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Travel bike : how to choose it? - MIGRATORY BIKES Cycling
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Travel bike : how to choose it?

After carefully considering your itinerary, the place where you will ride, you will have to choose a frame adapted to the conditions which await you. Indeed, the choice of the type of bike should vary depending on whether you are going to ride mainly in steep terrain, muddy or snowy (fat bike), or on asphalt (road bike, hiker). If your main use will be to ride the weekend in the forest to let off steam, a light and flexible mountain bike will do the trick ; on the other hand for a bicycle trip, some prerequisites are necessary in order to leave serenely on your mount. And even if you don't have the budget for the ideal gear, most bikes will be able to take you to the end of the world even if they are not intended for it : don't have to shatter your savings because you've been told you need a titanium frame and the latest Shimano drivetrain at all costs.

In this article, we will tell you about the specifics of the travel bike you need to leave for more than a year.

The frame of the bike

Cette image est un schéma décrivant les différents composants d'un vélo.

A good travel bike, what's this ?

To be able to travel more serenely, your bike should be :

Resistant

Since it will carry a significant load over the long term

Minimalist

So that it can be easily repaired and maintained anywhere

Comfortable

To allow the cyclist to ride for a long time without problem

Adapted to the effort

In order to be able to go uphill without having to push your bike

These criteria are of course to be adapted to each one, according to his sporting goals, comfort and budget (we will come back to it right after). Now that we know what we need, we can look at the different components of the bike to find out which parts may be preferred over others. And if you want to know your frame perfectly and master each of its components, nothing better than to do the assembly yourself, or in an associative workshop surrounded by people knowledgeable in the field.

The framework : matter for debate

Choice of material

We could have started by talking about the wheels, since the size of the wheels will depend on the size of the frame (and vice versa). But the debate in the choice of the frame, from its geometry to the materials used, is so ubiquitous that we felt compelled to start there !

The frame is the backbone of your bike, often sold as a kit with the fork. There are aluminum frames, in steel, in carbon and titanium (by increasing price depending on the material). the carbone and the titanium are two excellent quality materials, lighter than steel and with good durability. However, their downside is that in the event of a problem, it will be much more difficult for you to repair them abroad.

The debate therefore mainly revolves around the’aluminium and from’steel. On the one hand, aluminum, light and stiff, which allows a weight gain compared to its competitor. On the other side of the steel ring, heavy and flexible, real mule that will support the load without breaking. On paper, steel therefore seems to be winning the battle because it is more resistant, more flexible, and will be easy to re-solder in case of a problem. But on paper only, because of the frames that break there are really not many, even in aluminum! Purists choose steel out of prudence and that can be understood, but we can trust the robustness of the best aluminum frames on the market. For our part, we will choose wisdom with a steel frame.

Choice of geometry

You would have understood it, according to your priority, you will rather choose aluminum or steel. Unless you prefer a prestigious material like titanium, which has a remarkable mass-stiffness-strength-elasticity ratio. However, the composition of the framework is not the only criterion to take into account to justify your choice. To geometry will also participate in the resistance of the frame (a trapezoidal frame reduces its rigidity for example). Likewise, the choice of geometry and size of the frame will also define your position sur le vélo et votre engagement lorsque vous pédalerez.

Ce cadre de vélo illustre la géométrie dite "classique"
Cadre à géométrie classique
Cadre à géométrie "trapèze"

Pour un vélo de voyage, on fera un choix avisé selon nos besoins. Le cadre des vélos de cyclo-randonnée (Farrahdmanufaktur TX400 ou Intec M01), bien courts, en font des vélos confortables un peu plus sportifs que des vélos de ville. Au contraire, le cadre des randonneuses (Farrahdmanufaktur Randonneur, Genesis Tour de Fer) ou des gravel bikes (Genesis Croix de Fer, Intec F10) sont plus élancés et donc plus aérodynamiques, mais ils perdent en confort d’utilisation.

Cette image montre un vélo avec un cadre court orienté "confort"
Cadre court oritenté "confort"
Cette image montre un vélo avec un cadre long orienté "sport"
Cadre long orienté "sport"
Le Genesis Tour de Fer, un bon compromis dans la géométrie pour le voyage
Le Genesis Tour de Fer, un bon compromis dans la géométrie pour le voyage

On peut aussi jouer sur le style de notre position en modulant plusieurs paramètres indépendants de la structure du cadre elle-même. La hauteur et l’angle de la potence et de la tige de selle, ou encore la position du hanger, vous permettront d’ajuster votre position sans pour autant changer de cadre!

Cette image montre les réglages d'une potence de guidon
Réglages d'une potence de guidon

Les roues : à adapter au terrain

La roue d’un vélo, it is a hub connected by spokes to a rim, with a tire around (and an inner tube but we will not dwell on it since it is easy and cheap to find good quality).

The rims

If you are not going to restrict yourself to the road, you will need to take rims wide enough to be able to equip them with wide MTB-type tires. In order to support your own weight and the weight of the load, they must also be robust (double-walled rather than single-walled). There are several sizes frequently used for cyclo-touring, which will be more or less adapted depending on the type of practice (26″, 28″, 29″, …). Generally, the smaller a rim, the more resistant it will be. This is why the wheels in 26″ are more often used by cycle tourists, although there are travelers who pedal with larger wheels. Another advantage leading travelers to choose the 26″, it's the ease of getting this wheel diameter all over the world, unlike other formats which are sometimes more difficult to find.

Hub and spoke

The spokes pass through the hub

Connected to the rim, we find the spokes which are also likely to bend under the load and stresses. This is why it is advisable to opt for reinforced spokes (double ou triple-butted), and in sufficient number (wheel in 36 departments often recommended and easily found anywhere in the world, but in 32 rays it goes too). For the hub, a trekking hub solid like Shimano hubs (Deore or the range above with XT) will do perfectly.

The tires

Marathon Plus, the most widely used range for travel

For the tire, last essential component of the wheel that should not be neglected on the touring bike, there is a wide range of possibilities, ranging from narrow section tires (23mm) suitable for road racing for their aerodynamics, with very wide section tires (70mm) for muddy or snowy paths. If you plan, like us, to ride on varied terrains ranging from asphalt to sandy tracks, it is better to choose one MTB-style intermediate section around 50mm

There are widely recognized tires on the market, like those produced by Schwalbe, especially the Marathon, famous for their resistance to any test, punctures, and their width sufficient to ride on the track. Once again, all these choices will depend on your type of practice, of your load, your personal taste…

The transmission : the real puzzle

The transmission, this is what will allow the pedals to induce the rotation of the rear wheel hub, allowing the cyclist to move forward. There are two major types of transmission, systems with gears integrated into the hub (Rohloff) and systems with conventional derailleurs.

Integrated gear hub

Rohloff Speedhub internal gear hub

the gear system integrated into the hub, very expensive, has several undeniable advantages, as a lower maintenance than on conventional derailleurs and an incomparable lifespan. On the other hand, their assembly remains complex compared to that of a derailleur, and this gear system costs at least 1000 €. If you are afraid for your equipment and you think you have a chance of damaging it in view of your future travel conditions, this may not be the best choice of transmission, because even if the Rohloff after-sales service seems to have proved its worth, it will take longer for you to obtain the damaged part than for a conventional derailleur.

Classic transmission

Shimano XT complete drivetrain group

The derailleur transmission classic, as for her, is very economical compared to the Rohloff system ! It is also the most widely used system around the world : not complicated to find a derailleur on the other side of the planet. From 3 giants in the field, we find SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo, who offer all 3 transmission groups adapted to different practices in mono, double- or triple trays.

Choose your development

The important thing about your transmission group, is to define the Number of teeth that you will need on the trays and the cassette of the rear wheel to reel uphill or have a strong resistance under the pedal during a sprint. These data will define your braquet and your development (i.g. the distance covered after one pedal turn) at different speeds and on your different plates. In summary, the fewer teeth your small chainring has, the more teeth your large rear cassette has, the lower the distance traveled after a pedal stroke : this is one of the goals on a travel bike, in order to have a low minimum development that allows pedaling with the weight of the load, even uphill. To fully understand these concepts, we invite you to take a look this way as we could do, that should clear your mind.

Small tray + big cassette = small development

Mono or Multi-trays?

Now that we know how many teeth we need, there remains the question of the number of trays. the mono-plateau has resurfaced for several years in the world of cyclo-touring, with many defendants of this system widely marketed by SRAM. The main qualities of the single deck are comfort in the cockpit since you don't have to change the deck to reach the entire deck, and the absence of a front derailleur ; on the other hand, we do not see any other interest compared to the double or the triple plateau… Here is the additional information we were able to collect :

  • The amplitude is necessarily lower than double- or in triple-tray where, for the same tape, we will have a wider range of gears.
  • The cassette is bigger, less tiered, which makes the total weight of a single plate group similar to that of a double- or a triple tray.
  • Part prices for single platens are generally higher. Mono wear would be greater, even if to date we have personally not found any proof of this received idea.

As far as we are concerned, since we are not looking for driving comfort, that the presence of a front derailleur does not bother us and that we do not want to fuel the debate any longer, our choice turns rather on multi-tray. But then, double or triple? Concretely, everything is working. The main thing as said above, it is to establish a thoughtful beach knowing that we will spend more time milling than peaking at 80km / h downhill on a travel bike. And in this sense, not necessarily necessary to have a small tray when you plan to be heavy and slow… the double tray therefore seems to be an ideal compromise, but the choice is yours (finally we, we chose triple) !

If you want to easily calculate your developments and your speed according to your transmission, there are free calculators online to help you 😉

Brakes : difficult choice

To be avoided in advance for a trip, the hydraulic brakes : no need for such powerful and precise braking on a travel bike, and good luck in the event of a problem to repair these hyper complex systems on the other side of the world… For the rim brakes (Cantilever ou V-brake) and the disc brakes, again the debate does exist on the web.

On the one hand we find a simple and really inexpensive system with the V-brake, which has the only disadvantages of wearing the rim in the long term and braking a little less well. On the other side, we have a more complex system that is more difficult to maintain / repair but which will have no wear effect on the rim (since it is the disc that wears out). On paper, the choice therefore seems to depend on you. For us, you have to find a balance between the budget, the service life and repairability of parts : we therefore prefer to opt for the least expensive solution which is rim braking, easily repairable, even if the gums wear out quickly with loaded bikes and if some wear on the rims occurs over time. This is also minimal according to several feedback from cyclo-travelers (the V-brake would only wear out the rim after several thousand kilometers).

V-Brake rim brakes
Disc brakes

Among these returns, Bertrand (tour-du-mondiste and founder of the site The freedom gear, little pearl of useful references for the bike trip) says he should have changed his rims afterwards 30 000 km as a precaution if he had continued his journey equipped with this braking system. It is therefore up to you to decide according to your budget and your preferences, the choice remains very personal for the brakes as you will understand since everything in itself works ! And be careful, the models of frames and wheels depend on the type of braking chosen.

Peripherals : almost half the budget

When we talk about peripherals, we mean all the almost essential components of the bike such as the saddle and its stem, the bottom bracket, the handlebar stem, the headset, the hanger, luggage racks, the saddlebags, the dynamo hub, lamps, the USB connector, and we forget ! We describe all these elements in the article “Prepare your bike well for the trip“.

2 thoughts on “Travel bike : how to choose it?”

  1. Based on your post I’m thinking that you know quite well Intec M01 and VSF TX-400 bikes. I’m thinking to buy a daily commuter/weekend touring bike and both are on my radar. My question is related to riding position. Is Intec comfortable (“upright” riding position)?
    Do you reccomend any other bike like TX800 or other?
    Thanks and compliments for your nice and informative internet page

    1. Hey !

      Sorry for the delay.

      Unfortunatly we don’t really know other bikes than our owns (we never rented other bikes or had any other bikes before). But we think that I you choose the right size for you, and adjust correclty your position, both of theses bikes should be good =)

      Enjoy your new bike and every tour you’ll do with it !

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