Introduction: Purchasing an Inexpensive Bicycle

Bicycle touring requires many types of gear.  Between purchasing a bicycle and all of the gear it can add up to a significant investment, especially if the investment isn't stretched out over a period of time, piece by piece, and if the bike and other gear are new.  If it all comes at once, the price of a bike and the gear can be a little overwhelming.  But for anyone that is interested in taking the time to learn how to be a bit resourceful, both a bicycle and a unique, highly effective gear-carrying system for all of the essential touring gear for high-performance, long-distance touring is available with a relatively small expenditure of dollars and a small amount of simple fabrication.

I've taken many tours in which I have embarked with only a rear pair of panniers.  Later,  when I traveled into areas that were off the beaten path a bit, and I was forced to take additional food and water to allow me to travel between widely spaced points on the map, I'd shift some of my gear to the front of my bicycle into stuff-sack panniers that I'd made.  The stuff sacks are very tightly fitted (strapped) to narrow, vertically mounted platforms that are quite solidly attached to the sides of my front rack.  The combination of featherweight stuff-sack panniers and platforms provides an extremely effective gear overflow system.  Through many years of experimenting with different stuff-sack systems I've been able to come up with ones that are both superbly stable and astonishingly lightweight, and that are quite easy to fabricate.  I've adapted the overflow systems into rear stuff-sack panniers / platforms as well. 

If you can sew a stuff sack, or are willing to learn how, you can easily create a system that will be vastly superior to any of the dry-bag type panniers on the market.  Your panniers will be dry and they'll be dramatically more stable at about 1/6th  or 1/8th the weight of the commercially made panniers.

I find that one of the key components in transforming an inexpensive used bicycle into a dynamic touring bicycle lies simply in being open to possibilities, and in being able to recognize potential in a wide variety of bikes.  For a hundred bucks to purchase a used bike and an additional hundred or two or three to modify it, a touring bicycle that will widely out-perform any new $10,000 touring bicycle, that I did not build, is easy to create with a little resourcefulness. 

I purchased this old Trek 720 for $125 and transformed it into a very high-performance touring bicycle mostly through modifications to its wheels and by adding Phase One and Phase Two (in the Advanced Touring Method) gear-carrying systems, including a Hummingbird IFT rear rack and panniers and a front overload system. An extremely effective, and very inexpensive gear-carrying system made of stuff-sack panniers and pannier supports can also transform such a bike into a very high-performance touring bicycle.
If you're into making some simple, yet extremely lightweight, superbly effective panniers and want to save a ton of bucks on a bike, you can do it.  A very good bike isn't hard to find.  The old Trek 720 touring bike that I have pictured was purchased used for a friend.  It cost only $125 and is typical of what's available in the used-bike market.  To transform it into a highly effective touring bike that is extraordinarily fast and easy to pedal involves a fun and inexpensive process.  When I originally purchased the bike it wasn't a total slug just as it was with its original equipment, but with some lighter rims, tires, tubes and fewer spokes in the wheels it will take on a new level of speed and efficiency.

Finding a used bicycle that may be transformed into a great touring bike is a lot less difficult than you might imagine.  I try to find an inexpensive, older bicycle (available through several second-hand stores in my community) that was originally a touring bicycle (like an old Univega, Fuji, Trek, Nishiki, Miyata) or a mountain bike which lacks front or rear suspension.  Many bicycles have tremendous potential to be easily adapted into high-performance touring bicycles as they often have very solid components (brakes, derailleurs etc.) and require simple modifications.  I steer away from pure racing bicycles.  In setting up a touring bicycle that will most often be ridden on pavement, I prefer a 700c wheel size.   For extensive travel on dirt in extreme conditions I would purchase a bicycle with a 26 wheel size, but for mixed touring (dirt and paved-road touring) in which conditions are not extreme I prefer the 700c wheel size as well.  Whatever my choice, I just make sure that there are proper fork and stay clearances for tires up to a 35mm width and that the bicycle has the correct frame size.  For expedition-oriented touring I look for a bike frame that has a bit more clearance for tires.  Beyond that, simple modifications can be made to meet choices in pedals, saddle, handlebars and stems.  Bikes are very uncomplicated machines that can be simply altered to match individual needs quite readily, both in terms of a specific type of touring and reflecting compatibility with a person's body dimensions and weight.