The basis for a new bike


The new bike will be built around a Velo Orange Campeur frame. I had imagined a proper rigid steel frame– non-disc and not suspension corrected– that would fit a 2.1″ tire and a fender. It does not exist, but in considering the available options with long forks and mountain bike geometries, I reverted to more traditional designs. The leading options for such a bike in a competitive price range are the Black Mountain Cycles Cross, the Surly Cross-Check and the VO Campeur. All satisfy my demands, but with slightly compromised tire clearances. However, as I envision fast riding with a lightweight load a narrower tire will suffice. Living in New Mexico for the winter, I will forgo fenders in trade for increased tire clearance.

Casey and Igor at Velo Orange tell me that the large frame sizes (59 and 61cm) will fit a 700x45mm Panaracer FireCross tire, barely. Given the aggressive nature of this tire and the tall side knobs, I am hoping that a smooth 45-50mm touring tire will fit. I do not enjoy fitting tires, fender and racks where they do not belong, although I cannot imagine exploring the rural dirt roads in this area without at least a reasonable cushion of air. As long as I have the Pugsley, aggressive traction is not an important feature of this bike, but a reasonable tire volume is.

It is my impression that many of the Schwalbe touring tires that I adore (Marathon, Supreme, Dureme) are undersized relative to the advertised sizes, which is good news. Some of these tires labeled 47 or 50mm may reasonably fit the Campeur with some room to spare. On such a tire, on such a frame, I expect dirt roads to disappear under me. Rough doubletrack and some singletrack will be rideable at a passable, touring pace, and pavement won’t be a problem. With 47mm tires, this bike will be much like my Schwinn High Sierra, but with the benefits of a larger wheel. I expect the bike to tackle great distances at speed in rural parts of the state. I’m hoping that this will be a fast comfortable road bike for real roads, in both town and country.

The frame is not yet in the mail and most of the build is not finalized, yet I have found two foundational pieces at a local bike swap. A NOS 36 hole Specialized front hub cost $5, while the Deore LX bottom-pull front derailleur was $2. For an extra $2, I bought a similar front mech for Cass as well. Thus far, these pieces are the basis for the new bike.

See my post from Interbike about the VO Campeur, including lots of live photos.


11861WP 2

Cass has some Schwalbe Duremes that we can play with when the frames arrive. If they do not fit with a reasonable margin for a bent rim or some mud, I will look elsewhere. Here are some additional considerations:

Clement X’Plor MSO, 40mm (actual width, 38.5mm)

Michelin Transworld Sprint, 42 mm

Bruce Gordon Rock’n’Road, 43mm

Vee Rubber XCX, 1.75″ or 47mm

29 thoughts on “The basis for a new bike

    • Thanks Max! As much as I am enjoying my seasonal retirement from bike touring, every post I write entices me to take off on my bike. I have enjoyed the big tires all year, but I really look forward to a go-fast bike for both dirt and pavement. After pushing big rubber, I expect this bike to fly. Thanks for tuning in.


  1. hi nicholas,out of curiousity,why did you finally decide on campeur frame,besides tire clearance size?…..what wheels are you thinking?your 5$ specialized hub is cool,smooth bearing,quiet n retro……….when will frames arrive at your door?…….best of luck!………..

    • Hey Bob, I chose the VO Campeur for several reasons. When considering the three options: the Surly is the cheapest, the BMC has the greatest tire clearance and the VO has the most attachment points for water bottles and racks. I have an idea (perception) of how the Surly would ride, and I expect both the BMC and VO frames to be better suited for the kind of ride quality I seek. I am hoping that the combination of a large supple tire and a well-designed steel fork will combat washboard and other dirt road features at speed. The VO fork is really nice and the inclusion of a third bottle cage mount under the downtube saves me the trouble of doing that myself, as I plan to have a framebag made.

      Regarding tire clearance, it did not make sense to simply select the frame that offered the greatest clearance since none would fit the desired 2.1″ tires. The reason that 2.1″ tires are such a personal focus is that there are innumerable options for high quality tires in this size, including rugged touring models (Schwalbe Marathons, Big Apple, etc.) and really lightweight fast-rolling XC tires such as the WTB Nano, Kenda Small Block Eight, Bontrager 29-0, and many others. While there are a handful of options for 40-45mm tires, most consumers would not be able to access them, except via the internet. Every bike shop in the country now stocks quality tires in 622×45-55mm. As well, I feel like I need the increased tire volume for the kind of riding I like to do, especially with camping loads.

      I contacted VO regarding the possibility of manufacturing a lightweight steel camping frame for larger volume 700c/29″ tires– like the Campeur, but for bigger tires and fenders. The idea was well-received and I am told that the project has a possible future, but for now I cannot verify its future. I will be receiving my Campeur for long-term review at no cost. This allows me to explore the idea of a dirt-road 28er, which is only a short step away from the dream– the drop-bar 29er.

      I will order the frame and parts as soon as I have some extra money. I left Anchorage in late May, and have been on the road all summer.

      • Wheels? I’d like a dynamo hub and lighting but it may be out of range for now.

        I’m planning on using the VO touring hub, which has a serviceable freehub design and sealed cartridge bearings all around. Rims will be something like VO Diagonale (25mm), Sun CR-18 (22.5mm), or Salsa Delgado Cross (22.5mm).

  2. This is sounding like an awesome project bike…and one right up my alley too,good time to be finding your blog then,eh? Loving it so far πŸ™‚

    The DC

    • What, you didn’t love the purple absurdo-bike? Political fenders and 9 lb wheels aren’t your thing?

      I’m over it too. I’m certainly looking forward to another bike, but I will miss the ability to go anywhere, any time I want. In these experiments, I will someday find the perfect bike. Until then, I will not allow myself the cost of a custom frame and elite level components. I expect the VO frame to help me define and describe my ideal dirt-road bike, although I do wish is had slightly larger tire clearances.


      • LOL,that bike was before the time I found here since I’ve not read about it yet,so IDK if I dug it or not πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜›

        The DC

  3. I recently built up a Saga and have been happy to fit biggish tires. Stated clearance is 47mm and I’m currently running 40mm Mondials with Zeppelins. I do wish I had a little more fender clearance, but it’s been working well. The Mondials measure 38 at the sidewalls, but with the tread do measure true to size at 40mm. They handle well on pavement, but really excel on our rail trails. Looking forward to hitting gravel in the spring.

    Great blog; looking forward to the next chapter.

    • I really enjoy a 38mm tire for practical road riding, including some graded dirt trails and mild dirt roads. For the kind of mountainous USFS and BLM roads that I ride in the west, a larger tire is optimal even if it still features a touring tread. Some of these roads can be quite rocky, sandy, or washboarded, which is an enigmatic plague on well-travelled dirt roads.

      Dirt roads vary greatly around the country. For example, the new Salsa Warbird is an ideal dirt/gravel racer for midwestern roads, with a max 40mm tire. What part of the country do you live in?


      • Midwest indeed (Wisconsin). Our rail trails are mostly crushed limestone, so they end up being quite smooth. I do like the tread pattern on the Mondial with it’s relatively smooth chevrons down the middle and more aggressive side knobbies.

      • I rode Schwalbe Marathon tires exclusively for several years, even on the Great Divide last fall. The Marathon rolls well, and bites a little when asked. Of course, they also last forever!

  4. Do you have FireCrosses? I have a folder that’s got your name on it. Free, cuz we’re dirtbags and that’s how bike deals go πŸ™‚ Maybe you could play tour guide if I make it to NM this winter…

    • Hey Josh, I’d like to explore a variety of tires on this bike, one of which is the Fire Cross. The FC has been the benchmark monstercross tire for some time. It is likely to be the most aggressive tire that will fit the Campeur frame.

      Do you have only 1 FC tire? I would happily put it up front for some of the buff in-town singletrack. However, the trails can be quite slick as the soil is likened to kitty-litter; it is loose granular over hardpack.

      You are welcome to NM anytime. Dirtbag livin’ is pretty good around here– it’s sunny every day with lots of open roads and great New Mexican food.


      • Yeah, just one. I got it free from a good friend. I was with him on the Denali Hwy when a sheared-off bolt lodged in his rear FC, creating an almost two inch v-shaped tear that, with the bolt, looked like a femoral avulsion. It was crazy. Destroyed the tire and our trip, but good thing it was right in front of Alpine Creek Lodge. Now we both bring an extra folding tire in summer πŸ™‚
        Anywho, e-mail me your address and I’ll put it in the mail for ya.

        Oh… wait a sec… it’s 700c. You’re gonna do 26″, right? Damn it. I’m an ass πŸ™‚

      • 700×45 is what I am after. The Campeur is a “normal” touring bike– 700c wheels, 3 bottle cage mounts, low-rider rack mounts, etc.

        My plan is to fit a big tire, have a giant framebag made, and ride it all over the place.

    • That’s the one. But then, there’s the diagatube. It doesn’t offend me in any way but it definitely is not necessary considering the minimal loads I expect to be carrying. And it gets in the way of the framebag I intend to use.

      They aren’t quite giving those away either. I love the aesthetic, but I decided long ago that welded frames and monochrome paint is my style.

      I’ve put some thought to the Singular Gryphon and Peregrine as well. For now, the Campeur will allow me to explore the idea. I expect it will provide a nice ride.


      • I’m biased, since I have one (sans-diaga), but I hear you. For those who can bear the cost, or with the patience to save for it (me), having clearance for 55mm-or-so tires and burly tubing is pretty cool. The current paint job is less flashy, too. Campeur does look cool, too!

    • I mentioned in some of the above comments that I solicited VO for a Campeur frame for long-term review at no cost. This definitely plays a role in my decision making process. Aside from the Campeur: the BMC Cross, the Gryphon or the Fargo most nearly fit my theoretical ideal “road” bike, each with another set of features and compromises. The bike is based upon fast Divide-style riding, mostly.

      This one might interest you as well:

      I will address my relationship with VO in a later post, when the frame arrives.

      • Seems like any of those would be more than fine. Essentially, we’re lucky that frame designers have started to realize how useful a truly fat-tire road/touring bike, not a cyclocross bike, can be. A bike for any road or trail, comfy to ride for a long ways, with or without a load. There are lots of good choices now. I should also disclose that I’m connected with RBW, although I had my Hunqapillar long before that!

    • Yes, everyone is learning that there is “more to gain than to lose” regarding tire size and frame clearances.

      Realistically, what’s the tire clearance on the Hunq? 2.1″ and a fender? Perhaps something mean like a Weirwolf or an Ardent if I needed (w/o fender, of course)?

      • A Hunq could take Big Apple 55mm/2.15s with fenders (likely a SKS P60. You could probably fit SKS P55s with some tweaking,) no problem The fork crown could take a 60mm tire with a P60 fender, but probably not a knobby. I had Schwalbe Racing Ralph 60/2.35s on mine, but fenders would have been a no-go due to the tires’ side lugs. Those tires fit fine fenderless, though.

      • Those are ideal tire clearances. I would ride a Marathon or Dureme with a fender much of the time, but would like the capacity to fit something more capable.

        I’ve been digging the Hunq Flickr group this afternoon, and came across a few of yours. I love the MB-1!

  5. I paid for my Campeur and love it so far! I took it on some pretty rough terrain: a deeply rutted, muddy 4wd road, elk forage (soggy, muddy, bumpy, full of branches, rocks, etc) and lots of hilly gravel and fire roads. Just with 35mm Paselas, I was amazed at the capable handling and comfortable ride. I predict you are going to dig it, too! My only issue is the toe overlap on my 51cm frame, but I am used to a world made for you giants taller than 5′ 5″.

    • The first bike that I used to begin exploring dirt roads, except several mountain bikes as a teen, was a 1995 Trek 520. With 32/38mm tires, I was impressed at what was possible in dry, hard packed conditions.

      It will be interesting to see hoe much I miss the go-anywhere capacity of a fatbik, or even a regular 2″ tire. Looking forward to it.

      Even my 56cm Trek 520 had toe overlap with a big tire and fender. Never bothered me much.

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