Don’t call it a throwback!
For better and occasionally for worse, my bicycle is now a huge part of my identity. This is something I’m proud of; this site has a lot to do with it, and I’ve had experiences on the bike that I wouldn’t be the same person without.
On another website I frequent, BikeForums.net, a user named ‘forresterace’ did a retrospective of his touring bike. I thought it’d be a neat experiment to do the same. It’s also a case study in non-drive side bike photography, and I’m sorry for that.
Let’s begin; once upon a time, a scrawny kid bought a bike…
A Raleigh Touring Bike Retrospective
Now, I didn’t go out looking for a touring bike; the bike found me. At a local shop, I went in and played the role of the worst customer in history. Here’s what I asked for:
- I want a “road bike.”
- I also want to be able to go off-road.
- It should be a durable commuter.
- It should be as fast/light as possible.
- It should be “a little too big for me.”
When you find this bike, tell me. I feel like I’ve been trying to build it for four years. I have no idea what I’m doing.
I thought I wanted a really tall road bike, and I was mostly right. The shop introduced me to a ‘touring’ bike, which I had never heard of, but I was very, very romanced by the idea of going on long-distance adventures, so I was sold. In retrospect (it is a retrospective, after all), my parameters were pretty entertaining. Enter the Raleigh Port Townsend:
Drop bars, steel frame, wide tires, and a compact double. It wasn’t the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy at 30lbs, but it was capable!
My shop (correctly) put me on a frame that was still within my height range, but 59cm was pushing it for 6’0″ me. I probably should have gone with a 57cm. Still, I was in love, and nicknamed it “Bikeasaurus Rex.” It was a really, really tall bike…
This is the earliest picture I’ve got. The bike predates my photography days.
At this point, the bike is almost entirely stock, save for a Deore Rear Derailleur and Cassette that was swapped in when I purchased the bike, just to get a little more climbing range out of the compact double. I had done about 1000 miles of daily riding over about a year and a half before this picture was taken directly before a 1,500 mile bike tour (my first!). I had just started getting into camping, and since it was midsummer, I decided to go ultralight with 8 pounds of stuff. It was easier for my bad foot, and made for a really fun tour.
The bike was stolen and recovered (a lesson learned) and the fenders were ripped off, so those were gone before the 2012 tour. Good riddance!
Here we are, about a year later; 2013. I was prepping for a winter tour through Canada, which hiccuped. Those yellow Ortlieb panniers were on Jimmy’s bike for the whole 2012 tour, so they were plenty broken in by this point. I was still riding light, having only about 18lbs of stuff for this tour. The Revelate Designs Tangle framebag fit the massive space in my frame much nicer than the previous Jandd Frame Pack, too. I replaced the wheels with some Mavic 719 rims on Shimano XT/Ultegra hubs, which were a considerable upgrade from the stock wheelset, which I rode into the ground.
I crashed pretty much as soon as I got to Canada, wrecking the front fork. Damn.
Wait, not damn! For some reason, I went with an XT front hub so I had the option of putting on a disc brake at a later date. Mere months after this strange judgement call, my wrecked fork meant I could install a Surly Long Haul Trucker Disc fork and upgrade to an Avid BB7 for the front wheel. This was a really awesome upgrade, especially for winter riding.
Sadly, I crashed again on a tour of the Front Range of the Rockies in Colorado, wrecking my front wheel and losing about a square foot of skin…
I went home and replaced the wheel. By the summer of 2014, I had also upgraded my brake levers and rear derailleur (now Shimano XT).
My girlfriend started touring with me, so my carry weight went up a bit with more spare parts, two-person gear, and a few luxuries. I started toying around a lot with load distribution.
Front-heavy loading worked really great, and is now my go-to for load distribution:
Especially with four panniers:
At this point, however, the hard life of bike touring and about 7,000 miles was starting to take a toll on my poor bike. Most of the damages were user error, the trials of owning my first bike and learning what not to do:
- My rear derailleur hanger was almost stripped.
- The seat post froze in the seat tube due to corrosion.
- The bottom bracket shell was heavily corroded.
- The limiter screws in the rear drop-outs were bent.
- The head tube was very slightly ovalized.
- The first fork was destroyed.
- The fenders were destroyed.
- The stock brake levers were destroyed.
- I was on my third drivetrain.
- One of the cross levers was toast.
That’s when Raleigh hooked me up, bigtime, with a replacement frame and a new rear brake. I was sad to see Bikeasaurus Rex go, but I swapped over all of the components, so it was almost the same bike! …Well, maybe not; the geometry was completely different. Different, however, was good.
Enter, River Phoenix!
With a 525 Reynolds steel frame and disc brake mounts, this was a really sweet upgrade. The frame had a couple of blemishes, so it didn’t get snatched up immediately like the other 50 custom blue frames made to commemorate the 2013 Single-Speed Cyclocross World Championships. It sat waiting in some back room at Raleigh headquarters, waiting for me.
It’s also perfect for ultralight bikepacking:
The frame was decidedly racy, with the same geometry as Raleigh’s competition bikes and a clean fork without eyelets. I had a little bit of work to do to turn it back into a touring bike, and that’s where I’m currently at:
Here’s more or less how the bike sits today. My front derailleur is gone, replaced with a 1×10 drivetrain for reduced maintenance. I swapped the front fork out with a beautiful Salsa Vaya chromoly straight blade, and the crankset is now upgraded Shimano Sora. I’ve got an Easton seatpost and the handlebars and stem will also be replaced with Salsa components this week, marking the last major upgrade for a while….I think.
It’s also got front and rear racks again (only the front is shown here).
Only one component remains from the original Port Townsend: my lone Dura-Ace 9-speed rear shifter, set to friction (of course), with a ripped rubber lever.
May it live forever.