You don’t need the worlds most expensive bicycle to do a long distance tour. Just get a bike and start riding – the rest you will figure out on the road.
Setting up a new tourer!
The best piece of advice is to find someone who knows what they’re doing. I can’t stress this enough. Experience counts for everything! Perhaps, a friend, other travelers, forums or even your local bike mechanic. But be warned, cycle touring is a niche in the cycle market and there’s not so many places outside of Europe catering to this market.
Advice varies widely and even though your local bike mechanic will probably say “sure!”, “no problems”, “I can do that”… make sure he knows what he’s talking about. Ask if he’s done any touring, for how long and what type (weekends? Audax? long distance?) and where (the setup you’ll need in the Australian outback or the far reaches of Tibet can be vastly different to the setup you’ll need in Europe!).
I went to one of those guys that said “Sure, no problems” and wound up in all sort of problems, to the pick of the frame to the fitting of the racks and brakes, to the lacing pattern of the rear wheel, to the WRONG wheel size! Basically it was all messed up and cost me lots of time, effort and money to fix… something you don’t want on your dream tour! I’m so thankful that Surly recently came on board to fix most of these ongoing troubles! Thanks Surly!
Schwalbe aren’t the best in the world. I’ve had mix results with the Marathon XR’s going through a variety of landscapes. For me, cheaper tyres seemed to work just as well, although it has to be said that i didn’t have a puncture in about 6000 km of riding in tough conditions through the Himalayas.
Armour your tyres with an old tube (you can find at a bicycle store). Cut it to fit and put it between the outer edge of the tube and the inside of the tyre. This will double the thickness of the rubber and help prevent punctures. It will also make the wheel heavier and thus more difficult to pedal, but it will also help downhill when the momentum will be your friend.
I always carry a small strip of an old slick racing tyre. It’s about 15cm long with the bead cut from the tyre. This is really useful when you have a blowout in your tyre. You can place the strip of tyre inside the blown tyre and ride on it for a few more thousand of kilometers to get the value out of the rubber.
Make sure you get a good mechanic to build your wheels. It is an art form and getting it right makes the difference between a good day and a really bad day. The last thing you want is to be stuck somewhere remote with a busted wheel. With a well built wheel you won’t even need to carry spare spokes!
I use a Rohloff Hub, possible the best piece of equipment i bought for the expedition. It’s an internal hub gearing system and for me it’s worth it’s weight in gold. Gone are the days of mud in the derailleur, it getting bent, tweaking with the gears and wearing out chains and not being able to stay in the right gear. The Rohloff is expensive but in the end it will (provided it doesn’t get stolen) will pay for itself. It’s beautiful to be able to change gears at traffic lights without having to pedal or quickly shift down a range of gears as fast as my wrist will turn when i hit a loose patch of sand then power out!
Get strong racks. They may be heavy but they can take a beating. By strong i don’t mean the stiffest or the heaviest. Some flex in the rack is good as it will absorb the bumps and provide some insurance against snapping. Try and get a front rack where you can have both, low riders to maintain turning stability on the paved roads, but also a high rider position so the bags can be lifted higher for when crossing rivers, or cycling on bad bumpy tracks through mud and deep 4WD tracks.
Try and get a piece of cloth and wrap around the headset bearings. Secure it with some tape and the top so that it can still move about as you turn the wheel. This will stop dirt and dust getting into the bearings.
When selecting your kit try and find reversible sprockets. That way when one side has worn out you can simply turn it around and use the other side. This will prolong the life of the gear giving you an extra 10,000km use.
Gear shifting and brake cables
Make sure you grease the inside of the cable when your putting the cable in the housing. Also run the cable housing all the way through the bike from brake lever to caliper (i.e. don’t expose the cable to the air – little nibs on the bicycle frame encourage this). This will keep dirt and dust getting inside the cable and also help prevent it from rusting.
There’s a lot of debate about the pros and cons of disc vs. ‘V’ brakes. I’m sure there’s much better technical reasons on the web then I can or care to explain here. But when you choose your setup, keep in mind where you intend to go. Disc brakes make the bicycle look expensive and it can be difficult to source a spare pair of pads. ‘V’ brake you can find nearly anywhere and they’re far less fiddly to adjust! Disc’s don’t wear out the rims, but they do heat up quicker and lose the ability to brake – particularly under high loads. But perhaps one of the most important reasons for choosing your brakes may have nothing to do with the brakes at all, but with the way the rear rack attaches to the frame. Make sure the rack fits flush with the frame and the disc brakes don’t get in the way of the mountain points. It’ll make things far more difficult down the road.
There’s basically two types of tents. Those that you put the poles on the outside of the fly and those that put them on the inner. There’s pro’s and cons of every tent and it’s really up to personal preference. When the poles are on the outside it means you can put the tent up in the rain and the inside not get went, but you won’t be able to pitch the inner without the outer in places where it’s really hot and humid and you want to capture the breeze.
Go for a free standing tent. That means it will stand up without pegs. Often it’s hard to get pegs in the ground. A tunnel like tent will be difficult to pitch in hard ground or on concrete where you sometimes can find shelter. A geodesic design (3 or 4 poles crossing each other) will be much stronger than a simple 2 cross designed tent.
Venting and condensation
A tent is not designed to keep you warm. That’s the job of your sleeping bag. A tent is designed to keep you dry and out of the wind. So open up all the vents. A good tent will have them preferably at the highest point in the tent which will let excess heat escape and reduce condensation.
Make sure you take some material to repair any holes that may appear in the floor and spare poles. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many people forget and how easy it is to snap a tent pole.
Keep in mind that the most expensive isn’t always the best. A plastic bag inside any bag will make it as water proof as an ortlieb.I used large ortlieb back roller bags for the front and back and that’s what I’m commenting on below.
If you can, get a hold of some inflatable raft (or Zodiac) repair kit. The PVC strips and thick and tough and much better that the ortlieb repair kit. I used a Zodiac repair kit to reinforce the ortlieb bags where they were touching the rack and eventually cause a big hole to appear. The thick PVC works wonders for this purpose.
Also stick some bungy cords around the bags and hook the ortleib bags onto the frame. Those small adjustable pieces of plastic use to hold the bottom of the bag to the rack are at best woeful.
Spread the load out as best you can – particular in the front. Adjust the mounting hook as wide as possible to stop the bags from bending – this will also make the bag more stable.
Make sure you roll the material at the top of the bag down tight. If you don’t use the strap provided to tie each end towards the ground and under the bottom of the bag they will not be waterproof.
Those little clips they use to adjust the bar diameter of the rack are useless. Use an old rubber tyre and wrap it around the rack bars to thicken the diameter so the bags will fit without those little pieces of plastic. It also help absorb vibrations.
I’ve seen some really crappy stoves in my time, but i was glad i bought the MSR XGK. It’s worked without problems for the last 2 years, even at Everest Base Camp (5300 metres). It outshone every other stove that other cyclists had with them.It’s also useful for heating up metal if you need to fix say a tent pole or straighten tent pegs.
Try and get a big pot (cyclists are hungry people) that you can close tight (a water tight seal would be the best). That way you can use it as a container too!
Cycling at Altitude
Cycling at altitude is exhausting work and your body will need time to adjust. During this time you may suffer elevation sickness, which include such symptoms as: nausea, headaches, muscle pain, shortness of breath and serious fatigue. Although unlikely severe cases of acute Elevation Sickness (ELS) are very serious and may require more extensive treatment.
The good news is that for the slow cyclists and heavy cardio regime the effects are likely to be much less severe. The main thing you probably will notice will be the shortness of breath, feeling light headed (which means you need to stop for a while) or perhaps the odd headache as your body seeks to adjust to the lack of oxygen.
Learning to breath, deeply and fully using your abdomen is one way i found to reduce the effect of the altitude. Take deeper, breaths, slow down to a constant cadence – one that you can maintain and breathe. Don’t expect too much, your performance won’t be anything like at sea level in the mountains. Also drink lots to stay hydrated. Some of the minor headaches i experience were due to a lack of hydration not the actual altitude. You may also piss a lot. That’s normal.