Note: This page is a work in progress. Much more to come. Additions to the Resource Section (bottom) are welcome!
What kind of bike do you need for touring?
When touring, you need a sturdy bike that fits you well and rides well under a heavy load. Just about any bike in good working order can become a touring bike with minor modifications: adding a rack to carry your panniers (bicycle bags). If you are riding for a week, don’t let the lack of money for an expensive touring bike prevent you from taking to the road. However, if you are going for a long haul as we did, it is cost-effective to get a bike made for touring.
The bike David rode 12,000 miles on was a $300 Raleigh hi-bred. He was having some back pain when he bought the bike, so he chose a hybrid which allows a more upright body position than your typical road bike. He also wanted a bike with multiple braze-ons or eyelets for attaching both a front and rear pannier rack, two water bottles and a bike pump.
Over the fourteen months of touring, we ended up replacing many moving parts on David’s bike. Partly that was due to accidents, that were not the fault of the bike. But in the end, we decided we would have been better-off spending a little more up-front for a touring specific bike, like a Surly Long-Haul Trucker https://surlybikes.com/bikes/long_haul_trucker.
I paid $700 for a Novara Safari https://www.rei.com/product/775749/novara-safari-touring-bike. That is still the bike I ride every short or long distance. It is a sturdy bike built specifically for touring with a low center of gravity, lots of low gear options for climbing large hills and mountains, a strong yet lightweight frame and fork built for stability especially going downhill while fully loaded. I am 5’2” tall so I needed a smaller frame and 26” wheels. The Novara has disc brakes which means my rims and tires didn’t get overheated when braking down long steeps inclines with lots of switchbacks, and butterfly handle bars which allow multiple hand positions. This is important because my hands tend to become numb after about twenty miles. It came with a sturdy rear rack and had braze-ons for a front rack.
My bike had very few mechanical problems throughout the trip despite being a relatively inexpensive touring bike. In retrospect the two upgrades we should have made before starting were more puncture resistant tires for both bikes, (see tires) and a saddle or bike seat specific to my anatomy. (see seats).
Bottom line: nearly any bike can be turned into a touring bike. Don’t let the cost of bikes keep you home. Also keep in mind: an expensive bike may increase your worries about security, and the real chance your bike will be stolen.
More important than what kind of bike you buy, your bike needs to fit you. If you can pay for a professional bike fitting it will probably be worth the money as there is a direct relationship comfort and efficiency and a good bike fit. If you are in reasonable shape and your knees or back are constantly hurting when you ride, you probably need to adjust your bike’s fit.
These simple adjustments are the key to fitting your bike.
When standing over the top tube and lifting the bike, you want approximately one inch of clearance between the ground and the tire. Once you have the right frame size, adjust your seat height so that at the bottom of your pedal-stroke you have a slight bend in your knee. You need to come within 80-90% of full extension. This adjustment will maximize the power and efficiency of each pedal-stroke.
The next thing to adjust is your front to back seat position. When your crank arm is parallel to the ground a plumb line extended from your kneecap goes through the ball of your foot.
Lastly, your stem length determines the angle of your back and the bend in your arms. Ideally, your back is at a 45-degree angle and your arms are slightly bent to absorb shock. Remember: you still must reach your shifters and your brakes.
With a properly fitted frame, and your seat and handlebars adjusted correctly for your body, riding further is easier and more comfortable. But, nothing beats taking a break to avoid repetitive stress.
Should you Clip In?
We went for safety over efficiency and rode flat pedals instead of clipping in. Having older bodies, we didn’t want to risk a broken hip or hand from a fall. Everyone will fall at some point in a long tour and the consequences with fifty pounds of gear on your bike are greater.We typically rode 30-60 miles per day, and never more than 80 miles. We met many bike tourists who wouldn’t dream of riding flats, particularly those riding many miles daily.
If you want to cross the US in two weeks, and/or ride centuries (100-mile days), clip in and enjoy the speed.
Our very first Warm Showers host suggested we spend the money to get flat resistant Kevlar belted tires. We would have saved ourselves a lot of hassle if we had followed their advice. Our first flat was from a roofing nail that probably would have pierced any tire, but there are many road hazards such as the tiny wires in truck tire retreads, thorns, and small pieces of glass that a good Kevlar belted tire such as the Schwalbe Marathon, or Continental GatorSkin tires can repel.
Belted tires are harder to find, so do what we didn’t do and start with them. They ride stiffer and are harder to get on and off the rim when you do get a flat. Once we did purchase them I went over a thousands of miles without a flat.
Tire size: If you plan riding on trails or unpaved back roads at all, you will want to have a wider tire than your typical road bike. Even if you are not planning to, if you are riding many miles, eventually, you will.
Tire maintenance: regularly inspect tires and use a fingernail clipper to extract any wires or glass that are embedded before they make their way through the tire and into your tube.
We always carried extra tubes, a good pump and path kit.
What to Bring
Note: We did not begin with all the “right” stuff. We did pack some “wrong” stuff. We made it 12,000 miles. I offer no rules, just some suggestions, and a reminder that everyone’s needs are different.
First: figure out your laundry quotient: How often will you need/ be able to do laundry?
Factor one: Can you wear dirty bike clothes? I needed to bring enough that I could wear clean bike clothes every day, especially on my bottom. This was not for the sake of sociability, but for health. If you are not apt to get rashes, and infections, then you might be able to get away with re-wearing clothing.
Factor two: What will be your access to, and desire to use, clothes washers, or water sources if you plan on hand washing?
For us factor one and factor two equaled three. Three warm weather bike top and bottoms, and a plan to do laundry every third or fourth day.
We also brought six pairs of underwear. (Some riders do not wear underwear. Figure that out for yourself and don’t let anyone tell you there is a rule for all bodies). Sometimes when it was really hot, I changed underwear midday, top and bottom. Sometimes I should have and did not
Sox. We brought six pair of sneaker sox and one pair of wool.
Depending on your weather conditions of your ride, you may need layers for warmth. If you climb mountains you can go from summer to winter during your day. Protection from rain is a must unless you are riding a desert in the hottest weather. My rule was, I don’t need more than one of anything that I do not wear right against my body. We sent home heavier layers when we thought we no longer needed them. We bought coats in January and ditched them a month later. Keep in mind, we were not biking in wilderness for weeks on end. We had access to stores.
Biking for fourteen months, (two summers) and riding the perimeter of the US, we rode north in summers and south in the winter. We had snow on the US/Mexican border on March 1. One of the coldest days — when we nearly got frostbite—was in June. I had heatstroke in November. We did not carry everything we needed for fourteen months. We were able to buy what we needed temporarily, and send it to a relative.
Gloves: Bike gloves are a necessity and damn expensive. If you are like me, they are easily lost. Work out a plan to keep track of them. If you are dealing with cold weather, you will want something warmer than bike gloves though not so bulky that you lose dexterity.
Hats. Helmet hats provide much warmth. A foldable hat is good for covering up helmet hair and protecting you from the sun when off the bike.
Civies: That is what we called the outfit, comfortable in most weather, that we wore every night when we were done with our day: one top and bottom, durable and not bulky. We went with button down shirts with sleeves that could be rolled up and pants with bottoms that could be unzipped to create shorts. If you are somewhere new nearly every night, no one knows you wore only one outfit for a year.
Sleepwear. Sleep is so important. What will help you sleep? Maybe you think, I’ll be so tired, nothing will keep me up. If that is the case with you, you are lucky. I did not find that to be the case. I needed something soft and cozy against my skin at night. Do you.
Sandals, or some other form of footwear than what you wear on the bike. Sometimes I carried an extra pair of sneakers.
Glasses: if you wear them and you are impaired enough that you could not ride without them, an extra old pair. Sunglasses. I was grateful to have eye-ware on to protect my eyes form dust, bugs other dangerous particles.
light weight back packing tent,
sleeping bags. (We traded our summer bags for winter ones at some point and sent the one we weren’t using to a relative). one light 15+ one -20)
Sleeping sheet bag. So much more comfortable against skin. Great for hot days when you ditch the sleeping bag, or for extra warmth on cold ones.
Self-inflating sleeping pads,
Yoga mats. I know, that sounds outrageous. It was the item elicited the most derision from other bicyclists, but we never ditched them. I needed the mat to provide a layer in the tent that did not move. I wish I could tell you we did yoga every day, (goal for next time!) but, in truth, we used those mats more often for an afternoon nap. They were right on top, and we could easily roll them out for twenty-minute snooze. We had a few awful sleepless nights. Sleeping in the day was a survival necessity. Mid-day, atop a picnic table, or under a tree, I got some the best naps.
Bike tool kit:
If you are riding far away from a bike shop you may want to bring: spare chain, derailleur hanger, brake cables, brake pads.
No matter your conditions you will find these essential:
multi tool, tire change and patch kit & tire levers,
duct tape, twist ties for emergency repairs,
spare nut plyers,
finger nail clipper for pulling objects our of tires,
Cooking ware and snacks: see Food.
First aid kit, including butt cream and insect repellant,
Large heavy duty zip lock bags to line panniers.
Waterproofing is everything. We learned that the hard way.
Some will get along with the tiniest bit of soap. For others more elaborate hygiene is essential. You might need tampons. Pads might be helpful regardless of your body parts, when bathrooms are scarce and peeing on the side of the road might get you arrested Vitamins, might be on your list.
Extra IDs, passport, credit cards etc.
Numbers and photos of all those things in a different place. Insurance cards and copies of them packed in another place. Emergency info sheet for you front pannier.
Your personal necessities:
Everyone has things they feel are necessities, that others balk at. Perhaps for you it is a camera, a musical instrument, a computer, a kindle, a book, writing journals, juggling balls. Maybe you can’t live without make-up. Don’t let anyone else tell you what makes sense. You can make the decision to carry the weight, to implement the security if it something stealable. You can change your mind if you are biking past post offices.
I was writing a book. A computer and notebook and pens were essential for me. About half the time I carried a recorder (instrument). We always had one book on us.
This list is a work in progress. Please contact me with your resources.
There are many Facebook pages for bicyclists. Here are a few:
https://tamalesybicicletas.weebly.com Immigrant rights and Bicycling
https://bikesleepbike.com Bicycle blogs and books.
https://www.warmshowers.org Couch surfing for bicyclists
https://www.adventurecycling.org maps, advice, articles for travel in the USA.