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Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Raleigh M40: And Why?

Raleigh M40 in Rivendellesque pose.
If you've followed this blog long enough, not only would you know that I have the utmost, deep respect for Tom Baker, but that I am also a "Retro-Grouch". And if you've taken the time to send a telegram* to Grant Peterson to find out what this term truly means, then you will know that mountain bikes and Retro-Grouchery don't necessarily go together.** And for someone like me who is concerned about esthetics, I don't always find mountain bikes attractive. So why the heck did I just buy one?

Well, I'm no stranger to mountain bikes. The first three bikes I owned as an adult were mountain bikes. This is not unusual, as I reached majority age in 1993, an era where mountain bike became the default adult bike. At the time I didn't mind this, as the bike previous to this was a crappy department store ten speed (yes, a Huffy), suicide levers and all. The flat bars of my first adult MTB, yet another Huffy that I purchased around 1995, was definitely an upgrade in comfort. This was the last bike I owned in my homestate of Connecticut, the last bike that was used purely for recreation, not transportation. When I moved to the Bay Area in the summer of 2000, I promptly bought a used Specialized mountain bike from a friend of a friend, and used it off-and-on for the eight months I lived in Oakland. And when I moved to Portland in the spring of 2001 and decided to become a "true bicyclist",*** I picked up a used Giant Rincon MTB. The Giant was the bike that I rode for five years. I didn't have any great love for the particular bike, and it was a tad too small and a tad too janky at times, but it got me to where I needed to. When I finally got some cash in 2006, I bought a road bike and didn't look back. I didn't think I needed another mountain bike.

But over the past couple years I thought about getting another mountain bike. Not for mountain biking per se, as I don't have much interest in any technical stuff. But maybe for winter hacking around. And I also wanted something with fat tires. Now the tires on my other bikes are not narrow, but at 35-37 mm wide they fall somewhere in the middle of the width spectrum.
From Gypsy By Trade

And what's really sparked my interest in getting a mountain bike over the last year is reading more and more about bikepacking. For those not in the know, bikepacking is bike touring/camping through more rugged areas, usually involving minimalist setups on mountain bikes due to the amount of dirt and gravel involved. Take, for example, Nicholas over at Gypsy By Trade. He's winding up a summer-long touring adventure that led him from Alaska to New Mexico, much of it on dirt roads and trails through wilderness areas. Take a look at some of his photos, it's hard not to get enticed by what he's done. (Unless you are the type who like the inn-to-inn style tour.)

My touring bike, the Surly Long Haul Trucker, is fine with some amount of non-paved adventuring, as it's got some decent widish tires (Schwalbe Marathon 700x35C). But they're widish, not wide. And I could theoretically put wider tires on the LHT, but this would alter the current setup of the Surly,**** a setup that I took me a long time to get dialed in. I want to keep the Long Haul Trucker the way it is, for now. If I really wanted to do more dirt riding, I'd need a different bike.

And truth be told, I would love to get something like a Surly Troll, a mountain bike purpose-built for touring, with more braze-ons than one would know what to do with. Or maybe a Pugsley. But right now a new bike like this is not in my budget.***** And do I even know if I would like this whole bikepacking-on-dirt-roads biz? Oh, sure, a Troll would be useful no matter what, but I don't have the kind of money to just experiment.

So enter: The poor man's bikepacker.

Yes, the rainy season is upon us, so this is not the best time to test the waters. But I'll have a bike ready for spring when the skies relent.

And yes, winter is coming. While winter in the West-Of-Cascades means rain and above freezing temps 95% of the time, there is that 5% where we get real winter of snow/ice and freezing temps. I've done winter biking in those conditions before (during the Great Snowpocalypse of 2008) using my old Univega three-speed. I had a studded tire on front, a knobbie on rear. Now I still have those tires, but they are 700C which means the only bike they'd fit on is the LHT. I'd rather have a bike in the reserve, set up the same way, for if/when real winter weather hits. With the Raleigh M40, I have just that. So I bought a 26" studded tire for the front (the bike came with knobbies, so I'll use one for the rear) and I'll set up the M40 with these tires as we move further into "likelihood of snow and ice territory" and leave it on there for the duration.

Now the question still remains: Will I like dirt? You'll have to wait for a future installment for the answer!

*This is the way Retro-Grouches communicate.
**Unless, of course, it's a Bridgestone MB series.
***Don't tell that Copenhagen guy this.
****For reasons too boring to put in the main body of text: Firstly, I would need different fenders. Secondly, the front rack, the Jandd Extreme, is already "maxxed out" spacewise between platform, fender, and tire. Anything bigger than what I currently have would mean buying a different front rack with a higher platform. 
*****There is a complete Surly Ogre, the 29er version of the Troll on Craigslist for $600, almost a grand less than a complete one new. This listing is causing me great pain. If anyone feels like donating money for the cause...;-)


  1. I can't say that I was surprised to see you get a mountain bike. I've always thought that having fat tires has some very distinct advantages, particularly for dirt road touring, sidewalk riding, tooling on the Leif Erickson road. The older mountain bikes accommodate fenders too - an advantage in the NW for sure.

    Bikepacking means you'll be using those wedge-shaped bags inside the frame? I picture you more as a back roads tourer, not of the single track variety as they describe bikepacking in Adventure Cycling's website.

    1. Annie, I don't know what the bikepacking setup will look like. I know a lot of folks who get into it eschew racks, which I feel is more for the "racks rattling off due to rough roads" vs. lightness factor. The main issue for me with most rackless bike touring setups is that most people wear backpacks, since there's only so much space with a frame bag, seat bag, and something strapped to the front. If I went in that direction, I wouldn't use one of the modern "wedge" saddlebags, which look like they max out at 12 litres, I'd use a Carradice Camper Longflap at 22 litres. Nicholas from Gypsy By Trade uses a Camper, so it is being done.

  2. Welcome to the dark(dirt) side. I'm currently working on building a Bridgestone CB-Zip into a dirt tourer with a similar setup to your Raleigh. I'm a big fan of VRC mountain bikes; they're often made out of nice butted steel tube-sets, with good Japanese or Taiwanese craftsmanship. I've had quite a few 80's and 90's ATB's set up as townie/tourer/all-rounders. Those Trolls/Ogres do look very nice!!

    1. Cool. I've also heard good things about the '80s Raleigh mountain bikes, like the Mountain Tour. One is on CL for $250...

  3. Huh, bikepacking sounds like it's right up my alley! I'm planning to build up a proper touring bike one of these days. I want to just show up at my parents house (about 500 some miles away) and surprise them. ;) We're planning on a smallish tour on the Katy trail through Missouri at some point in the future, and a MTB/touring mishmash would be a good bike for that. I've been toying with the idea of a MTB for actual mountain trail riding. Since I live in mountains and there's tons of trails out here! Might be fun. But nothing I want to dump ay money into. I keep an eye out on C-list for something old I can beat up.

  4. You're one of the few people who understands the differences between Bikepacking and Bike Touring. While I did a pretty fair amount of the latter, and plan to do some again, I can't honestly say that I've ever bikepacked. Oh, I've ended up on dirt and gravel roads, and even trails, on the loaded touring and road bikes I used. But whatever time I've spent in wilderness areas, or at least away from pavement, has been a consequence of my wandering or getting lost, not from any plan.

    I must say that I admire your wish to Bikepack.

    1. Justine, I think the main reason why people confuse the term is that the definitions of bike touring have shifted over the years. If you said you were going to go on a "bike tour" in the 1960s, you generally meant that you'd be going on an inn-to-inn tour, what we would call now "credit card touring". Or you might be going hostel-to-hostel. If you were going to carry camping gear, then you were "bike camping". In the 70's some folks tried to brand bike camping as "bikepacking" as backcountry hiking/camping was getting big as well. Then Bikecentennial came and blurred the lines. Bicycle touring as a term became more generic, encompassing both inn-to-inn and camping style tours. Now bikepacking is back, with a more pure definition.

      Yes, I'm a nerd about this stuff.

  5. Yeah, the bikepacking is gaining traction, so to speak.I had planned on buying a Troll frameset by the end of this summer but it turned out to not be financially practical. I like this bikepacking blog by a Troll and Ogre rider:

    1. I've seen that blog, it's another good one. Hopefully you'll get some cash to buy a frame. Or just pester the Raving Bike Fiend to build you one!

  6. Coming from a more mtn biking of a background,I had done a few (what I now know to be called S24O's) bikepacking trips over the years,but had never done a "bike tour" (on road or gravel) perse' until this year,I like both!

    I was always more dirt than pavement (heh,even my "road bike",a CX'er,has skinny little 35mm knobbies :p),coming from growing up out in the sticks riding and racing motorcycles off road (from MX to Hare Scrambles),but this past year and few months living in or close to the city again,I've learned the joy of utility cycling and generally riding a bike where-ever I needed to go (the one thing I don't like about where we moved to 4 months,has it been that long?),and that's one thing I really miss living where I currently do as it's just not as viable an option...

    ANYways,I likes your new digs,and am anxious to see what you do with it,and read about your adventures,my ol friend,and please please remember to post lotsa pics when you do the preojecting of said bike,teehee! :p

    The Disabled Cyclist

  7. Shawn, Thanks for saying such kind things. I still don't consider myself a mountain biker; I'm an everywhere biker!

    No need to justify the new ATB. It's a great idea. Old mountain bikes are more versatile than touring bikes, and don't come at great expense. In some cases, a vintage ATB and touring bike by the same manufacturer are nearly identical, except for wheel size and tire clearances.

    While bikepacking typically denotes lightweight touring in more rugged terrain, I suggest that anyone (everyone!) can benefit from a lightweight load and larger tires. The benefits of a lightweight load are obvious, and larger tires are not necessarily slower, especially with a versatile tread pattern. What they allow, is the ability to turn up an unknown road or trail with more confidence than a traditional touring bike. It's a "just in case" feature, at least, and need not be justified by extreme riding. Larger tires can operate at a greater range of pressures than skinny tires, wear longer, resist punctures, and are more comfortable. When operating at higher pressures, I ride faster on my Pugsley than many others on pavement.

    The Troll and Ogre rider mentioned above, named Cass, is featured in my recent post entitled Riding with friends

    The Ogre would be a capable LHT replacement. I'll send $600 with my next postcard.


    1. Nicholas, you are welcome!

      The Ogre/Troll route is definitely a good route, but there is all those classic MTBs as well. Looks like your Schwinn High Sierra was much loved. And looking at info for the mid-80s MTBs, they were even designed more for dirt touring in mind, less for racing. As the years went on, the angles got steeper, the wheelbase shorter, all better for racing, not so much for touring. Looks like a good one from that era could be a good candidate for "Rough Stuff" touring. And cheaper than a new bike.

      Make sure the $600 is in small, unmarked bills. ;-)

    2. Nicholas, have you seen this?
      It's pretty ridiculous, I think. Especially if you wade through all five pages.


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