What mountain bike for touring?
March 21, 2010 3:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for advice on what mountain bike to buy for a long off-road tour.

I want to take a few months and ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. I'm a reasonably well-informed roadie but I know next to nothing about mountain bikes and I need to buy one for this little adventure. What should I be looking for, and how much should I expect to spend to get a bike of good quality?
posted by LastOfHisKind to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You probably want a hard-tail with pannier mount points, full suspension complicates things. Front suspension would be desired though, so a cross-country bike is probably up your alley.

Aluminum for light weight so you're not pedaling around more weight than necessary.

Don't cheap-out too much, you don't want it breaking and falling apart on you off-road with no nearby bike shops.

I'd go for one with V-brakes instead of discs. Easier to fix mid-ride. Platform pedals with toe clips so you can wear regular shoes and less to go wrong.

Starting price range in USD is about $300, plus accessories like a pannier rack and bags, bottle cages and bottles, or hydration pack. GPS if you don't have one.

I'm sure others will have better advice, but that's off the top of my head if I were considering it.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 3:55 PM on March 21, 2010

Response by poster: Not to disagree with you, but my good quality road bike (carbon fiber, ultegra) cost about $3500. I struggle to imagine a $300 mountain bike being up for this kind of trip.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:04 PM on March 21, 2010

This guy is getting ready to do the Great Divide Race. Good info on bikes and other things bike-related...
posted by MsKim at 4:25 PM on March 21, 2010

That's just the starting range for a hard-tail with front suspension that isn't bought from a department store. You didn't specify your budget. Sure, you can easily drop a few grand on the bike, but the question is whether you really need to. Keep it simple, spend the money on other things to make the trip more pleasant.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:13 PM on March 21, 2010

What hungrysquirrels says with a few more things.

A hard tail mountain bike is the way to go.

A trek 6700 is a fine bike. I have one that is about 7 years old. It's been ridden around two cities a lot and has done trips from Hobart to Launceston and the Cumberland trail to DC. It's ideal for what your proposing.

You can check out new Treks on their website.

There are second hard Trek hard tail mountain bikes on ebay from about $350 up. Some of these are pretty new. Heaps of people buy bikes and then don't use them, look around and you can pick up good deals.

Perhaps don't get disc brakes. I've heard a few too many stories about them failing on tour and just in general. Rim brakes are easier to fix.
posted by sien at 5:44 PM on March 21, 2010

Rode the divide in '03. Contrary to many suggestions, I rode a full-suspension. I had a hardtail at the time, but chose the full suspension anyway. FWIW, I didn't have any problems with the front or rear suspension. Everything was tuned/rebuilt prior to the tour. I did end up replacing a chain and cassette about halfway through, but that's mostly because I didn't start out with a new drivetrain, and had planned on having to replace it anyway.

I think any reasonably well built mountain bike will serve you well on the great divide, full-suspension or not. It's just not that rugged of a trail. It's long, but by most mountain bikers' standards it's not particularly technical or rugged. Though if you're primarily a roadie, you might find it more technically challenging than the impression I've given.

I would lean toward a mid-range, to lower high-end hardtail or full-suspension, and XT as opposed to XTR components. XT offers 90% of the performance of XTR, and isn't going to cost you a small fortune to replace any broken components. I would also consider upgrading the stock wheelset if it's equipped with lightweight race wheels. Beefier wheels are going to be worth the weight penalty when you're riding a fully loaded bike.

I don't get the love for V brakes either. If you're that concerned about somehow damaging the cables, go with mechanical disks, and carry spare cables. If you taco a wheel in the middle of nowhere and manage to beat it back into shape enough to get it rolling, your v-brakes will likely have to be disconnected. With discs you'll still have working brakes.

Luggage wise, I used a B.O.B trailer, and old man mountain (can't recommend them enough) front racks w/ panniers. I wasn't exactly travelling light. I started out with just the B.O.B trailer but the bike handled like crap with all the weight in the trailer. Shifting some of the gear weight forward to panniers made the bike handle *much* better.

My original trailer didn't survive the trip. I started out with the B.O.B Yak. It cracked, and I had to have it welded on 3 separate occasions before I was able to get a replacement shipped out to me. Finding welders in every other town got to be a serious pain. I upgraded to the Ibex. If you ride at all aggressively, aren't going to be packing particularly light, and are planning to pull a trailer the Ibex with the suspension is worth the extra money.
posted by zen_spider at 6:33 PM on March 21, 2010

My recommendation is for an aluminum hardtail with disc brakes and an adjustable front suspension.

I own a Marin Nail Trail from 2006; the frames are light and the components are great for the price.
posted by axismundi at 6:50 PM on March 21, 2010

Disk brakes are much more reliable and long-lasting than V-brakes. Still, I'd take a length of hose, fittings, tools and pads, just to make sure. The parts will weigh less than cables anyway, probably.
posted by klanawa at 7:10 PM on March 21, 2010

Salsa's Fargo is a pretty sweet trekking bike that could be adapted to other duties after a tour.
posted by asterisk at 10:21 AM on March 22, 2010

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