MTB to Tour



Converting a Mountain Bike to a Touring Bike
(Archived from 2004)

Details of the Modifications
Test Rides (before the frame work)
Frame Work 
Test Rides (after the frame work)
Final Bike Configurations
Breakdown of Costs

Before conversion.

After conversion - with flat bars.  

After conversion - with drop bars.  


My goal was to have what will normally be a mountain bike with straight bars, fat tires, and a shock fork, which can be converted to a touring bike (within relatively short notice) by installing drop bars, slick tires, and a rigid fork. The bike has S&S removable couplers which will allow the frame to be disassembled for air travel.

Why bother with converting the mountain bike to a touring bike? Why not buy a new or used touring bike with 700c wheels, cantilever brakes, and with all the brazeons already there to mount the racks and fenders?

I don't have anything against mountain biking, but my mountain bike (a 1993 Specialized Stumpjumper with front suspension) just didn't get a lot of use, compared to my other bikes. The main driving force behind converting the mountain bike instead of buying a touring bike was to save money.

Also, converting the mountain bike to a touring bike gave me one all-purpose bike that I can also take on some business trips, as well as overseas assignments. If I wish, I can take the both the flat and drop handlebars with me if I'm uncertain about how the riding will be at my destination.

For instance, when I lived in Thailand for a year, I brought my mountain bike and my road bike with me. The best riding over there was on smooth dirt farm roads - something for which a mountain bike with really fat tires was overkill, yet the road bike with skinny tires was not quite up to the task. Thus, a touring bike, or a mountain bike with drop bars, would have been ideal for that kind of riding.

Details of the Modifications

Although I am not a certified bicycle mechanic, I am familiar with most ascepts of bicycle maintenance (except wheel building) and have personally done all of the modifications described below.

I got a rigid fork at the local bike shop to replace my shock fork so that I could carry a front rack. My Dremel grinder accidentally ground off the "lawyer tabs" that supposedly hold the front wheel on if I forget to tighten the quick release. I had mid-fork brazeons added to the rigid fork in order to easily mount Blackburn mountain front rack with lowrider panniers.

I took the fat knobby tires off and replaced them with 26" x 1.0" slick tires (I have fatter ones for loaded touring). The smaller tires lowered the bottom bracket height to about 10 3/4", which is not a problem since I won't be criterium racing on this bike.

I replaced the mountain stem and the flat bars with a high rise stem and drop bars, in order to give me a similar fit to my road bike. I was able to find drop bars with a clamp diameter of 25.4 mm, which fit in a stem designed for mountain bars. Shimano Ultegra bar-end shifters and aero brake levers rounded out the rest of the controls.

To allow easy switching between flat and drop bars, I installed Bruce Gordon cable splitters for the derailleur cables. For the brakes, I replaced the standard Shimano straddle cables with a separate hanger and straddle cable. The cable can be unhooked from the hanger when removing the bars.

At first, I had problems getting the cantilever brakes to work with the aero levers - especially the rear brake. Normally, the rear brake cable rounds the bend from the top tube to the rear brakes using a piece of cable housing. On my Stumpjumper there was no cable housing for this bend -- there is a "noodle" on the frame which the brake cable and the gray plastic sleeve go through. The gray plastic sleeve was worn, causing excess friction, making it difficult for the rear brake lever to return to its normal position after releasing it. After changing out all the cable housing, the gray plastic sleeves, and the brake cables, the rear brake was a lot smoother. When I had the frame work done, I had the noodle removed, and a rear brake cable stop (with an adjuster barrel) fitted to the frame.

When using aero road levers with cantilever brakes, there are some issues concerning mechanical advantage in getting the brakes to work.  Sheldon Brown discusses the theoretical aspects in his page on cantilever geometry and talks about the more practical aspects in his page on cantilever adjustment.

To solve the brake lever problem, I originally used DiaCompe 287 aero levers which are designed for cantilever brakes.  These levers pull more cable than a standard aero road levers. However, I needed these levers for the tandem, so I decided use my Shimano 105 aero levers instead. I installed Shimano wide cable yokes for the brakes. These cable hangers are two inches wide; therefore, they allow the brake levers to pull more cable, avoiding the problem of the aero brake levers bottoming out on the handlebars.

Since then, I've picked up another pair of DiaCompe 287 levers and installed them on the drop bars.  I like the Shimano wide cable yokes, so I still kept them on.

Test Rides (before the frame work)

I took the bike out for a 10 mile test ride unloaded. Due to replacing the shock fork with a rigid fork, the steering felt a bit sensitive, but I got used to it after a while. I didn't feel as confident on the downhills compared to the road bike, though there was no wheel shimmy or anything dangerous like that. Otherwise, the bike rode fine.

I put a rear rack and lowriders on in order to test ride the bike fully loaded. I rode the bike down the nearest hill (12% grade), and the steering felt great at about 45 mph, with no shimmy. I took the bike for a fully loaded self-contained four-day tour, with no mechanical or handling problems.

Frame Work

The frame was retrofitted with S&S Couplers. I also had extra brazeons added to the frame before repainting.

The extra brazeons added to the frame were:
bulletmounts for a third water bottle cage
bulletrear rack mounts on the seat stays
bulletrear brake cable stop
bulletmid-fork front brazeons

Test Rides (after the frame work)

Other than the extra couple of ounces of added weight, I didn't even notice the couplers were there! The bike handled the same as I described in the Test Rides (after the frame work) section.

Final Bike Configurations

As a result of the modifications above, I have three configurations from which to choose.  In addition to two sets of handlebars, I have two sets of wheels, allowing for quick changeability between the first two configurations.  Setting up the bike for fully loaded touring involves dropping out the shock fork and installing the rigid fork.

Mountain bike:  flat bars, shock fork, 32 spoke wheels, 12-32 8 spd. cassette, optional rear rack

Light touring/commuting:  drop bars, shock fork, 36 spoke wheels, 11-32 8 spd. cassette (home made from an 11-30 8 spd. cassette and a 14-32 7 spd. cassette), rear rack

Fully loaded touring:  drop bars, rigid fork, 36 spoke wheels, 11-32 8 spd. cassette, rear rack, front rack, front lowrider rack

A fourth configuration - flat bars with a rigid fork - is possible, but I don't really see a need for it at this point.

Breakdown of Costs

This is a breakdown of the costs (US dollars) in converting my mountain bike to a touring bike. The first table outlines the costs of the parts, and the second table gives the costs for the frame work.  In some cases where I've already had the parts, I've indicated an estimated cost if the part was new.  Also, I might have been able to find a builder to do the frame work for cheaper, but I was quite happy with the coupling install and the paint job - you get what you pay for.

Cost of Parts

Item Cost (US$) Remarks
Drop handlebars


Hi-rise hybrid stem


Ultegra bar end shifters


(already had them - $70 new)
Shimano 105 aero levers


(already had them - $30 new)
Shimano Wide Yokes (1 pr.) 


Rigid fork


(from local bike shop)
Front cantilever brakes (LX)


(local bike shop clearance sale)
Front brake pads - one pair


Front cable hanger


(already had - $10 new)
Avocet speedometer bracket


Slick tires and tubes


(already had $40 new)
Rear rack


(already had - $40 new)
Front lowrider rack


Front MTB rack




(already had - $20 new)
Cables and casing, bar tape, etc.


Total (excluding frame work)


Total if all parts were new



Frame Work


Cost (US$)





Couplings - Materials


Couplings - Installation


Backpack Travel Case




Total Frame Work




I would like to thank everyone on the (formerly mailing list who gave me advice on individual parts of the conversion, in particular Josh Putnam, Mark Sapiro, and Sheldon Brown. I would also like to thank Steve at S&S for his help.

Packing my S&S coupled bike for travel.

Page Last Edited (though probably not for content): 14 September 2010