Gear Guy

Kula Deluxe     Photo: courtesy, Kona

Q:

Can you pick a bike to handle off-road touring in Africa?

What mountain bike can you recommend for off-road touring in East Africa? It should be robust, low maintenance, and able to carry tent, food, and the rest of the clobber I'll need on this trip. Lars Antibes, France

A:I should think the byword would be simplicity. You want the fewest moving parts possible, in order to minimize the chance of catastrophic breakdown.

To me, then, that eliminates dual-suspension bikes. I think I'd still want a front-suspension fork, but adding a bunch of pivoting parts in back just makes things too complicated. In terms of the ideal bike, I happen to think the one I ride most weekends, Marin's Pine Mountain, would do the trick. It has a steel frame that's tough but also more forgiving than aluminum, so you wouldn't miss the rear suspension so much. Price is $1,700. Kona's Kula Deluxe ($1,899, www.konaworld.com) has similar specs with a lighter but still tough aluminum frame, so also would work well.

In either case, I'd consider a few retrofits before embarking for East Africa. I'd probably put tougher wheels on both—pair of Sun Intense Mag 30 rims in the 36-hole iteration, laced to Shimano XT disc hubs. You'll probably pay about $300 for a pair, and it would put the odds you'll break a wheel down as close to zero as possible. You might also swap out the hydraulic brakes on both bikes for Avid mechanicals ($100, www.sram.com), eliminating the risk of an oil leak. And a high-end fork such as a Fox Talas RLC ($600, www.foxracingshox.com) would be a worthwhile upgrade.

I don't see you loading the bike with your gear—it would be difficult to attach it in a way that wouldn't upset the bike's balance. So I see a trailer in your future; probably the classic B.O.B. Yak trailer ($299, www.bobtrailers.com). They work well on trails and are rugged enough to withstand a tough trip like the one you're apt to have. I've pulled one for years when road-touring, and have seen them used successfully on singletrack tours of the Continental Divide.

Good luck!

Ready to see the tricked-out, bump-eating future of bikes? Then check out "State of the Art" from the April '05 issue of Outside.

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