-) wheeled touring bike.

That’s simply because there are many more to choose from and test-ride. If you’re already a road-bike rider, you’ll naturally gravitate towards these bikes too. 

On the other hand, if you’re in the market for a round-the-world expedition bike, or considering building your own ultimate expedition bike, you’ll find that most (but not all) existing bikes are built on the 26-inch platform anyway.

So rather than fret about what wheel size your bike should have, ask yourself the two simple questions above, which will give you a quick and easy answer.

Then you can get on with asking yourself more important questions, like “can I actually fix a punctured tyre on the roadside?”, and “do I have the tools and skills to repack and adjust the wheel hub bearings after 10,000 miles of riding?”, etc.

Next in the Touring Bike FAQ series: Steel Or Aluminium Frames?

Categories
Bikes Touring Bike FAQ

Touring Bike FAQ #1: What Exactly Defines A ‘Touring’ Bike?

This is #1 in an ever-growing series of answers to frequently-asked questions about touring bikes.

If you’re researching touring bikes online, chances are you don’t yet have a touring bike of your own – or if you do, you may be unsure of whether it’s really fit for the cycle tour you’re planning.

In this case, it’s useful to have a working definition of the thing you want to buy. I don’t mean a boring dictionary definition; more like a set of criteria that distinguishes a touring bike from other subcategories of bicycle.

This is important because choosing a touring bike is something people invest a lot of time and money in, either buying a dedicated touring bike or adapting another type of bike for the specific concerns of cycle touring.

So, aside from having two wheels and brakes, what exactly is it that makes a bicycle particularly suitable for a long-distance cycle tour?

Another way of asking the question might be: how do touring bikes differ from road bikes, gravel bikes, hybrid bikes, or mountain bikes, all of which they can sometimes appear similar to?

In this, the first in a series of touring bike FAQ posts, we’re going to have a broad look at the basic design priorities of bikes sold under the ‘touring bike’ category of bicycle (in central Europe also known as a ‘trekking bike’). 

This knowledge will help you navigate the minefield of variations you’ll find in this market – not to mention all the marketing hyperbole surrounding things like the trendy bikepacking scene, which (as I’ve written about at length) is best considered a crossover niche between cycle touring and mountain biking which may not be relevant to you at all.

Let’s start!

Priority #1: Comfort

By far and away the number one priority for a touring bike is comfort. This isn’t just about the saddle. How is the whole bike going to feel to ride, day after day, for the duration of your tour?

Touring Bike Comfort

The longer your trip, the more an uncomfortable bike will nag at your body. It’s eventually got to become a part of you; something you no longer notice.

How bicycle design affects comfort

Different types of bicycle encourage very different riding positions. Your riding position will affect your long-term comfort more than anything else.

  • Road bikes and gravel bikes tend to be compact with dropped handlebars, encouraging a tucked riding position that many find an acquired taste.
  • City, hybrid and mountain bikes tend to be much more upright, with city bikes in particular encouraging a so-called ‘sit up and beg’ posture. Folding bikes often fit this pattern too.

Most British and American touring bikes strike a balance between the two. Usually built with dropped handlebars, they often look a lot like road bikes, but they do feel noticeably more stable and rugged once you take them for a ride.

Touring bikes originating from continental Europe tend to be more upright and are usually specified with flat or so-called ‘trekking’ handlebars, though you can also find touring bikes of this type in the UK and USA.

What kind of position feels ‘right’ usually depends on your previous cycling experience, as well as aspects of your unique anatomy. Most newcomers and casual cyclists get on better with a more upright, relaxed riding position. Experienced riders looking for speed and handling often prefer more tucked riding positions.

How to achieve correct fit on a touring bike

Beyond general riding position, other main aspect of comfort is correct fit, which is a function of frame size, saddle height and handlebar positioning.

And the best technique for getting a bicycle fitted is to stop reading bicycle-fitting guides and blog posts like this one, go to a respectable local bike shop, and ask someone whose ability to make their mortgage payments depends on their being able to fit bikes accurately to people.

A large part of the comfort equation can be solved by simply trying out a range of bikes and sizes at a store that provides for test riding and also offers like-for-like swaps on components that affect fit, such as stems and bars. The rest of the equation is solved by riding the bike, hard and far, paying attention to your body, and tweaking as appropriate.

Finding a comfortable bike that suits you down to the ground is not a science in the first instance; it’s more a case of listening to your gut when you’re trying new bikes out for size, or making a judgement of your existing bike:

“Does this feel good to ride?”

A positive answer to this question usually comes in the form of a big grin spreading across your face and a sudden urge to pedal off into the distance. In the same way, a negative answer is an intangible suspicion that something isn’t quite right. Listen to your instincts here. A good bike fitter will spot fitting issues right away, particularly one who’s experienced in the discipline of touring.

At that point, you can start fine-tuning sizing and setup. You and whoever is helping you are interested getting to a point where you are sitting on the saddle and holding onto the handlebars and pedalling around the block and it feeling right.

Some mechanics will talk esoterically about plum lines and standover height and whether you can see the front axle in front of the handlebars or not, but the interplay of bike design and anatomy is a delicate one, and ultimately only you can make the call.

Rule of thumb: if it feels right now, and it still feels right after a day of riding, and you don’t wake up crippled the following morning, it probably is right – more or less.

And any adjustment thereafter is likely to be minor and a simple matter of experimentation. If you’re starting out from home, and something really is wrong, go back to your local bike shop to make further adjustments. It won’t be long before you’re married to a bike that’ll serve you for years on end with no further tweaking.

Be aware that reach – the horizontal distance between your backside and your hands – is just as much a factor as saddle height, and that if you come from a road racing or mountain-biking background you may be surprised at how spacious a tourer feels compared to compact and nimble competition bikes. If that’s you, don’t underestimate frame size based on previous experience in these disciplines; start with a frame size higher than you’d usually ride and take it from there.

Saddles can be adjusted fore and aft; stems can be changed out for shorter or longer (or adjustable) variants; handlebars can be raised or lowered by various means.

If none of this makes any sense to you: guess what? That’s what local bike shops are for. Yes, they’re more expensive than buying online, but you’re paying for the knowledge and experience of the staff, as well as the bike itself.

Priority #2: Stability

The feel of riding a fully-loaded touring bike is quite different to riding the same bike unloaded, and very different to a bike from a specialist discipline.

A fully-loaded tourer will at first feel cumbersome and heavy, but you’ll soon learn that the mark of a well-designed tourer is its stability under such circumstances; the reassurance you get from the response of your bicycle to the terrain and to your efforts when you’re riding with a full set of touring panniers.

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Stability under load is mainly a function of frame and fork construction and choice of luggage system. Touring bicycles, in general, will have a longer wheelbase, with more distance between the front and rear wheels for increased stability. Often the pedals (and therefore saddle) will be a little lower to the ground, creating a lower centre of gravity – less manoeuvrable in a tight spot, but more reassuring and gentle to ride for a hundred miles a day!

Frames built for touring will also reflect the fact that fully-loaded touring panniers will exert unusual forces upon the bike, and thus it is common to find heavier-duty tubing and joints to make a frame stiffer in the right places and to reinforce vulnerable points.

If, by the way, you don’t know what any of this means, simply know that a good touring bike will be built for the demands of touring!

Priority #3: Durability

When in use, touring bikes accumulate distance much more rapidly than almost any other kind of bicycle. It is no surprise, then, that primary amongst the qualities of a good touring bike is durability.

To better understand what this means in the real world, it helps to think of the bike as a collection of interacting parts – almost a living organism, rather than a single object. Each component has been designed and manufactured individually before being fitted to a frame, with the resulting creation being known as a ‘bicycle’.

A bicycle ‘manufacturer’ usually manufactures only the frame (and sometimes not even that), after which point the components they attach to it – such as the ubiquitous Shimano chainsets – are broadly the same between bikes of a particular kind.

So it’s helpful to think of each part performing a specific function in combination with others, and that durability is more about how long an individual part lasts.

When a ‘bike breaks’, it’s usually just one part that breaks, even if the entire bike is rendered unrideable as a result. And so it’s usually just one part that needs to be repaired or replaced. Knowing this makes the prospect of a breakdown far less worrying: the problem is very likely to be small, isolated, and simple.

Touring Bike Drivetrain

Some parts of a bike are relatively impervious to wear and tear; generally the big, chunky metal bits that don’t move much. Some parts will wear slowly with use, and other parts will wear relatively quickly and predictably in the grand scheme of things – usually parts that are designed to be replaced.

On very long tours, it helps to think of some of these parts as consumable items; in particular tyres and brake pads or blocks. Just like a car, parts of a bike can and do wear out. Just like a car, these parts can be individually repaired or replaced when it happens. Touring is no different in this respect. That’s why you’ll be packing a fix-everything toolkit specific to your bike.

For short- and medium-length tours, buying a good quality bike is partly about being confident that the ‘wearing’ parts are durable enough in the first place to last the duration of the tour. For long-term tours, it is more about knowing that the consumable parts are ones that can either be sourced and replaced on the road, either at bike shops or carried as spares, depending on the availability of bike shops on your route.

It’s usually also in the touring bike buyer’s interests that the ‘non-wearing’ parts are strong enough to last indefinitely with minimal maintenance. These are things like frames themselves, gear shifters and brake levers, luggage racks, cranks (pedal arms), saddle, and so on; things that – with occasional servicing and notwithstanding an accident – should essentially last forever.

Priority #4: Simplicity

Tied up with durability is simplicity. The bicycle, of course, is an inherently simple machine to begin with, depending upon tried and tested principles that have not changed in a century. But today’s bicycle manufacturers have become very adept at introducing additional complexity at various points in the basic design.

Usually the complexity is there for the purpose of making the bicycle in question more suited to a certain discipline of cycling. This specialisation can reach ludicrous extremes, as a quick look at the form and construction of a £10,000 road bike or downhill mountain bike will demonstrate.

For touring bikes, the only real specialist requirement is durability, specifically when fully loaded – and, in that respect, bike builders recognise that fewer complexities mean a lower likelihood over time of things going wrong.

An illustration of this line of thinking can be seen in the fast-moving world of bicycle couriering. Many bike messengers (including those who have also toured long-term) will tell you that nothing is more demanding of a bicycle than belting around city streets delivering packages all day, with speed, efficiency and reliability the sole criteria by which one keeps his or her job.

The result? The bicycle couriering community adopted (or developed) the fixed-gear bicycle. Two wheels and a frame. No shifters, no derailleurs, no freewheel, no mudguards, and often just a single brake. In other words, the minimum level of complexity possible for a bicycle still capable of being ridden.

The reason? Less to go wrong; higher probability of still being able to pay the rent next month.

Touring Bike Shifter

A touring bike breaking down is unlikely to render you homeless – but you do want to be reasonably sure that either you or the next bicycle mechanic you find will be able to get the bike back on the road if something begins to fail.

In this respect, simplicity means easier to fix with a basic but well-thought-out toolkit. It means a higher likelihood of being able to source compatible spares. And, if you’re going really remote, it means it’ll be more likely that the person you’re confronted with when you’re acting out the mime routine for ‘bicycle mechanic’ will have a frame of reference for what they’re looking at.

It’s worth mentioning that simplicity becomes more important once you’re touring outside the area of availability for new and fancy cycling equipment – which means, of course, that if you have an inkling that you might one day head further afield on the bike you’re looking to buy, you should probably assume that you will do, and make your buying decisions accordingly.

What does simplicity mean in concrete terms? Well, it means no carbon or titanium. It means established wheel sizes. It means no hydraulics or electrics. It means no air-sprung suspension – preferably no suspension at all unless you’re going off-road long term. It means no brand new shiny expensive ultralight top-end components. It means as few parts as possible that require unusual tools to remove or repair. It means no belt-drive drivetrains, and for my money it means no internal hub gears, though there will always be disagreements about that.

It means traditional, cross-compatible components that work on established principles and that are known and available worldwide. It means tried and tested consumable parts, and mechanisms adjustable with basic tools. It definitely means Shimano.

Luckily, most touring bike manufacturers know all of this already. And so, whether you’re looking at mainstream do-everything touring bikes or expedition bikes for a round-the-world ride, you can be confident that the qualities of comfort, stability, durability and simplicity are likely to be inherent in their designs.

There’s a good chance that your existing bike will score marks in several of these areas, and with a couple of repairs and upgrades could be perfectly adequate for your tour.

It depends on the details of your bike and the trip you’re planning, of course. 

But now you’re in a much better position to work this out.

Next up, it’s Touring Bike FAQ #2: 26-inch or 700C wheel size (or something else)?

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Bikes Equipment Touring Bike FAQ

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

Last updated on January 25, 2023. Like all my most popular posts, I regularly revise this one to reflect the latest thinking on the subject – in this case, the design and construction of custom-built expedition touring bikes.

Building the original prototype for the Oxford Bike Works Expedition custom-built touring bike at the OBW workshop in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, UK.

Some of the most frequently-asked questions I get on this blog are about very detailed technical aspects of designing and building fully customised touring bikes. 

Especially now the world is opening up again, these questions often come from people planning epic cycle tours or bikepacking trips across continents or around the planet. These riders are often worried that mainstream touring bikes aren’t suitable for such a demanding adventure. Either that, or they’re trying to save money by building the kind of expedition-grade touring bike which would otherwise cost a fortune. (Or both!)

I totally get these concerns and the resulting motivations to consider a custom-built touring bike. The “round-the-world epic” type of bike tour is a valuable and life-changing experience; one I encourage everyone to try at least once. This belief is one of the foundations of this blog. Doing it myself is what originally inspired me to write on the topic, and helping others is what motivates me to keep it running for… wow, 15 years now!

Anyway. I eventually decided to take all of my experience and knowledge on the subject of touring bikes 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!”.

The bike pictured above is the end result of that process. I spent more than a year developing it between 2014–2015 in partnership with Richard Delacour of Oxford Bike Works in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. I’m still riding it today.

This prototype has since evolved into the baseline specification for Richard’s flagship hand-built expedition touring bike. Since the original “Tom’s Expedition Bike” was created, Richard has sent hundreds of intrepid riders off from his Oxfordshire workshop, each on a customised, hand-built version of this heavy-duty expedition touring bike – and between them they’ve circled the planet several times over.

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

If you’re more interested in seeing a list of commercially-available expedition touring bikes around the world, or checking out what mainstream off-the-peg touring bikes are on sale these days, you may wish to click away now before things get too interesting.

Otherwise, grab yourself a pot 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 bike to be useful to as many people as possible, my task was actually not to design my ultimate expedition bike.

Instead, it was to find a balance of expedition touring bike design principles, distilling years of thinking on the building and testing of round-the-world touring bikes into a standard specification. This baseline bike could then be tweaked and customised each time it was built, rather than reinvented completely, to suit each individual rider.

Why the hybrid approach? Well, some of the details of a touring bike should always reflect personal preferences and riding styles – usually the choice of ‘fitting parts’ like saddles, grips and handlebars. There are also aesthetic decisions which add personality to a bike, such as frameset paint and other component colour variations. Luggage systems are also much more diverse than they used to be (though even trendy bikepackers are realising that panniers are still actually useful.)

But beyond 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.

One of my favourite stories is that of Adam Sultan, who crossed a continent and a half between 2016–2018 on one of these bikes.

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


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 designed and built an expedition bike for my own round-the-world attempt, I made a few mistakes.

Sure, I knew how to use the tools and assemble all the components. But I was 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 a noble assistant in a high-street bike shop, 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.

My first attempt at building an expedition bike. It did get me halfway round the planet, but it was neither efficient nor particularly beautiful!

(Incidentally, I did eventually rebuild the 2007 Kona Explosif frame into an off-road bikepacking rig – full details in another post.)

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, which brings with it a huge amount of daily maintenance, tweaking, repairing, rebuilding, and ever-growing wishlists of improvements.

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.)

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The original “Tom’s Expedition Bike”, as named by readers of this blog. Thanks, guys…

My 6 Basic Principles For Designing 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. serviceability in the components that’ll need maintenance, overhauling and 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.

That time I used my expedition bike to move house – a side benefit of building an incredibly strong touring bike!

A Quick Note On The Superficial Boringness Of Expedition Touring Bikes

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 Bikes

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

This purpose-designed expedition touring frame reminded me of the old steel-framed mountain bikes I used to ride as a teenager, such as the Specialized Rockhoppers of the ’80s and ’90s used by many of the round-the-world riders who inspired me to try cycle touring in the first place. My beloved Kona Explosif also came from this pedigree.

As such, the Oxford Bike Works offering could be described as a classic expedition touring frame.

The Oxford Bike Works frameset is built from Reynolds 525 chrome-molybdenum (aka: cro-mo or cromoly) steel alloy tubing. There are lots of good tubesets out there; Reynolds 525 is one of them, prioritising strength rather than lightness for longevity 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 panniers I was planning on fitting, the Oxford Bike Works frame ticked all the boxes: front-triangle eyelets for three bottle cages, standard rack mounts on the rear dropouts and seatstays for a bombproof Tubus expedition pannier rack, fork mounts for a front low-rider, and external cable guides for easy maintenance and replacement of brake/shifter cables. 

These are features you’ll find on any purpose-built expedition or touring frameset designed with a traditional 4‑pannier luggage setup in mind. Without them, you’ll either have to find workarounds for adding racks, lowriders, and other frame-mounted accessories, or have them added to your frame by a specialist framebuilder (at considerable expense).

In terms of fit and riding position, I’d reviewed a bike built on the Oxford Bike Works in-house frameset the previous year, so I knew that it’d be a good fit for my body shape and riding style, and that I got on well with its upright geometry and reassuring handling characteristics.

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 (700C/28″ wheel-compatible frames are also available; a detailed discussion of wheel size for touring bikes can be found here).

For the colour, I chose a neutral shade of beige. OBW stock colours vary depending on the manufacturing batch; Richard also does custom paint-jobs.

Did I consider other frames?

Of course! I also considered the (now discontinued) Surly Long Haul Trucker and the Spa Cycles Steel Tourer, and spent quite a while looking around for a suitable second-hand steel mountain bike frame. Ultimately, though, I chose Oxford Bike Works because of the personal nature of the business, the fact that the workshop was UK-based and I could easily visit it, and because I wanted to support a small, independent, local bike builder.

These, of course, are all off-the-peg framesets, which won’t necessarily suit every body shape, riding style, and specific set of touring needs, of which there are as many combinations as there are riders! If you’re struggling to find an expedition touring frameset that suits you, my advice would be to seriously consider having a bespoke frame built to measure.

More advice & retailers

  • There are loads of expedition-ready framesets available around the world from this massive list of expedition touring bike builders, some of whom also deal in bespoke frames.
  • Read more about frame material choice for touring bikes here
  • If you’re in the UK, you might be able to get the stock Expedition 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 or tapped into each end of the frame’s head tube to allow the fork to rotate within the frame and thus for steering to happen.

The internal components of a typical ‘threadless’ bicycle headset, almost all of which are invisible when installed on a complete bike. Photo CC-BY-SA 2.5 Michael Shields.

Being an interference fit, the headset is the most ‘permanent’ of all the components fitted to a frame. While it’s possible to remove, overhaul and refit a headset on the roadside, it’s not the kind of thing you’ll want to be doing – not least because it’s easy to damage your frame without the right tools.

Cheap headsets with cheap ball-bearings are fine for cheap bikes. Parts are readily available and they’re relatively easy to adjust and maintain. But most bike builders would consider them false economy when building a bike for fully-loaded long-term touring. A headset’s bearings experience a great deal of wear and tear in the expedition scenario. Fully-loaded front panniers, poor road surfaces, and the sheer volume of miles and hours spent riding will all work together to place increased forces over greater amounts of time 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 serviceable and replaceable worldwide. But the headset is one you’ll probably want to fit and forget about.

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

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

In fact, this small Oregon-based machine shop was originally founded when Chris, then a young engineer, couldn’t find a traditional headset with durable enough bearings for his touring bike.

Clearly an overachiever, he responded by designing and building some of the most precise and durable headset bearings on Earth. In the process, he invented the much-imitated ‘threadless’ headset design, and set a standard of engineering quality that every other high-grade headset manufacturer has attempted to imitate since.

The original NoThreadSet has been made in Oregon and sold worldwide for over 30 years, surviving all of the bike industry’s attempts to de-standardise and diversify component design in order to make more money. Each unit originally came with a 10-year guarantee, and when practically none were returned, King upgraded it to a lifetime guarantee. 

This goes a long way towards explaining how and why, back in the ’90s and ’00s, the product developed a cult following among downhill mountain bikers (another type of rider who routinely place extreme demands on their bikes). 

It’s also why I felt the Chris King NoThreadSet was the only candidate for my ultimate expedition touring bike.

Close-up of using a headset press to install a Chris King NoThreadSet on the prototype Oxford Bike Works Expedition touring bike.

Rather than buy a new one for the prototype (at £235/$207 a go they aren’t cheap), I did what Chris King envisions all his customers doing: removed the headset from my old Kona Explosif and installed it on the new one. In other words, my prototype actually ended up with a headset that had 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.

There’s always the buy-cheap-and-replace-often approach of a traditional headset, of course, and if you’re a seasoned mechanic and you know how to grease bearings and adjust preload with a lightweight toolkit, you may decide to save money upfront in this way. 

Most of us, however, are not that diligent or disciplined. My bet is that most riders will spend more on replacement headset parts and getting them fitted over the lifetime of a touring bike than the cost of one Chris King unit.

Alternative headsets of a similar design – by which I mean headsets for unthreaded fork steerer tubes and with sealed cartridge bearings pressed into each cup – include the Hope Conventional 1⅛-inch headset (£105), the FSA Orbit MX Threadless (€87) and the Cane Creek 40 ($64). They’re all modelled on the same design principles as the King and are considered to be high quality headsets.

When buying a headset, remember to get the correct size and type for your frame. For most classic steel frames like this one, 1⅛-inch is the most common, though head tube sizes have diversified a lot in recent years.

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. Just as with the bike as a whole, strength and durability are key qualities of a touring wheelset. An extremely strong wheel is particularly important at the rear of the bike, as this is where the weight of rider and luggage are most concentrated and rotational forces (ie: torque) from the drivetrain is at its greatest.

Serviceability is also important. Choose standard parts from mainstream manufacturers, so you can easily find parts and supplies to service your wheel hubs every few months, and find the right-sized tyres and innertubes in the places you’re planning to ride in. 

Globally speaking, so-called 26-inch tyres and tubes for 559mm-diameter rims are more widely available, though this statement is somewhat simplistic, as I’ve written about elsewhere. Hubs that run on ball-bearings, however well-sealed, will eventually require servicing, so you’ll need to ensure your toolkit includes the right-sized cone spanners and suitable all-purpose grease (though you can usually borrow a spoonful of grease from the nearest car mechanic).

If you fit V‑brakes to your expedition bike, they will eventually – perhaps over a period of several years – wear down the braking surface of a rim to its minimum acceptable thickness, necessitating rim replacement. This always means a full rebuild of the wheel in question – and if you can’t find a like-for-like rim replacement, it might also mean a new set of spokes of a different length to suit the new rim’s profile.

Prolong the life of your wheels, then, by choosing a durable rim in the first place, and actively avoiding the worst conditions for brake longevity (ie: combinations of abrasive dust or mud, wet, and very long downhills). The same will be true if you go with disc brakes instead of V‑brakes, which act upon a separate disc rotor instead of the rim (though this itself introduces a new set of maintenance concerns).

For the rims of my ultimate expedition bike’s wheels, I chose the Dutch-designed Ryde Sputnik V‑brake-compatible rim in the 559mm-diameter size and with 36 spoke holes per rim. The decision was mainly based on its reputation as a bomb-proof world touring rim. It accepts 26-inch tyres with a range of widths from 28–62mm, or up to 2.4″. This upper limit is considerably wider than most riders would choose to go, and wider than any of the popular Schwalbe Marathon tyres currently available (more on tyres shortly). 

(This rim was previously known as the Rigida Sputnik – only the name has changed.)

Strength being key, the extruded double-wall 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 the thick, durable alloy braking surfaces (and regular cleaning) will ensure the rim will last as long as possible when used with V‑brakes. 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 (and the number of spoke holes of the Ryde Sputnik). 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 of the same size. 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 a Presta 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 a traditional cup-and-cone axle design running on loose ball bearings. If this sounds like gobbledygook, know that it just refers to the way bike wheel hubs have been made for decades – meaning maximum compatibility, bike-mechanic familiarity and ease of adjustment and replacement with basic tools and spares. 

(Park Tool, as usual, have a very thorough article on servicing cup & cone-bearing hubs, which includes exploded diagrams and photos of disassembled components.)

The same goes for the compatibility of parts in the case of the rear hub assembly. Rear hubs with replaceable, cassette-compatible freehubs – ie: the splined extension protruding from the drive-side of the rear hub, that spins freely in one direction only – are now the standard on all decent-quality bikes. Spare cassettes – ie: the assembly of different-sized toothed sprockets attached to the right-hand side of the rear wheel’s hub – are easily found.

In terms of cross-manufacturer compatibility, 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. As a rule of thumb, most manufacturers of entry-level parts produce Shimano-compatible products to match what most entry-level bikes leave the factory with.

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 is 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 all-purpose lithium 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 nowhere, you’re in trouble.

Hubs are susceptible to the ingress of dirt and water over time, so hubs with good-quality external rubber seals are preferable to those without. Properly installed, such 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.

When it came to choosing wheel hubs for the ultimate expedition bike, the choice at the time was between steel-axled Shimano Deore LX HB-T670 (front) and FH-T670 (rear) hubs, as pictured below, and the similar but aluminium-axled Shimano Deore XT T‑8000 hubs with additional weather sealing from rubber dust caps.

Unfortunately, according to feedback from Richard’s customers, the XT hubs were exhibiting reliability problems on long tours. LX hubs, then, are what I used on the prototype. Today you’ll find the almost-identical Shimano Deore HB/FH610 hubs in the current specification of the Oxford Bike Works Expedition. Regularly checked and serviced, there’s no reason they shouldn’t also last a lifetime.

(Shimano’s ideal but currently non-existent expedition touring bike wheel hub would feature both steel axles and rubber dust caps for double-defence weather sealing. If you really wanted to, you could probably thread a Deore steel axle with XT seals, washers and locknuts to create your own.)

The hubs mentioned above are designed for V‑brakes, which means they don’t have machined mating faces and bolt holes for disc rotors. If, after reading through this discussion, you go with disc brakes, you’ll also need disc-compatible hubs. Luckily there are direct equivalents in the Shimano LX range: the HB-T675 rear and FH-T675 front hub.

(If you’re obsessed with maximum mechanical redundancy, you might have your V‑brake-compatible rims built onto disc-compatible hubs for cross-compatibility with both braking systems. Some might also argue that the shorter spokes of a wheel built onto a disc hub with a bigger flange diameter also translates to a slight increase in strength.)

When it came to spokes, my ultimate expedition bike’s 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 widely considered the best in the industry in terms of quality and strength. DT Swiss also have a very strong reputation.

Now, an important note on buying wheels for touring bikes.

Though factory-built wheels are much better quality than they used to be, and you’ll find them on most mainstream touring bikes, few machine-built aftermarket wheelsets manufactured at scale are designed and built specifically for expedition touring. 

This is why I strongly recommend having your wheels hand-built by a reputable wheelbuilder who is experienced in building touring and expedition bike wheels. 

Yes, this will undoubtedly cost more. But when you finish choosing your ideal rims, rim tape, hubs, spokes, etc, you’ll probably find that your precise combination isn’t available commercially anyway; at least, not outside a handful of true touring bike specialists. In any case, hiring a wheelbuilder also gets you the advice of a specialist, who will usually be happy to talk through your choices and perhaps even help improve your final wheelset specification. 

Just ensure they give you a few spare spokes of the various lengths involved to take with you – I recommend at least two rear drive-side spokes, one, rear non-drive-side, and one front spoke. You can then Gaffa-tape them to a seatstay or another available part of the frame where they’ll be out of the way.

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 the original wheels for my prototype, 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, one tyre was king in the expedition touring world. That tyre was the Schwalbe Marathon XR. Hard-wearing, impervious to punctures and with enough volume and tread to tackle pretty much anything, the XR was the default choice for anyone doing anything that might be described as ‘epic’ on a touring bike. (I’ve still got a few stockpiled in a basement somewhere.)

The tyre, the legend: Schwalbe’s Marathon XR was once the go-to tyre for just about every round-the-world cyclist on the planet.

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

Thankfully, Schwalbe’s Marathon range includes several other tyres which remain firm favourites among long-haul cycle tourers. As its name suggests, the Marathon line of tyres has world-class longevity. Depending on the exact model, you’ll either get good or excellent puncture resistance. And they all prioritise rolling efficiency over heavy-duty traction, which is rarely needed in a touring scenario anyway. The most robust tyres in the Marathon range are rather heavy, and none of them are cheap, but they’ve been proven to perform incredibly well on long term tours, as thousands of riders will tell you.

When you’re building an expedition touring bike, of course, you choose only the first set of tyres. Tyres are consumable. Even the best ones wear out eventually. And of course, there are different ‘best tyres’ for different riding conditions. 

What that means is that the optimal 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 inevitably require several pairs of tyres. What you use is likely to vary over the course of your journey, as availability and conditions dictate.

Comfort being more important than speed, many long-haul riders will choose relatively wide (ie: high volume) tyres. An off-the-peg touring bike might be specified with 700×28C tyres (ie: 28mm-wide tyres of the 700C diameter), whereas a custom-built expedition bike might have 26×1.75″ tyres (ie: 1.75 inch-wide tyres with a nominal diameter of 26 inches). Higher-volume tyres at lower pressures are more comfortable on rough roads, as well as having better traction – and you can inflate them to a higher pressure for those nice stretches of good asphalt.

Don’t forget to consider the tyre clearance offered by your frameset. Expedition-specific frames and forks usually offer more space for fatter tyres than regular road touring frames. If you’re planning to fit fenders (aka: mudguards), you’ll need to match them to your chosen tyre size too.

For my prototype ultimate expedition bike, I decided upon a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Plus 40–559 (26×1.5″) tyres.

What I had in mind for the prototype was a rider planning a tour starting on the good roads and occasional gravel/dirt tracks and bike paths – the variety of surfaces that constitute many designated long-distance cycle routes in the developed world – before possibly venturing further afield. For this kind of riding, I know the Schwalbe Marathon Pluses will happily cross a continent or two before they wear thin, probably having had fewer punctures than they’ll have crossed borders.

If you’re hitting a higher proportion of dirt roads from the start, I’d suggest looking at the Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour or Mondial, and increasing the volume to somewhere in the 1.75–2.2″ range of tyre widths – as wide as your frameset can take, really. (It’s worth mentioning that there’s a much greater diversity of tyres being used in the off-road bikepacking scene.)

Whichever tyre you choose for your ultimate expedition touring bike, make sure you match tyre size to rim diameter and ensure tyre width doesn’t exceed frame/fork clearance.

As with most manufacturers these days, Schwalbe quote tyre sizes using the standardised, metric, measurement-based ISO system, as well as quoting the equivalent size in traditional systems for those who haven’t caught up yet. For example, using ISO terminology, my so-called 26×1.5″ tyres are actually 40–559 tyres, ie: with a 40mm inflated width and for a 559mm-diameter rim. Similarly, a traditional 700×40C tyre expressed in ISO sizing is 40–622; that is, 40mm width for a 622mm-diameter rim.

(Head starting to ache? Read Sheldon Brown’s classic article on bicycle rim/tyre sizing systems and how to translate between them. My rule of thumb: choose one sizing system and stick to it!)

Pro tip: I always fit my tyres with the embossed air pressure range figures mounted directly alongside the valves. Why? So I don’t have to hunt around for them while I’m inflating/deflating a tyre on the roadside. Yeah, it’s the little things.

Retailers for Schwalbe Marathon Plus/Tour Expedition Touring Bike Tyres


Drivetrain Components For Expedition Touring Bikes

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

But before we go any further, let’s remind ourselves of some of the core principles of expedition touring bike design: strengthdurability, serviceability and simplicity.

Why? Because remembering these principles will help us navigate the minefield of drivetrain technologies the cycling industry has created for us.

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

So. Rather than make just one derailleur, one crankset, one bottom bracket, etc, you will notice that 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 these companies a lot of money, and it could easily waste you a lot of money too.

There are indeed some functional and aesthetic differences between ranges. But the truth is – in the context of cycle touring – they are utterly marginal. These margins are interesting to bike nerds and competitive cyclists but should be of no interest to an expedition bike builder.

For example, lots of clever manufacturing tricks are used save weight in order to convince buyers that a given product will help them win races or improve their Strava rankings. But when you calculate the total cost for an entire bike, you realise it would cost you thousands of pounds/Euros/dollars to save fewer grams than the weight of your do-everything cycle touring toolkit on components that do exactly the same thing.

Strength, durability, serviceability and simplicity – these are qualities that Shimano’s entry-level Alivio and Acera parts deliver better than high-end XTR parts costing ten times the price, because they haven’t been compromised in order to shave off a few more slivers of metal.

When you’re on a cycle tour or bikepacking trip, you care about one thing along: whether or not the drivetrain works. That’s usually more about how well your bike has been maintained than how much the derailleur cost.

Shimano still have the longest reputation for making drivetrain products that are reliably fit for purpose at every price-point. That’s why the cheapest bikes on sale at big-box stores will almost definitely be fitted with OEM Shimano components straight out of the factory. The products on offer in the lucrative high-end consumer market are made in the same factory using the same technologies.

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 shifter cables, chains, chainrings, sprocket cassettes and jocky wheels. You’ll find old touring bikes still running on Shimano drivetrains from back when there really was only one derailleur to choose from.

Today, my money’s on the lower-mid-range of Shimano’s mountain bike drivetrain components – anything from Acera to Deore LX, depending on your chosen number of gear ratios. This is where you’ll find the sweet spot between availability, value, functionality and cross-compatibility, particularly when it comes to finding replacement parts far from home.

Rant over! Sorry about that. Let’s now have a look at what drivetrain components I actually chose for my prototype ultimate expedition bike, and how we arrived at those decisions.

Gear Ratios For 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.

Why? Think about day-to-day riding scenarios. You’ll use three or four gear combinations for 99% of your riding: a couple of everyday cruising gears for varying conditions, one ‘tailwind’ gear, and one very low gear for climbing hills. And that one low gear needs to be really low.

Mountain biking tends to require a broader range of gearing than road riding, due to the heavier bikes and more challenging terrain involved. For that reason, expedition bikes almost always use mountain bike drivetrain components.

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.


Derailleurs For Touring Bikes

My prototype ultimate expedition bike was fitted with a Shimano Deore FD-M590 front derailleur and a matching long-cage RD-M591 rear derailleur.

Alivio derailleurs would have been fine, except that the rear derailleur model available at the time didn’t have a barrel adjuster for precise adjustment of the gear indexing. Because the shifters I was fitting (see below) didn’t have barrel adjusters, we chose to upgrade to the Deore. On long tours, gear indexing is a relatively common adjustment, especially in the days after new gear cables are fitted, and I wanted this procedure to be as simple as possible.

Today’s Shimano Alivio RD-T4000 rear derailleur does indeed have a barrel adjuster. I’d probably choose it 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 layout 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 most scenarios. 

You’ll notice that Shimano derailleurs are often described with the number of speeds, eg: 9‑speed or 10-speed. This is slightly misleading, as it’s the shifter indexing that dictates the number of speeds, whereas the derailleur’s range of motion is the same across ranges, meaning they’re usually cross-compatible.

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)? 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 crank arms 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. Choosing such a chainset, rather than a permanently riveted model, means that individual chainrings can be easily replaced 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 thus how long you want the pedal stroke to be. Finally, while the current trend in the mountain-bike component consumer market is for single or double chainrings, the smart money for expedition touring is still on entry-level triple chainsets (Alivio, Acera, etc) with three chainrings, designed for 8‑speed and 9‑speed drivetrains. These will maximise your gear range, wear slower over time, and save you money in the first place.

(It doesn’t matter if you use a chainset described as 9‑speed with an 8‑speed chain and cassette system – they’re cross-compatible.)

I chose a Shimano Acera HG41 11–34-tooth 8‑speed Megarange cassette, a Shimano Acera FC-M361 triple chainset with 170mm crank arms and 22/32/44-tooth chainrings, and a Connex-Wipperman 808 8‑speed chain.

You might notice in the photos that I also upgraded the middle chainring to a Middleburn Hardcoat model, whose longevity was well known in touring lore. Sadly they’re no longer in production.

At this point, you might also be wondering why I didn’t go with an internally geared hub such as the Rohloff.

In my view, the choice between internal geared hubs and traditional derailleurs mainly depends on two things: how much you value serviceability, and how much money you want to spend upfront. I’ve written extensively on the Rohloff vs derailleur debate in my Touring Bike FAQ series of posts.

Further Reading & Retailer Links
  • See the range of Shimano chainsets aka: cranksets available online (click & scroll down for cheaper 8- and 9‑speed models): 
  • See the range of Shimano sprocket cassettes available online (click & scroll down for cheaper 8- and 9‑speed models): 
  • See the range of bike chains from various brands available online (click & scroll down for cheaper 8- and 9‑speed chains): 

Shifters

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.

TEB25

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 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 For Touring Bikes

I’ve written about the choice between disc brakes and V‑brakes on a touring bike in more detail as part of my Touring Bike F.A.Q. series of blog posts.

To recap, the big plus points for rim brakes are simplicity and serviceability: they’re standard issue on cheap mass-produced bikes the world over, meaning you will find 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. Choosing rim brakes is largely about helping you maximise your time on the road.

Disc brakes’ biggest advantage for tourers is in the long-term durability benefit. Simply put, disc brakes won’t wear out the wheel rims, as rim brakes inevitably will in the (very) long run. When a disc brake rotor wears thin, changing the rotor is simpler and usually cheapers than rebuilding the whole wheel.

A secondary benefit is performance in challenging conditions. 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 outperform badly-calibrated disc brakes every time.

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. Mountain bike oriented 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.

For the ultimate expedition bike, we went with a V‑brake system, 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

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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.

Saddle

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.

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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.

DSC09108

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.

DSC09105

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

Pedals

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.

DSC09086

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.

DSC09084

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:borrowed 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
Seatpost:Humpert
Handlebars:Deda 610mm flat bars
Stem:Deda
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 current specification of the Oxford Bike Works Expedition based on this prototype, 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 in your panniers alongside your tent, camping mattress, stove, cookset and toolkit.

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.


Bogged down in research for your next big bicycle adventure?

I wrote a book just for you! How To Hit The Road is here to take (most of) the pain out of planning a bike tour of any length, duration or budget. Available as a fairly-priced ebook or paperback.