Crossing the Turkmen desert on my trusty Focus MTB

Crossing the Turkmen desert on my trusty Focus MTB who also guided me through Africa


Back in 2011, when I was planning my Asian trip, I didn’t had the money to buy a ‘real’ touring bike. So I modified a simple mountainbike which costed around 1000 euro. It ended up taking me across 50 countries, clocking up 50.000 km.

Thinking of making a touring bike? Here’s my advice to create a bullet proof machine.


  • Strong aluminium or steel frame
  • Rigid front fork, mine was a Surly Troll fork (suspension adds a lot of weight and is not neccesary for touring)
  • Wheels are key. Sturdy touring rims (like Ryde Sputnik), shimano LX hubs (no XT!), Sapim Force 3D spokes and prolock nipples make a very strong combination.
  • 3*9 drivetrain: the chain is the most important here. I always use the HG93, shimano’s 9 speed XT chain that is. It lasts 6000 km. Normally after this you have to replace your sprocket too, but this is heavy to carry with you. So it’s better to switch 2 chains every 2000 km which then wear evenly on the sprocket, making you do 12.000 km with 1 sprocket.
  • Octalink or square type bottom bracket: lasts 30.000+ km because the bearings are sealed. Very cheap too, bit heavy though.
  • Steel chainrings: last so much longer then aluminium ones! To save weight you might only have the middle (the one you use the most) in steel.
  • Tubus steel carriers: proven quality
  • V-brakes: simple and effective
  • Schwalbe tires: I got 22.000 km with my front Mondial tire and stillcounting. Proven quality too.
  • Don’t forget to check your position on the bike! I did and 3 days into my trip, I got a bad knee injury. Before you leave, make extensive try out trips to make sure your shoes, saddle and grips feel comfortable.
  • Oh, and give her a girls name, so you’re sure to threat her well


In 2016 I spent one year in Belgium, so I had a lot of time to get tempted and sort out some new gear. With a two year trip in South and North America in my mind (and probably many more after that), I thought I deserved having a real touring bike with no compromises. So I went shopping… Luckily I could control myself a bit… Behold the result: isn’t she a beauty?



Obviously, it’s great to assemble your own bike. So when you leave, you’re confident you can fix everything and that you have the right tools with you.


Those of you who are as big of a gear freak as me, will see some differences:

  • Drop bar instead of regular mtb handlebar: just love the ergonomy. Also nice to get in the drops with headwind or to race against locals 🙂
  • Mechanical disc brakes instead of V-brakes: in Africa I used a drop bar with V-brakes using ‘drop V’ brake levers from Tektro, but it lacked in stopping power. So now I switched to disc brakes. Setting them up was easy, but it will take some months on the road to be able to review them properly.
  • 29″ instead of 26″: I’ve been told these bigger wheels are faster, hard to say no to that rigth? This size of tires might be harder to find, but it doesn’t scare me, because you can really rely on the Schwalbe tires and cross an entire continent on just one pair. You can also mount narrower tires on them, making the bike more versatile. For example to turn it into a commuter or randonneur bike. Cause 29″ is just 28″ with a big tire on it.
  • Hub dynamo and headlight: the only moments I ever got scared during my trips, were because of the darkness: unlit tunnels or wildlife you can’t see. So I got a 50 lux headlight powered by a shutter precision hub dynamo.
  • And she’s sexy, like for real, I think I’m in love