Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Convert an old MTB into a Touring Bicycle

G'day All!

Wow! Its been nearly 5 weeks since I posted anything! There has been quite a bit that has happened which is why not much has been going on here, so I shall endeavour to give a good overview:

1.) I enrolled and started classes at Macquarie University.
2.) I had the flu and a chest infection for most of July, so no cycling.
3.) I attended my first monthly Sunday social ride with Western Sydney Cycling Network
4.) I made contact with the cycling culture at Macquarie University.
5.) I decided to keep my MTB and finish converting it into a Touring Bicycle

And point number 5 is the one I want to be discussing most heavily in this post.

Some time late last year (October or November - not quite sure) I bought an Elan X-Country 18-speed mountain bike from Western Sydney Cycling Network. It had been donated some time earlier and had been re-cycled. It was something of a "bitsa" because the left hand side had an integrated triple crank rapid shifter and centre-pull cantilever brake lever, and the right side had a friction shifter and a separate brake lever. Either the front or rear wheel is not original (different rims, but both alloy). and it had flat bars and best still it had a rear carry rack!

I modified it extensively, but the biggest upgrades came from a crash where I badly damaged my brakes and it forced me to upgrade to V-brakes, and also to get new shifters which were separate components from the brake levers. I got Shimano Rapid shifters, which had little indicators which told me which gears I had selected. Fully indexed system! I liked it. My second crash damaged the shifters, and I found that the riding position, even with the riser bars made me lean forward and was causing me pain in both my hands.

Because of this discomfort I relegated the bike to the back of the garage whilst I sought out parts for the Malvern Star Skidstar and that has since become my standard riding/commuting bicycle. 3 speeds is just right for most of my riding because I am not riding up steep hills any more.

I was contemplating selling the Elan X-Country, and looked at saving up for a Surly Long Haul Trucker. I discovered that the frame geometry of the XC and the LHT were very, very similar. When I discovered a sticker which proclaimed that the XC was made from TANGE Butted 4130 CRMO tubes, I realised that I had a real beauty of a bicycle in my possession and simple could NOT let it go.

However, my dilemma has been what to do to it to make it suit my new and more relaxed, upright and comfortable riding position. The solution came to me, after watching several touring bicycle film clips and seeing these strange handlebars. Further investigation revealed them to be known as either "Trekking" or "Butterfly" bars. They provided several different hand positions - ideal for touring, and best of all I discovered that BBB made them and they were in stock at my local bicycle shop!

I have not bought them yet (spent a lot of money on bits and pieces for my 3-speed, bought a "Golden Pigeon" and more bits for a "Raleigh Twenty" which I am going to re-build for university), however, they are $40 and a 1km ride to the LBS away.

I have also discovered that my LBS supplies Tektro, which make specialised brake levers which I am going to fit.

Oh, I have spent nearly $1,500 on parts and upgrades and accessories for this bicycle over the past 12 months, and chances are that at least another $500 in parts and upgrades are going to to be spent before I have finished making it the bicycle I want. The moral of the story is to do your homework, try lots of different bicycles and figure out exactly what you want before shelling out money. I am pretty sure that I could have bought the Surly Long Haul Trucker and kitted it out with the same gear as this Elan X-Country, and I'd have a better bicycle.

On the flip side of the coin, the Elan X-Country is a bit old, a little daggy on the paint job with a number of scrapes and scratches and the stickers are starting to peel off, so that may act as a theft deterrent whilst touring. I'm pretty sure that the handle-bars (with the 5 different brake levers, friction shifters, bar extensions, rear view mirrors and various other components added) will make it look like I am flying a fighter jet, and any potential thief is going to get very confused as to how to control the bloody thing if he tries to ride it away!

(Pictures will be added soon)