custom touring bike

My Old Custom Touring Bike (Rohloff Hub and Gates Belt Drive)

This is the first touring bike I ever bought. It started life as a Surly Long Haul Trucker, but these days this custom touring bike is barely a semblance of the bike it once was.

Not only has it travelled well over 100,000km, but it’s been built with:
– Drop bars, butterfly bars, flat bars, riser bars and these alt bars
– Downtube shifters, barend shifters, MTB shifters and grip shifters
– Continental Gatorskin, Schwalbe Marathon Plus, XR, Extreme, Racer, Supreme, Mondial and Almotion tyres
– 10-speed road groupset, 10-speed MTB groupset and a Rohloff 14-speed internally geared hub
– Standard chains as well as Gates Centertrack Belt Drive and CDC
– Various Rohloff shifter locations with drop bars
– Velocity and Mavic touring rims
– B&M and Supernova dynamo lights
– Brooks, WTB and Giant saddles
– Pedal Power Plus and Cinq USB charging systems
– Cantilever brakes and v-brakes
– Planet Bike and SKS fenders
– Various clip-in and flat pedals

Basically, I’ve been tinkering with the specification since day dot.

custom touring bike

After using the Rohloff hub for a number of years, I decided to take my bike to a local frame builder to get the frame modified to suit the hub. Through this process, the builder cut off the old dropouts, installed some Rohloff sliding dropouts, fitted some Rohloff cable guides and inserted a split in the seat stay so that I could try Gates Carbon Drive. I’ve been really happy with this combination over the last seven years.

custom touring bike custom touring bike

I’ve recently switched from drop bars to Velo Orange Crazy Bars. What was really important to me was the ‘hood’ position from my drop bar. That’s where I like my hands to sit most, and this handlebar replicates it perfectly. I’m not 100% sure if I will use these handlebars in the long-term, but I’m really enjoying all the new positions at the moment. We’ll see over the next few tours.

Another thing that I am really liking is how easy it is to change my brake cables with standard v-brake levers (as opposed to road levers). I also find that these brakes offer much less cable friction than my outgoing road brake levers.

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What Would I Change If I Built A Custom Touring Bike In 2017?

Having played around with so many setups, most of the parts that you see on the bike are as good as it gets for touring. After all, this bike has been refined over a really long time to suit my personal preferences.

I would definitely use disc brakes with my next frame. They are much more powerful, they work better in the wet, the pads last longer and I found them to be extremely reliable on my Co-Motion tandem on a two-year bike tour.

Since riding a handful of modern touring bikes, I’d also prefer a frame that is more laterally stiff. Frames with larger diameter / thicker gauge steel tubing will reduce the slight twist I find when I’ve got a heavy front and rear load. I may even try a nice triple-butted aluminium touring frame.

But otherwise, I like the geometry and fit of my custom touring bike.

Gates have a new belt system out called the Centertrack CDX:EXP and I’d love to give this a go on my next touring bike, along with a Pinion 18-speed gearbox. I’m also keen to try out some Velo Orange Mojave or Widefoot Litercage bidon cages with Nalgene or Kleen Kanteen bottles.

custom touring bike

My Custom Touring Bike Specification

Frame: Modified 62cm Surly Long Haul Trucker
Fork: Surly Long Haul Trucker
Headset: Hope 1 1/8″
Stem: Thomson Elite 120mm
Handlebars: Velo Orange Casey’s Crazy Bar
Grips: ESI Silicone and Fizik Bartape
Seatpost: Thomson Elite 27.2mm
Saddle: Giant

Gears: Rohloff Speedhub 14 speed Internally Geared Hub
Shifter: Rohloff Grip Shifter
Front Hub: Schmidt SON28 Dynamo
Rims: Shimano A719 700c 32h
Spokes: DT Swiss Competition
Tyres: Schwalbe Almotion

Brake Levers: Avid SD5
Brakes: Shimano XT

Crankset: Shimano 105 Triple
Chainring: Gates Carbon Drive Centertrack 50t
Cog: Gates Carbon Drive Centertrack 20t
Pedals: Shimano XT T780

Fenders: SKS Chromoplastic P50
Charger: Tout Terrain The Plug III
Lights: Supernova E3 Pro Dynamo (not in photo)
Bidon Cages: BBB Fuel Tank XL
Phone Mount: Quadlock

Weight: 14kg or 30lbs

  1. I’d leave the paintjob as-is if I were you. The forest green is low-key and understated. However (professionally applied) enamel black is also a good choice for a touring frame (hides the grease and marks).

  2. It is almost exactly what I would have built.  I would have gone with the black Rohloff Speedhub, and 36 spoke wheels, or perhaps more.  Don’t paint it.  It looks fantastic as is.

  3. 1) Do you have an updated list of parts/upgrades for your tour bike? (This helpful post is from 2011.) 2) And is there a description of what each item is? I have looked at the photos of the parts in the bindle. 3) Not sure if this is the right place to ask this, but for the Long Haul Disc Trucker, do folks just have a dynamo hub added to Surly’s factory wheels? 4) What did you decide (if anything) for a kickstand solution? (I’d prefer a kickstand myself.) Also, thank you for all that you share, Alee! My situation is that I’m shopping for my first-ever touring bike (good for paved roads, dirt roads) that will take panniers, as that I was not able to carry that much with bags strapped to my old aluminum frame road bike.

  4. Hi Michelle

    I’ve been meaning to update this page for a long while, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. I’m about to give my bike a new lick of paint, a new handlebar style and a complete rebuild. It’s about time! Oh, and you should be able to click the individual items in the Bindle to see what the items are.

    You can easily add a dynamo hub to the existing factory rim. You will need new spokes and the hub of course, but any competent wheel builder can put one together for you. Here’s a way to mount a kickstand to the Surly. It’s a DIY kit, but is by far the neatest option available. http://longhaultruckerbuild.com/kickstand-install/

    Here’s a list of my 8 favourite touring bikes at the moment: https://www.cyclingabout.com/best-touring-bikes-list/ I actually have a new book about touring bikes available in the next month, so keep your eyes peeled. 🙂


  5. Hi Alee,

    I just found this page when I was looking for options to modify my Disc Trucker. I am a little worried about having the frame cut for the belt drive, but being completely honest, when I bought the Trucker back in 2012, I was looking for a durable everyday commuter/tourer with Gates belt drive and IGH for no-maintenance riding. How did the frame hold up to the mod for the Gates? Any thoughts on keeping a chain versus going for the belt drive now, years later?

  6. With a highly-skilled frame builder, you’ll have no problems running a belt drive / IGH setup. That said, it’s pretty expensive to modify and repaint a frame. These days the Specialized AWOL, Soma Wolverine and Shand Stoater frames are perhaps a more cost-effective belt drive option (you could sell your frame and offset costs too).

    I still run and love belts and Rohloff hubs.

  7. That’s a good point. I was looking at some of your reviews, and those are definitely great options for a belt drive bike. I also could use a folder with my tiny apartment and frequent travel in Japan, so maybe a Tern Verge S8i or even a Brompton for that (without the belt on the latter, though).

    I was thinking of at least going for a Rolhoff hub on the Disc Trucker, though. Are any mods required for that alone?

  8. The Rohloff hub ideally requires sliding dropouts, including a Rohloff-specific dropout on the non-drive side. It’s also neat if you have cable mounts for the Rohloff cables brazed onto your frame. Unless you REALLY liked your Disc Trucker frame, the ideal solution is definitely a frame built around those components. I would’ve saved a lot of money if those frames existed 6-7 years ago! 🙂

  9. Thanks again, and thanks for replying so quickly! It’s about 4:40 PM in Japan now, but it might be late where you are. I may just swap frames and get something purpose-built for Rohloff (and/or Gates belt drive).

  10. Hi Alee,

    Thanks for the refresh on your post.
    What is your initial impression of your Velo Orange Crazy Bars?
    I want to change handlebars for my full suspension mountain bike. I’m pulling a Bob trailer and am doing Rails-to-Trails camping touring on crushed rock, gravel and dirt. Relatively flat stuff with only 4 degree grades.

    I currently have a Jones H-Loop Bar and really don’t like it much. It doesn’t have as many comfortable hand positions as Jones advertises. I like my palms to be vertical sometimes, instead of always being horizontal. Since I like Ergon grips, I’m thinking of putting them on a Velo Orange Crazy Bar, but, what are your likes and dislikes with this handlebar so far?

    Also, I’m thinking about getting a dedicated touring bike for Rails-to-Trails camping touring, but, not sure about the drivetrain, Rohloff or Shimano double crank mountain bike gearing. Therefore, please your advice and recommendations would help.

  11. I’ve got a similar set-up on my Salsa Marrakesh (was Soma Juice). I’ve had them for a couple of years with the Rohloff, and very happy with them. Use the long grips from Jeff Jones on the left side for full coverage. One advantage over Jones bars is they keep the center section open for a tall bag. And the horns are great for hanging clothes at camp. 😉

  12. Alee, it would be great to hear about the thinking behind the drivetrain ratio you chose: I’m in the middle of trying to configure my own Rohloff setup and the chainring + sprocket combo has left me pretty stumped.

  13. I use a 2.5:1 drive ratio with my Rohloff hub. That provides a gear spread of 19-100 gear inches. At 100 RPM I can ride at 48km/h in the largest gear, and at 60 RPM I can ride at 5.5km/h in my smallest gear. I find that this ratio gives me gears for most occasions, but if it were going more off-road on this bike, I’d go almost as small as 2:1 (1.9:1 is the smallest permissible ratio).

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