Real touring bikes: Canadian Rockies


Another round of bikes from all over the world, attracted to the picturesque peaks of the Canadian Rockies.  Germans in particular are quite fond of the north country, although they travel to many destinations.  I’ve recently encountered two German couples, separately, traveling with a baby of one year or less– it seems the Chariot is a preferred method of hauling live cargo.  The following bikes were spotted between Jasper, AB and the Montana border.  A self-contained ACA tour of the Great Divide Route from Banff to Whitefish was a goldmine of great bikes and characters.  In the Yukon I managed to capture almost every bike I saw; more recently, I catch a little over half.

Two bright beams approach from the northbound shoulder of the Icefields Parkway.  I leave my light on all the time as well, and readily spot the piercing LED from afar.  Approaching, both parties come to a halt and exclaim, expectantly and knowingly, “Germans?!”.  If you see a bright dynamo light coming down the road, “German?” is usually a good guess.  I am right; of course, they are not.  I tell people I’m from Alaska.  We speak about the growth in popularity of dynamo lighting in the US and the General influence of German cycling equipment.  Upon closer inspection, they are riding perfect examples of German tourers: Rohloff hubs, Magura hydraulic rim brakes, Schwalbe Extreme tires, Tubus, Ortlieb, Schmight lighting, SKS fenders, ESGE kickstand, Ergon Grips, and stout aluminum Idworx frames.  Proudly, only the pedals are from Shimano.  A limiter keeps the handlebars from turning more than 90deg, which prevents damage to the hydraulic brake line and the headlight.




Kiwis on tour riding 26″ wheels, both are riding Jamis mountain bikes with Vaude panniers.


Americans on Kona Sutra touring bikes with Ortlieb panniers.  These are the second pair of Sutras for this couple; their other Sutras have been used for several longer tours and now reside at the winter residence down south.  It was time for some new drivetrain parts on the old bikes so it was decided that new bikes would solve the problem.  That’s the third, and most expensive approach to drivetrain maintenance– new bikes.  Note disc brakes with rim brake mounts.  I’ve seen numerous lowrider racks mounted to cantilever posts as shown.



I finally captured it!  People stop and point and poke at my Pugsley all the time.  Tourists in Banff particularly enjoyed it.  A vacationing German couple asked if the framebag contained a motor.


Not a touring bike, at least not yet.  As I often say, “it’s not a touring bike until it’s on tour”.  Likewise, when it’s out on the open road, it’s a touring bike no matter if it’s made of carbon or features full-suspension.   Just a town bike in Banff, but this Kona Explosif caught my eye. It’s hideous, unless you grew up reading mountain bike magazines in the 90’s.  Technically, this bike was a little before my time.



On the Divide, a wide variety of bikes are to be found but most feature proper mountain bike tires.  This Trek Marlin 29er is a two day ride from home in Calgary, and less than ten miles from the start of the Great Divide Route in Banff.  This rider approached the local bike shop with a budget and list of anti-specifications: the bike could not have hydraulic disc brakes, it could not have an air or oil fork, and it could not have 26″ wheels.  The result was an inexpensive 29er which came in way under budget, to his surprise.  A simple reliable bike doesn’t require a hefty price tag!



A full suspension 26″ wheeled carbon Norco.  The rider enjoyed the ride and claimed not to have any issues mounting racks.


Nothing to see, but another statistic.  A young German woman on a Giant XTC mountain bike with front and rear racks.


This is by far the most unique bike I’ve seen since Alaska, and perhaps for the entire summer to come.  Tim SanJule constructed this bike of parts and tubing from several other bikes, building on lots of real world touring experience and improving upon his last touring bike, an old steel Specialized Rockhopper.  A second down tube, or diagatube, was added for strength and to prevent shimmy while loaded.  S&S couples were sourced from a Craigslist bike, the eccentric bottom bracket (EBB) from a KHS tandem, and the tubing from a variety of old bikes.  The parts are described as “tough North American stuff”, referring to a mix a Paul, White Industries and Phil Wood.  A vintage Sachs front derailleur and a short cage Dura-Ace rear derailleur add some flair; don’t shift into the small-small combination or the chain will go slack, but the short cage derailleur shifts better and reduces chain slap.  Both front and rear Avid BB7 disc calipers are operated by a long run of exposed cable from the top of the fork and near the BB, respectively.  The housing stop on the caliper itself has been removed.  Cromoly Tubus Cargo racks are mounted front and rear and the fork features multiple braze-ons for bottle cages and racks, a la Salsa.  This rider is leading a dozen riders on a self-contained ACA tour of the Great Divide Route from Banff, AB to Whitefish, MT.  The following bikes are from that group.

Tim grew up in the same small cowtown I did.  We comprise the entirety of cycling culture in, or from, Cortland, NY and make for a curious pair of bikes and riders.  Tim pedals in a climbing helmet and a well-worn pair of Converse Chuck Taylor athletic shoes.  When I was a “mountain biker” in high school, I used to ride in my “Chucks”.









A carbon Trek 29er, purchased several years ago in preparation for riding some of the Great Divide.  In that time, this rider has accumulated lots of gear to suit his needs but was bursting at the seams of his bikepacking-inspired setup.  An Old Man Mountain rack is mounted in front with Ortlieb panniers, as it was decided that a rear rack would place unsafe stress on the carbon frame.  Slow speed steering is described as “heavy”, which can be especially hazardous when climbing loose surfaces.  Seven separate Revelate Designs bags are hidden here.



A Rhode Island based rider on a Tout Terrain Silkroad with “the works” from Peter White Cycles in New Hampshire: a Rohloff Speedhub, an Shimano Alfine dynamo hub, B&M lighting, Schwalbe Marathon Extreme tires, and T.A. cranks.  He was a bit disappointed to have had a puncture with his highly specialized, and expensive touring tires.  I assured him that such things were normal, and quite possible on any tire.



An early 1990’s Bridgestone XO-3 with a Cane Creek Thudbuster seatpost and a Girvin suspension stem, comprising a simple short-travel full suspension system.  This bike also wears a pair of older (vintage?) Schwalbe XR touring tires.  S&S couplers have been installed.




A first generation Salsa Fargo with Revelate framebag and panniers, wearing an uncommon Schwalbe tire, the Marathon Plus ATB in a 40 or 42mm dimension.



I took a liking to this bike, a Surly Karate Monkey with Rohloff, Revelate bags, Continental Mountain King tires, and a small pair of Jandd panniers on a rear rack.  The Revelate Tangle bag is nice as it leaves enough room for both water bottles to be used.  This one fits the frame nicely.




A Niner S.I.R. 9 steel frame of Reynolds 853 tubing.  A nice clean build with an attractive older White Brothers suspension fork, pulling a BOB trailer.



An eight-year old custom titanium Seven 29er with S&S couplers, also with an older White Brothers fork.  The White Brothers forks were the best, and only option when 29ers first arrived.  They continue to be made in Grand Junction, CO.  This bike was wearing a pair of WTB Nanoraptor tires, the first true 29er tire available, first offered back in 1999.




Real touring bikes: British Columbia


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.