Having now finally finished building my bike (much to the relief of all of those who have had to listen to me chatter on about it for the last few months) it seemed like a post-worthy topic. I will preface this firstly that it goes into the intricacies of some of my component choices that I expect most won’t care about, and secondly that it is so far completely untested and as such could have all been a terrible life choice. I’m sure at some point I will write a post either confirming or denying the latter, but for now read on if my choices interest you – from frame to handlebars to shifters, it’s all here.
Once I was 100% certain I was going on tour, my first big decision was that I would build my bike, a commitment which the phrase “jumping in the deep end” somewhat fails to describe. The initial knowledge base I had for this undertaking was that I was aware that bikes had two wheels, handle bars, an arbitrary number of gears which can be either the “front” or “rear” gears, and a seat (if you’re lucky!). However, I do like tinkering with things, so I took a deep breath and dived into the sea of online shops, blogs and threads regarding custom bike builds. I read around all the sites on “best bike for touring”, “cheap bikes for touring”, “bike touring set ups” and so on, and kept coming back to something called a “Surly Long Haul Trucker”. This seemed to be a very well-known bike with good reviews pouring in from all over the world, so a reasonable place to start looking at what I might want in a bike. I printed a picture of the bike, then spent time googling and labelling the components and their functions, from headsets to derailleurs to chainsets (definitely worth doing regardless of whether building or buying a bike in my opinion). The bike seemed to come in two wheel sizes, 26″ and 700c (to a physicist, the idea that sizes would be compared in different, non standard units was initially horrifying…), with many an argument had over which of these was best for touring – 26″ seemed to be the traditional wheel of choice, with improvements in wheel technology bringing the 700c in as a reasonable contender. The main argument for 26″ wheels was their superior robust-ness, so I decided to go with them, regardless of what bike I ended up with. So that was wheel size chosen, high fives all around, how hard could it be from there? I then began the examination of the other parts of the LHT…
My first thought about the bike was that I didn’t like the road/drop handlebars. I’ve never really used them and when I have tried them they’ve always felt very narrow and wobbly, though lots of people do tours on them so maybe I would have got used to them. The other alternative is the flat handlebar and its variations. I chose the butterfly style as this seemed to offer a wide bar, which I liked the idea of, and lots of grip options. With flat bars in place I would need a compatible drive chain – I ended up with a mix of Shimano Deore and XT mountain bike components. With the choice of mountain bike vs road components made, I decided it was time to become slightly more informed about the aforementioned arbitrary number of gears. The LHT 2014 model came with a 9 speed 11-34 teeth rear cassette and 48-36-26 triple chainset, whilst the 2015 model came with a 10 speed rear cassette. After speaking with a few informed friends I settled for a 9 speed 11-34T cassette but a lower front gearing of 44-32-22T. On my tour, I’m carrying a lot of kit, and not being in any particular hurry and felt I would more appreciate the lower gearing up hills, than I would the higher gearing for steaming along the flats. There are loads of gear ratio calculating websites out there to theoretically try out various combinations, which I did check out, but I didn’t want to obsess over gearing too much as I’m sure once I get out on the bike I won’t give it a second thought, and if I do I’ll just have to swap some parts out. One note about the drive chain I did find interesting was the option to convert bar-end or friction shifters allowing them to be used on flat bars. Whilst the argument for the friction shifters seems good (less working parts = less things to break and go wrong), I haven’t used them before and the cost of the shifters plus the convertor mounts was equal to three sets of Deore indexed shifters which I have used before, so knowing I could break two full sets of the Deore ones and still be on even money compared to friction shifters, I opted for the indexed set.
Drive chain in place the last big decision was braking system. Disc brakes were out from the start as I decided they were too complicated for me to fix on the road – again they do seem to becoming more common on touring bikes, just not for me. This left cantilever vs side pull (v-brakes), which seemed like another eternal argument on various sites and threads. I eventually decided if it was that hotly contested that initially either would suffice, and bought some v-brakes because they were cheap and I’ve fixed them before.
Shimano do have a document available on their website that goes through the compatibility of their various components, so after quadruple checking all the things I thought would work I ordered the parts and eagerly anticipated their arrival! When choosing components I did use some models as inspiration, for lack of a better word, including the 2014 and 2015 Long Haul Trucker models, and the bikes build by the Oxford Bike Works models including the Expedition bike Designed by blogger Tom, with the (current) links to these pages below. I also need to give a shout out to Westbrook Cycles in Stokesley for sizing me up for an LHT and ordering me one in to test before selling me a very reasonably priced frame, and to Spa Cycles in Harrogate for the advice they gave me when I was in there buying wheels. With a bit of strategic shopping I’ve managed to get all these components including an LHT frame, hand built wheels and a Brooks saddle for a grand total of just under £870, saving a few hundred off a complete model and with a few upgraded components in there as well. The complete model didn’t come with racks, pedals or mudguards, so after throwing some of those in my final build costs have come close to £1000 – a very saddening amount for any student, but I have saved for a while to travel, so will hopefully be worth it!