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Suspension forks on Touring Bikes

Old 12-16-22, 10:57 AM
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arvin smee
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Suspension forks on Touring Bikes

I’m looking to build up a dedicated touring / adventure bike and was hoping to get some advice on suspension forks. Part of the reason I’m posting here is that I am having a really hard time finding info online on these questions, probably because my preferred set-up is rather weird.

The question:wherecan I find a steel touring frame that takes 29” wheels and has geometry for a 100mm suspension fork?

The Background: I’ve been biking for the last 25 years but pretty much stopped paying attention to things after I quit working in a bike shop circa 2002. In other words, I’m familiar with the basics but not the last 20 years of developments. I got into riding via mountain biking, so I developed a preference for small frames. When I moved to the city, I converted my mountain bike into a city bike, then later converted that into a touring bike. Hopefully that explains why my current set up is so weird:



(For perspective, I'm 6’ and the bike frame is 18”).I know this looks bizarre but I’ve done 150 mi days and week long trips without issue, it’s really worked out great for my purposes. And yes, that is whiskey in the behind the seat bottle. This was on this summer's bikepacking trip from Albany to Burlington and back.

I want to build a dedicated touring bike basically taking this set up but changing the following:
  • steel frame closer to standard sizing (but still a bit small) with a geometry halfway between mtb and touring
  • 29" wheels
  • dynohub
To pre-empt anyone making the case that I don’t need a suspension fork: on the one hand, I do appreciate that almost everyone has switched to rigid forks, but I really don’t get it. A suspension fork adds minimal weight vs rigid (~ 1 lb), greatly reduces fatigue, and can be locked out for climbs. My kit is pretty small, so I don’t need fork braze-ons. My tours tend to stay on roads or gravel bike paths, but I typically find myself taking rough dirt roads as well. As a result, I want skinny tires (1.5”) for the 80% of the time I’m on pavement but also something to soak up bumps for the other 20%. I know people worry about suspension fork reliability but I’m never doing more than 7 days on the road so it’s less of a concern for me.

All the frames I can find are suspension ready but built for mountain biking or not suspension ready and built for touring.
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Old 12-16-22, 11:39 AM
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Something made by surly would probably work. Krampus or karate monkey.

As for the need of a suspensuon fork, I really don't see tge need for road touring. Perhaps for really rough gravel roads a fork with maybe 40mm of travel would be appropriate but even then you'd easily get near the same effect with larger tires.

100mm is almost trail bike territory meaning fast descent on a rocky rooty singletrack.
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Old 12-16-22, 11:55 AM
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Chuck Naill
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I wouldn't need. Even on some easy trails I am able to stand on the pedals and be comfortable.
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Old 12-16-22, 12:03 PM
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What would you need to change from your Kona to make an "adventure/touring" bike?
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Old 12-16-22, 12:03 PM
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Karate Monkey is set up for 140mm of travel, it seems like most mtb frames are built for rigid forks or longer travel forks.

100mm is probably a big much, but I was just thinking that made sense as it’s to shortest travel mtb fork you can get (as far as I know).

The thing is that on my trips I’ll have an 80 mile day on nothing but paved roads, but the last 5 miles is up a rocky closed forest road to get to a nice place to camp. The big tires would slow me down for the on road section and don’t help that much on the rocky road unless I air down (which requires me to air back up when I’m back on pavement.) A suspension fork doesn’t slow me down on pavement (besides adding a pound) and makes the rocky road much nicer.

I’ve done the Pittsburgh to DC ride a few times and the fork made a huge difference on some of the rougher sections of the C+O. I tried out my buddy's Bridge Club for a few miles on one of those rides and found it not nearly as comfortable.

I’m wondering if the kind of riding I do is different than most. I stick mostly to roads to get from point A to B but will get into some rather gnarly stuff in order to find a primo campsite. So the wide semi-knobby tires you see on bikepacking set ups won’t cut it, nor will the road-centric Euro style suffice.
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Old 12-16-22, 01:22 PM
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I would like at any number of adventure bikes and put one of the Fox Taper Cast forks or the RockShox Rudy forks or the MRP Baxter forks if I am desperate for a suspension fork. However really I would rather just have a nice steel fork or carbon fork and wide tires and maybe I am a tiny bit slower on the road, maybe but less chance of flats, more comfort and ease off road is worth it. A suspension fork can add a few pounds+. 1 pound not a big deal but you are probably working with some extremely prototype fork that won't hold up. Even the Fox Taper Cast fork I listed is 2.70 pounds and is pretty light, maybe not the lightest fork but certainly very close. To that end I would just get a Kinekt Seatpost and run the wider tires and be done with it.

I don't dislike suspension, I just find it not something I would want on a touring bike unless it was maybe purely off road 70-100% of the time. I would rather have more mounting points and wide tires and a little less weight.

Here is a random assortment of steel bikes worth looking at for touring:
https://tout-terrain.de/en/the-produ...es/expedition/
https://fairlightcycles.com/wp-conte...okbook-web.pdf
https://co-motion.com/collections/si...roducts/divide
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Old 12-16-22, 02:15 PM
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If you are touring off-road exclusively, I could understand adding front suspension. If you are on pavement mostly, the added weight is stupid to carry, is why few touring cyclists want a suspension fork. As well if you have a "real" touring bike the fork is likely to have eyelets to add a front rack and panniers, something a suspension fork generally cannot do easily. Yes, you can modify but PITA typically. You can add bike packing systems in place of a front rack and panniers, I suspect the carrying capacity is reduced.

For what you seem to want I would look at 29" hard tail mt. bikes that have drop bars (if that's your preference), yet can use about any suspension fork (they are not cheap as BTW, for decent models).

Last edited by Steve B.; 12-16-22 at 04:15 PM.
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Old 12-17-22, 07:58 AM
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Perhaps I missed it, but why do you want to switch to a new bike? Is having a steel frame the only reason?

Is the surly ogre 29er suspension ready? I know the troll is, but forget about the ogre.

As for your setup, I've toured on a similar setup and it works great, front suspension also.
For me the main drawback is front handlebar bag weight working the suspension more, but not a big deal. The real downside is of course NOT being able to do front panniers if you need more room---but fork mounted cages and stuff will give some storage volume.

Oh, and cost, a lighter suspension fork is always going to be a fair chunk of change.

Again the question, is stuff with out on your bike, is this the reason for change?

Last edited by djb; 12-17-22 at 10:46 AM.
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Old 12-17-22, 08:01 AM
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If you re-consider the 29 inch criteria and include 26 inch, I think that some but not all Surly Trolls could use a suspension fork, thus you would be looking at used and would have to know which years meet that criteria.

I do not know if Co-Motion builds anything like that, but if you wanted to spend a lot for custom, that might be an option.

If you consider titanium instead of steel, Lynskey might be willing to make some tweaks to one of their standard mountain bike frames to make it more to your liking.

There are suspension stems, the brand I have seen on the internet is Redshift. If you give up looking for exactly what you want, that could be a plan B.

If you were looking a couple years ago, I would have suggested you consider 26 inch wheels and then consider the Thorn Nomad Mk II, but that is now out of production. I tour on one with a solid fork but have used a 100mm suspension fork to convert it to a long wheelbase hard tail with drop bars. It was replaced by the Mk III version that is not designed for suspension forks, so no longer meets your criteria.
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Old 12-17-22, 08:07 AM
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I rode for a day on a tour in 2016 with an Italian, his bike is in the photo. I suspect it is aluminum, not steel. And I do not know if it has 26 or 29 inch wheels. My point is that you can tour on almost anything.



I do not know how he fitted the front rack to the fork, that was six years ago and I have forgotten.
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Old 12-17-22, 09:23 AM
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There are a few custom or high end companies in the USA that make what you want but as others said, a Surly version is probably closest. There are some European companies also do. This link is mainly for the Pinion gearbox (highly recommend) but shows a few "adventure" bikes with forks. https://pinion.eu/en/12-bikepacking-bikes/

I personally do about 25% off pavement (decent gravel or dirt, non technical) touring. I use a Redshift suspension stem https://redshiftsports.com/products/...uspension-stem and enjoy it. It only has about 20mm of travel but for me that is a good tradeoff as it lessens the worst bumps.

However, I would suggest you look at bikepacking setups as they are definitely more inline with what you are looking for. Many can add a rear rack now.
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Old 12-17-22, 10:10 AM
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Don't know what the OP's price range is, but you can get a very nice titanium from Habenaro, 29 or 27.5's, they offer a variety of suspension forks that don't break the bank. The rear triangle has eyelets for a rack. That would allow good sized pannier to be used and you can then figure out if you need or how to do front pannier (there are options for this). Habanero sells suspension forks with 100 mm of travel as well as gearing that is XT or Deore 2x in 11 or 12 spd., so you get good gearing options. You do not state if you want a drop bar (which complicates the gearing setup) or flat bar. Probably about $2500 with a less expensive basic fork.
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Old 12-17-22, 10:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN
I rode for a day on a tour in 2016 with an Italian, his bike is in the photo. I suspect it is aluminum, not steel. And I do not know if it has 26 or 29 inch wheels. My point is that you can tour on almost anything.
I do not know how he fitted the front rack to the fork, that was six years ago and I have forgotten.
Tourist and arvin, I bought a front rack on sale with adapters for clamping onto a suspension fork stansions (is that the word?) many years ago to go onto the fork on my old mountain bike. I still have it in the garage, but it was just so so quality, and I quickly realized that it wasnt worth using for the serious trips I was planning for the future. Seems to me Old Man mountain makes good quality front racks, but I do realize that you aren't interested in a front load--so yes, with all the bikepacking stuff out there now, you have lots of options if you need more space.
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Old 12-17-22, 01:53 PM
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Originally Posted by djb
Tourist and arvin, I bought a front rack on sale with adapters for clamping onto a suspension fork stansions (is that the word?) many years ago to go onto the fork on my old mountain bike. ....
A local shop several years ago had some Minoura brand racks at a great price that clamped onto the suspension cylinders too. I looked at one but decided I would never use it so did not buy it. It attached at the quick release skewer and I think it also attached at the canti brake posts. Something that attaches at the brake posts gives you an idea how long ago that was made.

Unfortunately Tubus no longer makes their suspension front rack. It hung from the upper part of the fork to minimize unsprung weight. I think the model was called the Swing. That is what is on the bike in the photo.

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Old 12-17-22, 02:07 PM
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The few times that I put a suspension fork on my Nomad Mk II (photo below), I really wished that I had a better suspension seatpost, something like the Thud Buster. The cheap one that I had was pretty ineffective. My point is that if you do not need a suspension seatpost, perhaps you just need a suspension stem instead of a suspension fork?



I was setting up the bike for a trip that did not happen so don't ask how this worked, the trip was canceled. The paper bag on the rear rack is a 10 pound paving brick to simulate food weight for a test ride. I bought the Carradry panniers for this (canceled) trip for the greater volume compared to my Ortlieb Backrollers.

More on stems and seatposts here:
https://www.cyclingabout.com/comfort...ms-handlebars/
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Old 12-17-22, 02:08 PM
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If it were me trying to use a bike with a front suspension fork I would get a bike with eyelets in the rear for a rack, use a rear rack with the larger of the Ortleib panniers, then use assorted bikepacking bags on the h-bar as well as fork to carry what would be less then a set of panniers on a front rack would offer.
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Old 12-17-22, 02:18 PM
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ya, I recall that tubus model.

btw, I looked up the Ogre, and pre 2017 it was designed with front suspension possible, but not afterwards. Same with the Troll, pre 2017 yes, but troll was discontinued in 2020.

arvin, there are tour divide dudes who use suspension fork bikes, but you'll have to check them out to see if they are appropriate for a heavy two pannier rear load, as these folks travel pretty light.
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Old 12-17-22, 04:43 PM
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If you want to check out tour divide bikes as suggested by DJB, here are a few links:
https://bikepacking.com/bikes/2022-t...e-rigs-part-1/
https://bikepacking.com/bikes/2022-t...e-rigs-part-2/
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Old 12-18-22, 06:39 AM
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From the photos I can't see if it can take a rear rack, other than that it looks like it meets your criteria.
https://bikepacking.com/news/readers...dyachtz-ab-st/
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Old 12-18-22, 10:33 PM
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Honestly, why not just stay with what is working? Your Kona is fully capable of doing what you want to do. You might change up the bags a bit and use bikepacking bags rather than panniers. I don’t like them as much as pannier and would never use them for road touring but for rugged to semi-rugged off-road touring, they work far better.

This is my setup for rugged bikepacking in the Colorado Rockies. I use it to go up and over mountain passes here that tend to be really rocky. It’s a Moots YBBeat that has a 1.5” travel on the rear wheel. It’s not a huge movement but enough to take some of the edge off the bumps. The fork is a 100mm Fox Float. It’s old but very capable and has a very good lockout for those sections of a trip where I don’t need the suspension.


This the kind of roads I ride on.



The configuration I use are constantly changing on different trips.



And here’s how I pack it.

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Old 12-18-22, 11:17 PM
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I know of 2 racks designed to be mounted on suspension forks.

Zefel Lowrider- https://www.zefal.com/en/racks/133-raider-front.html
Oops. I guess they call it the Raider now

Topeak Tetrarack- https://www.topeak.com/global/en/pro...5-TETRARACK-M1

Both mount on the lower stanchions, so they do not affect the suspension
I have the Zefel and works quite well, but can be finicky to mount.

There are numerous European touring bikes with front suspension (Cube, Radon), but they are aluminum frames
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Old 12-19-22, 12:33 AM
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Re steel vs aluminium, I ride both and if a aluminium frame is the best that fits your requirements, you may want to reconsider aluminium.

Arvin, what bikes have YOU considered?
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Old 12-19-22, 07:39 AM
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There are many options. Heck Id put an older 29er short travel fork on what you got and give it a try.

Ive wondered about the Priority 600X with gear box. No dangling derailleur.

https://www.prioritybicycles.com/products/600x

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Old 12-19-22, 12:20 PM
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https://www.bikeradar.com/news/niner...o-gravel-bike/
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Old 12-19-22, 02:30 PM
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That’s for the detailed responses everyone! That’s a lot to chew on.

Since a lot of people brought this up: like I said in the original post, I really don’t need front bags. I do a lot of ultralight backpacking and my kit is very small. That pic in the first post is on a 6 night trip, and that included a hammock AND a bivy set up (most of my camps were in the woods but I spent one night on a rocky summit). I bought most of my food but had a day’s worth on me at any given time.

Originally Posted by djb
Perhaps I missed it, but why do you want to switch to a new bike? Is having a steel frame the only reason?
A few reasons. While I’ve gotten used to my tiny frame, it’s way smaller than it should be, and I’d be more efficient if I had something that was closer to the “right” size. If I’m building a new bike, I’d like something comfortable and durable, which steel is. The 29” wheels should add additional comfort for rougher roads as well. I'd like to convert my Kona back into what I call a city bombing bike - built for weaving through traffic and jumping curbs when needed.

I checked and the new Ogre isn’t suspension ready – but the 2016 and earlier are! That would be perfect. And I can always switch to a rigid fork without too much trouble. Now I just gotta spend a few months checking CL and FB every morning till I find a good deal lol.
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