Author Topic: MTB To Tourer Conversion  (Read 1583 times)

MTB To Tourer Conversion
« on: January 14, 2021, 04:32:42 am »
I was going to splash out on a Surly LHT but stumbled upon a few old steel frame mtb conversions. Since, I've read a lot, perhaps too much which has frazzled my brain.

I've seen a good few conversions here so I thought I'd ask for help. I want to build a tourer that can carry me at 80kg plus a full load of front and back panniers.

I was advised to seek out  an old Trek Cromoly frame although I'd love to find a suitable British frame.

I'll buy new quality 26" wheels but would also like advice about changing the gearing plus other aspects of the build you may advise me.

So any suggestions on a suitable frame?

Thanks for your help.

Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2021, 08:09:20 am »
My late nineties Marin Muirwoods even had rear rack mounts on the seat stays.  I used it for my first few tours very successfully before venturing into expensive bespoke tourers which didn't in real terms offer much improvement at all.

The one change I should have made to the Marin would have been to replace the suspension forks with suspension-adjusted rigids.  It would have been sensible and cost effective* to have a custom set made with low rider rack braze ons.

Gearing?  Standard Shimano XT 3x9 mtb transmission which incidentslly I still used on my Roberts Roughstuff 2y inch wheeled tourer until I had to retire from two wheels three years back.

* Given how much I spent overall on two touring machines.

Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2021, 09:38:12 am »
Yes I've got the Muirwoods on my list although it's not British but I think it is Chromoly? Did you ride it fully loaded? If so how did it handle?

Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2021, 09:49:08 am »
I only had rear panniers and a bar bag and it was still on the mtb tyres but it was generally fine.  It has a long tail just like my subsequent Roberts Roughstuff and I was surprised at how similar the frame dimensions were.

A loaded tourer handles a lot different from a bike without luggage anyway and though I recall being aware of this on my first couple of outings it didn't give me any reason not to go again.

I should have done the front fork conversion and saved a packet. 

Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2021, 09:54:12 am »


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Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2021, 11:11:51 am »
Yes I've got the Muirwoods on my list although it's not British but I think it is Chromoly? Did you ride it fully loaded? If so how did it handle?

That age of Marin's were built using Colombus tubing, I had a similar age Pine Mountain. Best MTB I ever had and still regret selling it.

One thing to remember is that pure touring bikes tend to have longer top tubes than MTBs (but not as long as road bikes) so, if you want the feel of a tourer you will have to use a longer stem than you may use on a road-tourer.

Personally, my Inbred, that I used as a touring bike had the right top tube length for me so I kept the short MTB stem (it was also less tiring for full day rides)
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Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2021, 12:20:44 pm »
My 1995 Kona Lava Dome has made an ace tourer, dropped bars, Alfine 11-speed hub (with Surly tensioner) etc. All the braze-ons at the back, but an ugly Old Man Mountain rack used at the front for heavily loaded use. Formerly mine, but now #2 son's Dawes Acoma of similar vintage will accept an old steel rod rack at the front though.

Be aware the top tube length of old steel MTBs does vary - the Kona's is fine with drops and a 100mm stem, the Dawes really needs a 60mm - for me, he uses a 150mm Thorn special! Some early MTBs mimicked road bike positioning with not just long TTs, but also long stems. The shorter reach and more upright position came in with the whole 'Downhill' thing probably.


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Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2021, 04:42:51 pm »
I had a 2009 Merida mtb I used to use for a whole load of things including touring. It had rear rack mounts and I think most mtbs from that age or earlier probably did. Like PB, I'd say replacing the suspension forks with rigid ones, including low-rider braze ons if poss, would have been a good move, though not vital. I could have done with different shaped bars as well for longer days, though probably not drops.
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Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #8 on: January 14, 2021, 07:52:50 pm »
I've been using 1992-3 Orange Clockwork frames for touring for many years.  Build them up with 9-speed triple drivechains.  Lugs for a rack. Rim brakes with decent 26" wheels and you've got a relatively light, bombproof tourer.

Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2021, 09:05:27 pm »
Most MTB frames for 26" wheels have something to offer in the way of touring conversion. There were several distinct phases of MTB development (not all of which were adopted at the same time by all manufacturers) and each phase has different implications for a touring conversion.

A) steel, LWB, slack angles, horizontal top tube, until about 1989.
B) steel, shorter wheelbase, sloping top tube, until about 1994.
C) steel or aluminium , sloping top tube, larger size threaded headset, geometry set up for ~60-80mm travel fork, until about 1996.
D) steel or aluminium 1-1/8" A-head, possibly with longer top tube, geometry set up for 80-100mm fork, until 2000 and something.

A) is probably the best geometry  for carrying a big load, simply because of the wheelbase. With a shorter wheelbase you can't use the biggest rear panniers; without  front load the whole bike  may not even keep it's nose down unless you are sat on it.  But the strength of the whole thing may be limited by the 1" steerer. Note that A type frames will usually be 126 or 130mm at the back; the change to 135mm occurred later than many people think.
A,B,C are the ones I would look at for use with dropped bars; D often has a top tube that is too long to make this practical.

Steel is probably the material of choice and if a bike comes with suspension forks you will probably want to ditch those for steel rigids. They need to be correct for the geometry of your bike though; if it doubt measure the crown height which gives you the correct seat angle you want.  It is much the easiest thing if the bike comes with rigid forks to start with; some C type bikes used oddball headsets like 1-1/4" threaded which is a bit problematic nowadays; if a new fork is required it is probably best if you use converter parts to use a 1-1/8" fork and headset.

A common problem is that folk want to use low-riders on a fork which lacks the correct mountings. I happen to think using higher mounted panniers isn't that bad after all and if you want, you can have mountings brazed onto a steel fork easily enough, so it isn't that big a deal.

MTB gearing is usually about low enough (or can easily be made that way) but a common  problem is that if you ride briskly on the road at times, a ~42T big ring may not be big enough; you may end up using a 14T (or smaller) sprocket on the flat, which is both inefficient and fast-wearing, if it isn't rough-feeling all the time, that is...   For such use a 46T or 48T big ring makes more sense, even if the intervals between chainrings end up being rather larger if you have low gears as well.

MTBs tend to come with 175mm cranks and relatively high bottom brackets. If you fit more 'road' oriented tyres they are usually narrower and the BB height comes down a little. I prefer 170mm cranks for road use, and if you are swapping cranks anyway, you may as well get the chainrings you want too. 

Another  thing I don't much like is a large 'Q' value and normally this remains uncomfortably high on any converted MTB. In fact this is the main thing that puts me off using such bikes more than I do. I guess I have owned/converted/used between fifteen and twenty such bikes in total.

An upcoming project of mine is a ~1988 Dawes MTB of the type A variety, in 531AT tubing. The frame is pretty beat up-looking but still sound; I intend to build it as a 'beater'/utility bike, but a lot of the priorities in the build (load lugging, strength, repairability etc) are pretty much the same as they would be in a touring build too.

For wheels you can still buy 26" sputnik rims and these make for excellent touring wheels.


Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #10 on: January 16, 2021, 09:14:41 pm »
Agree with all of what Brucey says.  My Clockwork is very much variety A.  9-speed geared 48/38/28 at the front with a  11-32 cassette.  That has covered everything I've encountered to date (including some of the more notable continental climbs). Mind you I try and tour light and only have rear panniers.

Also agree about the 80's/early 90's horizontal top tube.  Usually an indication that the geometry will make a decent tourer.  And steel - well yes!  I've never needed the services of the proverbial blacksmith in rural Mongolia but you never know!

Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2021, 11:11:05 pm »
I’ve toured on an Inbred, frame currently in the for sale board :) and on a basic trek mtb. In both cases it made roughstuff easy and was, overall, nice to ride. I’ve had various mixes of rear panniers, rack pack, bar bag, frame bag and front panniers as luggage. I even put drop bars on the trek.

I do have a note of caution though: the inbred was on the large end of right for me, and with a higher bottom bracket, common on mountain bikes, it wasn’t the easiest bike I’ve had to get a foot down or restart on an uphill. Fork setup and crank length could mitigate this a bit. As could not having short legs for my height and avoiding a rest on uphills.

Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2021, 03:32:31 pm »
I used to tour on a Trek 520, I guess from the late '80's. 9 speed XT with thumbies. A quick google turned up this article.,model%2C%20and%20for%20good%20reason.
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Re: MTB To Tourer Conversion
« Reply #13 on: February 10, 2021, 09:00:52 pm »
My camping bike is an early Raleigh MTB. Horizontal top tube, 531 main tubes, rigid frame, no fork braze ons.The only original bits left are the frame and the H'bar stem.