Bikes fall into categories based on a lot of factors.
A “tour” bike is built for long days and often a mix of riding and camping. The bike has low gears and mellow handling because it is not about racing but rather simply about enjoying the day.
When I grew up my first serious bike was a loaded “touring” bike. It was a nicely built classic touring bike from Japan sold under the Bridgestone brand.
My Dad and I did many long rides including trips to Sugarloaf mountain, the Skyland drive, Amish country, Williamsburg, and many other great places.
The bike served me well for many years and my dad also later spent some time riding it. Overall it was a good bike but the design had problems.
It was almost 30 years ago but I think the bike was a Bridgestone T-500 similar to the following:
Starting with the good stuff that I remember about the bike:
- Classic stable handling with the low bottom bracket height, relaxed angles, and long chain stays
- Good brakes for the era (cantilever design)
- Wide range 15 speed drivetrain
- Comfortable bars, saddle, and overall riding position
- Decent quality in all parts
The stuff that was not so good was often related to the era. It was about 30 years ago and bikes have moved forward.
- The headset and stem design sucked; modern 1.125 threadless systems are a world better
- Shifting was not great
- The the wrap style style seat stays attachment was a bad design. You can see them in the catalog photo. The stays eventually cracked where they “wrap” onto the seat tube. Modern TIG welded joints are much a much better approach. The tubing on these old bikes was also smaller diameter thick wall vs. the larger diameter thin wall high strength steel used on modern bikes.
- The top tube was a bit high and stand over height was not great.
- Cable guides on the top of the top tube (I prefer under the top tube)
- The cranks creaked and even fell off once (modern cranks are much better)
- I was still growing when we got it and the bike never really fit perfectly
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the bike, it was great and my Dad gave it to me. I very much enjoyed the bike and often think back on great rides that I did with my dad. The Bridgestone was my first “real” bike and I will always be thankful that he took the time to ride with me.
After I got my first “racing” bike my Dad started riding the Bridgestone. Eventually the Bridgestone cracked and had to be replaced. After the old bridgestone cracked he replaced it with a nice TIG welded Cannondale.
The Cannondale tour bike was a really nice model similar to the following.
My Dad still rides. The Cannondale is at least 20 years old now. He is ready for a new bike. I want to build him something nice. The bike needs to ride a lot like the Cannondale but with modern component updates and refined style. The functional geometry that Cannondale used for their bikes worked well for general touring and pleasure riding. They actually kept the geometry basically the same for many years because in terms of “classic” touring it is best to go with what works.
When I think about a tour style bike today, I imagine modern technology focused on general relaxed riding.
Change that come to mind are:
- tig welding (duh)
- mountain bike inspired sloping top tube ( the bike will ride the same as a a horizontal top tube but using a sloping top tube will give better stand over height )
- 1.125 threadless headset, stem
- indexed shifting with 20 gears
- better brakes with modern disk and maybe hydraulic
- better wheels with improved bearings
- everything lighter, stronger, and more durable
- A mix of mountain bike and road components to support a wide range of gears
- better fit…
The following is a vague picture of what I think a modern touring bike should look like. This bike is inspired by the co-motion pangea. The 26″ wheels look a little funny but they make a lot of sense for a touring bike because they save weight, allow a lower top tube, plus they are stronger and lighter than larger wheels.
A sloping top tube makes sense because after a long day of riding it is a little easier to swing your leg over a bike that has a lower top tube. On the front end, the bars need to be high enough for a relaxed position.