Can one bike fill my LONG list of requirements for extended touring and bikepacking?
Starting with a blank page, I have compiled what I need in a bike for extended touring – and then built the bike to match. You might be surprised with the bike that I chose!
When you think of bicycle touring, what comes to mind? Traditional touring has been associated with a strong, steel-framed bike, most often with triple chainrings and 27 or 30 gear combinations. This bike is typically equipped with front and rear racks with two sets of panniers, plus a combination of other bags. Riders have been circling the globe on similar bikes for more than 100 years. There is obviously nothing wrong with the traditional touring bicycle. I have one and it has served me well, including the recent 467-mile tour of Iowa on RAGBRAI 2021. Established brands like Trek, Surly, REI, and Fuji continue to sell sturdy, simple, and reliable touring bicycles in this age of carbon fiber and electronic derailleurs. Their motto: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
But over the years, my touring destinations have changed and now include more unpaved roads. This has changed how my touring bike is constructed and equipped. I still own a steel road/touring bike with 700c wheels that I swap between 28mm and 32mm tires, an aluminum gravel bike with 700c x 38mm tires, an aluminum mountain bike with 27.5” x 2.1” tires, and an aluminum fat bike with 26” x 4.9” tires. I can use all these bikes for overnight adventures on appropriate roads and trails.
However, I had the itch to build a bike that could be the best all-purpose, all-road touring machine. This bike would be capable of trips from a week to months on end. Here were my main considerations:
1. I wanted the lightest possible frame and fork but without sacrificing durability and without breaking the bank. The answer was 6061 aluminum. Titanium is lighter but much more expensive and harder to find. Since this is a bike for long-distance tours and not a single-track racer, I eliminated the suspension fork in favor of a traditional fork. I also selected an aluminum fork versus the trendy carbon-fiber fork for bomb-proof dependability. Of course, the frame and fork must be designed to accept front and rear pannier racks.
2. I wanted the most versatile and strongest wheel set. My choice was 650b wheels built with tubeless-ready rims. Many people have the mistaken idea that 700c or 29er wheels are always faster than 650b. They would be surprised to learn that 650b wheels with 47mm tires have essentially the same diameter as 700c wheels with 32mm tires. That means the same gear ratios and revolutions at the same speeds. But with a slightly smaller rim and shorter spokes, the 650b wheelset is lighter and stronger than 700c wheels – an important advantage for both competitive riding and extended touring.
3. 650b tires (or 27.5-inch) are available in a huge range of widths and tread patterns. While I was designing this bike for extended bikepacking, I also wanted the option to use the same bike for long-distance gravel grinders. My standard tires have a mixed tread for on and off the pavement. I wanted the option to switch to slicks for road tours or heavier knobbies for long trail rides. My drop bar “race-ready” gravel bike was never comfortable, literally a pain in the neck. This touring bike would have flat bars for comfort over for long days in the saddle, whether multiday bikepacking adventures or 100-mile plus endurance events. The proper bike fit is the first step in comfort. Tires also contribute to comfort, and it has been proven that smooth is fast. The trend for the top gravel racers is wider, more supple tires that are less punishing over longer courses.
4. To further enhance comfort, I wanted a set of handlebars with a slight rise and back sweep to provide the most natural hand position. To reduce weight, I planned to install a carbon fiber seat post to absorb road vibrations.
5. I wanted a front dynamo hub. Today, we travel with a cell phone, cameras, and navigation computers – all requiring recharging. In addition, I wanted the option of lights for dawn and dusk as well as safety on high traffic roads at midday. The dynamo powers the headlight while I am moving and can be switched to directly charge a storage battery which I can then use to recharge any of my electronics.
6. Finally, I wanted the most reliable and maintenance-free drivetrain. As an experienced bicycle traveler and a former bike shop manager, I can fix anything on a bike and have repaired or replaced many chains, spokes, freewheels, derailleurs, and crank sets over the years. The first requirement was tubeless tires. Not only do tubeless tires eliminate pinch flats, but they are also self-sealing for most thorn or road debris punctures. Like your car or motorcycle, larger punctures can often be plugged without removing the wheel.
But the main specification I demanded was a maintenance-free and sturdy gear drive. After considering the hub options, I chose the center-mounted Pinion drive with a Gates carbon belt.
By choosing the Pinion drive, I eliminate spare chain links, a chain tool, and chain lube. I also eliminate the need to carry a spare derailleur hanger – the weak link on all drivetrains. In contrast, I do pack along a spare drive belt. But this is offset by reducing my time-consuming and grimy daily (or twice daily) chain maintenance on dusty roads. My enjoyment of touring on lightly-traveled unpaved roads and remote trails is ruined by greasy chains and clogged cassettes and derailleurs.
My selection: Priority Bicycles 600, a model designed to be a performance daily commuter, road rambler, and gravel grinder in one precision package.
The Priority 600 features the 12-speed Pinion Gearbox with the new DS2 rotary shifter. This is an automotive-inspired drive created by two former Porsche transmission engineers in Stuttgart, Germany. The Priority 600 bicycle is named after the Pinion’s massive 600% gear range that is equivalent to a traditional 30-speed bicycle. Most importantly, the fully-enclosed gearbox offers unmatched versatility and dependability.
But that is only the beginning of a long list of advantages of the Pinion drive. Other advantages include:
1. There is no gear overlap. Each of the 12 gear ratios is unique, with no duplication common with multiple front chainrings.
2. The spacing of the 12 gear ratios is precise due to the small planetary gears versus the larger cogs on a chainring and cassette. First gear is also engineered with a super low “granny” for power on long mountainous climbs.
3. Shifting is fast, precise, and silent due to the meshing planetary gears inside the sealed, oil-bath gearbox.
4. The Pinion drive is engineered to be robust AND maintenance-free. It is sealed for year-round, all terrain riding in even the worst conditions. Maintenance is limited to a quick change of a few ounces of gear oil once a year. Riders around the world have logged incredible mileage, exceeding 50,000 miles on the Pinion drive!
5. The Pinion drive is controlled by a simple twist shift. Unlike conventional derailleurs – which must be shifted while pedaling – you can shift the Pinion gearbox while moving or stopped. Simply stop pedaling for a split second to shift one or more gears effortlessly. You can also shift two or more gears at a time – up or down – as you climb and descend hills.
6. The Pinion gear box is integrated into the lowest point in the center of the frame for optimum balance. The result is a lower center of gravity. But the frame construction for the Pinion gear box also maximizes the stiffness of the rear triangle, meaning that the bicycle frame is over-built for loaded touring and climbing hills under maximum stress.
7. The rear hub has a single drive cog. This means that there is zero offset of the spokes when paired with the disc rotor on the opposite side. On a conventional rear wheel with cassette, the drive side spokes are shorter and under more strain. 99% of broken spokes will be on the freewheel side of the rear wheel – and the single drive cog on the Pinion-equipped 600 eliminates this hassle, plus the need to carry another size of spokes and cassette removal tools.
8. Paired with the maintenance-free Gates Carbon Drive belt, you have the smoothest, quietest, and most efficient package on the road. The belt drive not only eliminates gear and chain noise, it is actually many times stronger than chain drives. The Gates Carbon Dive will outlast many chains – especially the newer, thinner 12-speed chains found on many bikes today.
The Priority Bicycles 600 is a great platform for extended touring with all the advantages of the Pinion sealed gear drive. But it fills my other requirements, as well. This is a bike that can not only handle local rides but is capable of extended touring, including light off-road adventures. Look at these additional features:
· The Priority 600 has a high-quality 6061 aluminum frame and tubular fork. It is engineered with internal cable routing, mounts for water bottles and front and rear pannier racks, and 360-degree visibility with Priority reflective decals.
· The 600 is equipped with Tektro Hydraulic Disc brakes for all-season stopping power.
· Low rise handlebars with a comfortable back sweep are included. Priority also equips the 600 with top-of-the-line Ergon grips.
· 650b wheels are standard. I will replace the stock WTB Horizon street tires with WTB Byway mixed tread gravel tires during the conversion to tubeless. Priority uses WTB ST rims with double walls and reinforced spoke ferrules for dependable strength under load. The 25mm interior width is perfect for the standard 47mm tires, but can accommodate wider tires to 50mm for rough, off-road adventures down to 32mm for fast, lightweight touring or gravel grinders.
· An integrated dynamo hub is standard equipment. (It is possible to spend over $500 to have an aftermarket wheel with a dynamo hub custom-built for a new bike!) This hub powered dynamo provides lighting with USB charging capabilities.
· A rear stay-mounted kickstand is included for easy parking and loading. (I will remove this for any competitive endurance events.)
· Durable composite full fenders are included for protection from dirt and mud while commuting or touring. Personally, I will immediately remove the fenders – but someone who needs a clean bike for commuting will appreciate them. In my case, the rear rack serves the same purpose and I have had bad experiences with fenders clogging in the mud. Removing the fenders also makes room for tires up to 50mm – crossing over into the MTB selections in 27.5”.
· Priority sweetens the deal by including an upgraded carbon fiber seat post at no charge!
Below is a full listing of the Priority Bicycles 600 specifications:
Dave, the founder of Priority Bicycles, outlines the many features of the 600 in this video:
After receiving and assembling my new bike, this is my overview after the first ride on the new Priority 600:
Note: Riders who don’t venture far off the paved road will be happy with the standard WTB Horizon tires. It has a smooth centerline for easy rolling, and herringbone sidewalls for traction and cornering stability. Riders have reported thousands of miles of trouble-free performance with the WTB Horizon tire. Converting to tubeless eliminates pinch flats with inner tubes and is self-sealing for punctures by thorns and most road debris. Tubeless tires also shave off a few ounces per wheel, which improves acceleration and saves energy.
In my opinion, the 47mm WTB Horizon tires are too wide for efficient touring on paved roads. When I gear up for the next RAGBRAI or extended tour on paved roads, my plan is to switch to 650b x 38mm street tires. (You may have better luck searching for 27.5" x 1.5" tires - which are exactly the same size!) The Panaracer Gravel King is one popular option that will fit perfectly on the 23mm WTB rims of the Priority 600:
But most of my riding avoids pavement whenever possible, and seeks gravel routes for touring. Not only is the traffic a mere fraction of paved highways, but the scenery and wildlife sightings are many times better. Therefore, when touring a route that is more than 50% gravel, I choose a tires with a mixed tread. This combination tread is also perfect for many of the competitive gravel grinders that I ride. While many "gravel bikes" are fitted with 700c wheels, the 650b x 45mm wheel and tire has virtually the same outer diameter. But the added traction and cushy ride can actually be faster. Smooth is more comfortable, which means smooth is FAST! With a slightly smaller rim and shorter spokes, the 650b wheelset is lighter and stronger than 700c wheels – an important advantage for both competitive riding and extended touring.
My choice for most of my recreational rides, gravel grinders, and mixed surface touring is the Pirelli Cinturato 650b x 45mm, set up as tubeless on the WTB rims. This mixed tread tubeless tire has better traction AND is lighter than the stock WTB Horizon slick tire and inner tube.
The Priority 600 is not a mountain bike. But that doesn't mean it won't handle non-technical trails. If I was bikepacking a route that was 100% unpaved, especially back country routes with larger rocks and deeper mud, I would swap to a more aggressive tire like the WTB Venture 650b x 50mm with a more aggressive tread.