CycloCamping Forum

The Touring Bicycle => The Bicycle => Topic started by: no1spursfan on April 21, 2010, 06:36:54 AM

Title: Converting MTB for touring
Post by: no1spursfan on April 21, 2010, 06:36:54 AM
Hello all,

This is my first post on this forum; I was directed here by a Lonely Planet form member who said this was the best place for advice! Myself and my girlfriend are doing a 2 week tour of south france in July/August and we have two BIG questions:

1. Is it possible to convert our existing mountain bikes for touring (no more than 20 - 25 miles per day? We both have hardtail, front suspension bikes but are concerned about being able to fit panniers and whether or not the gearing of a MTB is unsuitable for tours of this distance. (Can't really afford to buy new bikes this year!)

2. Can anybody suggest a good route in the south west for a 2 week tour. We'd ideally like a coastal route but some inland jaunts would be cool as well particularly to take in some Chateaux or vinyards!! :o)

Many, many thanks in advance,

Title: Re: Converting MTB for touring
Post by: tony on April 21, 2010, 01:55:08 PM
1) I never converted a MTB but from the top of my head I would think you might want to have racks for your panniers and tires that are better suited for road conditions. And maybe some more bottle cages...

2) To respond to your question 2, I started a topic in the section "Europe".. so it is in the right section. Here is the link:

Title: Re: Converting MTB for touring
Post by: Stephane on April 21, 2010, 02:27:26 PM
Tony is right, the Canal du Midi is a very nice ride. If you want more mountains, you can ride around the Parc National des Pyrennes" also very scenic but no beaches and not much vineyards.

It is definitely possible to turn your MTB bike into a touring bike. It is not the best option but it is certainly cheaper than buying a touring bike. For example, you may have an aluminum frame, which in my opinion is not ideal for touring, but is certainly good enough for a 2-week trip.  According to the general consensus, many people have traveled on bicycles that were really not suited for touring, yet had a blast and an overall wonderful traveling experience. Bicycle touring is all about fun, sport, and adventure.  The machine is simple, so there is no point in making it complicated.

That being said, to make things more comfortable, this is what you might want to consider changing on your MTB bicycle (more or less in order of importance):

Racks: I assume you don't have racks on your MTB and this is something you will need. I definitely advise against touring with a backpack (very bad for your back). For the best balance, it is preferable to have one pair of panniers on the back rack and one on the front rack. But if you have a limited budget, you can just use a rear rack with 2 panniers and a dry bag on top of it. The most popular brand for racks is Tubus (, Racktime ( Bruce Gordon racks also have good reputation. Most racks need mounting eyelets, but you can find a few models that do not. If you don't have mounting eyelets on your fork, and since you have suspension, a good option is the Tubus Smarti (

Handlebar: A big difference between a MTB and a touring bike is your position. MTBs are designed for a more sitting-up position, while the touring bike is in between the MTB and the road bike position. Sitting straight up on a loaded touring bike for several hours per day will be hard on your back and is bad for your spinal discs. So two weeks is not too bad, but if you have back problems you might want to change the handlebar to allow you to change positions and to allow you to rest a little more on your wrist than mostly on your bottom. You have different options: drop-down, bull-horn or butterfly handlebars; every biker has his own preference. I personally prefer the butterfly. A great but expensive handle bar for that matter is the Modolo Dumbo (, it is the only handlebar that give you so many possible configurations. A cheaper option is to simply add bar ends to your straight bar, but it doesn't give you as much comfort.

Tires: Your tires are probably way too slow for touring, especially if you're planning to ride on asphalt, so you probably should trade with some slicker tires. Schwalbe is by far the best brand for touring tires and here you can compare each model easily: Compare Schwalbe Tires (

Trailer: This is another option if you don't want to have to deal with mounting racks. Some people really like them, but if you will be taking the airplane, it might not be the best option (it is already a pain to check in bicycles, so an extra trailer won't help).

Mirrors: This is a cheap but VERY useful item. Heinz Stucke once said, "Helmets should not be required, but mirrors should." They surely add a lot of safety and are very practical. Here is a related article: "Why do I need a mirror for bicycle touring?” (

Gearing: The gearing you will need depends on your condition, the terrain (how steep it is going to be), and how much luggage you'll be carrying. I assume that for a 2-week trip you won't have much more than 60 lb. (and more like 30 to 40 lb.). This is the range most people choose: 48-36-24 or 46-34-22 with a 12-32 or 11-30 cassette.

Saddle: Again, every biker has his own preference, but the majority of bicycle travelers choose a Brooks Saddle ( for the comfort and durability (you need to break them in, though, so the first few hundred miles won't be so comfortable.).

Fender: A fender will protect yourself (and the one following you) and and also prevent your gear from getting wet or covered with mud.

Rims: Again, for a 2-week trip, it might not be the most important issue, but if you plan on carrying luggage, you need a strong rim (SunRhyno) with preferably 36 spokes (the best spokes are the Sapim Strong with brass nipples).

Lights: It is easy to get caught at dark when bicycle touring, sometimes it takes longer than expected to get to wherever you're going or to find a spot to camp. It these cases a bicycle light is crucial. Here is the link to compare bicycle and camping lights (

Hope it helps. Happy wind and be careful with the red wine!
Title: Re: Converting MTB for touring
Post by: no1spursfan on April 22, 2010, 02:35:29 AM
Wow! Superb advice guys thank you very much! I went to a good local bike shop last night (been in the town for years and years) and they have said that they will help me source the most suitable parts for us regardless of whether it is through them or on the internet, then set the bikes up for us so we're ready to rock. You can't beat trusted local trades and shops!
We are now looking at getting a train to Avignon and then cycling via Montpellier onto Perpignon staying fairly close to the coast. Any advice on travelling in that particular area of France would be much appreciated.

Cheers again,

Title: Re: Converting MTB for touring
Post by: fenlabiz on April 22, 2010, 11:24:10 AM
France has a wonderful system of roads that are great for cyclists. They call it Departementale roads. Simply get a good map and plan your route on roads with a number starting by "D", like D59 for example. Try to avoid the Nationale (start by a N) as they usually have heavier traffic (but often you won't have any choices and will have to take them). Route with a A, like A4 are highways and cyclists are never allowed on them. If you can, go to the Parc Naturel de Camargues, it is kind of on your route and it is quite nice. But, in my opinion,  the Canal du Midi would be a better route compare to Avignon to Perpignan (especially if you are looking for vineyards).
Title: Re: Converting MTB for touring
Post by: adamtheace on April 23, 2010, 12:47:04 PM
i convert my existing mountain bike for touring and its really good .as what stephane said you will have to make the front end up or your back will kill after a coupel of days.that is the only big fing i found that made a lot of deference

hope it helps
Title: Re: Converting MTB for touring
Post by: hartleymartin on May 18, 2010, 05:33:02 AM
Cross-Country MTB's with a longer wheelbase make ideal candidates for conversion into touring bicycles. Steel frames and rigid forks are desirable, but not essential. Fit slick/semi-slick tyres about 1.5" to 1.75" wide (or as appropriate to the road conditions). Mudguards are recommended, unless you want to have mud flying up into your face on wet days, and you may want to get an adjustable stem to vary your riding position. Dead-straight flat bars are a no-no. Get ones with some rise and back-sweep or switch to butterfly-shaped trekking bars. V-brakes are better than disc-brakes for touring (V-brakes are easier to fix/adjust on the road). A good rear carry rack is an investment, but even your basic Tioga alloy touring model is sufficient.

That is me, at the end of the Sydney-Wollongong Ride (86km), using my touring bicycle, which is a c.1990's Elan X-Country MTB, kitted out as a heavy trekking bicycle. The swept-back style North-Road handlebars negate the need for multiple hand positions, and make for an extremely comfortable riding position. This sort of thing is deal for what you are planning. 20-25 miles per day (30-40km) is easy peasy stuff on this sort of bicycle. You don't really need the multiple hand positions that come with drop handlebars or butterfly bars for these distances.

One important thing: GET A COMFORTABLE SPRUNG SADDLE! Springs on your saddle (such as a Brooks Flyer or B67) will take out all the little road shocks and vibrations which will otherwise make you very sore at the end of a day's ride.
Title: Re: Converting MTB for touring
Post by: Crystal on May 18, 2010, 06:01:12 AM
This is an interesting pic Harley. Did you actually ever do a longer trip with this bike? I can't see on the picture, do you have a rear rack?
Title: Re: Converting MTB for touring
Post by: hartleymartin on May 18, 2010, 07:35:38 AM
There is a Tioga Touring Rack on the back. There are no panniers, as I packed everything I needed for that day ride into a Carradice Camper Long-Flap saddle bag (24L capacity). My participant number was zip-tied to the rear rack. Next time, I'll fit a front basket and attach it to that. I had a front rack, but as this was also used as a commuter bicycle, it wasn't used very often and spoiled the otherwise classic lines. Most of my trips are relatively short for touring, but sometimes there can be significant challenges.

My last trip some months back was only about 45km (30 miles) in 3 stages. 15km (10 miles) of bicycle paths, 15km (10 miles) of flat roads, but some of them were single-lane, rough and with motor traffic, and then 15km (10 miles) of very hilly roads. I did that with a pair of loaded rear panniers and this saddle bag (about 70L on the back) I've got new low-rider front racks to fit for my next trip. I did this trip to the camp-site in 3.5 hours including breaks, so I was averaging about 18kph (12mph) for the most part.

(approximate conversions of distances in brackets)

I tend to go for weekend trips in S24O style, or if I go on longer trips, typically not much more than say 50 or 60km in a day. There is no reason that I couldn't go for longer multi-day trips with this same bicycle.
Title: Re: Converting MTB for touring
Post by: xenotropic on July 11, 2010, 09:48:14 PM
Dear no1spursfan,

You may be gone already, and looks like you have gotten good advice here.  I converted a MTB and spent a few weeks biking around the Loire valley in 2005.  A few other thoughts that come to mind:

(1) Get a good map or guidebook.  Lonely Planet has a specific Cycling France book.  The Michelin regional maps are very good, showing low-traffic scenic routes in green.  I used both.  More recently (and I didn't use so can't personally recommend) IGN has come out with specific Cycling France maps: ( (the OmniMap people are super-helpful, I used them recently getting maps for a bike trek in Ecuador).

(2) One minor elaboration on tires:  get tires that will go up to 70-80 PSI (there's the ones recommended earlier in this post, or I used $20 Ritchey Tom Slicks).  Bring a good high-pressure tire pump.  This makes a huuuuuuuuuge difference in how easy it is to pedal and so in how far you can go.

(3) I think 20 miles/day is a pretty good-but-conservative estimate, assuming you're in generally good shape but aren't training with long rides before you go.  This is based on two 7-10 day trips I've done with partners who were in shape but less into cycling that I was.  On a moderately-loaded

(4) Sounds like you have your route, but the Loire Valley (Orleans-Tours-Angers-Nantes) is quite nice.  Cheateaus,  a lot of bike paths along it, with a slow downhill slope.

(5) Many (most?) French towns have municipal campgrounds, which range from adequate to amazing.  The apparent goal being to provide a place for Dutch and German families on holiday to stay in their RVs.   
(6) I'd save cash on the rack, a $35 Topeak rack will do for now and buy a Tubus later when you have more money.  I found money to be better spent on a set of panniers, in particular a set of Ortlieb Backrollers, because they are stable, adjustable, and secure on a variety of racks; and more importantly, they keep your stuff dry.  I  bought a cheaper set of panniers originally and all my stuff got wet when I got rained on the first time, which was very bad.  I recently met a guy, Julian Bloomer ( ( who's been bike touring for two years, and he estimated that 90% of the long-term bike tourers he's met are packing their stuff in Ortliebs. 

Cheers and bon voyage,

Joe Morris