likes something different when it comes to touring bicycles. It comes down to
individual taste and preferences.
If anyone tells you they have all the answers they
are crazy. Check out the long decision making process I went through in buying our
personal ultimate traveling machines.
After having used a Bianchi cross bike with 700c wheels
on several outings I quickly realized that finding wide 700c tires in a bike shop is very
hard and may be impossible in Latin America. Even if you are in North America you
can have trouble finding them at your local bike shop.
I once met a
couple from Switzerland, while in Southern Mexico, who were desperately looking for wide
700c touring tires. All they could find at the bike shops was what the local road
racers used which is about as wide as one of your fingers. (700 x 20 -23) They were
forced to buy these narrow tires that probably wore out fast and had to be unstable on
steep descents. I wanted a touring bike with a 26 inch wheel set. That size
can be found in any bike shop because it used on Mountain Bikes. Most grocery stores
carry cheapies that will get you to a bike shop for quality replacements. The same
can be said for finding proper inner tubes. The first solution I thought of was
using a Mountain Bike. The problem was that I have never liked the way a Mountain
Bike feels on the road. Even with slicks. The frame geometry just feels funny
to me and the lack of rack mounts doesn't help. I wanted a 26 inch bike that
felt more like the road bikes that I had grown up on. Who sells that? Well I
First I checked out all the major brands and only found that that REI had one that
sold for $700 for the complete bike. It was called the Safari and was a touring bike
with 26 inch wheels. I think that $700 is a good price for that bike and it would be
the bike that I would recommend if you were just getting into bicycle touring. I was
looking for something else, because I was planning on using my bike for more than just a
two week trip. I searched every which way you can think on the internet for
manufactures of this kind of touring bikes.
I found a web site in Dutch about the perfect bike just made for world
travel. The Koga line of touring bikes must be well known in Europe. They have
several different models of touring bikes. I found the bikes to be refreshingly
different from what I could find in the USA. Real practical with lights, fenders,
and kickstands. I emailed them and told them that I was interested in buying two of
there best bikes. They told me that they would send me a catalog but were
unable to sell bikes to the USA. I kept searching the net.
Next I found Bruce Gordon Bicycles. While he refused to sell a bike to
someone of my weight his bike worked out for Cindie. She could get a production
bike, in her size, and at a reasonable cost. You could not say the same for
Bruce. Bruce was not reasonable. It was his way or the highway. For
example, the smallest road bar he had was 44 cm in width and Cindie uses a 38 cm width on
all her other bikes. So we went with the 44 cm bar and I used it. Cindie had
to order a 38 cm road bar from Terry Bicycles. The advantage to this was that Terry
sells smaller bars meant for women. Cindie couldn't reach the brakes that Bruce
specked on the bike. They were meant for a man so I got them as well.
She also bought brake levers from Terry made for the female hand. Cindie added a
Terry women's specific Ti-Racer Liberator Saddle too. She highly recommends Terry
Bicycle specific parts for women. The biggest mistake Bruce made with us was the
front fork and rack. We originally ordered a low rider rack but Bruce talked us out
of it. Bruce insisted that her bags would drag on the ground, so we got the rack
that sits higher over the front wheel. When Cindie was finally loaded, with the
front bags on, it became obvious that when she was in the drops her hands hit the top of
the bags. In addition, the higher load up front was not as easy to handle. The
brakes that Bruce put on the bike were cantilever brakes and didn't even work with
the rims that came with the bike. The wheels were made from quality parts but poorly
built. We ended up building new wheels and upgrading to V Brakes and a Salsa Brake
Booster (Thanks Ed). Now that Cindie had her bike I could to concentrate on mine.
I wanted my "perfect" touring bike but could not find what I wanted.
I kept searching the internet but soon realized that what I wanted was not
out there. I looked into a custom built frame. Custom frame builders
are more common than I thought. A lot of them operate in Oregon and
Washington. I soon became interested in custom builders who also
specialize in tandems. I am a large heavy guy and have always complained
about how stock steel frames flex under my weight. I now wanted my
frame to be built with beefy tubing usually reserved for tandems. I
was also thinking a custom bike could be built to give me the feel of a road
bike yet be long and stable with a large load.
Time was running out. We decided to hire a bike consultant of sorts to
help us navigate through all of the complications that are faced when
ordering a custom touring frame set and parts. The consultant and I
spoke for a long time and he examined my existing bikes. He
immediately noticed a trend in all of my bikes. On my road bike,
mountain bike, track bike, and even our tandem I was consistently pushing my
saddle all the way forward and using the longest stems I could find.
This predicament happened slowly over the years and I never noticed it
before. He listened to my cycling history starting in the fifth grade
on my first road bike and then progressing to track and later mountain
biking. He realized that I was set in my ways so when I told him that
I liked a bike to be stiff and fit more like a road bike he did not argue
with me he helped me find it. He told
me the mass production bikes just are not in proper proportions to me and as I grew I kept
pushing my seat forward to get over the peddles. Because I was pushing my seat
forward and the production bikes had relatively short top tubes for me I needed longer and
My bike touring consultant took this knowledge and the other parameters that I had told him that my
perfect touring bike would have and started calling around to see who could make it.
He found Co-Motion, a custom builder who specializes in tandem bicycles and had them build
it. First I had to be measured everywhere and then pick out a color. It did
not take very long to get it in the mail but it cost a fortune (US$1,700) for just a frame
and fork. I thought this was a lot for just a regular steel frame. The funny
thing was that there was no tubing sticker and I had to really press the question of what
kind of tubing my $1700 frame had. I expected Reynolds or Columbus but I found out
that it was cheap straight gauge True Temper. I'm OK with True Temper tubing but I think that a frame
built with it should cost well under what I paid. I also did not like the fact that
there is no tubing sticker or other documentation of what the bike was made
from. I have never heard of a custom made frame with no tubing
sticker. This combined with the fact that I had to be a little pushy
to find out what my frame was made out of gave me the eerie feeling of being
deceived. That is enough for me not to be a return customer unless I
am warranting the frame. I tend to break steel frames and even though
this one is stronger than average it will have its day.
Once I had it built it really did fit like a glove. I really like the fit
and my other bikes just seemed to not be right anymore. It is a good thing that I
was about to store them for a long time. I wonder if I am going to always have to
buy custom bicycles when I am done touring and want another regular road, track, or
mountain bike. The fit of this machine will never be duplicated in the bike shop.
My bike rode well unloaded. Without the weight of our gear it
was stiff and responsive. It descends well and is very comfortable.
Loaded it rides well but there is still too much flex, especially when I
stand and grind. I guess that it was a bit hard to believe that a 240
pound guy would be riding a 150 pound bike and the frame would have to be
I can see there is
a lot of confusion with DownTheRoad.org’s relationship with Koga. The bits
and pieces the conversation picked up here is the older part of the story.
Please allow me to start at the beginning.
In Nov. 2004 we purchased 2 world travelers at a discount
with the agreement that we could sell the bikes on a commission basis. The
carrot dangled in front of us by the first Koga USA distributorship owner
was that this relationship could lead to full sponsorship of two new bikes.
A few days later we flew to Bangkok to begin our Asian leg of our trip. As
expected, with bikes in this price range, they performed well and we had no
moral conflict in endorsing and selling these bikes.
While we were in Vietnam and China during the spring and
summer of 2005 our web site moved to a faster dedicated server and we saw
another wave of explosive growth in our traffic. This was good for our Koga
pages and we sold many bikes and earned a 5% commission.
I am not certain what happened to the first Koga USA
distributorship owner but it changed hands late in 2005 and we had to start
our relationship over with the second owner except this time we received a
box of replacement parts (chains, cassettes, chainrings, etc) and a 3%
commission. The email written by me and quoted here by Chuck Webb dated Nov,
14, 2005 was written during the time of this change.
During the spring and summer of 2006 while we were in
Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore our web site continued to grow and our
Koga sales doubled with us earning a 3% commission. Besides normal moving
parts wearing out we continued to enjoy our bikes and could honestly
recommend them to people. Also, during this time we began receiving email
from several Europeans, Japanese, and others who said that they liked the
information they found on our web site about touring bicycles and bought
Kogas in their respected countries. We did not have agreements with shops
outside the USA so we earned no commissions on these sales but were happy to
have helped and thought Koga would notice this (we forwarded some of the
emails) and these sales would increase our chances of landing a real
sponsorship with them.
While we were in Australia in early 2007 our head sets
started showing signs of wearing out. I considered this normal because we
had toured on them for more than 3 continuous years and, as we all know,
nothing lasts forever. In email I brought the head sets up with the new Koga
distributor who offered to send me new ones and then went into complicated
instructions on how replace the head sets. He said something about filing a
notch in the side and more but I did not pay attention because I had been
around bikes for decades and had years of experience working in bike shops
with removing and installing the older threaded and newer threadless
This is when my problems with Koga started. When I took
the bikes to a highly recommended specialty bicycle touring shop in
Melbourne to have new head sets installed they reported they had never seen
a head set system like the one on our Kogas and did not want to attempt
replacement for fear of damaging the bikes.
Several months later in another high end Australian bike
shop I tried again. They refused as well because it was a head set system
they were unfamiliar with and again feared damage to the bike. This time I
inspected it closer in a campground. It seems that Koga uses a 1inch
threaded fork in a 1 1/4 inch head tube. This very special headset must need
the extra room or something. I am not sure about this because I am afraid to
take it apart.
When I contacted Koga USA again they sent more detailed
instructions, two new head sets, and a large (for a bike tour) flat head
screw driver with part of the tip filed off. Needless to say I am confused
by all this. I keep asking myself “why don’t they use a standard threadless
headset that can be found and installed in most bike shops around the world;
this bike is called the World Traveler isn’t it?” Koga Europe refused to
return any of my numerous emails and only through the USA distributor they
somewhat admitted the head set was tricky to install and, as a solution,
offered to sell me (at a discount) 2 new frames and forks, with the head
sets factory installed. These are expensive bikes so, even with the
discount; the price is way out of bounds for two international travelers
living hand to mouth on the web.
Knowing that this bike, in my opinion has this huge design
flaw meant that I could no longer endorse or sell these bikes. I would have
never bought any bike knowing beforehand it had this kind of head set so I
consider it unethical to continue recommending them to others. I dropped
them from our website even though we were earning thousands of US$ a year
from the commission sales. Losing this income really hurt our finances, but
this sacrifice is far better than selling out to gear I dislike. We have not
found replacement bikes yet.
Now that we are in Auckland, New Zealand finishing our
second book I have found many excellent bike shops in town that are
knowledgeable of custom equipment and stock a wide variety of touring
bicycles. Our head sets are now so worn I believe them to be dangerous and
will try again at a bike shop or give it a go myself. If this is
unsuccessful I may be forced to buy 2 new threadless forks with normal head
sets but this is also expensive.
Neil, during your shopping I am very interested in what
you learn and recommend. We are normally on the road and do not have regular
or prolonged internet access and my research abilities are limited. I was
lucky to have a DownTheRoad.org email subscriber show me this thread so I
could address your understandable confusions. If you start another thread on
this topic or anything else concerning us please send me an email with the
URL pointing to the thread so I can be involved.
your concerns about our endorsements. We have 3 equipment sponsors at
this time, Big Agnas, Phil Wood and Ortlieb. I have been a long time customer of both
companies and have made several purchases in the past before I approached
them, and they supported our trip with free gear. I would use, recommend,
and sell on commission their gear even without these sponsorships but the
free gear saves us money and I see no need to turn it down. It is only
ethical that I work with companies that I can morally hold my head up high
and recommend. This is why I dropped Koga when I learned of the head set
problems even though we were earning thousands of US$ a year from the
commission arrangement. Everything else recommended on www.DownTheRoad.org
is sold on a commission basis. Commission deals are not exclusive and I can
put anything on the web site or switch items I choose and still earn the 5%
So, our endorsements are our true opinions. They can not
be bought or sold. Like anyone’s opinion out there you may disagree or not
pay attention to it. Because we have been on a bicycle tour now for almost 6
years most readers of our equipment pages value our hands on experience and
shop through the links on our web site as a way of saying “thanks for taking
the time to write up your experiences and put it out there”.
Below is a question that was emailed to me concerning our
bicycles. It may provide more information. Many more questions
and answerers are located on our Frequently Asked
Questions (FAQ) page.
Hello Tim and Cindie, The more I read
through your website the more anxious I become for the start of my tour
to South America. Tim, I have some questions for you. I see that you are
a big fellow. I am also a big guy at 250ish pounds, though I am not as
tall as you (5'11"). I am still searching for a bike that will be able
to handle the weight of not only me, but all my gear. I know that once I
hit the road and get some miles behind me, I will loose a lot of the
weight. Even if this happens, I doubt I will drop below 200 lbs, due to
my large broad frame. My budget is fairly limited and would like to stay
under $1,500 for a complete bike. After talking with 11 different shops
and getting 13 different answers, I am ready to get some advice from
someone like you that I am sure has gone through the same trouble of
finding the right bike. Any help on the following questions will be of
1. What rims do you use
and how do you like them? How many spokes do they have (32,36,40, or
48)? I have had several people recommend getting tandem wheels, rims,
hubs. Sounds intriguing, but this would mean getting a custom made bike
to fit the wider hubs.
2. You say Bruce Gordon
refused to sell you a bike because of your weight? Does he not have the
faith in his product?!?!?!?! Bruce Gordon bikes were on the top of the
list for me. Now I am not so sure. Now I am getting into a "funk" about
what to do. Aargh!
2a. If I am able to get
my hands on one, do you think that such a bike will do ok for such a
heavy load? Does Cindie have a Rock-n-Road or a BLT? I am thinking of
buying just the BLT frame, fork, B.B., and maybe stem/handlebars then
outfit it with wheels and components that I can acquire wholesale. Or
maybe do this with a Co-Motion??? Hmmm?
2b. I would go for a
Co-Motion, but since I am new to the sport I don't think I want to spend
that much money on a bike. How long did it take to get your Co-Motion
delivered after placing the order?
3. What was the final
cost of your bike with out racks and panniers?
4. How much did Ed's
services cost you?
5. Can you give me a
list of the tools you have along with you?
6. Under what conditions
have you broken a steel framed bike?
7. What tires are you
using? Kevlar beaded? How many spare tubes and tires do you have?
8. A 26" tire seems to
be a better idea than 700c, but it seems that most have a lower max. psi.
How do they work for big guys with big loads such as you and I?
9. If memory serves me,
you are carrying 150 pounds of gear, correct? Will you two be posting
your packing list on you website anytime soon?
10. Have you researched
the Trek 520 touring bike? The gearing would need to be swapped out as
well as some components, but its the 700c rims that is really holding me
back on this bike.
11. Have you used or
have you run into anyone else using the BOB trailer? Any thoughts on it
over panniers or vis-a-versa?
I know that you have limited times to connect to the internet and I
have asked many questions. I will truly be indebt to you for any
assistance with any of them. Please don't feel obligated to answer all
of them. My main concern is finding a good bike that will hold my bulk
and that of my gear.
Both you and Cindie are great inspirations to me and I am sure to
many more. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. By the way,
great website! Be well,
(signed = Ryan, USA)
Ryan: You mention that you are getting
ready to go to South America. When will you be there? We will be landing
in Quito, Ecuador in early June, 2003. We plan on a 1 or 2 week walking
trek around the mountains before heading South on our bicycles. It would
be fun to connect.
Many bike shops and other "experts" do not
understand the special needs of a cyclist who exceeds 200 pounds (about
100 Kilograms). I have been told that a persons weight and height are
not logical factors in choosing frame sets and bicycles in general. I
can not believe that. Most of these "experts" were about half of my
weight. Other sports seem to understand that a big guy needs bigger and
stronger equipment. Bowlers use different weighted balls, skiers have
different length skies and amounts of flex. To put it simply big men
need a bigger and stronger horse.
I believe that most bikes are made for men who weigh around 180
pounds. If you weigh more (or less) it will not handle the same.
My biggest complaint with bicycle framesets is that they have too much
flex. I weigh well over 200 pounds. I have owned several bikes that
flexed so much that it would actually shift on its own due to the frame
flexing. Through the years I found that I usually preferred an aluminum
bike that the bike magazines rated as "to stiff to be comfortable".
I will try to answer your specific questions below:
1. I started out with
front and rear SUN Rhino Lite rims. We used the same type on our tandem
for a couple of years and liked them. Unfortunately my rear rim met it's
end in Guatemala. I had the rear rim replaced in a very nice bike shop
in Guatemala City. Cindie used a regular mountain bike rim. All four of
our wheels are 26 inch (mountain bike) 36 spokes. It was a very good
thing we had these type of wheels because a rim would have been
impossible to find in Guatemala and we heard that it would have been
over US$100 in shipping to get a rim sent from the USA.
2. Bruce Gordon did not
like my weight but he especially did not like my height. I am 6 ft. 3
inches. I guess that he does not make bikes that big. Cindie likes the
feel of her frame. The tubing seems to be correct for someone her
weight. I weigh almost twice as much as her and the same frame would
flex a to much for me.
2a. I see that you are a
few inches shorter than me. This makes the Bruce Gordon more possible
for you because of two things. First, he probably has a bike big enough
to fit you. Second a smaller frame is inherently stronger and flexes
less. I understand your dilemma. I is hard to buy an expensive bike that
you can not even test ride. Furthermore, you can not compare it to
another steel bike even of the same brand of tubing. The geometry is
much different and, unless it is loaded, it will never have the feel of
actually being on your extended loaded tour.
2b. I got my Co-Motion
in about four weeks. I think that is very fast for a custom bike. If you
are new to the sport I do not recommend a custom bike. You have not yet
discovered what you really like and do not like in a bike. I think that
it would be best to buy a stock bike, learn what you want different,
then buy your expensive dream bike.
3. The final cost of my
bike was about US$3,500
4. Ed's services did not
cost any extra. He charges reasonable rates for labor and a small mark
up on the parts. He was much cheaper than a regular bike shop.
5. I do not yet have a
list of tools. I have worked as a mechanic in several bike shops when I
was younger. I just mentally know that I can do all road side repairs
and even some major work. Some day I will make a list.
6. I have broken many
steel frames. About 2 were track bikes on a velodrome while racing,
Maybe 4 were road frames while training or racing, and one touring
bicycle while touring. I have never broken an Aluminum frame and never
owned a steel Mountain. bike.
7. Our tires are wire
bead. The main reason is cost. I am not a big fan of any certain brand
of tires. We only carry only one spare tire, It is a small folding 26 x
1 tire. I is used only to get us to a store that sells bigger tires. We
have only used it once. We carry about 5 - 8 tubes. 26 inch tubes and
tires are easily bought everywhere we have been so far.
8. It is true that a 26
inch tire has a lower psi than a smaller 700c. This lower pressure is
certainly less efficient. This is a small price to pay for the
9. We do not travel
light. People are often amazed at the amount of stuff that we carry. I
tell people that "this is not a vacation for us. This is where we live
now." My bike and gear usually weighs between 100 - 150 pounds (50 - 75
Kilograms) depending on how much food I am carrying. Good stores can be
few and far between. I have been trying to make a list of all of our
stuff. I just can not seem to get it done. Keep checking because you
10. I have never really
looked at the Trek 520 touring bike. My advise is that you are going
less than 4 months or will be traveling in Europe or North America a
700c bike is great. Otherwise I would not compromise on the 26 inch
11. I have never used a
BOB trailer. I have met several people on the road that have had broken
BOB trailers. It is usually a broken axel or frame. I have also heard
that replacement tires are hard to find in many countries. I also think
that pick pockets and bag stasher would have a easy time, with your
stuff so far behind you, when you are pushing your bike around a city.