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.
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?