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Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Great Divide - The Bike & Changes

Some folk built like this, some folk built like that
But the way I'm built, don't you call me fat
Cause I'm built for comfort, I aint built for speed
Built For Comfort, Willie Dixon (1960)

Approaching the notorious drop off Fleecer Ridge near Wise River, Montana.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

For the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, I rode my Jones 29+ LWB, set up with a Shimano XT 2 x11 speed drivetrain and Bontrager 2.60 XR2 Team Issue tires, outfitted with Revelate Design bags (How I Packed) to securely carry all my gear (My Gear List). It's a rigid steel mountain bike well suited for loaded touring on rough roads and single track. For me, it was a great bike for the Great Divide.

From my original build in 2018 (Jones 29+ LWB Build and Jones 29+ LWB What It Is), I made just two significant changes to the bike before starting the Great Divide.

Back in early 2018, Jeff Jones built up this bike for me with Shimano XT hubs hand laced to WTB Scraper 45 mm rims for meaty 3.0-3.25 tires for single track riding and touring. I love those big tires on single track, but not so much for the long stretches of gravel roads on my Cloud Peak 500 bikepacking ride in August of 2020. See Cloud Peak 500 - Feeling Good. So, last winter I built up a similar wheel set with lighter, narrower rims (30 mm) to run 2.2-2.6 inch tires for gravel touring routes like the Great Divide. See Jones 29+ LWB - Next Time.

I also added a pair of Ergon GP3 grips, which I greatly enjoyed. That's it. Everything else was my original 2018 build.

If I were racing the Great Divide route, I would likely make a few changes to the bike, like dropping the tires down to the 2.2-2.4 range, adding aero bars, and switching to a bigger chain ring for higher gears. However, as I have no plans to race any bikepacking event, I would not change a thing.

Many people ask what bike to ride on the Great Divide. I suggest starting with a bike that you are comfortable riding 10+ hours a day, day after day. Then add the elements of riding loaded on rough roads to see what you like. In my early field tests in 2014-2017, I found my outer limits of fun on my Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross with 40 mm tires when riding loaded all day on rougher roads and trails. My desire for more mountain bike handling, more control, more comfort, more capacity, and lower gears eventually led me to the Jones 29+ for bikepacking the Great Divide.

My friend Paul rode the Great Divide from Roosville to Rawlins on a stock Salsa CutThroat 1x11 with Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge 2.2 inch tires. I also saw many others on CutThroats or similar drop bar bikes with similar sized tires. That is a much lighter and faster setup than mine on most all of the miles of the Great Divide. However, those gears clearly made him work much harder on the steeper climbs and those relatively narrow tires provided less control and comfort on the occasional rocky sections. We'll see what he thinks after riding the roads in New Mexico this summer.

Relaxing at Antelope Wells, after comfortably and securely carrying me for 2,651 miles.

Here's a copy of my original 2018 build sheet, as I posted in August of 2018.

Frame Set 
Frame - Jones Steel 29 Plus LWB, Medium (black)
Fork - Jones Steel Truss (black)
Headset - Jones Sealed Cartridge Bearing H-Set (black)
Seat Post - Thomson Elite Zero-Offset (black)
Seat Post Clamp - Paul Quick Release (black)

Rear Wheel  (hand built)
Hub - Shimano XT Boost with CL Adaptor (black)
Rim - WTB Scraper i45 29er (black)
Rim Tape - tubeless tape
Spokes - DT Swiss Competition (black)
Nipples - DT Brass (silver)
Thru-Axle - Jones TA bolt
Tire - Vee Tire Bulldozer 29x3.25
Tube - WTB Tubeless valves, Stan's Sealant

Front Wheel  (hand built)
Hub - Jones 150-F (black)
Rim - WTB Scraper i45 29er (black)
Rim Tape - tubeless tape
Spokes - DT Swiss Competition (black)
Nipples - DT Brass (silver)
Thru-Axle - Jones TA bolt
Tire - Vee Tire Bulldozer 29x3.25
Tube - WTB Tubeless valves, Stan's Sealant

Stem - Thomson X4, 70x10 (black)
Spacers - Aluminum, 50 mm (black)
Handle Bar - Jones Butted Aluminum Loop H-Bar 710 (black)
Grips - Jones Kraton H-Grips for 710 mm H-Bar (black)
Tape - Jones B-Tape, rear crossbar (black)

Front Brake - Avid BB7 200 mm Rotor
Rear Brake - Avid BB7 180 mm Rotor
Brake Levers - Avid Speed Dial 7
Brake Cables - Jagwire Stainless Slick
Cable Housing - Jagwire Ripcord, compressionless (black)

Crankset - Shimano M-8000 170 mm, Boost, 34/24
Bottom Bracket - Shimano MT-800
Cassette - Shimano XT 11 Speed, 11-42
Front Derailleur - Shimano XT Down Swing, top pull
Rear Derailleur - Shimano XT Shadow+ SGS
Shift Levers - Shimano XT Rapid Fire, 11 Speed
Chain - Shimano 11 Speed
Cable & Housing - Shimano SP-51
Chain Stay Protector - Jones
Pedals - Time ATAC MX-4

Built For Comfort, Howling Wolf with Eric Clapton (1971).


  1. Craig,
    love reading your accounts of remote bike touring. If I may ask, how tall are you? I am considering a Jones and debating on size.

  2. Thanks, James. I'm 5'10" tall, with a 34" inch inseam. So, relatively long legs and short torso. I typically ride 18"/Medium mountain bikes, although I can ride 20"/Large mountain bikes easily. From the top of the saddle to the center of the bottom bracket is 770 mm. For comparison, I typically ride 56 cm top tube road bikes, but can ride 55-57 cm, again Medium, maybe Large for road bikes. When I ordered my bike, Jeff Jones spoke with me at length about sizing for my riding background, preferences, and plans. He concluded that, for me, both the Medium and the Large would work equally well, but different. On balance, I chose the Medium and love the result. Have fun.

  3. I run a similar setup on my LWB, only opting for a 1x11 group over the 2x11 setup. It's nice to know that it runs well with the 2.6 tires though. I struggle with my 3.0's on pavement and smooth gravel. I might try a smaller size next time I wear my tires out. Great write up!

  4. Thanks, Chuck. I love the 3.0-3.25 tires on single track, especially when loaded. But I also found them too much tire for most gravel, and I don't remember seeing anything on the Great Divide wider than my 2.60. I've also ridden the 2.35 inch version of the Bontrager XR2 and liked them a lot for gravel bikepacking. If riding the Great Divide, or something like it, I would likely ride something in the range of 2.35-2.60. Have fun out there!