After having spent a reasonable amount of time with different forums on Bike Touring, I can almost “see” why there are so few people doing it.
I hope the following will shed some light and motivate more people to travel on their bikes.
A 3-week “standard” vacation can cost you a lot of money. Take your bike and camping gear, and in no time, you will find that you can tour your favorite destination for pennies on the dollar (perhaps an average of $500 a MONTH – including lodging).
ORIGINAL BIKE PURCHASE
Many bikes can be transformed into a touring bike. Ideally, it will have a longer wheel base than a racing mountain bike. The fact is, if you really want, you can probably transform what ever bike you have into a touring bike. Ideally though, get yourself a touring-specific bike. Shop around and you will find that they do not cost that much.
Panniers (front and back) will most likely be needed – though you could go with a trailer. I personally like panniers (makes the bike easier to park and doesn’t take a bus length).
Since you will be needing a lot of things with you, I will automatically assume that you will have large bags. Large bags then… seem to fall into 2 categories:
Waterproof & Water resistant.
After 10 days on the road, believe me that no matter how clean you aim at, you will smell a bit. You’ll smell even more if your stuff cannot air itself out (like in a dry bag). Waterproof bags are great, I just do not recommend them at all, mostly because they provide little or no organization. They are usually lighter though.
Water resistant bags are my preferred choice: They usually offer a lot of different pockets to organize yourself and your trip, offer breathability and usually a water resistant outer shell. They always have the option to place a cover over them (rain fly) and / or to be made waterproof when using a trash bag inside the bag (for those 3-days straight of rain).
Low riders in the front will keep your bike handling feel so much more natural. You must keep everything as low as possible – so perhaps start there.
Rear Racks should have a lower bar to attach your rear panniers. Start there too and be sure to really keep your heavy stuff as low as possible. Far too often, I have seen bikes that want to FLIP onto themselves for being too top-heavy. That’s not even fun after 2 days.
Perfect for Kleenex and/or small cameras – keep it very light, mostly because it’s located way up there!
REAR RACK BAG
You can have a 6th bag on top of your rear rack. Also good to place super light items, but don’t overdo it. Again, keep that weight LOW.
We call this “wild camping” in Europe.
I have camped all through the French alps in the middle of winter. Let me just say that while it wasn’t the smartest thing that I have ever done, it was the trip of a lifetime. I was not ONCE cold at night, though have had my fair-share of cold biking days as I was learning the ropes. Point being: I have only camped twice in a campground during the 20+ days on the road. Total lodging cost: around $45.
Everything is safer while bike touring!
Never listen to your friends. In fact, talk to people who have toured specific destinations and you will be very surprised to hear the opposite of dangerous. France is a great place to tour on a bike, but expensive when compared with Eastern Europe. The US is probably the most expansive of them all – or at least way up there.
MOST UNLIKELY BIKE
Take a 29er, and add racks & panniers – for versatility.
The reason? You can put 29” wheels and tires, or you can always get a cheap 700c rim and tire, or 650b rims and tires, or even 26” wheels. Want to try placing 700c wheels on a 26” mountain bike (even for an emergency, this will most likely not work).
The 29er will also ride better. There is an abundance of tires out there for 29er and 700c wheels (same difference). Since you will be on the road most of the time, clearly, an aggressive tire won’t always be necessary.
First, find a local bike shop. Ask to speak to someone who has done some bike touring. If no one there has done any, move on to local bike shop #2, etc… and if that doesn’t work in your area, find information directly from people who have experience in bike touring (online).
I take “everything” with me, yes: including the kitchen sink (literally). It doesn’t mean that I have a heavy bike. Even loaded, my bike is relatively light. Everything I take with me has 2 or 3 different uses. Keep everything light, but strong / long lasting. The heaviest should be water and tools, so keep them very low on your bike.
We don’t have a lot of places with stairs in the states, but in many other parts of the world, you will find that carrying a bike up the stairs is inevitable at times – especially in a city (like 7km from Monté Carlo) – along cliff lines, complete with gorgeous views, $8 a night lodging, and STEPS!!!
Pick a place – and enjoy!
Here's a photo or two to motivate:
Note: my current setup is a little different; rear panniers are even lower, rear bag is larger to accommodate camera equipment.
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Thread: Bike Touring - a quick guide
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