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I’m a university student and am keen to do some bike travel in between semesters. Your website has been a great help to me, although most of the parts and gear you talk about is pretty expensive stuff. I’m looking at building up my own bike, but I really only have limited funds to do this at the moment. After I’ve finished my course I’m thinking of doing a big trip, maybe the North and South American continents. Can you tell me which components of a touring bike I can save money, and which components I should put more money into.
Thanks in advance,
Like Paul, you might be wanting to build a bike capable of taking on the world, but on a limited budget. This article looks at the parts most likely to fail on a long distance tour, and suggests mid-high end products which are WORTH EVERY DOLLAR.
My suggested investment of around US $1000 may not be considered ‘budget’ in some circles, but what I’ve suggested will genuinely last a LIFETIME.
Other than part failures, I recommend investing in the contact points between you and the bike (pedals, seat and grips). Your bike tour will be more comfortable with good quality gear in these locations.
Note: The prices are listed at retail price, you can find them much cheaper if you go second hand or shop around!
Put Your Money Here:
Given the heavy loads you might be carrying, your wheels will take a lot of abuse. Rough roads make things harder for your wheels! If you’re using v-brakes we recommend using 36 hole Rigida CSS rims (26″ Andra 30 or 700c Grizzly). If you want to go disc brake, you can save US $100 on your wheelset by using the non-CSS version of those rims. I think Shimano XT hubs offer good value for their performance as the cup/cone bearings are easy to replace, although if you wanted to save another US $15 you could use a Deore front hub instead. With decent double butted spokes (Sapim or DT Swiss) and brass nipples, your wheels will be sure to last a lifetime. Spend some money on a good wheel builder to put them together. My Rigida Andra 30 rim review is HERE. Price: Non-CSS Wheelset US $340, CSS Wheelset US $440.
Schwalbe make some killer touring tyres; you’d be crazy buying anything else. We have got 15000km+ out of both the Marathon Plus and Marathon Mondial models. The folding Marathon Mondial tyres are 35% lighter than the wire bead Marathon Plus, but this comes at a price. Wire beads are known to sometimes ‘blow out’ the side or the tyre. So if your tyre is going to last this distance, it’s definitely worth putting your money into the folding version. My Schwalbe tyre roundup is HERE and my Mondial review is HERE. Price: Wire US $50 each, Folding US $90 each.
Tubus racks are money well spent: it is very rare to see failures. Made from steel and backed with a good warranty, you can’t go wrong. Be aware that most of the Tubus front racks require a mid-mount fork bolt. Reviews: Cargo HERE and Tara HERE. Price: Logo Rear US $120, Tara Front US $100.
A good saddle is a good investment. Unfortunately you can’t really try one before you buy one, but the Brooks B17 is the favourite for the majority of world cyclists. I have a list of the best bicycle touring saddles HERE. Price: US $110.
Ortlieb Backroller Classic Bags are waterproof roll top bags with a great clip system and super durable parts. We’ve seen failed panniers from most other popular brands. The only modification you may have to do to your Backroller is shown HERE. Price: US $120 per pair.
You Can Save Money Here:
Second Hand Bicycle – An obvious way to save money is to buy a second hand bike for the frame and bits, and make the above wheel/tyre/rack/bag upgrades.
Second Hand MTB Frame – A steel touring frame is preferred, but old mountain bike frames with rack mounts can be fine for touring. A frame failure is rare when it comes to broken touring gear.
Bar/Stem/Seatpost – Non-moving parts are unlikely to fail.
Brakes – Cheap Shimano v-brakes will definitely do the job. Avid BB7 or TRP Spyre disc brakes are both super cheap and high performing. For more on brakes, read my roundup HERE.
Drivetrain/Gears – A Shimano Deore or SLX drivetrain will last just as long as XT, although the gear changes mightn’t be as quick or precise.
Lights – Without spending a lot on a dynamo setup, you can get cheap rechargable lights which are super bright and plug in at the wall. If you only need lights ‘to be seen’, a couple of flashers will barely cost you a thing.
Complete Touring Bikes
Complete bikes are often really good value. You mightn’t get quite as strong/durable wheel or tyres, but you will get a touring specific frame/fork and drivetrain which is likely durable enough.
For a brand new, budget round-the-world build I would suggest using one of the below bikes with a custom wheelset, a good saddle and some good tyres. A Rigida wheelset, Brooks saddle and Schwalbe tyres will lift these bike prices north of US $1300 (950€, £800), but these upgrades really make the most of your money, and will take lots of stress away from your trip.
Check out some of these steel touring bikes for value:
Dawes Galaxy Cross Cromo Tourer (UK) – £599
Motobecane Gran Turismo (USA) – US $699
Nashbar Steel Touring (USA) – US $699
Novara Safari (USA) – US $899
Revolution Country Traveller (UK) – £499
Ridgeback World Tour (UK) – £599
Roux Etape 150 (UK) – £480
VSF Fahrrad Manufaktur T-50 (Germany) – 499€
Windsor Tourist (USA) – US $599
Click HERE for our complete list of touring bike manufacturers.
For the lowest price bombproof touring bike, it makes sense to put most of your money into the parts likely to break: wheels, tyres, racks and bags. I recommend spending a moderate amount on your contact points, and think you can go somewhat more budget on the rest.
Do the maths though, it may work out that a complete new bike (with modifications) will be a better bike for the price.