How To Build An Off-Road Touring Bike

2013-03-19-008
My On One Inbred 29er built for off-road touring just before it got all dusty and scratched up!

The cycling terrain across Latin America is diverse to say the least. Whilst it would be possible to stick to the Pan-American Highway for the majority of our route, it seems a real shame to miss out on all the lovely dirt roads and trails along the way. Maybe it’s just the mountain biker in me selfishly wanting my fix, but I felt strongly that our bikes *must* be trail-worthy!

After some initial research, I put together build kits for two off-road touring bikes (or ‘expedition bikes’ as some like to call them). As our first bike tour will be completely self-funded, I had to resist temptations for Rohloff hubs, Gates Carbon belt drive and other esoteric techno-drool. For both bikes, I decided on the extremely affordable On One Inbred frame. I then added suspension corrected rigid forks and 3×9 Deore groupsets (full build kits here). For my bike, I also added a hub dynamo, stand lights and voltage regulated USB charger. It’s *obviously* 100% crucial to keep the Garmin Edge 800 and other gadgets charged in remote areas!

DSC00080.JPG
Many hours spent tinkering in the man cave listening to BBC Radio 4.

Although I have been riding mountain bikes most of my life, bike touring and building bikes from scratch is a relatively new thing for me. I had a lot to learn in choice of components while building these bikes. I have finished building my first bike, but I am by no means an expert. For each and every component, I spent a lot of time researching the options and slowly building the bikes up bit by bit. I learnt about frame preparation, DIY headset presses, correctly aligning the chain line and building wheels from scratch. Bike building can become quite an obsessive and philosophical undertaking. At times I had to reign myself back to reality. It’s only a bike, right?

Anyway, here are my thoughts on building an Inbred 29er for off-road touring.

The Frame

The On One Inbred already has a strong reputation as a reliable, multipurpose chromoly frame for XC/trail, commuting, utility and touring. The Inbred may not have the sex appeal of some more expensive steel and chromoly frames from the likes of Surly and Salsa. Indeed both of these brands are making some of the most desirable frames for off-road touring. Both the Surly Troll and Ogre have been topic of recent discussion on the blog of seasoned off-road tourer Cass Gilbert. As much as I’d love to ride these, I need to make sure that I put some money aside for the actual tour!

I’ve only done about 1000 km on my Inbred so far, but I feel very confident that it is rock solid and suitable for all types of terrain we are bound to encounter on this trip. Considering the size and weight, it actually feels surprisingly responsive on singletrack and the 700c wheel size keeps me rolling fast over gravel and cobblestones.

2013-03-06-053.jpg

Whilst we are touring, I try to squeeze in day rides on the ‘rest’ days. Here is my typical setup. Front panniers are generally okay, but not ideal for narrow singletrack. I wish I’d brought my Camelback for that.

I only have a few minor gripes about the Inbred 29er frame:

  • There are no rear V-brake mounts. I think the Inbred used to have these, but they have since been removed. It would have been a nice backup feature in case my Deore hydros fail in a very bad way, but I am still willing to take the risk.
  • I don’t like the ISCG05 chain guide tab. I guess a lot of UK riders are running 1×9 gearing because of the relatively flat terrain. This wouldn’t really be a problem, but for some reason my IGC tabs were welded on crooked, making it difficult to face the bottom bracket.
  • The paint job is not very durable. It picks up nicks and scratches very easily. However, I don’t expect my touring bike to look pristine, so I’ve accepted it’s going to get minced.

Of course, these are very minor annoyances which are totally outweighed by the rock solid dependability and tremendous value of this frame. I highly recommend it!

Frame Preparation

DSC00028

Before I started fitting parts, I decided to follow the advice a wise man once said about preparing a new frame. [gn_quote style=”1″]Brand new bicycle frames should be faced and chased![/gn_quote]Frame preparation is sometimes overlooked in DIY bicycling building. First and foremost, it involves facing and chasing the bottom bracket and facing (and possibly reaming) the steer tube. It may also involve facing of the disc brake and rack mount points. Some DIY builders just use a razor blade to scrape the paint off and hope for the best. I’d rather have the peace of mind of having it done properly with a face and chase tool. It is also a good idea to treat the inside surface of a steel frame with oil to prevent rust (especially if you will be travelling to humid regions).

I currently writing a more detailed post about frame preparation. Stay tuned!

The Fork & Headset

DSC00126.JPG
The suspension corrected Salsa Cromoto Grande 29er fork – tough yet forgiving on rough terrain

One of my favourite things on this bike is the fork. The Salsa Cromoto is extremely good value at £89. I was considering a 100mm coil suspension fork before I realised that I should just save my money and maintenance time. This fork absorbs small bumps nicely and if you run 50c+ tyres just below 40 psi, then you already have decent shock absorption. I used a hacksaw to cut the steer tube and used a few old stem spacers to ensure a nice even cut. I filed down the burrs and it was ready to go.

DSC00061.JPG
Chris King headset I purchased on sale (probably due to the purple brown color); you won’t hear me complaining!

I was lucky enough to find an Chris King headset for £65 in a post-Christmas sale. It’s a strange purply-brown colour, but I don’t care. I built a DIY headset press to install the Chris King. As long as you are careful to align the jig straight, this method works really well… no need for an expensive Park Tool press that you will only use once!

Deore Groupset

I went for the best deal I could find online for the complete Shimano Deore 3×9 group set. As I am not planning on entering any XC races on this bike, I can’t justify spending more for the sake of a few grams. The Deore 9 speed drivetrain is dependable and spare parts are relatively easy to find in cities.

I had to try a few different bottom bracket spacers to optimise the chain line. I went with a single 3mm spacer and now my shifting is silky smooth. I used teflon coated cables with single full run cable housings to avoid the need for regular cleaning and lubrication.

Hydraulic Disc Brakes

I know many bike tourers shudder at the thought of hydraulic disc brakes on tour, but I really don’t see what the fuss is all about. I have a bleed kit and spare pads and I know how to fix it if it goes wrong. I just love the power and feel of hydraulics. Of course, I used V-brakes in the 90s and I still use cantilevers on my road bike, but nothing really compares to hydraulic disc brakes for off-road these days.

The Deore disc brakes come pre-bled with virtually no setup required. I suggest removing the paint from the contact points on mounting posts of the frame. This ensures a nice even mount, thus preventing rotor rub.

I chose 180mm rotor on the front and 160mm on the rear. In retrospect, I wish I’d gone for 200mm on the front and 180mm on the rear. Riding with a fully loaded touring bike commands more serious stopping power and I think larger rotors would help with this.

Wheels

DSC00070.JPG
A hand built front wheel – SP PD-8 hub dynamo laced with Sapim Race spokes on a Rigida Sputnik rim

I built my first pair of wheels for this bike. In doing so, I learnt that wheel building is fun, as long as you have the time to do it carefully and thoroughly. I highly recommend the Professional Guide To Wheel Building by Roger Musson. This book covers every little detail of wheel building for several different types of riding!

Once I’d skimmed the book, I started researching the options for hubs, rims and spokes. Here is what I decided on:

After all the bits arrived, I laced the wheels at home. I used linseed oil on the nipples, spoke threads and the eyelet holes on the rims. I built a little DIY nipple driver to ensure spoke thread depth consistency during the lacing stage.

Once the basic lacing was complete, I went down to MiCycle (my LBS in Islington, London) who kindly offered me the use of their wheel truing stand, tools and expertise in exchange for a shoebox full of craft beers. As far as London bike shops go, I can’t recommend MiCycle enough. It is a truly unique, unpretentious, community orientated bike hub. Send them some love if you are ever in the area!

After re-tensioning the wheels a few times, I now have a bombproof wheel set worthy of off-road touring across Latin America!

Dynamo Hub USB Charging System & Lights

2013-05-28-004.jpg

The Plug II+ USB Charger by Tout Terrain tucked away inside the top the steer tube; cumbersome to install, but easy to use

I spent a lot of time researching hub dynamo systems. If I’d had more time, I would have loved to build a USB charging system from scratch. There are plenty of circuit diagrams available for free on CandlePower. I found useful knowledge online contributed by people who have built their own custom Dynamo charging systems (Rob DeanKerry of kLite, etc). However, given my limited amount of prep time and the growing availability of specialist products, I decided to go with The Plug II+.

I am writing a more detailed post about my hub dynamo setup including my B&M stand lights. Stay tuned!

Random Final Touches

The contact points include the well-respected Brooks B17 saddle, the super forgiving Ergon GP1 grips and Shimano M324 SPD/platform combo pedals. The bike is finished with a basic stem, handlebar, seat post and clamp from Christmas sales at On One. The luggage racks are both Tubus with some customised mounting tweaks.

Final Thoughts

2013-03-24-167.jpg

Fully laden and searching for a campsite

Overall, the bike is a pleasure to ride, but I must acknowledge some difference in handling when compared to a lightweight trail bike. I definitely prioritised strength over weight. This bike weighs in just below 30 lbs with the racks, lights, etc… but for touring, who cares! Traction and rigidity are fantastic on loose dirt climbs! It climbs a lot better than my Stumpjumper. Perhaps I will rent a lightweight trail bike somewhere along our journey for a day ride just to compare (and for a hill climb ego boost).

Grand Total Cost

I calculated around £1400 for the build kit including the expensive Tubus racks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

%d bloggers like this: