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bike - mountain or touring

A specialised touring bike, like the fabulous Vivente World Randonneur, is probably the best option if most of your riding is intended on highways or reasonable quality roads in Australia. These are designed for strength and long term comfort rather than the out and out speed of a highly tuned lightweight road racing bike. The geometry of the touring frame with a long wheelbase and more upright posture gives more comfortable riding, day after day.

Purpose built touring bikes have plenty of braze-ons so the attachment of both front and rear racks and multiple water bottles is a simple procedure.

But didn’t you want to get off those highways and take to the dirt?

For the more adventurous types a carefully chosen mountain bike may be more appropriate. These cope with the rigours of unsealed roads better in that the bikes are more robust and most important, you can fit the 2.00”+ tyres needed to hack your way through long sections of soft roads, or over the rare outback roads that have rock. The front suspension forks can be useful for very rough roads to reduce vibration for your hands and the shock of any big bumps.

Both steel and aluminium frames these days can generally stand up to a good thrashing over rough tough roads. Allegedly the steel frame has a more forgiving ride and an added benefit in that it can be welded up if something goes wrong in some remote location.

The weak point is wheels. If you have a serious problem with a wheel, such as spokes pulling out of the hub, well, you have serious problem.

Mountain bikes have 26” wheels and are much more commonly available in the more remote areas of Australia as are parts. Spokes are shorter and, one theory is, stronger. New 26” rear wheels for 9 speed cassettes and 36 spokes are around in many specialised bike shops and usually come with stainless steel spokes as standard.

Touring bikes usually have 700c sized wheels. Outside the capital cities most replacement parts for 700c sized wheels are for lightweight racing bikes not the bullet proof touring variety. Finding a suitable heavy duty replacement with 36 stainless steel spokes ain’t so easy and will generally have to be ordered when you are out of the capital cities. That might take a week, if the bike shop remembers to order it.

But mountain bikes come with some cost. Suspension forks are heavy and more likely to break. Options for front racks are limited.

An old style rigid forked mountain bike, with fat tyres and stainless spokes, is probably the most reliable all round option.

But then, not much in life is perfect.