Robert Beckman Fully Integrated Touring Bicycles: an Overview of Design

A fully integrated touring bicycle is one in which the bicycle frame, racks and panniers are custom-designed and built to perform as a highly complimentary unit.  The bicycle's lighting system and all other components are designed and built, or in the case of some frame components (crankset, brakes, derailleurs, etc.), selected for a specific type of touring (ultralight, tandem, expedition etc.) or as an all-around touring bicycle.  All fittings of the bicycle are custom-designed utilizing specially machined parts to maximize the function of the bike as well as to create a higher level of craftsmanship and aesthetics. 

Custom-built, custom-mounted racks, which are designed as part of a custom-designed and built rack/pannier system, are a fundamental part of the fully integrated design.
There are several types of custom, direct-to-fork mounting designs for front racks that are used in all Robert Beckman fully integrated touring bicycles. And among the several types of mounting designs that are used, there are even more individual ways these designs are executed to provide the most rigid and aesthetically clean means of making the rack-to-bike attachment.

In my fully integrated bikes, the touring racks are custom-fit to the bicycle frame and all rack-to-frame connections are made with custom-designed fittings.  To maximize craftsmanship and finish, rack joints are painstakingly fillet brazed and hand finished (or in rare cases, lugged).  In the design of a fully integrated touring bicycle there are no such things as cheap, welded touring racks.  And in such bicycle designs, the racks are carefully designed to match a specific purpose.  If I'm building an ultra-light touring bicycle, like my Hummingbird XC 700, I will use Hummingbird IFT racks, which may weigh less than nine ounces, in its overall design.

The clean workmanship of rack joints and of the integrated pannier mounting system parts in the racks is all part of the fully integrated design. This unique, high-performance design of touring bikes is not just measured in the execution of design as it relates to performance, but of aesthetics as well.
One of the most demanding and time-consuming aspects of building a fully integrated touring bicycle is in creating a high level of design and finish in touring racks. Racks with a show-quality finish that also perform to their own unique standards of performance are a fundamental part of the highest levels of the fully integrated design.

The same approach is taken in the design and construction of my high-performance panniers.  Each pannier model is custom-ordered, and carefully designed and built to meet very specific touring demands.  Panniers are not jury-rigged to racks with hooks and a bungee cord, or some other type of loose attachment mechanism.  Instead, specially designed custom fittings are machined, and then brazed into the touring racks to make a custom pannier-to-rack attachment.  Very similar steps are taken in the design and the fitting of lighting systems.  Custom-built wheels and other custom-selected components fill out the rest of a fully integrated touring bicycle design.

High-performance panniers that are extremely lightweight, ultra stable and that are custom-fit to touring racks are an integral component of the fully integrated bicycle.
I have been using fully integrated touring bicycles since the 1970s to improve touring bicycle performance and to develop a much cleaner overall design, aesthetically, aided by the highest standards of craftsmanship.  As my racks and panniers have greatly improved in the past decade, and as bicycle tubing has advanced in recent years, the performance of my fully integrated touring bikes has improved significantly. Today, I am the only touring bicycle designer in the world taking this high-performance, high-quality approach drawing on more than four decades of touring experience.  

When I think of the design of custom-built, fully integrated touring bikes a couple thoughts immediately come to mind.  First is that of how critical experience is in influencing each aspect of design, not just in the overall design of a bike, but that of every detail of design in each of the components that I build (bicycle frames, racks, panniers).  I have traveled extensively on very lightweight bicycles, including racing bicycles with sew-up tires.  Starting in my early twenties I taught myself how to tour in highly minimalistic ways (just 10 or 12 pounds of gear) and began building ultra-lightweight panniers in the mid 1980s.  Also, I have toured widely on expedition bicycles, starting in the late 1970s, using the most advanced expedition panniers and racks, always moving toward much lighter and more-efficient components in rugged touring conditions.  In all, I have used the experience of tens of thousands of miles of touring and nearly forty years of endless experimentation with rack and pannier designs to arrive at my touring bicycle designs of today.   A wealth of diverse experiences have allowed me to create a wide range of custom designs that must come together and function in a highly complimentary way to develop the highest levels of touring bicycle performance.

Also, when I think of integrated touring bicycle design, I am immediately drawn to thoughts about versatility.  I want to make the design of each touring bicycle frame, its racks and its panniers so that they may be highly functional in a wide range of conditions.  Their individual and complimentary designs will influence how well a bicycle may perform.  I try to make each of my touring bicycles highly versatile, while at the same time I try to make each component as lightweight as possible.  Especially in recent years, I try to create the absolute highest level of performance and efficiency in each of my bicycles.        

The extensive customization of components, such as in this head tube lug and fork crown, is one of the prime aesthetic elements of the fully integrated design in which a wide range of measures are taken to ensure that performance and aesthetic creativity are thoughtfully executed in the overall design..
Naturally, as I'm a bike geek at heart, I want one bike to do it all.  But instead of building one bike that does it all, I build five that can do it all in unique and different ways.  And each of those five models reflects a wide range of empirically driven details.  At one end of the five is the Hummingbird XC 700 that can do it all, but is best suited to long-distance touring on paved roads and the occasional side trip on dirt.  At the other end of the spectrum are the Expedition 26 and Ultima Tourer 700 models that are built more heavily, and with their frames that are designed with a very long wheel base, were conceived with more dirt travel in mind.  But I also build the Expedition models in unique hybrid, high-performance forms that have many attributes, and the efficiency, of unloaded bicycles with very lightweight wheels. 

Whatever the model, I try to build as much versatility into it as possible, through careful frame design, the selection of wheel components to match body weight and riding conditions, an extremely wide choice of frame components and by means of customized braking and lighting systems.  Most of all, to create the highest levels of performance, I include the selection of very lightweight racks and panniers of a highly advanced design.  That is why I only build purely custom-made touring bikes, designed and highly customized to match the specifications and needs of each individual customer.  And it is why I only build fully-integrated models in which the racks, panniers and bicycle frame are designed as a complimentary unit to ensure the highest levels of bicycle handling, speed and efficiency. 

My goals in designing touring bicycles are extraordinarily different from those of any other bicycle builders, for a couple of simple reasons.  I've toured very extensively in an extremely broad range of conditions in highly efficient ways, so my focus on design is very uniquely experience-based. I focus much more on overall touring bicycle design because I utilize far more advanced racks and panniers in the design of my bicycles.  My racks and panniers can do much more with a lot less (weight).

My first goal in designing touring bicycles for each of my customers, is to try to encourage everyone to be open to the possibility that a touring bicycle can be dramatically easier and more exciting to ride than they have ever experienced before.  Even an expedition bike, when it's on pavement, can perform a lot more closely to a high-performance, unloaded bike than you would ever think possible if it is setup ingeniously wheel-wise, and if it designed using my Advanced Touring Method and my ultra-lightweight racks and panniers.

This is a photo of unique, lightweight potential in touring rack design. Probably the most critical aspect in developing a high-performance touring bicycle is in learning about advanced, complimentary design and of its potential in greatly improving performance. To develop a broader sense of possibilities in design I think that it is very important to steer away from many influences within the bicycle industry expressed through opinion in the cycling media and among manufacturers and retailers. Within these sources are many individuals who have mercilessly victimized bicycle tourists for decades by grossly misrepresenting the touring gear (especially among racks and panniers) that they sell through the absurdly false appraisals of the quality and performance of these products.
A touring bicycle is a tool, and learning how to set it up effectively, and use it as wisely as possible may be the most important aspect in preparing for tours.  To use it to its greatest advantage it is essential that all touring gear be very carefully selected to minimize its weight and impact.  The Advanced Touring Method is a short, simple guide to making great reductions in gear weight.  For many cyclists, reducing gear weight by 10 or 20 pounds is not difficult.  If I can point you in that direction and if you can greatly trim your gear so that on some or all trips you can travel with just a rear pair of panniers, there will be a night-and-day difference in the ease of your travel.  You'll be happy and my job will have been done.

My second goal in developing a touring bike that is much easier and more pleasurable to ride revolves around the potential of racks and panniers in the equation of design.  Well-designed panniers and racks, that have extreme stability, advanced loading designs and that weigh dramatically less (often a third the combined weight) than mass-manufactured products, can have a huge impact in enhancing the handling characteristics of a touring bike and in increasing pedaling efficiency.  When only rear panniers have to be used, high-performance rack/pannier systems can help trim as much as 10-12 pounds from a touring bike.  So my second goal is to get everyone thinking of new dimensions in rack/pannier design and performance before they purchase a bike.

The weight of rims, tires, tubes and spokes can have a significant impact in determining the amount of energy required to pedal a touring bicycle.  If you have a $150 bike (unloaded) and you want it to be as fast as a $5,000 bike, change those four components to the same ones as the $5,000 bike has.  You'll then be in the same ballpark and the same seating section.  Getting those four components in motion and maintaining that motion is a critical, and often overlooked aspect of performance, especially among touring cyclists.

In touring, the inclination is almost always to gravitate toward heavier wheel components for greater durability as touring bicycles are often turned into load-bearing pack mules.  Touring wheels do not have to be designed in that way, and touring can be easier and more fun than taking the beast-of-burden route.  Through thoughtful touring gear selection, and wise rack and pannier selection, your bike doesn't have to be just slow and steady, especially when riding is on pavement.  A high-performance bike that is well designed doesn't need heavier wheel components on pavement.  So, my third goal in designing touring bikes is to encourage the idea that wheels for some types of touring don't have to be heavier, and in many cases they can actually be lighter than what you've been using for general riding.  When you order a bike we will spend some time talking about the most-efficient wheels.

A totally different area of performance, and an important one within the design of a bike, relates to choices in components like brakes, lighting systems, headsets, derailleurs, shifters, cranks, hubs, handlebars and other types of components.  My role as a designer as it relates to the selection of components is that of listener and guide.  In each model of touring bicycle that I sell I have a standard set of components.  The standard is simply a starting point in selecting components and in establishing a base price for each bike.  But in virtually every bike that I build, custom or personal choices are made in component selection.  In customizing a bike its my goal to be as open to personal choices as possible and to guide each customer above and beyond  standard components when I believe it will enhance their particular type of bike or individual touring needs.

Quality and craftsmanship are extremely important to me, so I'm always working to improve my own skills as a craftsman and to constantly work on the execution of every detail in the design and construction of my frames, racks and panniers.  In almost all ways I see the execution of details as what defines both quality and performance, so an extremely important goal of mine is to always keep moving forward toward a higher level of execution.  There is always room for improvement. 

Any touring bike will perform at its very best if it is not over-loaded.  And I think that I can safely say that the less gear that you carry the more fun and pleasurable riding will be.  I look at gear selection, to carefully reduce the amount of touring gear and its impact upon the riding quality of a bicycle, as the most basic, fundamental starting point in designing and developing a high-performance bicycle for touring.  Touring bicycles are far more than just a frame and the components attached to it.  Functionally, I see a touring bike as a broad composite of a frame and components, wheels, racks, panniers and all of the gear and food carried on a bike.  Of all of those things, it is the design of wheels and the amount of gear, and how well that gear is distributed and secured on the bike, that has the greatest impact on performance.  The role of thoughtful gear selection, which is played by the person for which a custom bike is designed, is absolutely critical.  I would suggest that before you think about purchasing a bike from me that you spend some time considering your crucial part in the design and development of the bike.  You can make a big difference in its potential relative to performance.  I encourage you to spend some time in the Advanced Touring Method section of this website.

All of the frames that I build are constructed with steel tubing utilizing a silver-brazing process and external lugs.  There is a wide range of information in this website regarding many of the finer points, and some of the extremely fine details, of building bicycle frames with lugs, both structurally and aesthetically.  In general, the frames that I am currently building are all very highly customized.  Each frame in many respects is quite different from all others, and each lugged frame is executed in a very personalized way for each of my individual customers.  This approach is in great contrast with very basic, ordinary production frames.  Production lugged frames are those that have been, historically, mass-produced or built on a very limited scale by individual builders, with very little variation, or in the exact same way from frame to frame.  In the building of most frames there is a focus upon keeping the details of frame construction relatively simple, or as simple as possible, to maximize the profitability of frame building.  This approach is exactly the opposite of my own approach, which is based upon creating the highest level of personal and individual details.

Even the most simple lugs that I design for my Standard-Level custom frames are dramatically more involved, to create, and individualized than in almost all other lugged frames. My normal process in creating lug designs is to weld pieces of tubing to a chopped-off lug point (I brazed this one to show the joint where it was cut off) which are then hand-shaped. This Standard-Level lug with a very long needle point is what I use, with individual variation, in my least expensive frames. Such lugs are very, very time-consuming to create.
Another version of the Standard-Level design of a needle-point lug. This one has a simple inlay of Goldstone, which in sunlight looks like a stone with a shiny metal-flake finish.

Almost all frames that have been built by companies large and small, from Trek and Raleigh and Univega and Panasonic to Rivendell, and from Schwinn and Miyata and Bianchi and Cinelli to Waterford frames, are production frames built to varying degrees of simplicity and quality.  Regardless of quality, the frames are not personalized or customized.  Among touring bicycles, all production bikes are coupled with racks and panniers that are poorly designed and built, and that are generally a complete afterthought in the design of the bike.  Such bikes reflect very low levels of performance while often being absurdly overweight.

The widely customized lugged frames and bicycles that I build are in an altogether different dimension.  They are carefully personalized, distinctive and refined in their design and detailing.  At their most extreme, which would include all (2013) of the frames that I'm now building, the details of frame construction are anything but simple and no two bikes are ever remotely alike.  All frame components (lugs, fork crowns, bottom bracket shells) and fittings (fork and stay tips, rack mounts etc.) are elaborately altered from their original form to develop a creative, individualized frame for each customer for which a frame is built.

Within custom lugged frames and bicycles, there is an extremely wide range of quality in their execution as it relates to craftsmanship, diversity of designs and details, and in their performance.  I consider my current frames and bicycles to be a very advanced blend of high-performance design and very unique creativity.             

I design all bicycle frames individually for each of my customers using their body measurements that I've taken myself or that I have received from each person.  I make a full-scale drawing of each frame and I select tubing based upon a rider's weight, the amount of gear that they will be carrying and the conditions in which their touring bike will be ridden.  I use a number of different types and brands of tubing in the construction of the frames.  Reynolds 725 and True Temper (hardened) tubing is commonly used, but I'm not partial to any particular brand.  My choice is based upon individual design.

By nature I'd say that my frames are conservative in design.  By that I mean that I focus on making frames as comfortable within a frame design as I can.  I see no reason to make a touring frame into a criterium racing frame.  Comfort is important in long-distance touring.  I like to use head tube angles that are not steep, between 70 and 72 degrees.  And I generally build frames that tend to have a fairly long wheel base and have chain stays that are on the long side: 45-47.5 centimeters, depending upon the bike model.  I try not to build frames that are extremely stiff, even in expedition frames.  I don't want to build frames that produce a bone-jarring ride.   

As a custom builder I mix and match designs (frame models).  Sometimes it's hard to define which model that I'm building because I may use, for instance, a wider fork crown and longer chain stays in my Randonneur 700 Lite model.  And if I do, then is it a Randonneur frame or a RD/EX 700 Ultima Tourer?  I've built a number of Expedition 26 and RD/EX 700 frames with lightweight tubing because they were built as road frames with a long wheel base, and not for expedition touring.  Nothing that I build is set it stone, model- or material-wise.  All of my frames, racks and panniers are very highly customized.

A touring bike is a load-carrying bike.  The better the racks and panniers of a touring bicycle are designed, the better a touring bike is going to perform.  What will allow a bicycle to be pedaled down the road much more freely, smoothly, efficiently and easily is the amount of gear carried on the bike and the ability of racks and panniers to neutralize the impact of that gear on the overall performance of the bicycle.  There is a lot of information regarding gear selection and the function of racks and panniers in this website.  If you contact me about purchasing a touring bike, I'll ask you to read about my AVANCED TOURING METHOD first so that you will have a better understanding of how to determine the types and sizes of panniers that you'll need. 

If you select touring gear carefully, you may then reduce its weight and volume so that a single pair of panniers can be used in many types of touring. Even very lightweight panniers and racks can be used when both front and rear systems are required, such as in tandem touring, and some types of expedition touring. The high-performance Hummingbird IFT rack/pannier system (one rack and two panniers) of this touring bicycle weighs only 36 ounces in combined weight.
The weight of the rear system is even lighter. The weight of the Hummingbird IFT rack and 18" panniers is only 34 ounces altogether.

To me, the whole purpose of designing and building custom touring bicycles is to offer consumers a product, as a high-performance alternative, that is in a much different dimension than other bicycles.  With that in mind I only sell the panniers and racks that I design and make with the touring bicycles that I build.  Some of the basic functions of my panniers that set them apart from all others are in how they enhance the performance of a touring bicycles are:

  • Extreme reductions in weight.  Panniers that weigh as little as 18 ounces per pair.  Large-volume tandem panniers  under two pounds per pair.
  • Vastly superior mounting systems.  All mass-produced panniers simply have very poor mounting systems that do not provide a foundation of stability.
  • Highly effective dual- and triple-compression systems.  Mass-produced panniers rarely have compression, and when they do, it performs ineffectively.
  • A lateral loading design.  I design my panniers so that they can be carefully loaded from the rack outward. This design keeps the heaviest gear very close to the rack.
  • Pannier depth.  I make panniers much more narrow than other makers by designing each pannier model in multiple vertical sizes.  The taller panniers are, the more narrow they may be, and the lower they can be on rear racks.
  • Compartmental depth.  In conjunction with a lateral loading design, and to maximize its potential, I customize compartmental designs.  I make the interior compartment (the one next to the rack) of the panniers as narrow as two inches deep, to keep heavy gear close to the rack as possible.
  • Fore/aft loading design.  Each pannier model has a zip-out vertical divider that creates two sections, fore and aft, in each pannier compartment.  Depending upon pannier model and size, compartments are split 50/50, 40/60 or 33/67.  In rear panniers the heaviest gear goes forward in the 33% compartment.  This is important as loaded panniers are cantilevered off the rear triangle of a bike frame.  Concentrating weight in the forward section of the panniers reduces the potential for frame flex and instability.  The 50/50 compartment design of front panniers is instrumental in countering frame shimmy.
  • Vertical loading design.  The design of my panniers forces them to be loaded from the bottom up in all compartments.  This allows gear to be lower, especially in the tallest version of each pannier model.
  • Anti-shimmy design.  If you ride your bike unloaded and there is no frame shimmy, and then load it and there is, chances are good that you have loaded it incorrectly.  The vertical, lateral and fore/aft loading designs of my panniers are combined as a great way to counteract frame shimmy through very precise gear location and finely tuned loading.

When you order one of my touring bicycles we will discuss pannier models, pannier length, compartmental depth, type of mounting system, type of stiffening plates, fabric types, zipper type and any custom colors or features you may want.