Now that I have this bike, how do I get it tourable? Not just tourable but Little Monster TOURABLE! Outfitting a small bike (lets say for someone 5’4 or under) has its own, sometimes unforeseen, challenges so I’ll cover some of those and what I did to get around them.
Clean, clean, clean and basic maintenance.
If you are getting a used bike on the cheap, chances are you will have to do some maintenance to it, but thats ok. It will make it feel like YOURS. A good cleaning and re-greasing will do wonders. Little touring Monsters drive train was covered in grease that had sat there for years.
Cleaning is pretty basic but a couple of tips I have:
- If you have older brifters on there that feel a bit sluggish or resistant, don’t assume you need new ones. If these bikes have been used for what they were made for, they probably have a bunch of dust and dirt in there. Take a can of aerosol degreaser like Liquid Wrench and shoot it in there till it comes out clear. This will hopefully remove a bunch of old grease and dirt. Then relube it by spraying in Finish Line Dry Teflon lube.
- The rear cassette is always a pain to clean. My tip is to simply settle in, it takes a while. Get your favorite beverage, put a show on netflix, take the wheel off, put a towel on your lap and start cleaning. I get an old t-shirt as a rag and just fold it over to a clean section and run it through each gear. Having some q-tips is also handy. Remember, clean the chain at the same time or else it will just get the gears all crappy again. It might be quicker to take the chain off and scrub it with a toothbrush in the kitchen sink.
If it has sat un-ridden forever, I immediately change the brake pads to some salmon colored ones. Brake pads get hard through the years and salmon tends to work better in my opinion. Each new old bike will have its own special snowflake things to work out and that’s part of the adventure.
Ride it, then mess with it.
Once you have done the basic maintenance and got it riding decently. This is a good time to put some miles on it and think about how it fits you before investing in racks and fenders. Replacing the stem is quick, relatively easy and low cost investment to make a bike feel larger or smaller; little touring monster had this crazy high stem on it when I got it. Apparently, the person who owned it before me was too big for the bike and tried to compensate. Changing that totally improved the feel and look of the bike.
Another thing I like to look at immediately when buying a used bike is making sure the crank length is short leg appropriate. A lot of times they will just be a generic (normal height person) standard length.The length will be on the inside of the arm. I don’t use any crank arms longer than 165mm. This will help with knee pain and not wasting energy making your legs go in a larger circle than they need to. Professional bike fittings are also totally worth the money, especially on something you may be spending long days on.
Ok, now you’re happy with how it fits and are ready to invest some dough get fenders. Trust me, you want long fenders. Not only do they keep your feetsies (yes I said feetsies) dry, but they also help to keep your drivetrain clean and that makes both you and your bike happier. The cleaner your bike is, the longer it takes for derailleurs, chains, bottom brackets, and gears to wear out. If you’re thinking “Hey, I can just go without on my SUPER EXTREME ADVENTURE BIKE” (takes a drink of Mountain Dew), this is a good article about how fenders are awesome, even on a gravel bikes.
Let’s talk about fenders specifically for small bikes. If you followed my advice when looking for a small touring bike, you have some small wheels, probably 26″, and that can make finding fenders that fit a bit tougher. Don’t worry, it’s worth it to have wheels that are relatively sized to the frame, promise. I am also a ridiculous princess when it comes to the color of my bike accessories; I NEEDED silver and would sacrifice some weight to have that. I also really like how metal fenders can take more of a beating and the rolled edges reduce more side-spray then plastic. Don’t take my word for the superiority of metal (I was more of a punk girl myself anyway) take this guys. As for what brand, I am a huge fan of Tanaka and Velo Orange fenders. On this bike I put on the VO Smooth 2″ 60mm. I found with these a max tire width of 2″ works best. On another bike I have Tanaka 2″ 60mm fenders, I can eeek out a tire width of 2.3 under those but its very tight and the holes for the hardware are not pre-drilled. Both of these are aluminum, sturdy, and super classic looking. If you dont have monster wide tires and just cushy wide tires and want more pattern/color choices, you can also put on 650b fenders. Be warned though, it takes way more bending/fussing and don’t blame me when you throw your bike out the window in aggravation. The only bad about fenders, other than the added weight, is that you will probably have to get slightly smaller tires to have room for the fenders, but that difference isn’t really noticeable. You want at least 10mm between your tire and fender sizes, especially if you plan on going through gravel.
Get some storage!
Now racks get a bit more interesting depending on where you want your weight, what braze-ons you have on your bike and, as established by now, your smaller wheels. People say ideally your weight should be evenly distributed front to back, but I do closer to 33% up front and 66% in the back. You want at least some weight in the front, if it’s all in the back it will feel hella squirrely. A problem I encountered with using a front rack is that my handle bars are very narrow to fit my small shoulders so it is harder to fit things between them. I wanted a rando bag for touring, I really liked all the slots and being able to easily reach in for snackies or arm warmers while riding, but found with integrated shifters (brifters) it bunks the side of the bag and makes it pretty impossible to shift.
To solve that I switched out my brifters for brake levers and bar end shifters. I found it totally worth it with a couple of added benefits. One, it is much easier to find compact brake levers for small hands than compact brifters and being able to get more of my hand wrapped around it gives me way more braking power. It was completely noticeable and my hands were just more comfortable on long rides. There are two compact brake levers I recommend: for pure comfort Cane Creek Compact is the best but frankly, the little lizards on them drive me nuts so I got Tektro RL341. Yes, I sacrificed a bit of comfort to not have tiny amphibians on my brakes. Two, bar end shifters are just so simple with less mechanical parts to go wrong when you are in a bunch of dust out in the boonies.
I got the Swift Industries Ozette Randonneur Bag and totally recommend it. They also came out with the light weight hinterland version. Velo Orange also has a good rando bag but with less fun colors. If you get a rando bag, you will probably have to get the small or medium size to fit in between your bars but even that has plenty of room. If you get a basket most of the time they will be shorter then your levers but if the one you get isn’t just cut out the part that the lever is hitting with a dremel.
Ok, so now that I created some room between the drop bars by ditching the brifters time to put on my front rack. If you are going to live the rando bag life really want to stabilized to the rack with a decaleur. Most decaleur’s attach from the mount on the fork below the headset then to the bag. Fun fact/pain in the ass with small frames is that mass produced decaleurs will not be long enough for the space between the headset and where the bag would be. You got to get a rack with an integrated decaleur or pay hundreds of dollars for a custom decaleur but that’s just silly. I learned this after I bought a rack without a integrated decaleur and ended up switching to a different rack. Learn from my pain. Needing an integrated decaleur narrows down your front rack options to only two, both Velo Orange, one for front panniers, one without. I got the VO Pass Hunter Rack that mounts to the Canti’s and am 100% stoked on it. If you want to use front panniers and need a rack that mounts to the fork eyelets. 90% of all racks (totally made up that number but that’s what it feels like) are made for 700c wheels. Most racks will say compatible with 26″ or 700c but, unless it has different holes on the tang (the bottom part that attaches to your fork braze-on), it’s really for 700c. 700c racks can be put on a small wheel with extra long stays but then it hovers ridiculously high over your wheel like a UFO that just can’t decide to land. I recommend VO Campeur front rack, it has the integrated decaleur and multiple holes in the lower tang for 26″, 650b or 700c. If you have 26″ wheels all you have to do is cut off the bottom two holes and use the top one.
Bam, totally fits to your small wheels. UFO has landed! If you are using front panniers and going basket life (don’t need a decaleur) the Nitto Campee comes in three specific sizes (26″, 650b, 700c) so you don’t have to cut off the extra tang but an extra $150.
Ok, rear racks. Really pretty much the same thing but for the badunk-a-dunk. When you figure out a front rack that you like, there is a rear version, just get that. This blog is already too damn long. I use VO Constructeur Rear Rack. It’s small, clean, attaches to fender, and can hold a large amount of weight.
Don’t want to use Pannier’s? Bikepack!
The biggest pain in the ass about bikepacking with a very small frame is you will be screwed when it comes to finding a production frame bag. The generic ones (not model specific) do not come that small. Even if by the grace of the force you found a frame bag that fits the main triangle there just wont be enough room for decent storage capacity and multiple water bottles. So when I bikepack I put a tiny upside down Jerrycan full of tools between my water bottles and then compensate with the largest volume seat bag out there, the Ortlieb Seat-pack. Little in the middle, but she got much back.