I am often asked for a recommended list of components for a loaded touring bike. This is what I typically suggest. All of the equipment on this list is currently available.
Rear Hub – Phil Wood or Shimano XT. Phil Wood is the best and is available in a wide variety of configurations. However, it’s expensive. Shimano XT is nearly as good for a lot less money. The 135 mm OLD spacing allows the wheel to be built with less dish for more durability.
Front Hub – Schmidt SON dynamo, Phil Wood, or Shimano XT. I like the dynamo hub a lot. It always helps to have a light available. You never know when you might need it. With a dynamo, you don’t have to worry about whether your batteries are charged. The Schmidt hub is very high quality and low drag. It matches the look of the Phil hubs.
Headlight – Schmidt E6 or Lumotec. These are top lights, and the Lumotecs are available in several configurations.
Rims – Velocity Dyad or Sun CR18 (polished). The Velocity rims are generally powder-coated, and the CR18 is polished. This means no anodizing to cause cracking around the eyelets. Both rims are very strong. The CR18 has a bit more traditional look.
Spokes – 14/15 swaged with brass nipples. Swaged (double-butted) spokes create a more durable wheel than straight gauge as the stress is moved to the center of the spoke away from the elbow and threads where the spoke is more likely to break. No need to mess with aluminum nipples on a tourer.
Tire – Panaracer Pasela Tourguard. There are lots of good touring tires, but I like these a lot. The new Pasela tread pattern rides great, and the Tourguard version offers a kevlar belt under the tread for protection against glass cuts.
Tube – Specialized Airlock. These are sealant-filled tubes, similar to Slime. While kevlar belts protect against cuts, they don’t do much for punctures since a thorn or tack can slide through the weave of the kevlar fabric. The sealant will fill most puncture holes. Since the sealant won’t work on large holes like those caused by glass cuts, these tubes work well in conjunction with the kevlar-belted tires.
Bottom Bracket – Phil Wood. The best.
Crank – Sugino XD600, 46/36/24T. This crank is often overlooked because it is relatively inexpensive. However, it is a quality, cold-forged crank. It comes stock with gearing that is suitable for touring. However, the standard inner chainring is a 26T. So, I generally swap this out for a 24T.
Cassette – Shimano LX 9-speed 11-34T. Essentially the same as the XT cassette but without the expensive aluminum carrier. Since weight isn’t that critical on a touring bike, this is a good place to save a little money.
Chain – SRAM PC-951 9-speed chain. A good basic chain that shifts well and is durable. You can spend a lot more but won’t gain much.
Skewers – Shimano. What you want is a steel shaft and an internal cam mechanism. These will hold your wheels tight with little chance of slippage.
Seatpost – Nitto Crystal Fellow or Jaguar, Salsa Shaft. The Nitto posts are strong and beautiful. The Crystal Fellow has a single bolt clamp. The Jaguar has a double bolt clamp. Both work great, but some larger riders prefer the Jaguar to eliminate the chance of slippage. The Salsa Shaft post doesn’t look as good as the Nittos but is excellent functionally.
Saddle – Brooks B17. Saddle selection is fairly personal, but the B17 is consistently our most popular touring saddle. For most folks, it is all-day comfortable. It’s available in several configurations.
Headset – Chris King 2-Nut or Stronglight A9. Chris King is the best but pretty darn expensive. The Stronglight A9 is one of the all-time classic headsets. It’s very durable, easily serviceable, and costs less than one-third what the King costs.
Stem – Nitto Pearl. Cold-forged and beautiful. The best production quill stem available.
Handlebars – Nitto (any model). Nitto bars are very strong and beautiful. They make a number of different models to suit individual tastes. Sometimes, they are hard to find. If you can’t find one, look at the Salsa Moto Ace bars. They are strong and inexpensive but don’t offer much for looks.
Brake Levers – Shimano R400 or Tektro R200A. These Shimano levers are among the best ever. Don’t bother with the much more expensive R600 models because they are the same except for cosmetics. Some riders like the feel of the new Tektro levers better than the Shimanos. They are copies of the Campagnolo lever but cost much less and still work great. If you like this lever, you can spend a bit more to get the Cane Creek version with lizard logos.
Shifters – Shimano 9-speed Bar-End. Bar-end shifters work with just about any front derailleur. Shimano’s STI shifters will not index properly with the MTB front derailleurs necessary to shift across touring-sized chainrings. Plus, bar-end shifters are far simpler and, thus, more reliable. In the unlikely event of a failure, the shifters can often still be operated in friction mode.
Brakes – Shimano R550 Cantilever. Forget the hard-to-adjust cantilevers of the past. Most of the new models are a cinch to adjust. The R550s have very little slop in the pivots and come with good, if not great, pads. The Tektro Oryx brakes are pretty good, too, but have a lot more slop. The Avids tend to squeal no matter how they are adjusted. The Pauls work well and look great but are a lot more expensive than the Shimanos without offering any real performance advantages. All of the brakes can be upgraded with KoolStop salmon-compound pads.
Front Derailleur – Shimano LX (sized for 46T chainring). The LX derailleur is nice because it is available in a configuration that is suitable for 46T chainrings. Most front derailleurs are similar in performance, weight, and durability.
Rear Derailleur – Shimano XT SGS. This derailleur essentially works the same as the much more expensive XTR derailleur without all the lightweight bits. It’s strong, durable, and shifts across the 11-34T cassette very well.
Rear Rack – Tubus Cargo. Tubus offers outstanding production racks. They are light and very stiff. Many racks on the market today lack the lateral triangulation of the Tubus racks. So, they are often heavier while being a lot more flexible. You can step up to the stainless steel Tubus racks, but since they aren’t polished, you don’t gain a lot cosmetically.
Front Rack – Tubus Tara Lowrider. See above.
Panniers – Arkel GT18/GT54 or Carradice Super C. Arkel and Carradice both make excellent panniers. The Arkels feature many compartments and use the latest high-tech fabrics. Carradice uses one main compartment that allows you to separate items with stuff sacks. They also use cotton duck fabric that is remarkably water-resistant. Two different philosophies but both companies make great bags.
Saddlebag – Carradice Camper Longflap or Super C. Saddlebags are often overlooked, but they are a great way to carry extra gear. I use the large side pockets to carry extra water bottles, and I can reach them while riding. Both of these bags are similar. Both are made from cotton duck. The Camper uses tradition leather straps and metals buckles while the Super C uses nylon straps and plastic buckles.
Fenders – SKS Plastic or Berthoud Stainless. The SKS fenders are easy to install and work great. The Berthoud fenders are difficult to install, look fantastic, and offer a bit more coverage than the SKS fenders. I use both and am happy with both. If you tour, you need fenders.