18 August 2016
The Price of Adventure
Firstly, let me say that I am firmly against the idea that you need any special bike in order to have an adventure, and thusly feel the category of “adventure bike” a little ambiguous and misplaced. What they mean to say is, people have begun to ride their bike outside of the two preconceived categories of “road” and “mountain” in such a manner that aspects of both are being included. Sure, you might technically be on a road, but it’s made of dirt or gravel. So we call it a gravel bike? No, that’s too specific a terrain. Cyclocross? Again, we don’t want to pigeonhole these into one particular activity. Adventure. That should cover it. But to me, it’s like calling it a “driving car” or a “reading book”—what else are you gonna do with it? Bicycles are vehicles of adventure, regardless of the subcategory they fall into.
Nevertheless, I find myself drawn to these types of bikes because I’ve never really felt like a part of either the road or mountain camps. I can identify with an “adventure bike” because in essence adventure is what compels me to ride and I’m a sucker for the associated imagery. I’m not looking for the lightest components, nor am I looking for the gnarliest segments to bomb, I just want to get out and see what there is to see. If it involves an unmaintained trail, that’s great, because the bike is suited towards handling that terrain. A paved cycle path, no problems there. Decent performance on all terrain over something that excels in just one.
The problem I find is that with this “new” category comes the steep cost of purchasing a bike that fulfils this role. Online, forums are full of people asking “I’m interested in _____, which bike should I buy?” with cost a seemingly irrelevant factor. Specialized and many other companies now offer specific framesets and fully built bikes that are labeled “Adventure” and are thousands of dollars. I’ve never spent that much on a bike in my life, nor do I really want to.
My interests then turned to another type of “do-all” bike, the Surly Long-Haul Trucker. Many people praise its versatility, and it’s not incredibly expensive. But I soon realized that many hard tail mountain bikes from the late 80s and early 90s were very similar in geometry to the LHT, and that’s when I decided to build up my own adventure bike.
On the local classifieds was a 1990-something Giant Sierra for €50, a model which those in the U.S. will probably not be familiar with as the moniker was used mostly in European markets. Steel frame, quill stem, 26” wheels, and nothing too fancy in terms of components. And a purplish-blue paint color.
The more I looked at it, the more I envisioned it being my poor-man’s Long Haul Trucker. Rack and fender eyelets galore, and even the mid-fork braze-ons that are hard to find nowadays. With the exception of maybe disc brakes, which the Surly foregoes on the base model LHT anyway, there isn’t much difference in terms of specs. I played around with drop bars and decided I liked it, so a spare set of Nitto bars found their home atop the Giant’s quill stem along with brake levers from the parts bin. The drive train was serviceable, but the chainring teeth were worn, so I ordered a new version of the Shimano Alivio crankset that this came stock with. Pedals could have stayed on, but I had recently won a set of Crankbrother Mallets, so those were installed as well. Add a new set of off-road tires, new bar-end shifters (the most expensive component) and a Plasti-dip paint job, and I had a custom adventure bike that cost me less than €150.
I wasn’t so sure the Plastidip was a great idea, but it was the most convenient way to test out a new color without stripping the paintjob and decals. Worst case scenario, it would peel off, and I could either re-apply it or do without. The first couple coats were tan, but then I changed my mind and finished with two coats of olive drab.
With the bike itself finished, I wanted to then add a front rack, but wasn’t sure what kind. I decided on a lowrider style, though it seemed like there were only two types available from manufacturers: inexpensive and unreliable or over-built and crazy expensive. I also wanted to utilize the mid-fork braze-on for added security. I ended up settling on a moderately priced pair of racks from eBay, which promised to accommodate many types of rigid forks, but the mid-fork eyelet and the rack didn’t match up, so I used the lower eyelet for the bottom attachment and a hose clamp on top.
The Ortlieb panniers were probably the most expensive items, but I got the pair on sale. The handlebar bag was also on clearance at a local bike shop, and I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but for €20 I decided it was worth it to give it a try. It mounts via an additional “stem” that just happened to be the right diameter and fit underneath the Giant’s quill stem. There’s a security combo lock built into it as well, which I thought was pretty neat. And finally, it matched the front panniers in color and material, which is more important to me than I’d like to admit.
Now, I could end here and you might think I pulled this off without any major hiccups, because the Internet allows you to portray yourself as perfect as you’d like to be, but I won’t. There are some pretty major problems with this build that I will need to address eventually. Firstly, I used the canti brakes that came with the bike for the front and a spare V-brake on the back. Neither of these are particularly effective. The canti has pretty poor stopping power, and the V-brake, coupled with road levers, has insufficient cable pull. Cane Creek sells a version of the same levers I have that are meant for use with V’s, but these were what I had lying around, and so I used them. Another problem is the drivetrain— I figured bar-end shifters would be pretty self-explanatory, but I haven’t been able to access all three rings on crank. Maybe I messed something up during the installation, maybe they don’t allow for it, I’m not really sure. I’ll keep messing around with it until I either figure it out or learn to live with it the way it is. Finally, with the front rack and handlebar bag installed, I’ve no idea where to attach a headlight. I think I can use the eyelet at the crown of the fork to mount something, but I’ll have to look around for some ideas.
So there it is, my poor-man’s Long Haul Trucker. I’ve taken it on a handful of rides since completion, mostly on dirt and gravel roads, but also some mild singletrack, and it handles really well. It wouldn’t be my go-to for anything technical on account of the drop bars and aforementioned brake issues, but for long stretches of unpaved roads it’s pretty close to ideal. The seatpost rack I threw on lets me strap a dry bag or compression sack onto the back for additional storage in lieu of a “proper” seat bag, but if I plan on anything beyond an overnight, I’ll more than likely tack on a full rear rack with two more panniers. Now to get some use out of it before the summer is over.
- Bicyclist Abroad