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DIY - Remote Campsite Bike for Less Than $400

posted by Matt Pierce on August 09, 2017

My first mountain bike was a Bridgestone MB-5. I think I was sixteen. Getting off road was so much fun, there's something so tranquil about a bicycle and the woods. I ride slower these days, but found myself diving deep into those vintage mountain bikes lately. Bike technology has changed profoundly since those days, so there's some really good forgotten old-tech bikes out there. Some of that 'old-tech' is more beautiful too... like a USA made steel lugged frame! You don't see that on modern mass produced mountain bikes for sure. 

After looking for months, I came up on some really good candidates and an idea to create my own campsite mule... Which might even be a new category? I know there's modern bike camping and haulers too, but what about a bike that was made to take short rides for the sole purpose of reaching a campsite away from the car campers? We've always loaded canoes to escape the crowds, but there's a lot of bike camping sites in Oregon and that got me thinking.

1989 Trek 950 Mountain Bike

I'm calling this category campgroundonneuring. If you've heard of randonneuring, it's where cyclists tour long distances with all their own necessary gear on the bike. It's more of a touring road bike, but with racks, tools, emergency equip or whatever extras the organizers deem necessary. In campgroundonneuring, you travel short distances with hammocks, a hatchet and cast iron cookware. I'm oversimplifying randonneuring, but I think you get the idea. 

Back to my not really click-bait title... I have found that you can absolutely build one of these babies for under $400. Likes cheaper in some cases, certainly depending on what bike deal you start with. My biggest splurge was the saddle because I've always wanted a sprung Brooks. Maybe unnecessary, but they are so comfortable. I wedged some big balloony times to smooth out the roots and rocks, added some platform pedals and the biggest water bottle setup I could find.

USA made Trek outfitted for campsite hauling!

Here's my shopping list:

Bike - 1989 Trek, $100 on craigslist. Trek made a ton of bikes in this range, so there's a lot of them in circulation. The early ones have beautiful lugged USA made steel frames. Other searchable candidates are the Bridgestone MB series, Schwinn Paramount, early Specialized Stumpjumpers... and plenty more.

Saddle - Brooks flyer, $100. I run Brooks on all my bikes, so this was an easy choice.

Tires - Hutchinson Squale 2.25 x 26 and tubes, $70. I went with large, so I can run with low pressure and smoosh over rocks and roots. The 2.25 were the largest I could fit on this frame, and it's tight. Make sure you measure your bike to see if this size is possible. 

Racks - Two Blackburn Local Deluxe, $90. Good deal on an attractive, moderately tough rack. The rear works great, the front fit is weird. I had to install the plate backwards to clear the brakes and the angle of upper supports is not as rigid as I'd like. If my fork had more rake, it might've worked better. 

Water Supply - Velo Orange Mojave cage and Nalgene bottle, $42. A bottle cage that can handle 32oz Nalgene bottles!? I love it. 

With this setup, we're at a cool $402. I could have kept that sweet white leather Velo seat and been in the $300 range too. 

What have I learned?

1. This thing bounces like a lunar lander and steers like a forklift. BUT IT'S SO FUN.

2. Use lock-tite on your rack hardware and bring tools just in case. My first expedition wobbled them loose. A longer trip and I would have been unhappy.

3. Running giant bags is good for payload, but will definitely contribute to lively handling characteristics. Use non-stretchable tie downs. Bungies are fine for the campstool or sleeping bags, but anything heavier needs lots of strapping support. More lateral than front to back too... Shake that bag in all directions before venturing out.

4. Camp bikes RULE. My campsite had no one else in my entire view. Perfectly quiet, and there's no way I would have wanted to hike in with that iron skillet. 

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Packing heavy for bike camping.

Moonlit campsite at Timothy Lake, Oregon

Breakfast at camp. That cast iron skillet was not light.

Morning Timothy Lake views in Mt Hood National Forest

Strapped cargo, pedaling back to the car.

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