Real touring bikes: Montana

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These are real touring bikes.  These are real people.  These are real places.  If you have missed the “Real touring bikes” series, check out the Yukon, British Columbia, and the Canadian Rockies.

July in Montana is high time for bicycle touring.  Adventure Cycling maps draw cyclists into the state on several routes including, the Great Divide, Northern TIer, Lewis and Clark, Great Parks, and the landmark TransAmerica Trail.  Glacier National Park and heavily forested mountains offer the next best thing to Alaska, and the sight of a bear is a regular possibility in the western part of the state.  Montana is expansive and wild, but charming towns and small cosmopolitan cities create a diverse experience.  Whitefish is a friendly tourist town, aware of its growth and committed to maintaining its allure.  Missoula is ever one of my favorite places, and every time I visit, I resist leaving.  A trip to Missoula is incomplete without visiting ACA headquarters, FreeCycles, and the refreshing Clark Fork River.

In Eureka, MT: This Swedish rider has come from Boston, and selected to hop the train through the Dakotas and eastern Montana.  He rides an older Cannondale touring frame with Vaude panniers, neatly pasted with reflective tape.

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Also in Eureka, this rider has come from Seattle.  His newer Novara Randonee has a replacement fork; the original fork was damaged in an accident and this hybrid fork was sourced from a local bike shop out of a pile of homeless parts.  The duct tape is integral to the system– it attaches the fender and keeps the spring from coming loose from the brake arm.

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Whitefish, MT:  This town is full of touring cyclists in the summer.  Three routes pass through town– the Great Divide, Northern Tier, and Great Parks.  Outside Glacier Cyclery, nearly a dozen touring cyclists convene one morning.  Ryan‘s mid-nineties Trek 520 reminds me of my first touring bike.  He carries a simple kit in a pair of panniers and a handlebar bag.  Only a month into his first tour, he has already unloaded a pair of front panniers, and developed a relaxed approach.  A steel mug is a solid companion on the road.

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Down-tube shifters, a stem mounted bell, and a tidy bike.

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The train also passes through Whitefish, and is a popular way for people to come and go.  He scheduled to take the train to Portland to take a rest from touring and to visit with friends.

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I still don’t understand why this bike looks like a spaceship, but it is actually much more normal that it appears.  The frame is aluminum, and features internal cable routing and some non-functional black plastic venting on the headtube.  The rider is from northern Europe, and is equipped as one would expect: lighting, fenders, panniers, low-rider rack, kickstand and an upright position.  The bike is a Batavus Venturo Extreme, a touring model that is sold ready-to-roll with racks, fenders and lights.  That is not a suspension fork, although the lengthened steerer suggests that the design is suspension corrected for a short travel fork.

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This rider had just completed an unsupported group trip, operated by the Adventure Cycling association.  We has headed back home, but was keen to share his new Surly Long Haul Trucker.  It is mostly a stock build, with an aluminum rear rack and a Surly Nice Rack up front, made of tubular cromoly steel.  The rider has also installed fenders and a double-legged kickstand.

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The Surly rack is indestructible, but heavy.  When carrying a lot of weight, it is an excellent choice.

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This young rider had begun his trip on an older Bianchi mountain bike that has served him through many commuting seasons in Pennsylvania.  Along the way, a crack developed near the rear dropout.  He considered repairing the bike, but several components also needed replacement.  Instead, he purchased this new Specialized Tricross Sport Disc, one of the growing class of 28ers on the market.  Including the Salsa Vaya, Raleigh Roper, Kona Rove and others, these bikes fit tires up to 40-45mm.  Many newer models blend both drop bars and disc brakes, while less expensive models are sold with upright handlebars and rim brakes.

The rack extension is designed to carry a mandolin, which he had only begun to play on this trip.  Rear panniers, not pictured, are also in play.  The extra leverage of the rack extension and the weight of the panniers resulted in broken rack bolts at the dropouts.  Also to blame is the “disc-specific” rear rack, which puts considerable leverage on the rack bolts due to a widened position.  This rider left most of his gear in Columbia Falls,  ten miles away, and rode into Whitefish seeking repairs.

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The sheared bolt can be seen in the frame.  Note the black barrel on the backside of the rack strut.  It spaces the rack away from the frame to avoid disrupting the action of the disc brake, but it puts a lot of stress on the long bolt that is required.  Other disc-specific racks use a similar design, but a short bolt is installed inside the extension barrel, which puts the stress on the rack itself, and not on the bolt.  The Topeak Explorer Disc works well with disc brakes and is affordable.  It does not suffer from this design flaw.

Propery tightened bolts are also less likely to shear.  In this case it appears that a disc-specific rack was not even required, as is becoming more common on utility bikes with disc brakes.  Disc brake touring bikes from Surly and Salsa do well to make rack installation easy as the caliper is attached inside of the rear triangle, rather than on top of the dropout.

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A family of Salsa Fargos is headed north, only a few days from the end of the Great Divide Route.  They began in New Mexico.  On the right, daddy Fargo; center, mommy Fargo; and the left, baby Fargo.  The younger rider is only twelve years old.  He began the trip carrying only a portion of his load, but now carries all of his own gear.

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Daddy Fargo.

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The stick and the red bandana signal a child’s dream to hit the road.  What kid didn’t stuff a sandwich and some marbles into a bandana, tied it to a stick, and threw it over his shoulder?  Let your kids run away from home.  Go with them.

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His first bike trip traveled cross-country, when he was only eight or nine years old.

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Pedalin’ Pete is now an old friend in Whitefish.  We met last year, and I was happy to see he is still in town.  He rode this Tout-Terrain Silkroad up to Alaska, where he spent several weeks climbing Denali.

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Jason is a friend of Pete, and joined me for two days of riding to Missoula.  His touring kit includes a Specialized Crux, a cross racing model, and a vintage Burley trailer.  Read more about our trip in my post, The Flathead.

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Sean joined me in Missoula for a week of riding.  His bike is a repurposed Novara Aspen from the late 80’s, with drop bars and 26×2.3″ Kenda K-Rad tires.  A Bridgestone XO-1 rests in the foreground at the Orange Street Food Farm.

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On the Great Divide.

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Brent is an active warm showers host in Missoula who welcomes dozens of cyclists throughout the warmer months.  He spent several years upon a bike, but is now a student of computer science and jazz music.  While staying at his house I crossed paths with several other cyclists.  This Pake C’Mute frame is nicely built with an Origin 8 SpaceBar, much like the On-One Mary, and had come from Virginia en route to Oregon.

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Ian Hibell’s Norway to South Africa bike is now prominently displayed at ACA headquarters.  The bike is nearly complete with original equipment.  The Carradice handlebar bag is a replacement for display purposes, but only the color is different from the original.

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This Centurion is one of the older models I have seen.  Repurposed with some new parts, it now serves as a tourer and commuter.  The early history of Centurion and the WSI corporation is well-documented on Sheldon Brown’s site.  Originating in Oakland, these riders are headed east.

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Her riding partner is on a late 80’s Trek 520, after both the 620 and 720 had been retired.  This appears to be a 1988 or 1989 model.  The wheels are original to the bike, but have been refit with 27″ Schwalbe Marathon tires.

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My friend Doug welcomed me in Bozeman, where I  built a new wheel on a Surly Marge Lite rim.  Doug enjoyed his first bike trip this summer from Bozeman to the Oregon Coast.  I consulted him during the planning process.  He is keen enough to see value in a Kona Dew, priced at less than $500 dollars.  I recommended that a rear rack and some panniers would carry all of his gear, if he avoided packing for the Bikapocalypse.  A handlebar bag and Jandd Framepac balance the load and offer some convenient storage for snacks, and probably more snacks.  Doug is a hungry guy.

He selected a riser bar for a more upright position, and 38mm Schwalbe Marathon tires for increased comfort and reliability.

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I often recommend this class of bicycle when asked about a cheap (new) bike for touring or commuting.  Some that come to mind with wide-range gearing and reasonable tire clearances: the Kona Dew, Novara Buzz, Jamis Coda, and KHS Urban XPress.

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I met this Korean rider on one of many short sections of pavement on the Great Divide Route.  He was riding cross-country on pavement on a new Surly Long Haul Trucker with butterfly bars, and didn’t speak a lick of English.  Instead, we laughed for five minutes and took pictures of one another.  This was a great exchange, and the last touring cyclist I would see in the state before reaching Idaho.  Coming soon, Real touring bikes: Idaho and Wyoming.

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My bike evolved all summer.  I entered the state on 26×2.35″ Schwalbe Big Apple tires, and left the state on 26×3.8″ Surly Larrys.  For a time, drop bars and fat tires coexist.

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In svelte attire; a ride revived

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I am always happy to see a bike given a new life. New bikes are a great option for some, but so many sit in garages, unused for years after purchase. Any bike, no matter the cost, is “worth it” if ridden, and enjoyed. However, repurposed old bikes sometimes manage to get the job done for less money, and with more style.

Returning to Tacoma uncovers a new breed of urban bike; of large-volume smooth tires, upright riding positions, racks and fenders. With money to burn, this may be a low-trail custom 650b urban/rando build. With more time than money, it is more likely to be an old steel mountain bike, rebuilt to suit. I found myself in an impromptu bike posse of new friends and acquaintances; in total, we were a Novara Aspen with drop bars, a Scott Boulder with steel three-speed bars and multi-colored cable housing, a Schwinn High Sierra, and an early-nineties Specialized Stumpjumper with a Velo Orange Milano handlebar featuring a comfortable 35 deg sweep. Fenders all around, rain boots and a bucket pannier– these kids are alright.

The old standard, and the gold standard, of practical urban commuters is built around the classic 700c touring frame. I was met with this refined Univega tourer/commuter, curated by my friend Josh, a luthier of fine guitars, and a craftsman of both fine and funky bicycles (including a home-made longtail, and an ATB-to-drop bar tourer conversion). Josh is a bike-commuting instrument repairman by day, and a gypsy-jazz guitarist by night. With updated accesories from Velo Orange, including: a Pass Hunter rack and decaleur, Campagne handlebar bag, fluted aluminum fenders and leather mudflap, and a VO stem and quill adaptor, this bike looks and rides like some of the finer handbuilt bicycles available. Two thousand dollar frames are outside of the price range of many committed enthusiasts, especially with a band of daughters to feed, such as Josh has. Sharing features of both the 1982 and 1983 Univega Gran Turismo, he suggests that this frame is a mid-year model– a 1982 1/2. Generous, although not gaping clearances and cantilever brakes allow suitably large tires and full-length fenders; while multiplicitous braze-ons allow various luggage permutations. A handlebar bag remains on the bike for a speedy, seven mile commute to work. Featuring a hub dynamo and lighting, year-yound commuting is possible in the insistantly overcast, and rainy conditons common to Tacoman winters. An old bike is reborn in svelte attire.

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Volunteering at 2nd Cycle on Saturday, two visitors to town– travelling kids– stopped in looking for bikes to take them to the southwest. Hanging from the wall, fully tuned and ready to ride was a Novara ATB (c. 1986-7), complete with fenders, a full complement of rack mounts, wide-range gearing, and durable 1.75″ tires. The rider had previously owned a “road bike”, likely an average ten-speed. With some trepidation, she allowed herself to be “sold” on upright riding and fat tires, at just over a hundred bucks. The fat-tired bike militia is growing.

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And then, some old bikes like the Gran Turismo and my High Sierra, simply ride better.

Note: I’m buying a used Pugsley this week. It is a first generation purple frame with rim brake mounts, no longer offered. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find 1982-3 Univega catalogs featuring the Gran Tursimo. I did find the 1983 line of Univega ATB’s, hilariously demonstrating their features and their off-the-charts fun factor.