Touring bike on a budget: Going old school

Trek Singeltrack 930; touring bike on a budget; two wheel travel blog

Want to get a good touring bike on a budget? Go OLD SCHOOL.

Last summer I decided I needed a proper bike for touring. My Gazelle city bike was great for getting around town and even for longer trips to the countryside, but as we were planning multi-day adventures, I needed a new rig.

However, I was in Poland and on a budget. It was hard to find a good, steel-framed touring bike. Such a thing does not even exist in the bike shops of Warsaw– just aluminum-frame mountain bikes of various quality, and mail ordering a brand new Long-Haul Trucker was going to be very expensive and who knows how long it would take to arrive– the big bike distributors in Germany didn’t seem to have my size in stock.

What’s a girl to do? Go vintage and go E-Bay. Those early, steel-framed mountain bike frames from the 1980s/90s are basically the mold for today’s touring bikes. Trusting T on the sizing, we scoped a 18-in Trek Singletrack 930,circa 1994,a bit bigger than I would ride for a mountain bike (I usually ride a 17 in). For 200 Euros, with shipping from Germany to Poland, it was a great starting point, even if we might have to swap out some parts.

When it arrived, it was in excellent condition. To get it into top touring shape, I added a Brooks B-17 saddle, replaced all the cables and added new handlebars and Schwalbe Marathon tires. I accessorized with a heavy-duty rear rack and some fenders. All that probably added up to another 300 euros, but at least half of that I probably would have had to spend as upgrades to any other proper touring bike as well.

Trek; Touring bike on a budget; Two Wheel Travel; Israel; cycle touring carmel mountains

My trusty TREK atop the Carmel Mountains in Israel.

I’ve owned a lot of bikes over the years, (we’ve had at least 10 bikes in our garage at any one time) but this by far is my favorite. Maybe because it takes me places I never dreamt I would see or thought I would have the endurance to reach. But its also probably because the steel frame has that bit of give and the geometry handles great– even fully loaded. And unlike other bikes I’ve owned, I’ve never had any issues with my knees, or back or wrists or other places commonly associated with pains from an ill-fitting bike. I’ve already put several thousand kilometers on it without putting anymore money into it than when I first got it.

Bottom line: you can get into bike touring for pretty low price point if you are willing to put in a bit of time searching for a great, old steel-framed mountain bike. T has tried on a couple of occasions to convince me on a new bike– but I would rather put my money, bit-by-bit, into keeping my trusty steed updated. Besides, I just am that vintage sort of girl. Why buy something new when there’s something already out there that is perfectly suited to your needs?

9 thoughts on “Touring bike on a budget: Going old school

  1. couldn’t agree more with your sentiment to go retro steel! enjoyed having a look round your site too. my own steed of choice is an original kona cinder cone from 1989, perhaps a bit racy and stretched out for touring, but for commuting it’s the bomb – with an internal rear hub as drivetrain update.
    look forward to reading more of your travels!

  2. sounds like a cool update you’ve made to your steel machine. with such a lasting frame, they provide a great platform for building up your dream bike. And thanks for checking us out! we’re still working on getting more stuff up, and of course more travels, soon!!

  3. Pingback: Top 5 myths about bicycle travel « Two Wheel Travel

  4. Yes! Old MTBs can make great tourers. One good thing to change is handlebars, as most of them came with “straight” bars. I like something a bit more swept back, which puts me at a more upright, less aggressive and forward position. That’s what I’ve done on my old MTB.

    • Yeah, Carolyn’s MTB conversion came with those old mid-90’s racing bars. That was the FIRST thing she changed. Right now she is using what we call a “european tourist bar” , the figure 8 style. I personally don’t like these as they’re too flexi, but she loves it so, that’s really what matters. 🙂

  5. I use my ’85 Panasonic roadbike bike. Slap some panaracer tourguards on there and good to go! In leiu of front panniers I use an ortlieb rackpack on top of my rear panniers and a handlebar bar. I pack fairly light, but have the capacity to pack the world (on an old lugged steel frame)

      • The rackpack is a little flat. We didn’t have to bring tent or sleeping bags with us. My partner had a compression bag on the back of his rack w/ bedding for the cabin we were staying at. I just basically had food and tools in it at that point in the photo. . . Usually it is much fluffier!

        (I realize I am a poster child for Ortlieb in the photo, but there are many great waterproof panniers and handlebar bag options as you are very aware and I am sure others can find as well. I am personally in love with the rackpack because of the integration factor with the panniers. Not a lot of US stores sell it off the racks, though.)

      • We are ortlieb-lovers, too! Traveling around Europe, everyone thinks we are German, and I think that might be in part to the ortliebs, although they are so popular in US, as well. People also love the rackpack around these parts–its a lot easier than adding another rack.

        BTW, you look happy on your bike : ) If you are like me, I find that any picture of me smiling off the bike just look fake– which now results in lots of helmet-wearing profile pictures! : /

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