Before departing on a tour of a lifetime you will need to have the right bike for your needs, that will last and be comfortable.
You can buy a bicycle specially built for touring, these bikes are good for tours of up to 6 months of hard riding without any major mechanical problems. There are 2 bikes that I can recommend that are built for the job: Thorn Sherpa MK3 and Surly Long Haul Trucker. Both frames are engineered correctly for hours of cycling comfortably without any physical pain and designed to carry a load of travelling gear.
Thorn Sherpa MK3 or Nomad MK2 with Rohloff hub. Buy direct and more info from SJS Cycle
SJS Cycles will also size you to the right size frame and setup your riding position.
Surly Long Haul Trucker. Buy direct from Strada Cycles
Other bikes include; Kona, Koga & Ridgeback with 700c wheels.
The best frame builders; Roberts, Rourke & Longstaff.
But If you are going to tour for longer, then you will need a custom expedition touring bike that is built using high quality parts that can handle tours of over 6 months of riding and carrying all your gear. The bikes I have recommended above are ideal for tours of up to 6 months, but tours over 6 months in remote areas, then you would need to upgrade the components of your bike when you buy it or build a bike using the same frame(s) as above and upgrade components from the list below.
Don't let the cost of upgrading put you off, the bikes above will do the job of long tours, with the help of being able to maintain your bike yourself, having the right spare parts and looking for little problems before they come big on the road and you will be fine.
When building your bike bear in mind that depending on what type of gears (Internal hub or derailleur) and handle bars you are going to use; as this will effect other components you can use/match. You will need to work this out first as it could cost you extra money if you get it wrong/change your mind.
Bike Build list:
Use as a guide, as you will need to research for your specific bike/tour and comfort.
- Frame: That is engineered correctly for touring, that use 26" wheels, would have a lower bottom bracket than a standard bike to keep the center of gravity low for carrying the extra load, a longer rear frame triangle for making the bike more sturdy to ride and would also not not let your heel hit the rear panniers when pedalling. Woman would need a specific touring bike frame. Frame builders; SJS Cycle, Roberts & Longstaff.
- Wheels: 26" Specific touring wheels that have strong rims and that use 36 or 40 hole spokes. This size wheel is more available around the world and is built stronger than a 700c wheel.
- Hubs: Phil Wood hubs. That has high quality sealed cartridge bearings that help run smoothly, keep out the dirt, water and involve less maintenance and tooling. (40 hole hubs available) A lot of cyclists use Shimano LX hubs for touring, they have loose ball bearings and cones. For LX hubs this will mean striping the hubs down, cleaning, re-greasing and adjustment of the cones regularly, to avoid wear/pitting of the hub cup and cones. Also Hope Pro 3 hubs are a very good upgrade.
- Rims: 26" MTB Rigida Andra 30 double wall rims that have at least 36 holes, 19mm wide and are for use with rim brakes.
- Spokes: Broken spokes are the most common mechanical problem for cyclists on tour. Sapim and DT Swiss make the finest touring spokes.
- Tyres: This will depend on the use, if you are going to be touring mainly on tarmac roads with a little off road then the Schwalbe Marathon Plus is ideal. Is fitted with a Kevlar® strip inside the tyre to help reduce punctures. They come in different widths, if using wide tyres make sure they fit your bike without rubbing on the frame.
- Saddle: Brooks leather sprung saddle, there is specific saddles for woman.
- Bottom Bracket: Hope, Chris King or Phil Woods (Under discussion; needs to have ceramic bearings for smooth running and long life , but also no need to carry special tools to service. More on this soon)
- Headset: Chris King headsets use high quality sealed cartridge bearings that help run smoothly, keep out the dirt, water and involve less maintenance and tooling.
- Pedals: Shimano single sided SPD touring pedals, that can be used with cleats or normal shoes.
- Handlebars: In the UK cyclists tend to use drop road bars, in Europe they like butterfly/trekking bars and there is also the Mountain raised straight bar that you can fit bar ends. Depending what bars you use; will depend with what gear/brake levers/shifters you can use and this will also alter the length of the cross bar required when buying your frame (Shorter cross bar when using drop road bars as they give you a longer reach than straight bars)
- Bar Ends: For use on straight bars that give you a different riding position.
- Bar Stems: For that upright comfort position.
- Bar Grips & Bar Tape: For straight bars Ergon touring grips, give you comfort and have a clamp to stop grips moving. For drop bars is down to your preference, Brooks and Cinelli leather bar tape for long life, luxurious comfort and shock absorbing.
- Gear Shifters: STI shifters that are used on drop road bars, tend to go out of adjustment quickly and have more moving parts than using bar end controls which are more favorable used. For straight bars Shimano deore 9 speed MTB rapid fire shifters work well. Down tube shifter are the lest to have mechanical problems, but does mean taking your hands of the bars, which is not advisable when cycling with a heavy load.
- Drive Chain: This is the cassette, chainset (Crank & Chainrings) chain and derailleurs. Using Shimano Deore XT 44, 32 & 22 tripple chainrings, Deore derailleurs, Shimano SLX HG61 9speed 11 - 32 T cassette and a KMC X9 K21 Chain. This gear ratio will give me low enough gears to cycle hills with all my touring gear. The life of a 9 speed chain used in dry non dusty conditions is 1500 miles! If you ride with a worn chain, it is going to wear the teeth of the cassette first, then the chainrings, then the jockey wheels and you will get poor gear change and the chance the chain could fall off or even snap. I am going to use the derailleur system over the Rohloff hub on my touring bike build, as I have a good supple of parts available to me. I will carry 2 chains and be swapping my chain every 500 miles to get more wear out of the cassette, also clean the chain, rings, cassette and jockey wheels at the same time and replace the 2 chains and cassette before every 4000 miles so to save the life of the other components. See Chain Wear & Care............
- Internal Hub Gears: Rohloff hub is a sealed gearbox, that is very reliable, low maintenance and easy use. The chain runs is a straight line, with less stress meaning it lasts longer than 9 speed derailleur chain and the chainring and sprocket can be turned around when it starts to wear. Oil should be changed annually or at least every 5000km.
- Brake leavers: For drop bars using V-brakes use Tektro RL520 leavers. For drop bars using cantilever brakes use Shimano Tigara Aero leavers. Can also fit Auxiliary levers to drop bars so you can brake from the top part of the bar. For straight bars use Shimano Deore XT brake leavers.
- Brake calipers: For drop bars use cantilevers or V- brakes. If fitting cantilevers you will need cable fitting on headset to run cable. For straight bars Shimano Deore XT V-brakes. Both types of brakes use different brake cables.
What you need to carry will depend on the type of tour you will be doing, how long for, whether you are going to cycle and be camping in the mountains, remote areas or you will be close to towns where there is hostels and supplies nearby.
You will soon find out that cutting corners or buying cheap will affect your comfort and enjoyment of cycling.
Thule panniers, lights and GoPro
Max load: Every expedition specially built bike frame and forks will be different and you will need to check with the manufacture what the maximum load is. While the maximum load of up to 50kg is safe to ride, I wouldn't want to day after day. A bike is much nicer to ride with 5kg in each front pannier, and 15kg - 20kg evenly loaded on the rear (total of 25kg - 30kg), even less if staying in hostels/city, as less to carry in awkward situations. What you don't take you can always buy on your tour, if you take things you don't need you can sell or give away.
- Mudguards: SKS Bluemels trekking
- Prop Stand: These are not recommended by touring frame manufactures, as they can squash and damage the frame. Twin leg prop stand made by Pletecher is the best and don't over tighten.
- Panniers & Bar Bags: Keeping all your equipment dry, secure and easy to use. Ortlieb have been the trusted, most used waterproof panniers by cyclists for 30 years.
- Racks: Braking a rack can be a common problem for cyclists on long tours, that often become overloaded. Tubus racks are a must have.
- Lights/Dynamo Hubs: Coming soon
- Shoes: Shimano MTB SPD shoes that fit well and can be used for walking.
- Tents: Easton tents are ultra light and pack easily in to panniers. Also view Nordisk & MSR tents are made for tough use.
- Sleeping Bags: Therm A Rest for the ultimate in sleeping bags, mattress and pillows that are compact and light.
- Clothing: Wooly jumpers for those cold windy days.
- Cooking Equipment: More soon
- Washing/hygiene: Keeping your self clean while out on the road cycling is not always easy, miles away from showers/water. There are products that can help, like Amway's 0001 LOC® organic cleaner that you can use without water.
- Sun Cream: Using a good sun block and moisturiser to stop your skin burning and drying out from sun and wind.
- Food: I tend not to worry to much, I be more worried about putting weight on when cycling in Mexico. As long as you are eating lots of carbs, fresh fruit/veg and drinking plenty of water you will be fine.
- Maps/GPS: More soon
- Cameras: Gopro cameras are waterproof, can be fixed to bars, seat post or helmet, can take continues photo shots and video.
Spares to take on a long tour:
The right tool kit or spares can save your bike tour but tools are a heavy load.
For some parts like bottom brackets, chainrings and derailleurs you can have sent to you by some online suppliers, from a friend or family member. Keep a note of model and part numbers for easy ordering.
- Spare spokes: Rear wheel could have 2 lengths (To allow for the dishing of the rear wheel) and the front wheel may have different length spokes also.
- Chain: Carry a short length of chain.
- Quick link:
- Brake & gear wires:
- Brake blocks:
- Bearings: Ball bearings or cartridge type, depending on your hubs.
- Spare Tube:
- Patch Kit:
- Folding Tyre: Schwalbe Marathon Supreme folding tyre.
- Electrical tape: For holding your gear together, until you find somewhere to repair.
- Gear Hanger: If you have a aluminium frame, it will be fitted with a gear hanger, that can bend/snap to save the frame from damage, if you drop your bike or have a accident.
These tools are based on using on parts as above, except the Rohloff hub. Different tools will be needed for square tapper type bottom bracket. For long tours you will need to carry all the tools to strip your bike down, rebuild and have the mechanical knowledge to do so. You should always start your tour with your bike ready to go, full overhaul service, new chain, cassette, tyres, tubes, brake blocks and all bolts checked.
Click image to enlarge.
- 1. Pump: M-Part light weight track pump with hose and gauge that's capable of pumping over 80psi. Very important to check your tyre pressures regularly and for any wear/damage, this will help to take the extra load you are carrying, run smoothly and reduce punctures.
- 2. Tyre Levers: 3 plastic leavers, I have found Campagnolo to be the strongest.
- 3. Chain Tool: Parktool
- 4. Quick link Pliers: For removing quick link from chain
- 5A. Cassette removal tool & 5B. Chain-wipe: Both tools are needed to remove cassette along with a wrench to fit the removal tool.
- 6A. Wrench/Spanner: 24mm spanner to fit cassette removal tool & 6B. 17mm spanner for Shimano hub lock nut.
- Cone Spaner: For Shimano hub cones 13mm/15mm cone spanner Parktool DWCW4C.
- 7. Spoke Key: The correct size
- 8. Allen Keys: Parktool HXS1.2 or Snap-on good quality, so not to damage the head of the bolts. Sizes in mm; (2 or 2.5 for adjusting brake callipers) (3.0 for jockey wheels) (4.0 seat post clamp, bottle cage & rack bolts) (5.0 Seat post clamp, A Headset, Chainring bolts, brake block, brake callipers fitting bolts and derailleur cable pinch bolts) (6.0 for A headset and saddle) (8.0 for pedals) (10.0 for freehub body) You will need to check on your bike what sizes fit what part, may vary.
- 9. Screwdrivers: Small flat blade & Phillips for adjusting gear stop screws & removing rapid-fire cover.
- 10. Chainring Bolt Tool: Parktool, for changing worn chainrings.
- 11. Cable Cutters: Parktool for cutting gear & brake inner & outer cables.
- 12. Bottom Bracket Tool: Park tool Hollow Tech 2 tool
- 13. Grease: Specific bike grease with Teflon. TF2
- 14. Oil: Specific bike lube. Finish line or Muc-off wet lube and/or dry lube. Depending on conditions; Dry lube will work in the wet but will have a limited life, it stops dust sticking to the chain which will act like sandpaper and rapidly wear parts out. Note: STICK WITH THE SAME MAKE OF OIL: If you mix wet lub and dry lub with different makes of oil, you will need to clean your chain to remove all the remains of the old oil before adding new oil.
- 15. Cleaning: This is also important, to keep your bike running smooth and to last longer. Parktool have a small brush ideal for the drive chain area.
- 16. Gloves: I use Venitex gloves everyday to fix bikes, change tyres, fit a chain and can easily fit into your panniers.
Dangers of cycling:
Touring Latin America the biggest danger is wanting to stay longer, the other problem is being chased by dogs.
If you are new to cycling/touring, plan your route with care, avoiding killer mountains and over populated City's. Give yourself rest days, it's not a race, take each day at a time and you will have a lifetime adventure.
Before you setting off:
Ride your bike fully loaded in your home town first before embarking on a epic journey; get a feel of your bike by doing a 30 mile ride or 2 day trip, as you may need to adjust your riding position and rearrange your luggage. Sometimes it is not easy to find the time to train, you can do this once you have set off by taking it easy and doing no more than 40- 50 miles a day for the first few weeks, with taking rest days. When I don't have time to get out on my bike, I use training rollers and do leg exercises to keep in shape.
My off road weekend touring bike:
Genesis Fortitude Adventure 29er
No suspension, just fat 29" tyres to take the shocks, also fitted is a Shimano 11 speed Alfine hub. Also has fitting for racks and 3 bottle cages. To see more on this bike build please view post.