What You Need for Self Supported Touring by Bicycle
Equipment - Bicycle
Any bicycle can be used for bicycle touring. With some, you will be more comfortable, more convenienced, and have more time not thinking about how to keep the *&%$ bike happy, instead of the other way around.
I'm talking about "Self Supported Touring", where you are responsible for carrying all your gear. The best bike to use may not be the one you have. Over time, you can modify your bike, or it may be less expensive to buy one that is more suitable. In either case, consider these things:
- Every choice you make should have repairability in mind. The farther you get from your friendly local bike shop, the more important this is.
- At the cost of a couple days of delay, a credit card and a phone number to a national part supplier can solve most hardware availability problems.
- With a bit of training, you can do small repairs yourself; with more training you can handle bigger stuff.
- You will be carrying more weight, and have the possibility of riding in hillier areas than you are used to. Appropriate gearing can help.
- Gearing is commonly measured in "gear inches".
- A low "granny" gear greater than 29 gear inches is not appropriate. A granny near 20 gear inches will let you spin at 4mph. Any slower and you can get off and push.
- A high gear above 100 gear inches may be useful on the flat in a heavy tailwind, but if you have to compromise, go for the lowest granny.
- Figure your gear inches at: http://vps.arachnoid.com/bike/
- More spokes make stronger wheels; get at least 36 per wheel.
- Leave the high-tech 'flashy weight-savers' in the store. Parts are harder to come by, and this type of wheel is less able to carry the load.
- A wheel using the most expensive parts, but poorly built, is a bad value. If you need to have a wheel built, find a master wheel builder.
- 700c wheels are more common on touring bikes; 26" tires are more common outside of bike shops.
- Design and construction are more important than material.
- Even third-world countries have a lot of steel welders; with aluminum or titanium, you take your chances.
- Durability is more important than the savings of a few pounds; you won't know the difference on a bike that weighs between 51 and 56 pounds, loaded.
- There should be clearance for fenders, and tires at least 28mm wide.
- A longer wheelbase will provide more stability.
- There should be braze-ons for bottle racks and a rear rack.
- Tires that are smooth down the middle gives a fast ride on pavement.
- Tires that are wider work better on unpaved roads and trails.
- Handlebars on upright bikes should provide several hand positions to relieve pressure on your hands.
- Drop handlebars give several hand positions and aerodynamic positions.
- Upright handlebars, like those found on 'comfort' bikes, are less aerodynamic, and bumps are more likely to be transmitted to your back.
- A seatpost with a shock absorber can make riding easier on your back, regardless of the type of handlebars you have.
- A triple chainring will make pedaling with a load easier.
- V-style or cantilever brakes have more stopping power.
- A bike with scratches, tape, or paint from a spray can is less likely to get stolen.