Building a touring bike ABOUT THE choICES FOR BUILDING THE PERFECT touring bike (FOR ME)

Choosing the bike

When going on a longer bike trip, there are choices to be made. One of them is the bike and even that choice can be split up into various little, but fundamental choices. I think the main ones are: bike material, wheel size, type of handle bar, gearing, braking and maybe luggage distribution.

I will describe my decision making and will get into some details, but leave a lot of technicalities out of the story.

Frame material

The choice these days basically is steel or aluminium. Of course you could treat yourself to a titanium or carbon frame, but for longer trips with your bike loaded with luggage these materials have some serious downsides. Titanium for instance is less stiff than steel and it takes a specialist with specialist equipment to repair it. Carbon is quite stiff and has the benefit of being a very light material for frames, but you'd be hard pressed to find anything touring-worthy in carbon. Usually you won't find threads to fit pannier-racks to begin with and then however great the material is, for touring application it is just not the right thing in my opinion.

So the choice for me was between steel and aluminium. Actually this choice was influenced by another factor. Geometry. The riding position, type of handle bar (I will come back to this later) and wheel size were more important to me. Eventually I chose aluminium. I wouldn't have chosen an aluminium frame from any manufacturer, but I have very good experiences with aluminium frames from Cannondale. Also the geometry suits me very well.

They make a bike they call "touring" which ticked almost all the boxes for me: sportive geometry, drop bars, disc brake, derailleur-gearing and mounts for front and rear pannier-racks. If you have read more about my cycling history (at, you might have noticed that this isn't my first Cannondale. Mountainbikes an road bikes have gone before, but touring bikes is actually what cannondale started out with.

So, the touring. There are two models available. The "touring ultimate". It has 2x11 Shimano Ultegra gearing, hydraulic disc brakes and fenders. All great options along with some other nice specs I didn't really care for. But it is painfully more expensive than the other option: the "touring 1".

The touring 1 has a 2x10 Tiagra groupset with mechanical disc brakes and no fenders. All things I didn't like, but it was the right colour and way way cheaper. €1200,- cheaper. I would be tossing the wheels anyway and the groupset, brakes and fenders was stuff I could fix.

Wheel size

The choice for wheel size is dictated by a couple of things, I think. The more mainstream sizes are 26" and 28" and today 29" gets more popular and available. One of the first things to remember is that you have to consider getting spare tubes or tires on the road. 26" will be available practically everywhere, even in small African villages. 28" is easily available almost everywhere as well, but 29" is a bit of a new thing and not as readily available everywhere as the other two sizes. Especially if you want touring threads and widths.

Secondly the size of the wheel, in theory, determines its stiffness and load bearing capability. A smaller diameter with the same axle-width wil be stiffer in general, but more importantly laterally. The increase of the diameter without increasing the axle width means that spokes will be straighter (this is called dishing) and therefore less resilient to lateral forces. In the three options then, the 26" will be the most robust.

Finally wheel size also influences the characteristic of the ride. If you want to accelerate and brake quickly a smaller wheel has less inertia and will be better for this application. A bigger wheel has more inertia and will be harder to spin up or slow down, but will "keep going" more easily. For touring then, a larger wheel has the more favorable rolling characteristics.

In my experience with 26" (mountainbike) and 28" (road bike) I concluded early on that the larger of the two would be what I would choose.

The cannondale touring 1 came equipped with "ok" wheels, but since I wanted to have a hub dynamo in the front and 6-hole IS disc mount (in stead of centre-lock) I decided to make new wheels. Also I wanted a bit wider and stronger rims since I will be carrying quite a bit of luggage and I might encounter some off roading.

For rims I chose DT Swiss 545d 700c. These are disc specific, 32 hole, butted and relatively wide with a 21mm inner width. The extra width makes the tire sit more squarely and therefore offers better corner stability and less chance of snake-bite flats.

Handle bars

The other thing I was quite sure about from the start was the type of handle bars I would want to use. I wanted drop bars. I like the multitude of hand positions possible and although less important I will be a bit more aerodynamic.

Other options would be straight bars, like mountainbikes or butterfly bars. Which also offer a lot of different hand positions, but are for more upright riding. There actually is a great article on handle bars here at


For gearing there are basically two choices: hub gears or derailleurs. Lately there are also some bikes with pivot-gearing, whereby the gearing is in the bottom-bracket, but these bikes are few and far between and very pricey. For advantages/drawbacks these are quite similar to geared hubs. The main difference being that the weight of the gears -which is considerable- isn't in the back wheel. The main advantage I can see is that in a bike with rear suspension the unsprung weight is reduced, making for a better suspension-response. Not very relevant for touring bikes then.

The geared hub designs offer a couple of really great advantages: first of all: the chain line doesn't change when changing gear, putting less strain on the chain. It is possible to protect the chain from the elements with a chain guard or even better: you can use a belt-drive system. This replaces the greased chain for a dry, non-lubed belt. I have had a city-bike with a Gates carbon drive and it is brilliant. I never got dirty pants and hardly had to do any maintenance. But for a touring bike I have issues with its drawbacks: limited choice of gearing, difficult to service (although it does bearly need any), higher weight and resistance.

A derailleur system is more prone to wear, more exposed to the elements and gets your pants dirty more easily. And there are a couple more drawbacks, but the advantages to me are way more important: I can easily maintain it on the road, choice of gearing is very flexible and the number of gears is greater. This last point isn't so much about bragging rights as it is about the way this system distributes its total gearing-range over the individual steps between gears. I know Rohloff Speedhub-fanatics will argue this point, because in a 2x11 setup there will be overlap, effectively leaving you with a 15-or 16-speed system, depending on chainring-sizes whereas the Rohloff hub has 14 speeds. But still I prefer the distribution of steps and the fact that I can adjust it to a great extent.


For brakes it is quite simple: rim brakes or disc brakes. To make it a bit more interesting in both systems you can go cable-operated or hydraulic. I won't go into all the advantages and drawbacks this time, but hydraulic disc brakes were my choice for the following reasons: great braking power, no wear of the rim, the system is closed off from the elements, no need for servicing on a 4-5 week trip, changing brake pads is a two minute-job.


The final point to think about was distribution of luggage. Possibilities are front panniers, rear panniers and bike-trailers. I would like to discount the last one immediately. I don't like the feeling of having something attached to the rear of the bike. It makes for an unpleasant riding experience being held back when accelerating and pushed when braking. Everything I will want to bring will have to be on the bike, meaning I would need front as well as rear panniers. I actually quite like the feeling of the ride this way. The bike is a bit slow to react, but then again the stability is very nice. I feel I do have to mention that you really do need the right geometry for making a bike feel nice to handle with front panniers. The centre of the wheel needs to be well in front of the steering axis (high rake). This makes the reaction of the bike slow, but increases stability. When the centre of the wheel isn't in front of the steering axis, the steering will be more direct, making the bike quite nervous and more prone to speed wobble when riding with front panniers.

all finished and fitted with front and rear panniers as well as a handle bar bag.

So far about the choices made to come to the Cannondale touring. In a future post I will talk about all the different components used.

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