The Chainlink

I am considering getting a touring bike and have some questions for the collective.  I see three options and am seeking opinions. I want to be able to tour with front and  rear racks/panniers.

1. I have a 1997 Jamis Aurora which at the time was a lower end chromoly road bike. It has been various things over the years.  It has braze ons for front and rear racks. It fits me great.  Would this be acceptable if new wheels, front and rear racks, chainrings and perhaps a new stem and bar were added?

2. A friend has suggested the Windsor at Bikes Direct because it is dirt cheap and any upgrades I want such as lower geared chain rings could be purchased with the savings.

3. go to a shop and buy either a Trek 520 or Surley Long Haul Trucker. The extra dollars spent will be rewarded with less stress and a better bike.

Touristas and gear heads. Waddya think? Thanks for the input.

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David, my comments about geometry are really directed to allay concern about handling when buying a new bike. The way I see it, there's really quite a lot you can do to make your bike into a good touring rig while still using it as an unloaded road bike. For years, my only road bike was a Trek 520 (smallest size they made, as I'm pretty tiny). Here's a few lessons I learned that may be useful:

Compact cranksets are a godsend. Especially when paired with a 11-32 10sp cassette, you have gears for days. Low enough to take all but the steepest climbs the Ozarks have to offer comfortably, but still comfortable for zipping up an empty trail after work without a care in the world. Triples are cool, but I only extremely rarely used the smallest ring when touring fully loaded in steep terrain and it just got in the way when riding unloaded.

If you get properly built wheels, you don't have to compromise much. I had Mavic alloy rims (with eyelets!) laced to some old Shimano hubs with triple-butted spokes, 32 front, 36 rear. Built up to a good high tension they could support an incredible load without much flex or other complaint, but the spring in those spokes made for an excellent ride unloaded. Hand-built wheels made for your application will always out-perform something off the shelf, and there are a load of great builders in Chicago. If you're interested, swing by Yojimbo's garage and pick Marcus's brain. He's fantastic.

One thing I can't stand doing is repeatedly bolting and unbolting things from my frame. A rear rack is useful enough to leave on all the time, and although it looks a bit funky a low-profile frame for mounting panniers on the fork doesn't weigh anything at all. 

Of course, if you wanted to have separate road and touring bikes, it might be more fun to convert the Aurora to a touring rig and build a new road bike... but as a firm believer in the N+1 philosophy of bicycle ownership I really can't be trusted in that regard.

My concern with using the Aurora is that I will lose my road bike. If I convert it I will have lower gearing (44-32-22), sturdier wheels and no bike I want to ride for 75 or more miles with minimal gear.

If this is your concern you could build a separate set of touring wheels; the rear could have a wider-range cassette (and require a different length chain).  A 44 tooth chainring wont leave you undergeared with current 11 tooth small cogs unless you need to maintain 30+ mph.

I don't think you'll have to go with smaller chainrings, as long as you can get the proper cassette/freewheel.  You would have to install a new chain, and keep the chain-cassette combo when switching between road and touring cassettes.

I can see why you're in a bit of limbo, you like the Aurora as it is, and utilize it. I think the Aurora will do fine for touring.  If you have space and budget for another bike, I might get a new or used bike.  New bikes have new tech, wider tires, and other features that help, but a used version will get you there as well.  Converting a used mountain bike can also save you lots of money.  However, all you may need on the Aurora is a new cassette, chain, tires, racks.  You could use your experience on the Aurora to figure out what features work/are important for you, and get them on your next touring bike.  The only negative I foresee, racks for the Aurora might not fit racks for a touring specific bike.

My own bike is a 2009 Jamis Aurora which I bought because it is a very competent touring bike at a price I could afford.  I've taken it camping with my fellow Chainlinkers before at Illinois Beach, Bong, and Kettle moraine Southern Unit.  It's shown itself to carry its loads without difficulty.  Gearing on this bike, (50-39-30 crankset with 11-32 9-speed cassette) is quite adequate for riding in Wisconsin and Illinois.  If I wanted to try riding through the Appalachians, I might want to change the crankset to a 48-38-26 in order to handle the gnarlier grades.  If you have triple cranks on your bike and they're pretty much what mine has, you might want to widen your cassette to 11-32.  With the Reynolds 520 frame tubes, you have a very good touring bike that needs little modification.  Mine has Blackburn Low Riders in front and a Topeak Explorer XL rack in the rear and does a great job of handling a camping load.

Best advice i can give you is -no matter what your choice of frameset- to keep things as mechanically simple as you can, keeping in mind that you may find yourself many  miles from a bikeshop and may have to do some emergency roadside repair. Pack a multi tool with a chainbreaker and something better than a dollar bill to make a tyre boot.

Still undecided but really enjoying the wide range of advice from fellow riders.  The Aurora has been different things over the years- low end road bike, hybrid, touring bike. The 1997 model was really a low end touring bike but does have decent geometry for touring and necessary braze ons.  One issue is I am told the bike would barely accommodate a 32c tire and that it has caliper brakes.  it is not set up for other brakes and I would be asking it to stop my wide load plus another 50 or so plus pounds of gear with calipers.  Also, there is a small amount of rust on my Aurora. I would have to get a powder coat paint job.  I am leaning towards keeping the Aurora as my road bike and buying a touring bike but am keeping an open mind. I may not pull the trigger on anything for a few months so I still have time.

Like I said in my earlier post, you could switch to 650B wheels and have all the clearance you need for larger tires.  You would need to also have cantilever studs put on, however, or switch to center pull brakes (which might or might not work).  Plus you would be Mr. Popular with your fancy trendy 650B tire size.....

Follow this link for an excellent discussion on Bikeman.com from 2007 about 650B conversions, and my, do they look pretty!  

650B is very nice but a replacement tire or wheel may be difficult to find if you have a failure on tour.

Last year I did my first major bike tour (chicago to NoLA) and bought myself a dedicated touring bike. I long debated between the LHT and Kona Sutra. I decided on the Sutra for several reasons:

1. Fit better

2. Came with great accessories including rear rack and brooks saddle

3. Disc brakes and high quality components included.

4. Costs dramatically less than the LHT once you factor in the saddle and racks.

I would highly recommend looking at the Sutra, but ultimately it comes down to fit. You're gonna be sitting in the saddle for 5+ hours a day, it's gotta be comfortable.

I outfitted my Sutra with a front rack and clipless pedals and love it. I now ride it as my every day commuting bike in the city.

If you are new to this sort of thing (touring that is) I would accessorize the Aurora and maybe buy another set of wheels.  You can still swap out the wheels and remove the accessories to use the Aurora locally.  That would be the path of least resistance and expense to give touring a whirl.  Later, if you see yourself traveling by bike more often, you will have a better idea what you want to buy and may end up upgrading to a new roadie and use the Aurora as a dedicated touring bike.  The Aurora will probably be just fine.  Just my 2 cents after 44 years of touring, there's no reason to jump in with both feet and buy a dedicated touring bike until you know you will utilize it.

Marc

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