More real touring bikes from the Alaska Highway, the Cassiar and the Yellowhead–most of these bikes are highly personalized adaptations of otherwise familiar bikes. If you saw these in stores you’d think, “Sure. That’s a mountain bike, and that’s a road bike and that’s a hybrid”. On the road, they’re all touring bikes. A unique theme threads it’s way through these bikes: this is the Joe Murray edition of “Real touring bikes”.
This Basque rider was on a Giant Iguana, purchased in 2001. His signage suggests he’s been on the road for fifteen years, and over 150,000 kms. He was carrying two spare tires and a spare rim, amongst many other things assumed quite practical when away from home for part of a lifetime. His Carradice panniers were well-worn and bulging, but holding together. When asked why he had the extra rim, he explained that when he saw it in Calgary he had to have it, owing from some past experience. In a thick accent he declares, “Alex rim (brand), very strong!”.
The Swiss rider was on a closeout Voodoo Bizango sourced from a European distributor going out of business. Fit with a Thorn Mt.-Tura fork (suspension corrected), he described his rigid ride to be quite capable, but that the fork soaked vertical disturbances on dirt roads quite nicely. He shared with a hand gesture the appearance of the fork flexing, soaking washboard or rumblestrips. Overall, a tidy bike; note the can of bear spray at his hip. As well, the Thorn fork locates the v-brake mounts on the rear of the fork crown, presumably to make room for racks. Voodoo Bikes are headquartered in Flagstaff, AZ and are designed by Joe Murray. While riding through Flagstaff, this rider’s host insisted on taking him to see Joe. Delighted, they shared a beer.
A Kiwi on the Cassiar riding a Giant Sedona with a standard carry-on suitcase and a folding camp chair strapped to the rear rack. To know that some real comforts are stored amongst his equipment is reassuring, as I sometimes cannot imagine what’s hiding in all those Ortlieb panniers. A camp chair would be a real comfort.
An early Kona Explosif, designed by Joe Murray. This watershed mountain bike established tighter geometries, sloping top tubes, and straight-blade forks for mountain bikes to come. At least, Cass (who’s old enough to know) waxes endlessly of the virtues of the early Explosif. As Kona literature explains, Joe didn’t invent sloping top tubes, but he’s helped make them standard in the best new bikes (c. 1991). Lots of Charlie Cunningham is hidden in the important features of the Explosif, at least to my eye. This one’s got a purple fork, Deore DX components all around, original wheels with Araya RM-20 rims, and a U-brake in the rear. Victor, one of three Spaniards in the group, saved it from collecting dust in a garage for another decade. I suspect it’s from 1990, cross-referencing the existence of the short-lived Deore DX group and the popularity of U-brakes and Rollercams in the 80’s.
This couple from Buffalo, NY were riding newer Trek 520s. If you go into a Trek bicycle store this is what they sell you for “touring”. The male rider has had numerous problems with the stock wheels and warranty replacements. I’ve ridden with other riders that have had similar problems with the wheels on a newer 520. In a pinch, I’ve even purchased a wheel from a Trek store, similar to the ones specced on these bikes a few years ago. It lasted only a week. There’s no mystery to strong wheels; what I’m suggesting is that Trek specs these bikes with crummy wheels. They should know that people will load their possessions and ride cross-country on these bikes. It’s no wonder they are losing ground to the Surly Long Haul Trucker which boasts a smarter frame, better tire clearances and stronger wheels from the start. It’s cheaper too.
My first touring bike was slated to be a vintage military-green 1983 Miyata 1000, but the drive-side dropout broke a few weeks before the trip. A 1995 Trek 520 was in waiting and carried me through my first year of cycletouring. The 1985 Schwinn High Sierra replaced it, and was the gateway to my obsession with larger and larger tires.
A French rider from Nantes, riding an upright Giant bike with 700 x 47mm Schwalbe Marathon tires. He was in love with the concept of fat tires, and we exchanged information and e-mails. I listed for him the names of the Surly Pugsley, the Salsa Mukluk, and a new French builder of fatbikes, Salamandre Cycles. The giant yellow drybag holds two sleeping bags, both quite old and worn as I was told. He wasn’t sure what kind of temperatures to expect in the great Canadian north– it was 90 degrees on this day.
From Calgary, this woman attached herself to the French rider, although they travel together symbiotically. She was teaching him English idioms and every time she wished to depart, she insisted that they “shake a leg”. Home-stitched panniers and handlebar bar adorn this late-80’s Miyata RidgeRunner, which is an everyday rider back in town.
Her method of chain lubrication is unique. Upon reaching a critical mass of lube, the rear derailleur becomes a self-lubricationg system which lightly dampens the chain with each pass. The chainrings do the same. In fact, this wet accumulation is what dry or wax-based lubes are supposed to avoid. She was having a great time, regardless of specific chain-lubing techniques, or lack thereof
And this Surly Long Haul Trucker was wearing 700 x 47mm Schwalbe Marathon tires, vintage Campagnolo pedals, Nitto Randonneur handlebars, S&S couplers, and a custom aluminum front rack. This Eugene, OR based rider borrowed the rack design from a Jandd Extreme front rack, but with a porteur-style top. A local organization that teaches kids to weld bikes assembled the rack from his plans and materials. Paul Thumbies are mounted on the tops of the bars, upside-down. The rider has also owned a Bruce Gordon Rock’n’Road, which he loved; a Rivendell All-Rounder which shimmied uncontrollably, and was sold; and this Surly LHT, which fits the largest tires of all and seems to be up to the task of carrying some things.
The Joe Murray trifecta: these vintage Rock’n’Road tires date from as far back as 1988, back when Bruce Gordon’s 700c Rock’n’Road frame was pushing the boundaries of the 700c based bike. Now recognized as an important proto-29er, the BG Rock’n’Road fit tires as large as 45mm. This tire was designed by Joe Murray for Bruce Gordon, and was manufactured by Panaracer. I wouldn’t have know anything about this tire three days ago, but it has recently been re-released and is available at Black Mountain Cycles (Point Reyes Station, CA and online), where I learned about it on shop owner Mike Varley’s blog. Actually, he’s been talking a lot about 40-50mm 700c tires, which fit his Black Mountain Cycles cross frames and hook up well with assorted Marin roads and trails. In theory, the rider planned to use these on remote dirt roads up north.