No other piece of equipment can make or break
a bicycle touring holiday or vacation like the bike you ride. When
your touring bicycle is engineered correctly and working well you forget it
is there and concentrate on more important things like scenery, emotional
highs, and absorbing the culture. When your touring
bike is made poorly, has low quality components, or just is not the correct
tool for the job you will become overly concerned and preoccupied with what
you are riding. A non-touring bike will cause hours of body pains and
physical injuries because it was not designed to carry a load of camping and
traveling gear. Just like all motor vehicles are not designed to carry
loads safely, few bicycles are made to haul loaded panniers. An inadequate bike will
also break down often and consume your vacation time. I have ridden
both well and poorly designed bikes and greatly prefer my bike to be forgotten and
my tour to be what is important. After all, bicycle touring is not
about the bike.
Below is the decision making
process I went through when I bought our traveling machines.
I learned many things about touring bicycles the hard way and hopefully you can
benefit from my experiences below.
Before we left on our 7 year (now
more) around the world bike tour I had to decide what type of touring
bikes would withstand the hardships in distant underdeveloped countries.
I had done some extended bike touring before and learned
several key lessons the hard way by making major mistakes in touring bikes and
equipment choices. I did not want to repeat these same mistakes on our dream trip
of traveling the world on bicycles so I applied what I knew at that time to my bike shopping
decision. I knew from experience that our
touring bikes absolutely had to have:
I became frustrated trying to solve the problem of choosing
the best equipment for an extended cycling trip. The main problem with
sorting out all of the information about touring bikes and equipment is that the sport
of bicycle touring is not
yet in the mainstream in the USA. There is no good single place to find all of the
information about the best equipment. Bits and pieces have to be gathered
from all over. I researched for months
on the internet and countess bike shops looking for touring specific frames that
used a 26 inch wheel set. These two restrictions greatly narrowed my
choices. I quickly learned that only a handful of major manufactures still
make bicycles specifically for touring and none of these mainstream bike makers
produced touring bicycles with 26 inch wheels. Touring bicycle
manufactures like Trek and Cannondale are only producing
touring bikes (meant for carrying panniers) with 700c wheels (road size wheels). I found two
small non traditional factories who produced 26 inch touring specific bikes but
they seemed expensive and lacking all the details I believe essential in a
functional, durable, and comfortable. touring bike. I was looking for a bike that was built from the ground up for
traveling self contained on a bicycle.
Before we departed on our trip of a lifetime I was faced
with choosing and buying new or used touring bikes. I had to settle on the best bikes I could find. Cindie bought a stock
steel bike and I had a custom steel bike made.
Our bikes seemed sturdy, comfortable, and up to the job at first. Of
course, anything brand new and expensive seems great when you first get it.
Internet discussion boards and newsgroups are full of cyclists singing the
praises of their new bike or other expensive pieces of gear. It takes a
several months for a touring bike to revel its downfalls. Physical and mechanical
problems related to touring bikes crop up after touring cyclists are already on
the road and past the point of no return.
The main goal in my writing these pages is to encourage
people to learn from my bike and gear choice mistakes. The sport of bicycle
touring will never reach its full potential in the USA if American cyclists
experience the same equipment frustrations as Cindie and I did during our first
two years on the road. We learned that substandard equipment will develop
problems that will ruin a well planned trip. This is just as true for a
short weekend tour, a trans-continental ride across the USA, or an extended
multi year voyage. When your bike has mechanical trouble or is
uncomfortable to ride and you developed physical problems the fun is removed
from this wonderful sport. Less than ideal bikes seem to plot against you
while you are on tour. They fail at the worst possible time and leave you
stranded far from help.
My first bike was very heavy, rusted easily and flexed
excessively when I stood on the pedals. The flex was so extreme that the
bike would actually shift gears because of the realignment of the rear derailleur.
My bike also developed an annoying clicking sound due to a poorly made bottom
bracket shell. The worst problem was long term. After riding through
the humid jungles of southern Mexico and Central America I noticed rust
attacking my frame. The rust found every scratch in the paint but really
zeroed in on the inside of the tubes. Cindie's bike was even worse.
Rust never sleeps and it was literally consuming our touring bicycle frame sets
from the inside out! Even though I was constantly applying touch up paint
and regularly sprayed rust proof products inside the tubes the rust would always
begin again in time. Touring bikes are ridden in foul weather and not kept
in a house. Touring bikes are more prone to rust than the average road or
Mt. bike because of the 24/7 outdoor use. It became obvious that these
bikes would not last the entire trip.
Cindie's bike did
not fit her well and had an uncomfortable geometry
which caused back, wrist, and hand pain that nearly ended our trip. She
was very unhappy but fortunately she never quit our tour but she came close. Both of our bikes had regular
unnecessary breakdowns and the physical ailments had to be endured for two years. Loaded self
contained bicycle touring requires a very specific and well thought out bike.
Unfortunately it was not until after we left that we learned that we did not
have the correct tool for the job.
Tim trying to repair a mysterious clicking sound
originally thought to be the bottom bracket. Tim's bike broke in
the worst place; a remote village in the central Mexican Mountains.
It turned out to be a poorly made bottom bracket shell / frame that gave
the bottom bracket enough room to creak as I pedaled.
Tim working on failing rim on a three day climb in the Andes Mountains in
southern Ecuador. Notice that there is a large cliff on the side
of the road and no shoulder for Tim to safely work on his bike. He
looks mad because equipment failures should not spoil an adventure of a
lifetime. Choose wisely.
After several years on the road Cindie and I slowly learned the
ins and outs of touring bikes. It took this extended real life experience
of actually living and traveling on our bicycles to educate us on what works and
what does not. It was easy to point out the flaws in our old bikes because
we had sore backs, butts, and unforgettable breakdowns to remind us. Some
of the most important things to look for in touring bicycles are: Touring
specific geometry, long haul
women's specific saddles,
high quality tires, heavy duty
hubs that are up to carrying
The most enlightening lesson I learned out on the road was
that good touring equipment is hard to find in the USA. Once on the road
we met many cyclists from Europe and realized that their equipment was different
and better than what I could readily find in the USA. Bicycle touring is a
very common and popular recreational activity in Europe. Cycle touring has
always been far more popular in Europe than North America but hopefully that
will change. Because bicycle touring is popular in Europe it is logical
that equipment manufactured there is highly evolved and reflects the European
taste and insistence for high quality products. For example, in the USA:
fenders, kickstands, and racks are considered equipment for kids bikes or
department store models. Europeans use bicycles as transportation to work
and travel. The fenders, kickstands, and
racks available in Europe are far
better than the best regularly available in the USA.
I have spent the last
several years combing North
American bike parts catalogs and online retailers for the touring bicycle
components that make the best durable, comfortable, and affordable bicycle travel
machine available. I have compiled this information in my
Custom Touring Bicycle and Bike Upgrade Buyers
Riding in the rain without fenders can make for a very
wet ride. Honduras was a very wet country for us. It is
difficult or impossible to find good quality fenders in the USA.
Standing on a loaded touring bike puts a lot of stress on the
frame and causes a lot of flexing of the rear triangle. My Chrome-Moly steel
frame set flexed so much that it actually shifted gears.
Buying New or Used Touring Bicycles For Sale for Self Contained Unsupported
Loaded Bike Tours.
Touring Bicycle for Self Contained Unsupported Loaded Bike Tour
used for sale.