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  1. #1
    mtbr member
    Join Date
    Feb 2004

    Touring on a cross-style bike - gravel/dirt roads

    I've done touring on paved roads, but as you're riding throughout the day (versus my early morning 2-4 hour fun rides) it's busy with cars so I'm looking for another touring option, with more exploration than a pre-designed route. I like the idea of picking a destination and getting there off the beaten track...and maybe not even ending up at that precise destination.

    I have two bikes I ride on gravel/dirt roads and both can accept panniers. One is aluminum with disks and 40mm tires, the other is chromoly with rim brakes and 32 tires. The latter handles gravel roads and rail trails, the other can do some non-technical singletrack and works better in wet conditions.

    I know this is a mountain bike forum, but I noticed a Trek 520 thread here so figured that folks may use a variety of bikes for their expeditions?

    In terms of gear, I have Ortlieb rear panniers, and that's it. I would need to add a lightweight tent, bag and sleeping bag, or some variation of sleeping gear. I probably wouldn't cook, as the areas I would ride (not far from where I live) have enough towns, etc., that I could just 'eat out'. With a young family I don't do much touring (longest was 4 days), so this would be for 2-3 day stints.

    Anyone have a similar experience to mine and if so can you share some tips and things to consider (re: choice of bike, gear, bike handling loaded vs un-loaded on gravel/dirt, etc.). Just looking to absorb some information at this point.


  2. #2
    mtbr member
    Reputation: vikb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    The bikepacking I do at home on Vancouver Island is 99.9% dirt roads. We don't have big trail networks that go anywhere, but we have more logging roads than you can throw a stick at.

    Really you can ride any bike that can carry your gear and take a bit of abuse from the rough surface.

    I ride a mountain bike because I have one setup for bikepacking and I find the wide tires and relaxed geo works well for dirt roads touring.

    I also have a Surly LHT with drop bars that I could use.

    I love bombing steep rough logging roads on my MTB. I'd probably enjoy that less on the LHT and go much slower, but it wouldn't be an issue getting down the road.

    Flat smoother sections I'd be happier on the LHT.

    Bottom line for an occasional tour it's far better to ride what you have and see what works than try and perfect your gear. Since you have two bikes pick the one you think would be best based on the specific ride and see what happens. Your setup and preferences will adapt with experience.

    I have used Ortliebs on dirt tours and find a single ziptie at the bottom hook on each side makes them much more secure and prevents bouncing off when you hit a big pothole. Downside is they don't come off the bike as easy so I leave them on for the whole tour.
    Safe riding,


  3. #3
    Positively negative
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    I agree with vik. Ride what you have and adapt as needed. Doing is sometimes the best way to learn.

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