My (Break-Apart) Touring Bike
Some of my bicycle touring has required air travel to a distant starting point. Hence this idea for a break-apart touring bike unfolded – pardon the pun! – because of my discomfort with schlepping a full size bike together with a full complement of equipment through airports. For the times that I have travelled by plane with my Cannondale T2000, I packed the bike into a large plastic bag after removing the pedals and turning the handlebars in line with the frame – some judicious padding and removal of sticky-out components was also necessary. The package always arrived virtually unscathed, but it was a real burden before it could be checked in.
I couldn’t see the advantage of using a commercial bike box, such as an “Ironcase”, as the size of those boxes still makes them unwieldy and difficult to store at a destination. It can also be a challenge to find a taxi-cab that can shoehorn in a large box for a ride to a starting point.
I pondered about purchasing a folding bike, such as a Bike Friday, and also investigated having a frame built with S&S couplers for a break-apart bike. Both options were expensive with S&S coupled frames topping the scale by the time that I added my component preferences and large format suitcases to pack the travel bikes into. Although I have never heard any detrimental reports other than the fact of a slightly rougher ride with smaller wheels, I also couldn’t convince myself into the 20″ wheels of a Bike Friday – and I still had a hankering for a 26″ wheeled touring bike.
So I figured that I could build up a suitable bike for a reasonable cost, get some personal satisfaction out of the deal and use up some components that I had lying around from other projects… And of course there’s always eBay!!!
The above aluminium K2 frame I acquired on eBay and is what I started my project from. I chose this type of full suspension frame for two reasons – a) the rear triangle is in two pieces, and b) the seat tube is continuous, unlike many full suspension frames on the market today. I could add, c) the price was right!
I just couldn’t go touring with a green metal-flake bike though, so after disassembly, I had the frame stripped and powder-coated black – a nondescript colour that is not too appealing to the light fingered and easily touched up when inevitably scratched. Below is the result…
The shock absorber, bearings and bushings for the rear swingarm were removed. I machined up replacement parts from aluminium that would allow the rear swingarm to be bolted solidly to the main frame and unbolted for packing into a case.
This whole bike would have to break apart easily with as little component removal as possible, then fit into a custom case that I had fabricated using 14ga aluminium and sized to the airline authorized dimensions of 62″ overall; i.e. 28″ x 24″ x 10″.
The following photos are of the various components that I had to fabricate to suit my needs…
I also built up new wheels with Shimano XT hubs. I used a Sun CR18 36 hole rim for the front wheel and a Mavic F519 36 hole rim for the rear. For the rear wheel I use double butted spokes and straight spokes for the front wheel. Bombproof build!
After the build I took the bike out for test rides of approximately 15 kms on varied terrain…
I rode the bike empty for the first run of 15 kms and then put the full touring load on – 4 panniers, handlebar bag, dry sack on top of rack – about 45 lbs of gear total and rode the same 15 km route. The empty run gave me a chance to adjust the saddle and handlebars to my preference and also gave me an indication on how the bike would handle, corner etc.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well the bike rode and handled. Once loaded there was the obvious difference of a load present, but the handling was still very good. I also overloaded my handlebar bag with a fair bit of weight to determine if that affected the steering to any great extent. And as with any bike, it did. So I decided to make a custom mount for the bag thereby lowering and moving it closer to the stem tube for much better handling.
As can be seen, the bag is still readily accessible even though I have lowered and moved it closer to the stem tube.
After the test runs, I disassembled the bike and packed and repacked it into its case to determine the best method. I was surprised at how quickly I could take the bike apart and feel that my estimate of two hours, at each end of a trip, can easily be accomplished.
The weight of the completed case with bike inside is a little over 51 lbs – airlines seem to differ on allowances and it is sometimes dependent on destinations; most airlines seem to be at 50 lbs with a few others allowing as much as 66 lbs per bag. The number of bags allowed also varies with destination; international flights seem to usually allow two bags, otherwise the rule is only one bag – always best to check before you book your flights as charges can be considerable for excess baggage.
All my other riding and camping gear fit into a large duffel bag which was to be my second piece of luggage. I switched the saddle and seatpost to this duffel from the case to bring the overall weight of the case below the 50 lb airline limit.
Ultimately it took me about one and half hours to pack and the same to reassemble!
2008 – I built the bike up in early 2005, since then it has accompanied me to Poland, the UK, Scotland, France and many other local venues in North America. It rides beautifully, loaded and unloaded, and I have made only minor changes to it such as replacement of the rear rack (with a Tubus Cargo). There was nothing wrong with the original rear rack, I just had a hankering to upgrade!
The only other change is that I switched from clipless pedals to the MKS Foot Jaws pedals. I’ve actually switched to flat pedals on both my touring bikes – ah, freedom! Oh, and I switched the Zoom adjustable stem for a fixed version.
2016 – As I don’t have plans to travel overseas with this bike anymore, I have no real need to disassemble the bike at all. So I decided to make some room in my shop and sold the case. This is my main touring bike now and it is still serving me very well.
With the availability of lighter and smaller camping equipment, I’ve also managed to pare down my touring load from four to two panniers. This has allowed me to remove the front rack from the bike and utilise the mid-fork mounts for extra water bottle racks – very handy.
My only additions to the bike recently was to add a stem riser to heighten the handlebars approximately two inches in order to eliminate some nagging neck pain from an arthritic neck that plagues me! And to add wider tires for a little more comfort.
This is my main touring bike now as I regretfully sold my Cannondale T2000 touring bike in an effort to “cull the herd” of bikes cluttering my shop!
I’ve played with the gearing a few times, but as my legs get older the granny gears get lower. Below is the present gearing configuration – notice that I have two very low gears – granny and “super granny!” The 16.1″ low is about as low as I can go and keep the bike in a straight-ish line!
Frame – 7000 Series Aluminium alloy
Rear Derailleur – Shimano XT
Front Derailleur – Shimano LX
Pedals – MKS Foot Jaws
Shifters – Paul’s Thumbies & Shimano bar-cons
Brakes – Avid Single Digit 7
Brake levers – Avid Single Digit 3
Crankset – Shimano LX cranks – Chainrings 46-32-20
Chain – SRAM PC68
Cassette – SRAM, 8 speed, 11-32
Bottom Bracket – Race Face Taper Lock
Headset – Race Face
Rear hub – Shimano XT
Front hub – Shimano XT
Rims – Front: Sun CR18 – Rear: Mavic F519
Fork – Kona Project – rigid
Saddle – Brooks Conquest
Tires – Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 50-559 (26 x 2.00)