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The story of how I saved money, quit my job, sold my possessions, and set off to endlessly travel by bike around the world. My Plan

My 3 Books
I write, self publish and sell books about touring

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India and Neighbors
May 2010 to present

Alaska / Canada / USA
May 2008 to April 2010

New Zealand
Sept 2007 to May 2008

Australia
Sept 2006 to Sept 2007

SE Asia / China
Nov 2004 to Sept 2006

South America
June 2003 to June 2004

AZ, Mexico, and Central America
March 2002 to April 2003

How I started
The 5 years before I left


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Equipment Pages Index

Introduction
How Much to Bring and Weight
Some Advice About Advice
A Note to Perspective Sponsors and Gear Suppliers
(See more about Sponsorship)

START HERE for Touring Bikes and Commuting Bicycles
Custom Touring Bicycles and Bike Upgrade Buyers Guide
Bicycle Touring Frames 
The Steel Repair Myth.
Steel and Aluminum Derailleur Hanger Repair.
Bicycle Touring Wheels
Phil Wood: The Best Bicycle Hubs

Panniers / Bike Bags
Cargo Trailers Vs Panniers
Tires for Bike Tours..
Bicycle Touring Saddles.
Women's Specific Bike Touring Saddles
Brooks Leather Touring Bicycle Saddle Care and Conditioning
Bike Computer
Touring Handlebars, Bar Ends, Adjustable Stems, and Padded Grips.
Kickstands
Sealed Cartridge Headsets

How to prevent flat tires
Bike Route Trails and Maps

Camping
Buying Camping Equipment
Tent and Ground Cloth
Sleeping Bag
Sleeping Pad
Camp Stove
Pots and Pans
Water Filter
First Aide Kits
Solar Power for Camp

Clothing
Bike Touring Shorts

Electrical
Short-wave Radio
Computer
Internet
mp3
Bicycle touring lights

Books
Packing list
Pictures of Equipment Failures
Shopping


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(see all 3 book)

The Story Our Touring Bicycles, Bikes, Cycles

Everyone likes something different when it comes to touring bicycles.  It comes down to individual taste and preferences.  If anyone tells you they have all the answers they are crazy.  Check out the long decision making process I went through in buying our personal ultimate traveling machines.

After having used a Bianchi cross bike with 700c wheels on several outings I quickly realized that finding wide 700c tires in a bike shop is very hard and may be impossible in Latin America.  Even if you are in North America you can have trouble finding them at your local bike shop. 

I once met a couple from Switzerland, while in Southern Mexico, who were desperately looking for wide 700c touring tires.  All they could find at the bike shops was what the local road racers used which is about as wide as one of your fingers. (700 x 20 -23)  They were forced to buy these narrow tires that probably wore out fast and had to be unstable on steep descents.  I wanted a touring bike with a 26 inch wheel set.  That size can be found in any bike shop because it used on Mountain Bikes.  Most grocery stores carry cheapies that will get you to a bike shop for quality replacements.  The same can be said for finding proper inner tubes.  The first solution I thought of was using a Mountain Bike.   The problem was that I have never liked the way a Mountain Bike feels on the road.  Even with slicks.  The frame geometry just feels funny to me and the lack of rack mounts doesn't help.  I wanted a 26 inch bike that felt more like the road bikes that I had grown up on.  Who sells that?  Well I looked hard. 

First I checked out all the major brands and only found that that REI had one that sold for $700 for the complete bike.  It was called the Safari and was a touring bike with 26 inch wheels.  I think that $700 is a good price for that bike and it would be the bike that I would recommend if you were just getting into bicycle touring.  I was looking for something else, because I was planning on using my bike for more than just a two week trip.  I searched every which way you can think on the internet for manufactures of this kind of touring bikes. 

I found a web site in Dutch about the perfect bike just made for world travel.  The Koga line of touring bikes must be well known in Europe.  They have several different models of touring bikes.  I found the bikes to be refreshingly different from what I could find in the USA.  Real practical with lights, fenders, and kickstands.  I emailed them and told them that I was interested in buying two of there best bikes.  They told me that they would send me a catalog but were unable to sell bikes to the USA.  I kept searching the net.

Next I found Bruce Gordon Bicycles. While he refused to sell a bike to someone of my weight his bike worked out for Cindie.  She could get a production bike, in her size, and at a reasonable cost.  You could not say the same for Bruce.  Bruce was not reasonable.  It was his way or the highway.  For example, the smallest road bar he had was 44 cm in width and Cindie uses a 38 cm width on all her other bikes.  So we went with the 44 cm bar and I used it.  Cindie had to order a 38 cm road bar from Terry Bicycles.  The advantage to this was that Terry sells smaller bars meant for women.  Cindie couldn't reach the brakes that Bruce specked on the bike.  They were meant for a man so I got them as well.    She also bought brake levers from Terry made for the female hand.  Cindie added a Terry women's specific Ti-Racer Liberator Saddle too.  She highly recommends Terry Bicycle specific parts for women.  The biggest mistake Bruce made with us was the front fork and rack.  We originally ordered a low rider rack but Bruce talked us out of it.  Bruce insisted that her bags would drag on the ground, so we got the rack that sits higher over the front wheel.  When Cindie was finally loaded, with the front bags on, it became obvious that when she was in the drops her hands hit the top of the bags.  In addition, the higher load up front was not as easy to handle.  The brakes that Bruce put on the bike were cantilever brakes and didn't even work with the rims that came with the bike.  The wheels were made from quality parts but poorly built.  We ended up building new wheels and upgrading to V Brakes and a Salsa Brake Booster (Thanks Ed).  Now that Cindie had her bike I could to concentrate on mine.

I wanted my "perfect" touring bike but could not find what I wanted.  I kept searching the internet but soon realized that what I wanted was not out there.  I looked into a custom built frame.  Custom frame builders are more common than I thought.  A lot of them operate in Oregon and Washington.  I soon became interested in custom builders who also specialize in tandems. I am a large heavy guy and have always complained about how stock steel frames flex under my weight.  I now wanted my frame to be built with beefy tubing usually reserved for tandems.  I was also thinking a custom bike could be built to give me the feel of a road bike yet be long and stable with a large load.

Time was running out.  We decided to hire a bike consultant of sorts to help us navigate through all of the complications that are faced when ordering a custom touring frame set and parts.  The consultant and I spoke for a long time and he examined my existing bikes.  He immediately noticed a trend in all of my bikes.   On my road bike, mountain bike, track bike, and even our tandem I was consistently pushing my saddle all the way forward and using the longest stems I could find.  This predicament happened slowly over the years and I never noticed it before.  He listened to my cycling history starting in the fifth grade on my first road bike and then progressing to track and later mountain biking.  He realized that I was set in my ways so when I told him that I liked a bike to be stiff and fit more like a road bike he did not argue with me he helped me find it.  He told me the mass production bikes just are not in proper proportions to me and as I grew I kept pushing my seat forward to get over the peddles.  Because I was pushing my seat forward and the production bikes had relatively short top tubes for me I needed longer and longer stems. 

My bike touring consultant took this knowledge and the other parameters that I had told him that my perfect touring bike would have and started calling around to see who could make it.  He found Co-Motion, a custom builder who specializes in tandem bicycles and had them build it.  First I had to be measured everywhere and then pick out a color.  It did not take very long to get it in the mail but it cost a fortune (US$1,700) for just a frame and fork.  I thought this was a lot for just a regular steel frame.  The funny thing was that there was no tubing sticker and I had to really press the question of what kind of tubing my $1700 frame had.  I expected Reynolds or Columbus but I found out that it was cheap straight gauge True Temper.  I'm OK with True Temper tubing but I think that a frame built with it should cost well under what I paid.  I also did not like the fact that there is no tubing sticker or other documentation of what the bike was made from.  I have never heard of a custom made frame with no tubing sticker.  This combined with the fact that I had to be a little pushy to find out what my frame was made out of gave me the eerie feeling of being deceived.  That is enough for me not to be a return customer unless I am warranting the frame.  I tend to break steel frames and even though this one is stronger than average it will have its day.

Once I had it built it really did fit like a glove.  I really like the fit and my other bikes just seemed to not be right anymore.  It is a good thing that I was about to store them for a long time.  I wonder if I am going to always have to buy custom bicycles when I am done touring and want another regular road, track, or mountain bike.  The fit of this machine will never be duplicated in the bike shop.

My bike rode well unloaded.  Without the weight of our gear it was stiff and responsive.  It descends well and is very comfortable.  Loaded it rides well but there is still too much flex, especially when I stand and grind.  I guess that it was a bit hard to believe that a 240 pound guy would be riding a 150 pound bike and the frame would have to be that STRONG. 


I can see there is a lot of confusion with DownTheRoad.org’s relationship with Koga. The bits and pieces the conversation picked up here is the older part of the story. Please allow me to start at the beginning.

In Nov. 2004 we purchased 2 world travelers at a discount with the agreement that we could sell the bikes on a commission basis. The carrot dangled in front of us by the first Koga USA distributorship owner was that this relationship could lead to full sponsorship of two new bikes. A few days later we flew to Bangkok to begin our Asian leg of our trip. As expected, with bikes in this price range, they performed well and we had no moral conflict in endorsing and selling these bikes.

While we were in Vietnam and China during the spring and summer of 2005 our web site moved to a faster dedicated server and we saw another wave of explosive growth in our traffic. This was good for our Koga pages and we sold many bikes and earned a 5% commission.

I am not certain what happened to the first Koga USA distributorship owner but it changed hands late in 2005 and we had to start our relationship over with the second owner except this time we received a box of replacement parts (chains, cassettes, chainrings, etc) and a 3% commission. The email written by me and quoted here by Chuck Webb dated Nov, 14, 2005 was written during the time of this change.

During the spring and summer of 2006 while we were in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore our web site continued to grow and our Koga sales doubled with us earning a 3% commission. Besides normal moving parts wearing out we continued to enjoy our bikes and could honestly recommend them to people. Also, during this time we began receiving email from several Europeans, Japanese, and others who said that they liked the information they found on our web site about touring bicycles and bought Kogas in their respected countries. We did not have agreements with shops outside the USA so we earned no commissions on these sales but were happy to have helped and thought Koga would notice this (we forwarded some of the emails) and these sales would increase our chances of landing a real sponsorship with them.

While we were in Australia in early 2007 our head sets started showing signs of wearing out. I considered this normal because we had toured on them for more than 3 continuous years and, as we all know, nothing lasts forever. In email I brought the head sets up with the new Koga distributor who offered to send me new ones and then went into complicated instructions on how replace the head sets. He said something about filing a notch in the side and more but I did not pay attention because I had been around bikes for decades and had years of experience working in bike shops with removing and installing the older threaded and newer threadless systems.

This is when my problems with Koga started. When I took the bikes to a highly recommended specialty bicycle touring shop in Melbourne to have new head sets installed they reported they had never seen a head set system like the one on our Kogas and did not want to attempt replacement for fear of damaging the bikes.

Several months later in another high end Australian bike shop I tried again. They refused as well because it was a head set system they were unfamiliar with and again feared damage to the bike. This time I inspected it closer in a campground. It seems that Koga uses a 1inch threaded fork in a 1 1/4 inch head tube. This very special headset must need the extra room or something. I am not sure about this because I am afraid to take it apart.

When I contacted Koga USA again they sent more detailed instructions, two new head sets, and a large (for a bike tour) flat head screw driver with part of the tip filed off. Needless to say I am confused by all this. I keep asking myself “why don’t they use a standard threadless headset that can be found and installed in most bike shops around the world; this bike is called the World Traveler isn’t it?” Koga Europe refused to return any of my numerous emails and only through the USA distributor they somewhat admitted the head set was tricky to install and, as a solution, offered to sell me (at a discount) 2 new frames and forks, with the head sets factory installed. These are expensive bikes so, even with the discount; the price is way out of bounds for two international travelers living hand to mouth on the web.

Knowing that this bike, in my opinion has this huge design flaw meant that I could no longer endorse or sell these bikes. I would have never bought any bike knowing beforehand it had this kind of head set so I consider it unethical to continue recommending them to others. I dropped them from our website even though we were earning thousands of US$ a year from the commission sales. Losing this income really hurt our finances, but this sacrifice is far better than selling out to gear I dislike. We have not found replacement bikes yet.

Now that we are in Auckland, New Zealand finishing our second book I have found many excellent bike shops in town that are knowledgeable of custom equipment and stock a wide variety of touring bicycles. Our head sets are now so worn I believe them to be dangerous and will try again at a bike shop or give it a go myself. If this is unsuccessful I may be forced to buy 2 new threadless forks with normal head sets but this is also expensive.

Neil, during your shopping I am very interested in what you learn and recommend. We are normally on the road and do not have regular or prolonged internet access and my research abilities are limited. I was lucky to have a DownTheRoad.org email subscriber show me this thread so I could address your understandable confusions. If you start another thread on this topic or anything else concerning us please send me an email with the URL pointing to the thread so I can be involved.

 to address your concerns about our endorsements. We have 3 equipment sponsors at this time, Big Agnas, Phil Wood and Ortlieb. I have been a long time customer of both companies and have made several purchases in the past before I approached them, and they supported our trip with free gear. I would use, recommend, and sell on commission their gear even without these sponsorships but the free gear saves us money and I see no need to turn it down. It is only ethical that I work with companies that I can morally hold my head up high and recommend. This is why I dropped Koga when I learned of the head set problems even though we were earning thousands of US$ a year from the commission arrangement. Everything else recommended on www.DownTheRoad.org is sold on a commission basis. Commission deals are not exclusive and I can put anything on the web site or switch items I choose and still earn the 5% commission.

So, our endorsements are our true opinions. They can not be bought or sold. Like anyone’s opinion out there you may disagree or not pay attention to it. Because we have been on a bicycle tour now for almost 6 years most readers of our equipment pages value our hands on experience and shop through the links on our web site as a way of saying “thanks for taking the time to write up your experiences and put it out there”.

 

 

Below is a question that was emailed to me concerning our bicycles.  It may provide more information.  Many more questions and answerers are located on our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.

eXTReMe Tracker

 


Hello Tim and Cindie, The more I read through your website the more anxious I become for the start of my tour to South America. Tim, I have some questions for you. I see that you are a big fellow. I am also a big guy at 250ish pounds, though I am not as tall as you (5'11"). I am still searching for a bike that will be able to handle the weight of not only me, but all my gear. I know that once I hit the road and get some miles behind me, I will loose a lot of the weight. Even if this happens, I doubt I will drop below 200 lbs, due to my large broad frame. My budget is fairly limited and would like to stay under $1,500 for a complete bike. After talking with 11 different shops and getting 13 different answers, I am ready to get some advice from someone like you that I am sure has gone through the same trouble of finding the right bike. Any help on the following questions will be of great help!

1.  What rims do you use and how do you like them? How many spokes do they have (32,36,40, or 48)? I have had several people recommend getting tandem wheels, rims, hubs. Sounds intriguing, but this would mean getting a custom made bike to fit the wider hubs.

2.  You say Bruce Gordon refused to sell you a bike because of your weight? Does he not have the faith in his product?!?!?!?! Bruce Gordon bikes were on the top of the list for me. Now I am not so sure. Now I am getting into a "funk" about what to do. Aargh!

2a.  If I am able to get my hands on one, do you think that such a bike will do ok for such a heavy load? Does Cindie have a Rock-n-Road or a BLT? I am thinking of buying just the BLT frame, fork, B.B., and maybe stem/handlebars then outfit it with wheels and components that I can acquire wholesale. Or maybe do this with a Co-Motion??? Hmmm?

2b.  I would go for a Co-Motion, but since I am new to the sport I don't think I want to spend that much money on a bike. How long did it take to get your Co-Motion delivered after placing the order?

3.  What was the final cost of your bike with out racks and panniers?

4.  How much did Ed's services cost you?

5.  Can you give me a list of the tools you have along with you?

6.  Under what conditions have you broken a steel framed bike?

7.  What tires are you using? Kevlar beaded? How many spare tubes and tires do you have?

8.  A 26" tire seems to be a better idea than 700c, but it seems that most have a lower max. psi. How do they work for big guys with big loads such as you and I?

9.  If memory serves me, you are carrying 150 pounds of gear, correct? Will you two be posting your packing list on you website anytime soon?

10.  Have you researched the Trek 520 touring bike? The gearing would need to be swapped out as well as some components, but its the 700c rims that is really holding me back on this bike.

11.  Have you used or have you run into anyone else using the BOB trailer? Any thoughts on it over panniers or vis-a-versa?

I know that you have limited times to connect to the internet and I have asked many questions. I will truly be indebt to you for any assistance with any of them. Please don't feel obligated to answer all of them. My main concern is finding a good bike that will hold my bulk and that of my gear.

Both you and Cindie are great inspirations to me and I am sure to many more. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. By the way, great website! Be well,

(signed = Ryan, USA)

Ryan: You mention that you are getting ready to go to South America. When will you be there? We will be landing in Quito, Ecuador in early June, 2003. We plan on a 1 or 2 week walking trek around the mountains before heading South on our bicycles. It would be fun to connect.

Many bike shops and other "experts" do not understand the special needs of a cyclist who exceeds 200 pounds (about 100 Kilograms). I have been told that a persons weight and height are not logical factors in choosing frame sets and bicycles in general. I can not believe that. Most of these "experts" were about half of my weight. Other sports seem to understand that a big guy needs bigger and stronger equipment. Bowlers use different weighted balls, skiers have different length skies and amounts of flex. To put it simply big men need a bigger and stronger horse.

I believe that most bikes are made for men who weigh around 180 pounds.  If you weigh more (or less) it will not handle the same. My biggest complaint with bicycle framesets is that they have too much flex. I weigh well over 200 pounds. I have owned several bikes that flexed so much that it would actually shift on its own due to the frame flexing. Through the years I found that I usually preferred an aluminum bike that the bike magazines rated as "to stiff to be comfortable".

I will try to answer your specific questions below:

1.  I started out with front and rear SUN Rhino Lite rims. We used the same type on our tandem for a couple of years and liked them. Unfortunately my rear rim met it's end in Guatemala. I had the rear rim replaced in a very nice bike shop in Guatemala City. Cindie used a regular mountain bike rim. All four of our wheels are 26 inch (mountain bike) 36 spokes. It was a very good thing we had these type of wheels because a rim would have been impossible to find in Guatemala and we heard that it would have been over US$100 in shipping to get a rim sent from the USA.

2.  Bruce Gordon did not like my weight but he especially did not like my height. I am 6 ft. 3 inches. I guess that he does not make bikes that big. Cindie likes the feel of her frame. The tubing seems to be correct for someone her weight. I weigh almost twice as much as her and the same frame would flex a to much for me.

2a.  I see that you are a few inches shorter than me. This makes the Bruce Gordon more possible for you because of two things. First, he probably has a bike big enough to fit you. Second a smaller frame is inherently stronger and flexes less. I understand your dilemma. I is hard to buy an expensive bike that you can not even test ride. Furthermore, you can not compare it to another steel bike even of the same brand of tubing. The geometry is much different and, unless it is loaded, it will never have the feel of actually being on your extended loaded tour.

2b.  I got my Co-Motion in about four weeks. I think that is very fast for a custom bike. If you are new to the sport I do not recommend a custom bike. You have not yet discovered what you really like and do not like in a bike. I think that it would be best to buy a stock bike, learn what you want different, then buy your expensive dream bike.

3.  The final cost of my bike was about US$3,500

4.  Ed's services did not cost any extra. He charges reasonable rates for labor and a small mark up on the parts. He was much cheaper than a regular bike shop.

5.  I do not yet have a list of tools. I have worked as a mechanic in several bike shops when I was younger. I just mentally know that I can do all road side repairs and even some major work. Some day I will make a list.

6.  I have broken many steel frames. About 2 were track bikes on a velodrome while racing, Maybe 4 were road frames while training or racing, and one touring bicycle while touring. I have never broken an Aluminum frame and never owned a steel Mountain. bike.

7.  Our tires are wire bead. The main reason is cost. I am not a big fan of any certain brand of tires. We only carry only one spare tire, It is a small folding 26 x 1 tire. I is used only to get us to a store that sells bigger tires. We have only used it once. We carry about 5 - 8 tubes. 26 inch tubes and tires are easily bought everywhere we have been so far.

8.  It is true that a 26 inch tire has a lower psi than a smaller 700c. This lower pressure is certainly less efficient. This is a small price to pay for the convenience.

9.  We do not travel light. People are often amazed at the amount of stuff that we carry. I tell people that "this is not a vacation for us. This is where we live now." My bike and gear usually weighs between 100 - 150 pounds (50 - 75 Kilograms) depending on how much food I am carrying. Good stores can be few and far between. I have been trying to make a list of all of our stuff. I just can not seem to get it done. Keep checking because you never know.

10.  I have never really looked at the Trek 520 touring bike. My advise is that you are going less than 4 months or will be traveling in Europe or North America a 700c bike is great. Otherwise I would not compromise on the 26 inch wheel.

11.  I have never used a BOB trailer. I have met several people on the road that have had broken BOB trailers. It is usually a broken axel or frame. I have also heard that replacement tires are hard to find in many countries. I also think that pick pockets and bag stasher would have a easy time, with your stuff so far behind you, when you are pushing your bike around a city. (Tim)


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