Building a Touring Bicycle

Building a touring bicycle from the frame up, part by part.

June 29, 2017

The Reasoning

A few weeks ago, I went for a 40-mile ride out to historic Concord, Massachusetts. It was an awesome ride, except that the single speed gearing of my city bike made it much harder than it should have been.

I looked into buying a multi-speed bike, but the more research (YouTube binge watching) I did, the more I realized that I wanted to build a custom bike from the frame up. I love having physical projects to work on, since all of my work is virtual, so I started researching bicycle frames and parts and trying to figure out exactly what I want.

I settled on building a touring bicycle - a bike focused on strength, durability, and comfort for long distance travel. It has long been a goal of mine (albeit a somewhat forgotten goal these past few years) to travel via bicycle, and to maybe someday bicycle across America. So, I figured I may as well build a bike capable of such things if I'm building one from the ground up anyway.

This blog post will be updated as I make progress on the build, but here are the parts I have so far! Last updated: June 29th, 2017.

Frame & Fork

Surly Cross-Check

Surly makes some of the most well respected touring bicycles, so I couldn't go wrong ordering one of their sturdy steel frames, which comes with a steel fork.

Most of their frames include plenty of places to attach racks, panniers, fenders, multiple water bottle cages, different types of brakes, etc. They're also generally built to accept both slim road tires as well as very wide mountain bike tires. This flexibility really appealed to me. I like the idea that if my needs change a few years down the road, I can completely change how the bike is setup.


Mavic A319 Rims (700c)

I went with 36 spokes on both wheels and 8/9/10-speed Shimano 105 hubs. Instead of learning to build wheels by myself while also building my first bike ever, I decided to have the wheels built by a company and shipped to me. I went with Bicycle Wheel Warehouse and as far as I can tell they've done a great job.


SRAM Rival with GXP Bottom Bracket

I decided on a 2x10 gearing setup. Meaning 2 gears up front and 10 on the back wheel. I went with 50 and 34-tooth chainrings.

Front Derailleur

Shimano FD-5700 105 Double

The "Double" meaning it supports a 2-gear crankset, which is all I need.

Rear Derailleur

Shimano 105 5800 - GS (long cage)

This derailleur supports a maximum cassette cog of 32-teeth, which works with the 11-32 tooth cassette I decided on.

Edit on July 6th, 2022: I purchased an 11-32 tooth cassette and only now realized (years later) that the company sent me a 12-32 cassette instead.

Shifters & Brake Levers

Shimano 105 ST-5700 STI Shifters


Brooks C17 Cambium

Brooks is famous for their beautiful and extremely comfortable leather saddles. I decided on their newer rubber saddle, which is supposed to be just as comfortable.

Mid-Build Photo

The Finished Build

Update on July 1st, 2022

Unfortunately, I've not ridden the bike much since completing it.

I moved out of the city and no longer have a commute, so I don't have that daily reason to jump on a bike anymore. But there is also something not quite right about the bike's ergonomics. I suspect two major issues:

  1. Despite the premium seat choice, I don't find it comfortable at all. Perhaps I just haven't broken it in enough, but I think I'll try switching it out for a different seat.
  2. I think the handlebars are too low and I'm realizing that I might prefer flatter bars or more of the bullhorn style. I'll have to try different bars and also raise them up a bit.

Converting to a 1x10 Drivetrain with Mountain Bike Handlebars

Update on July 12th, 2022

In the pursuit of comfort I decided to completely change the feel and setup of this bike.

I removed the 2x chainring and front derailleur, replacing them with a single narrow/wide 38-tooth chainring by Wolf Tooth.

I replaced the 11-32t cassette with an 11-42t beast and a Shimano Deore M6000 rear derailleur (medium cage).

Off with the drop bars and on with a new mountain bike riser bar which has a comfortable 12-degree backsweep.

New handlebars meant my STI shifter/brake combo levers were no longer an option, which is fine because I never liked them anyway. I picked up a single Shimano Deore trigger shifter and a set of Tektro brake levers. Ahh, horizontal brake levers, I've missed you.

I spent a lot of time trying to adjust an incompatible derailleur, shifter, and cassette combination, but once I had compatible parts everything was surprisingly straightforward to install.

Finally, I trimmed the massively wide 780mm handlebars down to 740mm (I may go to 720mm if this still feels too wide), attached a set of lock-on Ergon grips, and I was done!

This feels like a completely new bicycle

For the first time since riding BMX bikes as a kid, just sitting on a bike is actually comfortable again. Even my beloved single-speed city bike with bullhorn bars – which I commuted on daily for years – isn't truly comfortable to ride with its narrow hand position and forward riding posture.

I'm so excited to start riding again and to try some longer rides and small trips.

New Parts

  • 38T narrow/wide chainring by Wolf Tooth Components
  • SunRace 11-42t 10-speed cassette
  • Shimano Deore M6000 10-speed rear derailleur
  • SQlab 30X handlebars (12° backsweep, 45mm rise)
  • Shimano Deore M6000 10-speed trigger shifter
  • Tektro brake levers
  • Ergon GA3 lock-on grips

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