I’ve been documenting the technical side of touring bikes for about a decade, and in my time have seen some mind-blowing touring and bikepacking features.
I’ve just spent the week scouring the internet (thanks COVID!) so that I can take you on a tour of the most insane touring bike features ever conceived. We will start out with lots of nifty, but uncommon bike features that I really appreciate on my various bikes. But you’ll really want to stick around until the end of this video as these features are going to get seriously out of hand.
Let’s do it!
23. Schmidt SON SL Dynamo Wiring
One of the coolest features you can find on a premium touring bike is Schmidt SL dynamo wiring. With the matching SL dropouts, all you need to do is fit your front dynamo wheel to your bike and your dynamo system is all wired up.
While plugging in a dynamo cable really isn’t actually a big deal, if touring forks are already equipped with internal dynamo cabling, we may as well add the SL connectors to complete the incredibly clean look.
22. Internal Dynamo Cable Routing
After the dynamo cable has run up the inside of your fork, it makes sense to keep the internal wiring right through to the back of the bike. This is actually not as hard as you’d think given there are holes in the ends of most frame tubes.
The best touring racks use hollow steel tubes, and this is a great opportunity to wire your rear dynamo light cable inside the rear rack. I have drilled a small hole at the top of my rack so that my cable is hidden all the way to my light!
21. Guided Internal Cable Routing
On the subject of internal routing, another very neat feature is guided internal cable routing for your brakes and gears. This not only looks incredible, but it silences your cables on bumpy roads and keeps them free from debris too.
It’s a pretty labour intensive process given the need to drill holes in the frame, install long metal tubes and finish off the surface – but it’s definitely one of my favourite features of the KOGA WorldTraveller.
20. Direct Mount Frame Packs
Direct mount frame packs have been around for a while in the handmade bike community, but it’s only recently that major adventure bike brands Salsa, Marin and Niner have committed to this setup. Other than looking super clean, these bags are actually quite functional as velcro bag straps usually like to scratch your frame when the mud and grit inevitably works its way in.
19. Anodized Finishes: Frames, Fenders, Rohloff Hubs
Anodizing is a surface treatment process which allows you to add colour to a bike without adding any extra weight – plus it’s more durable than paint and less prone to scratching too. The most incredible anodizing is done by Firefly bikes, just check out how pretty all these designs are!
Frames aren’t the only thing we can anodize though. You can buy many components in anodized colours, and you can even take your fenders and Rohloff hub shell to an anodizing specialist to make something truly unique.
18. Custom Saddles
It’s safe to say that artist Kara Ginther has carved out a niche for herself. While motorbike and horse saddles have long been decorated, it only seems reasonable that somebody carves up your favourite bike saddle too. According to Kara, nothing “carves as nicely as a Brooks saddle”.
Kara has gone on to create a very impressive resume of saddles, from a Japanese “Great Wave” saddle design right through to pretty much anything you can possibly imagine.
Another artist doing cool things with saddles is Mike Peel in Australia. He re-covers many popular saddles with incredible designs and colours. His combination of perforated hole sizes, raised edges and subtle colours will add something truly special to your bike.
17. Carbon Fibre Parts
Carbon makes for a great frame and fork material, but did you know you can also get custom-made carbon touring accessories?
This is a Calfee carbon fork with integrated front rando rack. The rack adds just 70 grams to a fork and Calfee can actually build these into your existing fork. Another popular touring component that can be made using carbon is your fenders.
16. Rohloff and Pinion Gearbox 3000% Drivetrain
Let’s shift gears a bit. Don’t know whether to pick a Pinion 18-speed gearbox or Rohloff 14-speed hub on your next touring bike? Well, why not combine both! That way you can have 252 individual gears and you can finally pedal your buff legs at 128KPH!
Ok, this is technically an April Fools joke, but you could actually make it happen. There are a few people on earth who would actually pedal fast enough for this drive system – Denise Mueller-Korenek and Eric Barone are two that I can think of.
But seriously, you can extend the range of a Rohloff hub by fitting a Schlumpf two-speed crankset. These nifty cranks have an overdrive gear of 1.65 or 2.5 times, which results in an insanely wide gear range of 868% or 1315%!
15. Custom Aerobars
Aero bars are gaining in popularity on bikepacking bikes, but what you may not realise is that for ultra events, and adventure riding in general – aero bars aren’t really about speed. Most users will agree the biggest advantage is the extra comfort they offer by taking the weight off your hands and wrists, and changing the angle of your back and neck.
If you know your exact bar height and reach, why not integrate the arm pads into a custom stem cap… or a fork for that matter, in the case of the above Victoire build!
A really neat bikepacking accessory that can be integrated into a custom aero bar is a magnetic hydration pack hose connector. This custom accessory by Fern Bicycles allows your hydration bladder hose to always be at the ready.
14. Custom Integrated Handlebar and Stem
Let’s hang out at the front of the bike a little longer and ogle over some custom bar and stem combos. It turns out I’m not the only person who can design a handlebar to their every specification – anybody can! Dekerf Cycles and Moonmen Bikes make some amazing custom handlebars.
James at Black Sheep also constructs some very appealing titanium bar and stem combinations for touring, adjusting for all the dimensions, backsweep and angles you prefer. But if you throw enough money at him, James can even integrate the handlebar, stem and fork together into one incredible work of art!
13. Titanium Suspension Fork
James doesn’t only make incredible handlebars, he also makes custom leaf-sprung titanium forks that require zero maintenance, which is perfect for the backcountry or an extended tour. The only fork option which operates using the same principles is the incredible Lauf carbon suspension fork.
12. Couplers and Frame Breaks
When you order a custom frame, you are often given the option for various coupler and frame-break designs. While these options are rarely cheap, the idea is that you can break your bike into smaller pieces so that you can fly without oversized baggage fees – hopefully, recouping the upfront cost over time.
One of the most impressive bikes that will fit into two standard-size cases is this Moonmen tandem fat bike! It boggles my mind that all that titanium, rubber, leather and carbon fits into two tiny boxes.
But couplers don’t have to just stop at your bike frame. You can drop $900 on a coupler stem which will turn taking your bars off your bike from a 60-second job to a 10-second job! If you do this 100 times in your life, you’ll save an hour and 23 minutes. If we assume a nice stem is $700 cheaper, you’re looking at a stem feature that costs close to $1000 per hour to use!
11. Custom Racks
Custom racks always look pretty, but they often improve on standard designs too. You can integrate dynamo light protectors, baskets, bottle cage mounts and bag supports for bikepacking bags. It gets really fancy when you start to permanently braze the frame, racks and fenders together! Or simply build the rack into the fork and squeeze a custom bag inside.
10. Steering Locks
If you carry a front-load on your bike, you’ll have noticed that the front wheel likes to turn when you park your bike. There are a few aftermarket solutions to this problem including the SteerStopper and Hebie stabilizers, but none is as elegant as a stainless steel pin that pierces right through your fork and head tube!
9. Integrated Frame Lock
There are a few completely ridiculous things on this list, but the next few features take things to another level.
Tony from Breadwinner Bikes takes the idea of a steering lock much more literally! He has managed to use his custom bike frames, stems and forks as the lock cylinder and body. Simply slip the key into the side of your stem to free your bike. As the lock integrates with the steerer tube, this stops the wheel from turning when the bike is locked.
8. Gold Plated Rohloff Bike Chain
Before Rohloff created their revolutionary 14-speed gearbox, they actually specialised in making chains. And in the late-1980s, they did a very limited run of 24-carat gold plated chains! You can sometimes come across these chains selling today for a mind-boggling €1500…
… if only there was a hub that was the perfect match for a gold-plated chain.
7. Gold-Plated Rohloff Hub Shell
Well, there is one 24-carat gold plated Rohloff hub in existence. It was constructed by Bernhard Rohloff himself – the mastermind behind the Rohloff gearbox – at the Eurobike trade show in 2008, and it signified the 100,000th hub Rohloff had sold.
55 Rohloff owners who had completed more than 60,000km on their current hubs went into a draw to win this gold hub. The winner of the competition then went on to auction the only gold-plated Rohloff hub off for charity. What a legend!
This Rohloff is incredibly rare and blingy, but what if gold ain’t your thing?
6. Custom Hub Shells For Rohloff and Schmidt Hubs
Don’t worry because Phil Wood is here to save the day!
You no longer have to deal with ‘common-folk’ hub shells from Rohloff and Schmidt, Phil Wood is going to help you stand out from the crowd with a set of custom-made polished hub shells. Other than the incredible aesthetic, the only reason to invest in new hub shells is so you can use lower or higher spoke counts than Rohloff or Schmidt themselves offer – that’s 24 spokes per wheel minimum and 48 maximum.
5. Wooden Touring Bikes
Ask anyone who builds wooden bike frames, and they would not think there is anything crazy about their construction material. Wooden frames often offer the same stiffness as carbon, at a similar weight to steel (2.3kg/5lb), and they actually prove to be stronger than steel in many load tests. The key attribute to wood is that it absorbs more vibration than any other typical frame material, which makes for a silky-smooth ride.
Wooden frames are usually constructed by cutting two matching frame halves, hollowing out the tubes (sometimes with a CNC machine, other times by hand) and then glueing the pieces together. The ride characteristics can be refined for the customer by selecting the appropriate wood types and wall thicknesses for the rider’s weight and riding style.
I’ve actually spent some time on a Renovo wooden bike and I can honestly say it offered a very dreamy ride.
4. Four-Wheel Antarctic Adventure Bike
What is the ultimate bike for cycling to the South Pole? Probably something like this Carver fat bike! In fact, this incredible piece of titanium machinery literally visited the most southern point on Earth.
The bike is running four 5.5″ tyres at 2spi(!) each providing massive float across polar terrain. A driving chain runs between the rear tyres to a custom-made cog; the front and rear hubs are actually all connected together so the wheels spin at the same speed. A Pinion gearbox at the crankset provides 18-gears that are enclosed in a sealed oil bath and there is only a front disc brake to stop this bike.
It’s definitely a crazy build!
I almost fell off my bike when I first saw a guy touring on a StringBike! I was overtaking him at the time and looked down to see two weird alien arms moving in a very bizarre way. I immediately struck up a conversation with the guy and made him pull over so I could take a closer look.
The StringBike uses two crank pulleys and Dyneema ropes to drive the rear wheel, offering 19 non-overlapping gears spread over a 350% range. You can change the gears with a simple twist forwards or backwards at the grip. The main advantage of this design is that it is silent and requires little maintenance in all-weather conditions. That said, given all the proprietory parts, I don’t think we’ll see StringDrive on many touring bikes in the future.
2. Rodriguez 8-Ball Convertible Tandem
As someone who has cycled across multiple continents on a tandem bicycle, let me tell you – it’s one of the best ways to explore the world with a partner or friend! These days my tandem gets very little use, but perhaps I would still be riding it if I had selected Rod Bikes for my custom tandem build…
This Pacific NW bike company specialises in convertible tandems from two riders to one… or four-to-one for that matter! By very cleverly locating S&S couplers so that you can remove sections of the bike, you can own one bike that adapts for multiple riders in less than 15 minutes!
1. Moots Fat Bike With Liquid Storage
Here we go…
The most insane bike feature I’ve ever seen on a touring bike has got to be liquid storage! In the case of this Moots fat bike, the liquid can be stored inside the titanium fork legs, the frame downtube, and the entirety of this trailer! If you look carefully, you will see the input screws at the highest points of the bike, and small brass taps at the lowest.
This fat bike was originally designed to cross some of the most remote places on Earth, which is why you’ll find more than 6-litres of fuel storage in the custom titanium trailer alone. But when not out on epic expeditions, I’d imagine this bike would make a pretty amazing party-bike filled with whiskey!
Bonus: Titanium Shot Glass Bell
Hey, and if whiskey is your game, those 6-litres of titanium-stowed deliciousness need to be consumed out of the right cup. The best cup in this instance is the removable titanium bell dome from a King Cage bell! You can literally buy these shot glass bells for US $40…