CHOOSING A BICYCLE
The main factors to consider are comfort and function. We’ve seen people enjoy themselves on nearly every type of bicycle. We’ve had traditional touring bikes, racing bikes, mountain bikes, recumbents, hybrids, tandems and even triples join our events. For safety and comfort, we strongly recommend higher volume tires for paved road trips — at least 700 x 28 if you can fit them — and wider is generally better. We encourage you to ride the bike you’re comfortable with and to come prepared with extra tubes and the tools you’ll need to repair a flat tire on your bike.
For our dirt-road trips, and trips including a mix of dirt and paved roads, we strongly suggest riding a mountain, hybrid, or cyclocross bike with durable wheels and tires with a more aggressive tread. On dirt trips that include technical terrain, a mountain bike equipped to handle rough ground is necessary.
- it must fit you properly and be comfortable, and
- it must be mechanically reliable.
For touring, frames should be designed for stable handling, and have adequate tire/fender clearance and eyelets for attaching racks and water bottle cages. Touring-specific frames have a long chainstay (the piece that connects the rear wheel’s hub to the crankarm), which gives better clearance for panniers and generally stabilizes the bike.
A good option for touring is a mountain bike; they can be more comfortable, and they’re stable when negotiating potholes and gravel stretches. Standard knobby tires add to rolling resistance, but they can be replaced with slick tires (inflatable up to 90 pounds) for paved-road tours. Hybrid or cyclo-cross bikes combine characteristics of both mountain and touring bikes, and are another option.
Wheels are one of the two most crucial components of a loaded touring bicycle (the other is proper gearing). Aluminum rims of 22 millimeters or wider offer strength, light weight, and a good surface for braking. They also accommodate wider tires (28 – 32 mm) that better absorb road shock and bumps. For loaded touring, a 36-spoke wheel is preferable to 32 spokes and good hand-built wheels are stronger and more durable.
Make sure your tires are in good condition. Consider installing new tires, and also riding them for 100 miles or more before the tour. This will ensure that your tires are in good condition and free from defects. Replacing your tubes at the same time is also a good idea; and always keep at least two spare tubes with you on your bike while on the tour. Cheap tires are not a bargain for fully-loaded touring. Buy the most durable tires and tubes you can afford. We like the Schwalbe “Marathon” series of tires, available in Cyclosource.
Gears are measured in gear inches; your bike shop can explain how these are computed. For loaded touring, a top gear of 95 inches is adequate, and a 22-inch low gear will serve you well on steep climbs. To quickly check your own bike, or when shopping for a new one, look for 24 to 28 teeth on the small chain-ring (attached to the pedal crank arm), and 30 to 34 teeth on the largest sprocket of the freewheel. The SMALLER the number of teeth on the small chainring and the GREATER number of teeth on the biggest freewheel sprocket, the easier it will be to pedal up hills.
Using side-pull, disc, or cantilever brakes is a matter of personal preference. Make sure your brake pads are new or have enough remaining material to last the length of the tour. Pads are cheap, and the ability to stop is key.
Dropped handlebars, standard on road bicycles, or upright handlebars with extensions, standard on mountain and hybrid bikes, both work well. It is important to have a variety of hand positions available to prevent pain or numbing in the hands.
Consider installing fenders or mud guards, at least on the front wheel of your bike. You just know it’s going to rain sooner or later on a tour – even if it’s just an afternoon thunder shower – and fenders are great for keeping the majority of the dirty road water off of you, and your feet drier. The newer, lightweight fenders are made of synthetic material, are light, and are easy to install.
WHERE TO BUY YOUR BIKE
The best bicycle will fail if it is not properly assembled. A reputable bike shop will be your best bet for reliable service. Selecting a dealer who conscientiously assembles and guarantees the bicycles they sell is even more important than the name on the bike.
CHOOSING A MECHANIC FOR A BIKE TUNE-UP OR OVERHAUL
Tune up and inspect your bike, or have an experienced, professional mechanic do it, prior to the trip. This should probably include replacement of the cables and housings, the chain, and any worn cogs and chainrings. Describe the trip you are taking to the mechanic. Allow time to ride your bike at least a hundred miles after the tune-up to stretch those new cable housings and to make sure everything is working properly before the trip.
However, you should be aware that, no matter how experienced or technically skilled your mechanic may be, it’s possible that they have no experience with the extreme forces that are applied to a bicycle and its drive train during a fully-loaded touring trip. If they give you any advice or assurances that are contrary to what you read here (such as “your 20-spoke wheel should be OK for pulling a trailer”), you should consider finding another mechanic.
CHECKING AND TESTING THINGS OUT
Prior to the tour, take at least one overnight camping trip with your full set of equipment. This will give you an idea of how your bike will handle when loaded with full panniers or when pulling a trailer, and will also allow you to discover if your camping gear or your bike are missing any parts.
If your bike uses any uncommon parts or exotic components, such as an odd-sized tire, bring a spare. You may not be able to find replacements during the tour. If you are uncertain whether or not your bike uses any uncommon parts, ask your bike shop.