Touring bikes

These are all of my touring bikes from 2008 to the present.  I have made short tours on several other bikes, and have previous experience with many bikes suitable for touring.  With the bikes described below, I draw from deep experience.

Meriwether 29/27.5+ Custom Bikepacker

Nicholas Carman1-1030

This custom Meriwether Cycles hardtail is designed and built by Whit Johnson of Loomis, California.  The concept is the culmination of many years of travel by bike and borrows from my Surly Krampus, Raleigh XXIX, and Salsa Mukluk.  The basic design goals were to produce a bicycle which felt capable and stable on technical trails, especially with a load; provides clearance for large-volume tires and mud, including 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires on 35 rims; and uses easily serviceable parts when possible, such as a threaded BSA bottom bracket and replaceable sliding Paragon dropouts for standard 9mm QR or 15mm TA.

This bike was conceived while touring across Europe on footpaths, on the rocky desert trails of the HLC route in Israel, on innumerable sandy tracks in South Africa, Jordan, and Arizona.  This bike is designed to excel on technical trails and long trips.

The first iteration of my pink Meriwether Bikepacker borrows all the parts from the Surly Krampus below, except for a new 120mm RockShox Pike fork and Chris King headset and BB, as well as a NOS Shimano XTR 9sp RapidFire shifter.  The bike has been updated with SRAM X1 cranks and a steel direct-mount 28T chainring, XO1 rear derailleur, XX1 shifter, and SRAM Guide RS brakes.  Now that prices have come down, I plan to use 1x drivetrains exclusively.

At first, I rode 29×2.5″ Maxxis Minon DHF and 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent EXO TR tire on 35mm (30mm inner) Derby and Light Bicycle carbon rims.  However, I built a 27.5+ wheelset to ride the the Baja Divide in early 2017 with Knight Composites carbon rims which are 45mm wide (internal). I rode a 3.0″ Surly Dirt Wizard in front and Specialized Ground Control tire out back. I plan to build a new 29″ wheelset with wider rims to fit the new 29×2.6″ Schwalbe Nobby Nic and other large-volume 29″ tires which may soon be released, such as the Terrene 2.8″ tire expected in summer 2017.

The Revelate Designs luggage from the Krampus fits the new frame perfectly, including the custom zipperless framebag which has already survived over two years of use and abuse.  No zippper would have lasted this long. Edit: Lael’s custom Revelate Ranger prototype framebag features a new zipper design that has lasted this long and I have replaced this bag with a zippered model with a Mexican flag theme.

The extra frame tube connecting the seat tube to the seatstay is a portage handle, designed to give another hand position while hiking alongside the bike.  This provides three useful places to handle the bike when the trail gets too rough to ride.  The idea is borrowed from a vintage Sam Braxton frame which was on display at ACA in Missoula, MT.

Nicholas Carman1-6023


Surly Krampus


Surly Krampus with Fox Talas 120/90mm fork, Light Bicycle and Derby 35mm carbon rims, tubeless Schwalbe Hans Dampf 29×2.35″ tires, 780mm Race Face carbon Sixc handlebars, SP dynamo hub to Supernova E3 Triple headlight and E3 Pro taillight and B&M USB-Werk, titanium Salsa Regulator seatpost, trusty Brooks B17 saddle, 2×9 drivetrain with Shimano bar-end shifters to Paul Thumbies mounts, and most of all, a mix of stock and custom prototype bags from Revelate Designs.  The framebag closes without a zipper (which always fails, eventually) and the waterproof seatpack contains an 11″ MacBook Air.



Salsa Mukluk 3

This bike has been though a winter in and around Anchorage, AK, including daily commutes, late night singletrack sessions, and several overnight tours.  As the snow melts, the Salsa Mukluk takes shape as a 29+ adventure rig, complete with 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tires and a suspension fork.  While the Mukluk may not be destined for a full season of touring, the behavior of the bike and the concept is enlightening.





Surly ECR


In November 2013, I swapped parts from the Raleigh XXIX that I had been riding all summer (below) to a Surly ECR frame, which is designed around Surly’s new 29×3.0″ Knard tires and 50mm Rabbit Hole rims (rims not pictured).  The frame blends the hyper-functionality of the Surly Ogre and Troll touring frames, with some of the omniterra grit of the Pugsley.  As such, it blends many of my past touring bikes, featuring a low bottom bracket, copious attachment points, and large tire clearances.  For a more detailed discussion of the ECR, check out my review “Dissecting the Surly ECR”.

As I move to Alaska for the winter, the ECR will do service alongside real fatbikes and studded tire townies in a winter full of snowy commutes and adventures.  More info on the Winter Bikes page.





This bike was purchased secondhand while living in New Mexico.  It replaces the Surly Pugsley as a go-anywhere touring bike.  The Raleigh XXIX+G is more precise and agile than the Pugsley, while a little less capable in soft conditions.  With voluminous 29×2.3-2.4″ tires and a Rock Shox Reba suspension fork, this bike is optimized for touring on paths and trails, including the kinds of rooty and rocky surfaces I expect to find in a summer of off-pavement touring in Europe.  Notable details include a capacious Porcelain Rocket framebag and a Carradice Camper saddlebag; a wide handlebar with a comfortable sweep and Ergon grips; a friction 3×8/9sp drivetrain, and room for several bottles to carry both fuel and water.  Lael is also riding a used XXIX.

Wheels are built with Stan’s Flow EX rims (29.1mm wide), while 2.3-24″ tires are mounted tubeless.  The rear hub is SRAM X7, an inexpensive sealed cartridge bearing unit.  Front hub is Shimano 3D72 dynamo hub to Supernova E3 Pro lights front and rear.

Additional details and customizations will be posted in the future.

WPBlog001-615.jpg Velo Orange Campeur


From town to country, the new Velo Orange Campeur was my main bike while living in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the winter.  With 45mm Schwalbe tires, the bike is capable of mild dirt road exploration, light trail riding in the Sandia foothills, and daily commutes.  A Carradice Camper saddlebag and an Ostrich handlebar bag carried most of my stuff in town, and on several short tours.  I look forward to the older brother of the Campeur, called the Camargue, designed for a full 29″ tire with a higher bottom bracket for rough roads.

A full review of this bike can be found in my post “Second Impressions of the Campeur”.

I sold this bike to a friend before flying to Europe for the summer.  I hope to replace it with a new Velo Orange frame in the future, yet to be released.


I spent a year and a half riding a first generation Surly Pugsley, purchased secondhand in Seattle before moving to Anchorage, Alaska for the winter.  The purple Pugsley was the first mass-market fatbike available, while other builders and smaller manufacturers pioneered the design.  It was a great bike and allowed me to ride every day of the winter in a season of record snowfall.

I have reimagined this versatile bike in many ways.  I rode Schwalbe Big Apple 26 x 2.35″ tires on 65mm rims leaving Anchorage on a mix of dirt and paved roads– as such, a hybrid bike to satisfy my hybrid needs.  To read about the evolution of the Pugsley from a conventional fat-tire snow bike to the all-season tourer shown below, read this post about one bike for all seasons.

In Montana, I refit fat tires for the Great Divide Route and the coming months of dirt roads and trails, including the Colorado Trail, and assorted routes through CO and NM.

The final arrangement of the bike, at the end of the trip, is completely described in my post entitled Kit List: The Surly Pugsley.  The full evolution of the bike is described in Pugsmorphology.

1985 Schwinn High Sierra

Assembled from a stock 1985 Schwinn High Sierra, this bike was ridden in various forms in France, Mexico, Canada and the US from 2010 to 2011.  This bike was ridden on the Great Divide Route, leaving from my front door in Maryland.  This has been my favorite bike to date.

A bike that has labored and sweat and bled.

A bike as many years in life as I, of perfectly matched proportions.

My 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, figuratively.

Once a typical mid-80’s ATB, this bicycle is chameleonic, molding it’s aptitudes to the nature of its surroundings.






From the 1985 catalog, this is how I acquired my High Sierra.

1995 Trek 520

I left on my first bike trip in the fall of 2008 on a 1995 Trek 520.  The bike featured a mix of favorite parts from several bikes, including those from a broken Miyata frame that had been destined for travel.  In its place, the Trek was a great bikes for several years of touring.  I eventually realized the benefit of bigger tires.


Riding south from Ferndale, CA into the Lost Coast region, through Petrolia and Honeydew and along ridgelines past Shelter Cove toward Usal Beach and Highway 101.  Below, Usal Road.  Photos: Matt Blake


85 thoughts on “Touring bikes

    • Thanks Cass. That Jandd bag is the best value/perfromer in bicycle luggage. We met in Anchorage through Adam at the co-op, then along the Seward Highway (mi. 224, “Creekside”) for some riverfront camping on the Nenana. I was on the ’85 Stumpjumper, now it’s the High Sierra. I liked that vintage Panasonic you rode for a minute. It’s always inspiring to check in with your travels. I don’t say that kind of thing often. Happy riding.

  1. Hey, I didn’t realise that was you Nick!
    Your lovely camping spot featured in this post:
    Too bad the Stumpy has gone, that was a lovely bike, I have some pictures of it somewhere. The High Sierra looks to be a very able replacement.
    The Panasonic was lovely, and I did toy with the idea of continuing my journey on it… Or buying it and sending it home. But than figured it would probably have a better retirement trundling round the backroads of Guatemala.

  2. In principle I am a one-bike guy, and try to avoid collecting heaps of metal, despite how charming an old Ridge Runner or Stumpjumper (or Prairie Breaker) can be to my eyes. I did manage to hold onto the Stumpjumper, however, and due to the cost of shipping/flying it will remain in Alaska for future use. If you, or anyone you know ever needs a bike up there, it’s capable and available. I manage to satisfy my appetite for old bikes by helping others that are looking for bikes; this has connected me with a few other High Sierras (’84, ’86) and a beautiful Univega Alpina Sport (’84), a equal to the Stumpjumper. Univega here:

    I’ve become a bit of a vintage ATB nut.

  3. Indeed, you certainly have (-:

    Letting bikes go is hard… It was a good exercise of detachment at Mayapedal, building up classic old mtbs, then watching them get collected to be sold at the market…

    I’m really happy with my Surly Troll, I might just hang onto it for a while… I like the company’s attitude, how they go out on a limb to build stuff that they think would be useful rather than just big sellers.

  4. Was curious to see what type and size of tire you used on your bike while riding the great divide? I’m planning on riding it this summer on my Surly LHT. I have 700c rims and looking to get the widest tire possible. I debating at trying the schwalbe dureme 700 x 50mm. I know surly states the widest it can handle is 700 x 45mm, but I’ve heard of others fitting 50mm. Thanks for any help / advice.


    • Andrew, I think you’ve got it figured out. The most efficient tire for the Divide will let you ride long distances quickly over moderately-rough roads; to do this, volume, not tire tread is most important. For example, racers tend to ride the lightweight low tread tires like the WTB Nano, Conti Race King, and Kenda Small Block Eight. I happened to have Schwalbe Marathon tires (26×1.75 / 559×47) on the bike when I took off for the Divide from Maryland. They already had about 5000mi of wear, and one tire made it all the way to Missoula, while the other is still with me. First, as a testament to the Marathon line, that is about 10,000 and 12,000 mi, respectively. The 47mm size was the best imaginable compromise for the paved riding to reach Banff, and for the dirt tracks of the Divide. Most of the Divide is well-groomed FS roads, with some pavement and some bumpy sections. However, the more you carry the bigger the tires should be. Additionally, bigger tires will allow you to run lower pressures with confidence, reducing bodily fatigue and stress to the bicycle. The Dureme is my ideal tire considering weight and relative ride quality (to the Marathon Plus or XR, for example). The 50mm tire is likely to run a little narrower when mounted, so clearance probably won’t be an issue. I picked up a used WTB Nano in Jackson and enjoyed riding that tire up front for a while, which increased confidence while cornering and softened the ride, which is another interesting option. In all, the Dureme sounds great.

      Here’s a link showing a Divide rider on 700×4?mm tires on a Specialized Crossroads. Reportedly, she had a great time.

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  9. I thinks I loves em both,the Pugs for sure (I must needs build me a fat bike inthe next year or so),and that Schwinn is flat awesome!

    The DC

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  11. Just happened on your blog yesterday and I’m really digging it. What kind of tires are you using on the Campeur? I’m looking for an on-road/off-road tire that would be good for long gravel road rides and they look nice.

    • Hey Ryan,

      I have Schwalbe Mondial (700×47; 28×1.75″) up front and a Schwalbe Dureme (700×50;28×2.0) in the rear. Both tires feature long-wearing rubber, reflective sidewallls, and a useful tread. They are appropriately heavy and durable, so if you wish a lightweight gravel tire I suggest some of the 1.75-1.9″ models from Vee Rubber. Mike at Black Mountain Cycles carries their most useful models: Oh, and if your frame doesn’t take a tire this big, Mike sells a fantastic frame for the price of a Surly. Check out the Black Mountain (Monster)Cross frame:

      But yes, I am a Schwalbe fanatic. The Marathon tires will roll for many thousands of miles.


  12. hey nick. I’ve been lurking hard on your site for awhile. i originally stumbled over it while searching for info about fat tire wheelsets, etc and more or less fell in love at first “visit” I really admire the fact that you share your experience & expertise via this medium; I have this aversion, you know, to the whole computer thing and have more or less just vamped about as a consumer of info & goods. the fact that you take the time to pass it on is really awesome and not to sound cheesy, a genuine inspiration. it’s funny, you know, i live without a car, out on the eastside of the sierra nevada, which is a pretty wide open up&down place to not have a car, and everybody thinks i’m a nutcase pedalling around to do my thing, and it’s inspiring to check out other folks who aren’t in a hurry. and so i wanted to say thanks.
    your (and the philosopher joe cruz) adventures have infected me with fatbike fever and today, after prolonged obsessive consideration (do i really need another bike? do i really need a 40lb bike? will my girl let me park another bike in her yard?, etc, etc) i pulled the trigger (or clicked the mouse, as it were) on a pugs. it’s ridiculous, you know. I’ve got a bloody fleet; a 30 yr old schwinn cimmaron for most travels and a big dummy town car, and a pile of projects, and yet…
    if it weren’t for you & joe cruz i probably coulda shaken the bug. the new bike should arrive on my girl’s doorstep with enough time for me to personalize it before launching on extended expedition in death valley n.p. and i couldn’t be more excited.
    if you find yourself rolling round the great basin give a holler. and thanks for putting it out there.

    • Michael,

      I am excited for your new Pug! Should be a blast to ride, especially in the rugged deserts and valleys of eastern California. I surely like the sound of your Cimarron, too. I’ve spent considerable time aboard an 85 Schwinn High Sierra.

      Let me know how you like the new bike. Oh, and if there are considerable puncture risks in those parts, consider a tubeless setup. It will cut some weight from the wheels and make a nearly flat-proof set-up. I might have some more current tips than what is published here, if you need. You can e-mail at nicholas.carman(at)

      I will someday make it to the Great Basin.


  13. Hi. Sorry to bother you, but I have questions about your trek bike and I hope it’s not a bother to ask.
    I found your website through google when I typed “black trek 400”. My local bike shop is selling a used trek 400 for $450, and I don’t know if I should purchase it for commuting purposes. I read that you bought a used(?) trek 400 elance. (If you don’t mind answering), – About how much did you pay for your trek 400?
    – What sort of wheels did you equip your trek? Did you feel the wheels could handle lots of mileage and tough roads (ie. rolling over small cracks, ridges, uneven pavement)?
    – Since the trek 400 is an old model, was it difficult to buy replacement parts because some were discontinued and not sold anymore? Is the framework of the bike so old that modern bike parts have trouble fitting into the bike during assembly?
    I have concerns that the trek I’m thinking of buying is over-priced and whether or not the wheels they put on the bike ($20 each) are too cheap to handle lots of mileage (I average 50 miles/week).
    Thanks for your time and if you do not answer, that’s okay.

    • Grant, I drilled the seatstay bridge to accept the portion of the rack that is intended to fit through the fork crown. A pair of concave washers, as are commonly found near old nutted caliper brakes, helps hold it all together. This lightweight rack is the best saddlebag support available, assuming it fits the frame in question.

    • Looks like a nice bike for some touring and light dirt riding. For true exploration on unknown roads, bigger tires may be better. Since typical touring attachments are not necessary these days, due to the proliferation of lightweight luggage, you might consider a mountain bike for if your rides will venture into the mountains, or on rougher tracks.

  14. Hello,

    I’ve been following your blog for a while now & am stoked always to see what grand adventures you are up to. I was interested to know about what rack you are using in the rear for such a nice set-up with the carradice & your other gear behind it? Thanks & keep jammin out on the epic rides!


    • Tom, The rack is a Nitto M18, modified for this application. Specifically, I removed the back support designed for use with a handlebar bag. I used p-clamps on the Pugsley, although I have installed Rivnuts onto the current frame for a more robust mounting.

  15. Workin on a custom steel 29er build for bikepacking. Would you say the suspension fork on your 29er was well used, or would you prefer a rigid fork generally? My touring has been more and more dirt-focused, but I always ride with a destination in mind, and in my experience when you’re trying to get from point A to point B, there are usually few options, and if there’s a dirt option at all, it’s pretty smooth.

    • Doug,

      What are your riding right now? Frame? Tires? Bars? Brakes? I’ll do my best to help.

      First, most frames with clearances for mtb tires will accept either a suspension fork or a suspension-corrected rigid fork, so you’ll have the option of experimenting (unless working from a vintage 26″ wheeled ATB, or something like the yet-to be-released Velo Orange Camargue with room for 29×2.3″ tires on a rigid specific frame). I have come to appreciate a suspension fork for rough roads and trail riding. I never think of it as a hindrance, even while pedaling on paved roads, and I never reach for the lockout. It really doesn’t slow me down; most of the time it allows me to ride faster, both uphill and downhill. It adds comfort for sure, and an argument can be made regarding safety. For the kind of riding I have been doing lately, my bike is nearly perfect for me. In fact, I might be looking at a longer travel fork sometime soon.

      However, I suspect you are finding a lot of highly rideable dirt roads (SoCal, right?), and you enjoy brisk “road-style” riding on dirt surfaces, while picking your way through some of the more challenging sections doesn’t bother you. Am I even close? As such, a rigid bike with voluminous rubber is a nice compromise, allowing you to access most terrain, with the option to tune your ‘suspension’ by adjusting tire pressures. If you see yourself getting into more technical riding, leave the option open for a suspension fork. There are a ton of frame options out there, especially if you don’t need rack attachment points. I think that a lightweight rackless touring setup will be a greater step toward a fun, capable bike than a suspension fork alone, all things being equal.

      A final word: When planning an off-pavement tour in unfamiliar territory, it can be nice to have both big tires and suspension under you. Dotted lines on a map can mean a lot of things. Some days I dream of full-suspension.


      • A few specific thoughts on bikes, for reference. I’ve not ridden all of these, so some of these ideas exist on paper. All are steel. All have 29″ wheels Nothing against other materials, just how it works out. These are thoughts I’ve been working on for another project as well. Might help some other folks.

        Velo Orange Camargue (unreleased) is my favorite dirt road flyer, designed around a 29×2.1″ tire and a fender (fits 2.3″ without), rim brakes, and traditional rigid fork. A ‘road bike’ for dirt roads and fast riding, equally capable of some pavement and trails, but mostly dirt roads. I’m a bit partial to this one as I played some part in the conception of this bike. There are a growing number of ‘gravel bikes’, although tire clearances less than 2.1″ are not ideal with a load, on rough stuff. Lots of mounting points for stuff, but would be great with soft bags.

        Genesis Fortitude or Singular Swift/Gryphon (both UK companies) are disc-brake, non-suspension corrected, steel bikepacking machines. These are best with bikepacking luggage, rigid only.

        Surly Ogre or Salsa Fargo, both touring specific 29ers, sold complete as rigid bikes with lots of mounting points. Ogre is optimized for upright bars while the Fargo is designed with a drop bar in mind (each bike could accept either bar, however). Racks or bikepacking luggage.

        Raleigh XXIX+G and Salsa Mariachi are both excellent off-the-shelf bikepacking machines with a suspension forks, without rack mounting points. The Raleigh is a sweet deal, as we’ve found two of them used for less than $500, which is the price of a new Reba fork by itself. Bikepacking-style luggage only.

        Surly ECR or Krampus are monster trucks of the 29er bikepacking sector. Both suspension corrected for 80 and 120mm forks, for racks and no-racks, respectively.

      • Current bike is a 1989 Nishiki Pinnacle with disc mounts brazed on and some extra rack/bottle cage mounts. Surly front rack, which weighs a ton but is bulletproof. 26×2.0 Schwalbe Marathon Duremes (awesome tires, shame you can’t get them anymore) BB7 mechanical disc brakes, latest setup is on-one Mary bars, which didn’t really solve my hand numbness problem, so the new bike will have drops of some kind. I picked up a pair of Origin 8 gary bars second hand, but also considering Salsa Cowbell for a slightly less splayed out hood position. I’m based in Norcal, for now, last trip was from Oakland, CA to Oakridge, OR and I can’t recall ever needing to walk because the road was too technical, despite my concerted effort to take the gnarliest route possible, until I got to Oakridge and started horsing around on the trails there with the friends I went to meet up with. Upcoming routes I’d like to ride are the Andreas Vogel SF-LA and NorCal Loop (, and the Great Divide.

        The new bike will be fully custom and I need to decide if I want to just start with a suspension fork, or start with a suspension corrected fork and leave open the possibility for suspension, at the potential cost of making the front triangle frame bag area smaller, or just commit to a rigid setup.

        Do you have strong opinions about rackless luggage? On my current bike I’m running Swift Industries “short stack” panniers: on a front rack and have my tent, thermarest, and sleeping bag on the rear rack. Swift’s website says the total capacity of the panniers is 46L, and I tend to have them pretty full. I’m hoping to lighten my load by doing away with racks entirely, and move some of the weight off the fork and into the frame to improve handling. I’d like to be able to put everything that was in the panniers in frame & seat bags, possibly in a bag mounted above the top tube as well, and have my tent/pad/bag strapped to the handlebars or the fork.

      • While I recognize the value of panniers as a potentially inexpensive, high-volume luggage solution, I will never tour with panniers again (ok, except if I required to carry weeks of food). I would consider panniers for use in town, but since 2009, I have sold all four or five pairs of panniers that Lael I owned. We currently tour extensively off-pavement and commute by bike without the need for racks, almost never using a backpack for in town loads. Ride quality is the greatest reason that I have moved away from panniers. The incidental weight savings was not my first priority, but was a consideration. As the equipment load becomes smaller, the wight of luggage systems should too. Wheels, tires, and frame may also lose some heft. Still, I often say “overbuild, and underpack”. As a result, we can go almost anywhere on our bikes and equipment failures are rare, save for user error.

        For comfortable, long-distance touring, the now-common bikepacking setup (seatpack, framebag, handlebar roll, and top-tube bag and/or front accessory bag) should suffice for a trip like the Great Divide, where reliable shelter and as much as two days of food are possible. Understandably, there may not be a lot of overflow room for beer, bananas, iPad, etc. Then again, there may be enough room if you’ve whittled your summer clothing down to shorts and t-shirt and puffy jacket! These systems need not be terribly expensive, although a lightweight shelter/tent and sleeping system are key to reducing bulk.

        For my purposes, mainly for hauling the MacBook Air along with chargers and external drives, I have used a Carradice Camper saddlebag since 2009. I’ve used full-size racks to support the bag (which also hangs from the bag loops of my Brooks saddle). Eventually, I streamlined the system by using a mini-rack as a bag support (Such as the Velo Orange Pass Hunter, for cantilever brake mounting; of the Nitto M18, a highly adjustable model that I have mounted to p-clamps or to custom rivet-nuts). The Carradice Camper is huge (25L+), and is expandable via the longflap enclosure. Some custom rack fitting mid-way down the seatstay would be super slick for mounting such a rack as a saddlebag support (some ideas here:

        Here is a reference for most all of the custom bag makers out there: I’ve used bags from Porcelain Rocket, Revelate Designs, and Oveja Negra. Quality is excellent amongst all three builders. Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket ( is the best custom maker in the business, as is generally agreed in the community. Revelate stuff may be available through your LBS, or online. Strapping or bolting water bottles to the fork is an inexpensive, must-do trick when a front rack is in play. For a suspension fork or a fork without eyelets, simple use duct tape to a standard bottle cage– no clamps required!

        Sounds like you’ve got the bike nearly dialed. For the routes you describe, you definitely don’t need suspension, as you’ll have room for a 2.3″ tire or more, most likely. But please futureproof the bike in case you get more curious about really rough stuff like the Colorado Trail, AZT, or any of the other great resources found on and elsewhere. Then again, regarding suspension, there is more to gain than to lose. Give it a try if you want!

  16. hey nick, welcome back to the states. i was curious, you seem to be delighted with the tubeless setup; i wonder bout the brass tacks of it- hassles, how frequently do you squirt more Stan’s in there, do you carry a one-hitter of sealant on tour, etc? i’m going for it, this time of year i can’t ride to the corner store w/out a goathead, but seems like if there’s a downside, you’ve rolled through it by now. thanks, and thanks for continuing this awesome blog!

    • Michael– I will not go back to tubes, and have even considered what it would take to do this in more remote places. Once installed– I definitely suggest tubeless specific rims if possible, and tougher sidewalls– we’ve had no issues at all. We began this summer with 2-4oz. of Stan’s in each tire. I bought and mounted a new tire for Lael in France, and used the compressor at the shop to mount it. I bought a tire in Germany, which I mounted in Czech at a shop where I bought a big bottle of sealant. They didn’t have the smaller bottles, as are common from Stan’s, so I bought a 12 or 16 oz bottle of some Spanish stuff. I carried the bottle and used the remaining sealant over the next two months in Lael’s rear tire (I recommend a thicker sidewall than the Performance line from Schwalbe, which weeped occasionally), in Przemek’s tubes after a series of punctures, and in Vital’s tubeless tire while riding ridges in Krym. I emptied the final contents of the bottle into my rear tire before flying home.

      So, with occasional access to a compressor and some sealant, there is nothing to worry about. We began the trip with three tubes, just in case. We didn’t use any of them, and gave one away near the end of our trip. If you are willing to carry 8oz of sealant, and are riding on tubeless friendly tires (thick rubber, mostly, not even fancy tubeless ‘tech’ required), on rims that mate well to the tires, I’d safely say that you could ride across South America, tubeless. And then, I suspect that you can find sealant at some of the shops in the bigger cities. Air compressors are pretty common all over the world.

      Yes, I am a tubeless convert for sure– 5 months without a single flat is enough to never look back.


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  19. Hi, Nick! I just wanted to let you know I find your sight amazingly informative and inspirational. Thanks to you, when looking to buy a bicycle to do some light touring (possibly more extensive at some point), I decided to look for an old Schwinn High Sierra. Even though I recently moved to Chicago, I couldn’t find one on Craigslist right away and didn’t see one in any of the used bicycle shops, so I found one a nice 1986 model on ebay that had seen little use. I love this bike! What sold me on it was the fact that it took you through so many situations faithfully over diverse terrain here and abroad, and that of all the bikes you’ve owned, it was your favorite. That says a lot. My particular bike has the roller cam brakes. I’m not sure whether to love them or hate them. I have been out of cycling for many years and have never had any experience with them. They look wicked awesome, just wondering if you have any thoughts on these types of brakes for long distance touring? Also, any other thoughts you might have on the High Sierra. Adios and Thank You So Much for your site. The information you share is indeed valued!

    • Congrats on the High Sierra! Those Roller-Cam brakes are technically very good brakes, although they are confusing at first. My only real complaint is that they limit tire clearance, whereas the bike would otherwise allow 2.2-2.3″ rubber, or about 2.1″ with fenders. In fact, I built a 1986 High Sierra as a touring bike for a friend, who chose 1.5″ Schwalbe Marathon tires and fenders. She rode from Oregon to Florida on that bike, and continues to use it as a daily rider. You can catch a glimpse of the bike here:

  20. Pingback: Just another steel touring bike | gypsy by trade

  21. Hello there! I Have to tell you that your 1985 Schwinn is a huge influence for what I am slowly sculpting with my 80s era frame. I was searching for visual representations of what I was thinking of, and then I found it. It embodies a large portion of the direction I want to take the bike. Thanks for all your photos. Cheers!

  22. Thanks for the info! Can you give me some specs on the High Sierra? I am currently riding a vintage Gary Fisher Tassajara, but plan on switching to the High Sierra for reliability. (The Tassajara frame cracked as was rewelded in Serbia a year ago, holding up fine but I travel to too remote locations to risk it). I think it may be the same frame as yours a 1985, 60 cm.


    • Funny, my first real mountain bike (after the Trek 820 that was my first “adult bike”) was a Tassajara, c. 2002. Working from memory, the High Sierra was last seen in 2011 with:

      Shimano XT rear/Shimano dynamo front/Sun Rhyno Lite rims/Schwalbe Marathon 1.75″ tires

      Mix of older quality Shimano derailleurs to bar-end shifters in friction mode, 8speed parts, 26/40/46 chainrings/Suntour XC beartrap-style pedals

      Chris King headset/SR slingshot style stem custom filed to accept Nitto Randonneur handlebar

      Dia-Compe Gran Compe non-aero brake levers/Shimano Deore XT II cantilever brakes and Velo Orange red compound pads

      Velo Orange Pass Hunter rack in the rear as a saddlebag support, no rack in front

      B&M lighting with some custom mounts/wide plastic fenders

      Carradice Camper saddlebag/Jandd Frame Pac/dry bag strapped to handlebars/Profile Design Kages for 40oz. Klean Kanteen

  23. Hey Nick,

    How do you like the Hans Dampf tires? I am looking at them for when I get more into central america. How durable are they?

    which compound did you go with the trailstar or the pacestar?


    • I don’t miss them, mostly. If you have them you’ll swear you couldn’t live without them. But, we chase the sun as much as possible. We might sip coffee a little longer on rainy morning, and we enjoy deserts for some of the year. Still, I spend a lot of time getting wet and muddy, esp. on mountain bike trails, and I’d be happy to have some coverage on some days. Other challenges include mounting fenders securely to a suspension fork, and tire clearances in the rear of an MTB frame can be tight with full size tires. Finally, I’m happy to be rid of the extra weight. Not the best reasons, I realize. I considered making some fenders for the Krampus, but time and tire clearance and the risk of ripping the fenders off in a muddy mess kept the bike fender-free.

      As a consolation, most framebags (esp. with the flared front) and seatbags provide substantial coverage.

  24. I love living vicariously through you blog.

    Hoping you could offer some opinions on dynamo hub/ light set ups. Looks like you have tried a few. Any you recommendations? I’m looking to invest in light setup for my surly disc trucker.


    • I’d recommend the Shutter Precision (SP) PD-8 based upon weight, price, and performance. I’ve been using the PD-8x for some time (for 15mm thru axle hubs) and it has been great. I’ve used the nicer line of Shimano dynamos and those were fine, much heavier than these and about the same price. Check out Intelligent Design Cycles for SP hubs direct from Taiwan, they should be shipped immediately and will arrive in about 2 weeks. I have had very good service from Charles at IDC.

      For lighting, I really like the brightness and beam pattern of the Supernova E3 Pro series, offering both a handlebar or fork crown mount of an all metal construction. The E3 Pro headlight comes in two version, one design with a shaped beam which works well on the road and another “symmetrical” beam which is better for illuminating an area such as a country road or dirt trail. The E3 Pro Triple is far bighter than the standard Pro, but best not to be used into the eyes of cyclists on bike paths. Some cars may also object. Further, for the brightest lights look to Exposure from the UK or K-Lite from Australia.

      For USB charging I have been using the B&M USB-Werk which is nice because it includes a small internal battery to regulate the flow of power when you slow down or stop. The Sinewave Cycles Revolution is a good item, Made in the USA, but without the cache battery. For a good combo value look at the B&M Luxos U headlight which has a nice bright beam, focused on the road, with a remote switch on the handlebars that includes a USB charging port. I’ve heard good things about this light and have installed one on a customer’s bike before in AK.

      Peter White Cycles sells some of this stuff out his his rural shop in NH, available online. The Supernova lights are available through QBP, so ask you local bike shop. I don’t think there is an official US distributor for SP hubs yet, so IDC might be the best way.

      Best of luck and enjoy the Trucker! Let me know if you have any more questions.


  25. Pingback: Tour Divide Update: The Gila, NM | gypsy by trade

  26. It was February 2015 and I had been pining for a real touring bike when the missus, who really loves me a lot, said, “go and get what your want.” I already knew that I wanted a Surly Disc Trucker and found the only Surly dealer in Albuquerque was Two Wheel Drive, on Central near UNM. When I got there you sold me the surly and I think you put it together too. That was when you told me of your blog and I’ve been following since. I really like the Surly and ride nothing else. I’ve done maybe 1,250 miles carrying panniers here in New Mexico and in California.

    Reading the blog about the Tour Divide I became intrigued about using a dynamo to charge my smart phone as well as for the rare night ride. The only time I used lights on tour was going out to dinner and once in the fog on the coast highway. But I have a problem.

    I don’t know who can do it for me. I would insist on a wheel that is at least as tough as the Surly provided wheel that has stainless steel spokes at 2mm. I’ve had no problems with broken spokes like I’ve had on every other bike. If I do go the cost of building such a wheel would I also want to get a new back wheel and a group set? Or should I just go for an entirely new bike, maybe in a bike packer format that would be more useful on the New Mexico back roads and trails?

    • James,

      You only need a new front wheel, and the lights. I would recommend the Shutter Precision PD-8 hub, which is a good value, while competing to be the smallest, lightest, and most efficient hub out there. The nicer Shimano hubs have also been very reliable in my experience, but are usually a bit heavier and priced about the same. Schmidt SON hubs are the best, but priced to match at over $400. You can order an SP hub from Intelligent Design Cycles (, or ask Two Wheel Drive to source one for you. TWD can also build the wheel for you.

      If you really want to pursue more dirt touring, you can extend the range of the Trucker by using a larger tire. The bike should fit up to a 47-50mm tire such as a Schwalbe Marathon, or even a narrow mountain bike tire between 1.75-2.0. If you are considering more off-pavement travel in NM, or anywhere, I’d recommend lacing the front wheel with a tubeless ready rim. Stan’s Flow EX is a solid option for a bike like that, as it is intended for aggressive MTB riding without being too heavy. Tubeless is the way to go. If you want your wheels to match, this would be the time to have a rear wheel built as well. I like the SRAM X7 rear hubs, priced at about $60 or less, with sealed cartridge bearings. Lael has almost 20 months of hard use on an X7 and the hub still spins nicely.

      If you decide dirt touring is you thing, there are a lot of exciting bikes these days in that category, but you already own a bike that is capable of riding dirt roads.

      For lighting check out Supernova E3 lighting (Pro and Triple models), customs lights and charges from K-Lite in Australia, and the B&M Luxos U with a built in switch and USB charger. The Schmidt Edelux is also a solid option. Cheers. Let me know if you need any more help.

  27. Pingback: Correspondence: Designing a custom Meriwether | gypsy by trade

  28. Hey Nick, I’m curious to get your thoughts on carbon rims. Specifically if it’s worth the cost over something like a stans rim. I have rabbit holes now and while 29+ is fun I want a second set of wheels a bit thinner for running 2.0 to 2.5 tires. Thanks!

    • Carbon rims are great, especially when wider rims are concerned as the weight savings can be substantial. You might consider a mid-width carbon rim similar to the wide Ibis rims which would be suitable for both plus+ tires and standard width 2.2-2.5″ trail tires. I’ve also had great experiences with Derby rims, Light Bicycle, and Nextie. The latter are both direct from China and prices are competitive. I have been riding 35mm wide carbon rims for 2 years now without issue, including one Derby on the rear which is the HD construction, and a lighter Light Bicycle rim on the front. They are great for the 2.35-2.5″ tires that I prefer.

  29. Hi Nick,
    With your depth of knowledge could I wreck your brain on choosing the right bike for doing trips like the tour divide and even the Baja divide.I need a bike that could do it all, it may need to be able to swap to bigger tyres when required depending on journey. Currently ride a specialized camber evo F/S which i ride everywhere, and also have a 98 specialized stumpy resting. Set up of components I am not worried about because that can get tweaked as I go along.

    Hope this makes sense. Keep on riding dude.


    • Anthony, This is a tough question, and to be clear, you want to tour the Great Divide and the Baja Divide? Because the Tour Divide is a race, which would result in different priorities. However, I find the current crop of 27.5+ hardtails to be well suited to a lot of this kind of riding. The larger tires are well suited to the softer terrain in Baja, and the geometry of most can handle more tech than the average XC style hardtail. That said, I might prefer to ride 29″ tires on the Great Divide route, where the flotation isn’t necessary, although the pneumatic suspension would be comfortable on some sections. Thankfully you could built some 29″ wheels for any 27.5+ bike out there. In fact, bikes like the Advocate Hayduke and Specialized Fuse use a very similar geometry to my pink Meriwether frame. So, maybe something like a Specialized Fuse in stock 27.5+ mode for Baja and some loaded trips, then 29″ mode for the Great Divide and local singletrack. Just a thought, but I am very excited to have these bikes as an option.

      • Thanks Nick,
        For the reply, with such an amazing amount of bikes and set ups out their it can yet confusing with the choice we really have. It’s great.
        Thanks again.

  30. Hey Nick, Wondering if there’s any online location that might provide more detail of the parts you used when doing your high sierra build. I have the identical bike in completely stock condition (different stem than yours) that I’m wanting to build (on a smaller budget) for some bikepacking a little later this summer. What would be the most important upgrades that you would recommend.

    Thanks for your time, Pat

    • I built the bike from parts borrowed from my old Trek 520 touring bikes, as well as stock parts. The first build cost me very little and I went to France with just over $800 in my pocket While touring in France I rebuilt the wheels with new spokes, as a number of spokes had broken. I rebuilt with Sun Rhyno Lite rims a few years later, Shimano dynamo hub, modern XT rear hub. The final and favorite build also included Shimano bar end shifters, 26/40/46 crank, 11-32 tsp gearing, Velo Orange Randonneur handlebars, Chris King Headset, and Shimano XT II cantilever brakes with Velo Orange red brake pads. I used a number of tires on that bike, 1.75 Schwalbe Marathon was probably best, and a decent quality ride. I put over 14,000 miles on a pair of Marathons that year. I also used a few larger volume tires such as WTB Nano and Specialized Fast Trak for some off-pavement sections. This was a very good bike for several years of riding, including a 7000 mi trip across the US and down the Great Divide, Baja California and Sierra Madre in Mexico, and some time in France.

  31. Hey, I’m currently working on getting a Krampus ready for a big tour. I was wondering if you could comment on tire size.
    Why run ~2.4″ when your bike has the capacity for 3? You mention you would like to switch to 3 when you move over to a 27.5 setup, is this because of the better acceleration on a smaller diameter wheel?


      • It is not for extra spend on pavement, but for the ride on all surfaces. Better climbing and acceleration, quicker handling, and lighter wheels. The tires I ride are fairly aggressive, so they aren’t the fastest tires on pavement, but the bike isn’t optimized for paved riding.

    • I prefer the ride feel of 2.4/2.5″ tires, and 29+ generally feels too big for me (I like 27.5+, however). Two years ago when I was riding the Krampus tires were limited to the Knard and there were only a few rims available, most of which resulted in extremely heavy wheels. I also like having tons of extra tire clearance for mud when using 2.4″ tires. Depending upon how long your trip is, it is much easier to find a replacement 29×2.3/2.4 than 3.0.

  32. Hey Nick

    Really impressive blog 🙂
    I was wondering what bottle and cage you are using in the first pics… Looks pretty awesome.

    I own a Surly Ogre, will make a tour next year to the Black Sea and ‘r looking for well made stuff.

    Thx a lot
    Greetings from Austria

    • In the first picture of my pink Meriwether Cycles bikepacker, the large bottle is a 64oz (2L) Klean Kanteen held in place by a Sala Anything Cage HD. This will fit on most mountain bikes, plus bikes, fatbikes, but may be tight on conventional touring and road bikes. In some situations the cage and bottle are too tall to clear the front tire or fender, and the width of the bottle is sometimes too much to fit between the cranks or chainrings on a conventional touring bike. On most modern mountain bikes, especially with 1x and 2x chainrings, it is fine.

  33. hi, excuse me if I skipped it in one of the comments: the pike on the pink meri is not bost spaced, right (I understand there is no 110 shutter precision hub)? so the “regular” 29er pike will clear a 27.5+ tire? I’m planning a 27.5+ bike with a few ideas stolen from you, but 2.8 trailblazers / nobby nic or similar and have not yet decided on a fork. great blog, by the way – thanks for sharing your experience and insight!

    • The Pike on the Meriwether is standard 100mm staring, the wheel is 30mm internal width with 29×2.5″ Maxxis Minion DHF. I have a Boost Pike on the way to fit the new Knight Composites wheels I am building. SP Boost dynamo hubs will not be available until this spring sometime, at which time I plan to rebuild with a dynamo. I’ve seen a few 27.5+ wheels in 29er forks, but it might require some sanding to clear a little extra space for trail debris.

      • ok, thanks for the detailed answer! hadn’t been aware of the sp boost dynamo on the horizon, nice to know. the boost son hub is way too expensive, I think, although they’re reputedly super reliable

        • SON hubs are probably worth the price, but I’ve had a great experience with my SP PD-8X. I’ve got over 20,000 miles on it without sign of bearing wear or failure. I’m building new 27.5+ wheels this week, so I’ll probably send the hub in for new bearings to preempt any issues.

  34. Hi Nick
    Thanks for sharing all this incredible knowledge with us !
    I am planning on riding the Baja Divide this coming winter and would like to use a hardtail (with front suspension) 27.5+ that is also ‘rear-rack compatible’. I know that you are not a fan of panniers but I would like to have this option to carry additional load only when required (i.e; mainly water).
    I am really looking for a ‘nimble’ bike that can also carry the extra load when needed.
    What frames and set-up would you recommend ?
    greetings from France
    Many thanks


    PS: I completed the Great Divide last summer on a Scott Spark 930 (fully suspended) 29er and it worked out really well. Unfortunately it cannot accommodate 27.5+ wheels and the set-up with the Thule rear-rack was not great.

    • Peter, I would look at 27.5+ hardtail mountain bikes like the Advocate Hayduke, Jamis Dragonslayer, and Surly Karate Monkey. These are all steel models, if looking for a lighter frame the Specialized Fus and Cannondale Beast of the East are great options, although neither have rack mounts. For most any bike you can use an aftermarket thru-axle from the Robert Axle Project to fit a rear racks to a modern hardtail.

      Furthermore, you can use an exiting 29er with large volume tires (2.4″-2.6″) to ride the Baja Divide. I scouted the route on 29×2.4″ and 2.5″ tires and it was fine. Wider tires are recommended for some sections of the route, but it can be done on more conventional width tires. Tubeless tires are still strongly recommended.

      • Hi Nick
        Thanks for this. Your comment on 29er with 2.4″-2.6″ tires could be the solution – I will need to check if my Spark 930 can accommodate that. Since my last post, I continued scouring for a suitable, bike-packing compatible, 27.5+ hardtail mtb and , in addition to those you have mentioned, came across the Marin Pine Mountain 2. It seems to have a perfect set-up for the Baja Divide. Any thoughts / comments on that ?
        No problem with tubeless – I’m a fan – used it last year on the Great Divide. Goathead punctures between Grants and Pie Town but never a ‘flat’.
        One last question regarding the Baja Divide/ do you recommend having a dynamo or are there sufficient points to recharge power bank + Garmin ? I can hold out for 3 days.
        Thanks !

  35. I’m putting together a surly KM and having some bag issues. I’m pretty sold on the Relevate bar bag but not sure what the best size is, I do prefer smaller but still. I also have a Pika from my last tour but it seems many are using the larger one. I’m pretty minimalist but this is all so confusing. Any tips? 🙂

    • I would generally recommend the medium Revelate Sweetroll, and for a rider with enough clearance between the seat and the rear wheel, the Viscacha does provide more volume if needed. I use a small Sweetroll but it might be advantageous to have a little more space if needed, and it makes packing the bag a bit easier.

  36. Pingback: A Nod to the Surly Bridge Club -

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