Touring on a Trek 1.2?
May 1, 2010 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to do fully-loaded bicycle touring on a Trek 1.2?

A friend and I are planning on doing a thousand-mile tour of the Pacific coast (Seattle to San Jose) over the course of two weeks later this year. We plan to camp along the way so I'd like to be able to carry camping gear with me. What I'm wondering is whether it's feasible to do this on my current bike, a Trek 1.2, which I make pretty good use of. It appears to have mount points for a rear rack, but I'm not sure how easy it would be to mount a front rack. I'm also concerned about tire width (it comes with 700x23 tires, but wider tires seem to be recommended) and heel clearance for rear panniers (due to shorter chainstays than most "touring" bikes), and general stability and durability when it comes to bearing weight. As much as it would suck, should I be looking at getting a new bike instead? If not, what modifications should I make to this one?
posted by pmdboi to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A short wheelbase is not just annoying because of pannier heel strike: it is also going to be less comfortable to ride over longer distances - a longer wheelbase bicycle will self balance better than a shorter wheelbase bike will, which becomes more important when you have more weight on the frame.

Also you definitely don't want to tour on low spoke count wheels like come with that bike - losing spokes can ruin your touring experience and touring wheels actually should have more spokes than a typical wheel (36 spoke count like they use on tandems are popular).

Also road chatter adds up fast when you put in long rides day after day, and an aluminum frame will wear you out much faster on long rides than a softer steel frame. The work of compensating for the road jitter gets exhausting and you also risk a greater chance of hand and arm numbness from the more jittery ride.
posted by idiopath at 11:50 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and also most regular touring cyclists would not trust sidepull breaks with a loaded bike - the more weight on your bike the harder the brakes need to work, and cantilever is the standard for touring.
posted by idiopath at 11:53 AM on May 1, 2010

All that said - I have met folks who did the trip you are considering on fixies with backpacks instead of panniers. And on most tours you won't break any spokes or have any braking emergencies. But it kind of makes sense to consider things from a very conservative standpoint when considering your first tour.
posted by idiopath at 12:40 PM on May 1, 2010

If you were heading to Pakistan I'd say no. Across the US with bike shops along the way you'll probably be fine. I've seen it done on all sorts.
posted by fire&wings at 12:55 PM on May 1, 2010

Best answer: Totally possible. I've toured many, many thousands of miles with a Trek 600 because that's what I have. No, it's not ideal. But it is totally workable.

I have a good rear rack (tubus) and use older-style Arkel panniers that allow you to move the hooks fore and aft, meaning I can move the bags back far enough that I don't have heel strike issues (if you have massive feet, you may have to play with this a bit more). Also look at taller/narrower rear bags like Arkel's mountain biking series, which I've heard some people use to avoid heel strike issues.

I clamped a cheap aluminum front rack (blackburn) to my fork, and have had friends do the same with carbon forks on slightly newer models of my bike, although more carefully. However, for two weeks, you could probably get by with just rear bags, especially if you don't need cold-weather or cooking gear (not an ideal weight distribution, but I've done it). If you minimize the stuff you take and pack it well, you should be able to get by with just two bags, especially if you have any lightweight and packable camping gear. Plus, I never put much heavy stuff on the front anyway because of my clamps. You could also look into Old Man Mountain racks and see if they have something you could use on the front that would have your axle bearing the weight, if you're willing to spend a bit more $.

I fit 28 mm tires on mine and had no problems with them. The one improvement you might consider is getting a handbuilt rear wheel with 36 spokes. My cheaper road wheel made it through about 6,000 miles of touring before I replaced it, but I broke a couple of spokes before that. If you decide not to get a new wheel, get a fiber fix kevlar spoke to take with you so you can replace the spoke on the road until you get to a bike shop. Keep the directions with it--you'll need them, but it wasn't too tough to learn how to use it and was cheaper than a new wheel. I toured thousands of miles before I needed it. But I haven't needed to use it since I got a good rear wheel.

Brakes were no problem. On a couple of really hairy descents with lots of braking, I've pulled over to let the rims cool off, but I never felt I didn't have enough braking power, even with the added weight. Me plus gear weighed about 200-225 lbs. on most tours, so if you're significantly heavier, you may want to check into your brakes a bit more.

I replaced my stem with one that allowed me to sit more upright, added gel pads under my handlebar tape, and replaced my gearing so I had lower gears and would be able to climb better with the extra weight, but most of those things are personal preference and dependent on your body type.

I don't know how many people have told me it's "impossible" to tour on my bike. But then again, they're often the ones sitting at home while I'm happily making my way across the continent. I felt my money was better spent on a basic bike mechanic course so I could fix my bike on tour if something broke rather than buying a new bike. I've used that knowledge for other people's gear much more than I've used it on my own. And after this many touring miles, when I comes time to buy a new bike, I'll know more about what I'm really looking for. So for this tour, I'd try to make this bike work. If you get hooked on touring, you can always look at buying a new bike later.
posted by BlooPen at 1:26 PM on May 1, 2010

I would recommend doing a test run, just to make up your mind, before you go bike shopping. Not that there's anything wrong with owning multiple bikes!

That said, I bought an older steel frame for touring: it has a longer wheel base and ability to run 700x28 tires. Most current road bike frames are not set up to handle loads or have the clearance for the wider tires that are best for the type of loads you would like to carry.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:28 PM on May 1, 2010

Best answer: There are racks designed for racing bikes that move the whole rack aft, to avoid heel strike. And there are tourists who pack extremely light (google "bikepacking") and eschew racks altogother, getting by on big seat bags, handlebar bags, etc. And there are trailers: you've probably seen the BOB, and there's the more minimal Extrawheel.

I believe front lowriders would be possible using clamps.

So, yes, one way or the other, it would be possible. A more laid-back bike might be preferable, but you wouldn't be the first to tour on a bike like yours.

It would be a good idea to do a short shakedown tour before embarking on the big one, to make sure that everything works the way you want. Also, I've found that for very long days in the saddle, clip-on aero bars are great: another hand position that takes the strain off your wrists.
posted by adamrice at 2:45 PM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've done similar tours on a very similar bike (e.g. SF to San Diego last year). As long as you are willing to pack light, it won't be a big deal. Stick with a rear rack only, fit the widest tires you can (probably 28s, but even those might be tough with fenders (and you want fenders)), and consider a shorter stem to make your riding position a little more comfortable. Travelling as a pair, you should be able to get by with very little gear on each bike.
posted by ssg at 8:49 AM on May 2, 2010

I did two loaded tours (cross country on a fixed conversion and then around Europe on a track bike), both with 23mm tires - so anything's possible. The fun and adventure of bike touring far outweighs whatever mechanical inconvenience you may encounter. I'll echo what BlooPen said above - "So for this tour, I'd try to make this bike work. If you get hooked on touring, you can always look at buying a new bike later."

The pacific coast isn't too tough (I rode from Florence OR to San Francisco at the end of my trip) and bike shops/services/state campgrounds are plenty should you need to get something fixed or take a break from riding.
posted by stachemaster at 12:27 PM on May 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers, everyone! I'm going to stick with this bike, but it's pretty clear I need to get a stronger rear wheel (coincidentally one of my rear spokes broke shortly before I wrote this question!). The current plan is just to have a rear rack. My (more experienced) tour mate says that's all I'll need given that we'll be sharing the load.

I'll let you all know how it goes. :)
posted by pmdboi at 2:47 PM on May 9, 2010

Response by poster: To give an update, I ordered the Topeak Super Tourist DX rack and Axiom Typhoon panniers. I've got a rear wheel with double-walled rims and 36 spokes on order, as well as an 11-32 cassette (current one is 11-26), and I'm going to get a set of 28mm tires (probably Gatorskins).

If you're doing the same thing I am, make sure to get the rack without disc brake clearance posts if you don't need them. On my bike, the post's corner butts up against the body of the seat stay and keeps the frame from being screwed in all the way. I had to put some #10 washers on the bolt between the rack and the bike frame in order to keep it from doing so.
posted by pmdboi at 10:14 PM on July 14, 2010

Cool! Gatorskins are a great choice. Be sure to update with how the trip went.
posted by idiopath at 11:41 AM on July 15, 2010

Response by poster: So we finished the trip today, after fourteen days and more than a thousand miles in the saddle. The bike performed admirably, but if I were to do the trip again I'd have second thoughts about using it. The lighter frame meant less weight to haul, but it did transmit a lot of vibration from the road, to the point that my hands were frequently going to sleep, even with gloves on. Changing hand position frequently helped a little, and it seemed to get better as the trip went on.

The mechanics at the bike shops I stopped at gave me funny looks for touring on this bike, but they seemed to be more worried about the reliability of the bike components than the frame weight/geometry.

If you're thinking about doing a long trip with this bike, I recommend the following:

1. Have your bike tuned up beforehand. I had my rear shift cable snap and had to climb two 1000-foot hills with my rear derailer stuck in sixth gear, and that probably would have been caught by a comprehensive tune-up at the shop before the trip.

2. Get the bigger cassette for those hills. The route was definitely more hilly than flat, and though I was able to stay out of the absolute lowest gear most of the time, it was necessary at some points, like where CA-1 dips into the gulches along the coast. Note, however, that the stock derailer on the Trek 1.2 just barely fits the 32-tooth cog and would not fit a 34-tooth cog. I had to get a longer chain to fit the big-big gear combo.

3. Use Loctite or lock washers on your rack screws, or check the screw tightness periodically. My riding partner and I both had screws vibrate loose from the road noise, to the point (in my case) where one of the screws came out completely and caused the other one to shear off from the load.

The Super Tourist DX rack was long enough to avoid my heels striking the panniers, so that wasn't a problem at all. The Axiom Typhoon panniers were waterproof as advertised. I ended up using Vittoria Randonneur tires, and my partner had Continental Gatorskins (both 700×28c), and we had zero flats (!) for the whole trip.

If you get the chance to go on this trip or one like it, do it. Even with the mentioned mechanical misfortunes, the trip was worth it. We saw some beautiful coastline and met lots of fun people along the way.
posted by pmdboi at 11:28 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

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