Evolution of a Touring Bike

It was a sad sight, a decrepit looking Mountain Bike, caked with red Oklahoma mud even after a half-hearted attempt at cleaning it up. It looked like someone had taken a garden hose to it and stopped when the worst had been flushed away. Then it had sat on flat tires behind dead lawn mowers in the back of the garage for several years, gathering dust and spider webs. One day they decided to have a garage sale and after putting out all the nice things--like an unused Salad Master, some polyester leisure suits and the set of steak knives they got for looking at some time share deal--they sort of tossed in the bicycle as an afterthought. It was leaning against a tree without a price on it. I figured if I could buy it right, I could clean it up and resell it for a profit. I pay for some of my touring with profits I make on trading bicycles. I made an offer so low that I was almost ashamed but the lady grabbed it without a second thought. I rolled it to the van with the tires going Fwump Fwump Fwump each time the flat spots came around.

After a closer inspection, it turned out to be a better quality bike than I had suspected. A Giant Sedona with a full CroMo frame and forks. Middle price equipment, way better than average, 36 spoke wheels and it was just my size. With 17" chainstays and attachment points for a rear rack, it appeared to be just what I'd been looking for in the way of a 26"-wheeled touring bike for planned tours on the KATY Trail across Missouri.

The first step was the clean it up, which was no small task because when the mud dried, it became almost as hard as concrete. It couldn't be just flushed away, it had to be soaked for a while and then dug out of all the nooks and crannies. I noticed in the process almost no signs of brake pad scuffing on the rims and the knobby tires still had the mold marks on the treads. I would appear that someone bought the bike, took one trip into the slush and abandoned the idea when they found that crashing into trees and doing face plants in the mud wasn't nearly as much fun as they had expected.

The only practical way to clean it up was to completely disassemble it. Once apart, it was only logical to repack all bearings and lube the cables before putting it back together. The tires were weather cracked and I wanted something better suited for road use. I found a pair of 26 x 1.6 (44 x 559) Continental Goliath tires at our club's swap meet. They are very similar to the Conti Top Touring 2000 except with a bit more tread on the sidewalls. New rimstrips, tubes and the tires had the bike ready to do some club rides.

The first thing I noticed was that the handlebars were too low for comfort but figured that I could put up with that. I went on a weekend trip to the Caprock Canyon State Park located in the Panhandle of Texas. We stayed in Turkey (home of Bob Wills) at the old hotel and rode the trail to the top of the caprock and back, which was about 25 miles. No need to carry camping gear, but I did install a rear rack to haul things needed for a day trip. I also discovered that the original saddle and I weren't a happy combination so I replaced it with a new Brooks Conquest which has the same shape as the Brooks Pro on the Randonee except with springs. The spring action isn't noticeable but you can place your hand on the springs while riding and tell that it's taking out a lot of the shock.

The Geezers were going to Parke County Indiana to tour covered bridges and since many of them are located on either gravel or dirt roads, I chose the Sedona instead of my regular touring bike. In the process of getting the bike ready for this week-long tour, I installed a Girvin Flexstem and a rear triangle kickstand. While I could feel the stem flexing and absorbing road shock, it placed the handlebars even lower than before. By the end of the first day's tour of about 40 miles, my Upper Trapezius muscles were in extreme pain from carrying too much weight on my hands and arms. Heat, cold and ibuprofen helped but I had to turn back after 12 miles into the next day. I knew something had to be done.

In comparing the setup of saddle, handlebars and pedals on the Sedona with those on my Randonee, I found the handlebars almost 4" lower and 2" further away from the saddle than on the Randonee. A fully adjustable stem moved them to where the measurements now all match. It made all the difference in the world and a 15 mile test ride indicates that all the problems with my shoulders have been resolved.

My next planned tour on the Sedona will be to follow the march route of General Custer from Camp Supply in Western Oklahoma to where he engaged the Cheyenne in the Battle of the Washita. The march route is about 90 miles of which perhaps half will be on paved roads with the rest on county, ranch or oilfield roads which will be gravel or dirt. Since there are only two very small towns along the way, neither of them with any more facilities than a place to eat, I will be going self-contained with a total load of about 30 pounds. I've already done a couple rides carrying everything except the food and it appears to be working fine.

As it stands now, it will probably be spring before I can make this tour. With winter now upon us, we are into the time when howling blizzards can come roaring in from the north and I don't want to find myself in a situation like Custer had when he set out three days before Thanksgiving in 1864. They had eighteen inches of snow that day and winds whipped it until it was difficult to see the rider in front of you. It was so bad that he was able to cover only 14 miles the first day and 18 miles the second.


Related Stories: Home-Grown PanniersFollowing Custer's Trail

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Copyright 2003 by Jim Foreman