Whether you’re here because you are considering a tour of your own or if you’re just curious about what makes for a successful bicycle tour, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome! This page will provide what we’ve decided are helpful tips regarding gear, components, nutrition, bike choices, and more. As we progress on our own tour we will be adding tips as we learn from trial and error.
The first and perhaps most important consideration in your tour is your bicycle, your chariot, your two-wheeled wonder-vehicle. Any bike will get you where you want to go but picking a bike made of steel, fits you well, is comfortable, and makes you feel proud and motivated is key.
First, newer bikes are usually made of aluminum, which is a good lightweight material but not suited for touring as weight and unmanaged roads can damage it beyond repair. Older bikes are generally made of steel, which if bent or cracked can be molded and welded back into shape. Speaking of welding, bikes made prior to 1985 were made in Japan utilizing lugged construction, making the frames ultra strong. Post 1985 the majority of bikes were constructed in Tawain, where they started welding the frame together. If you chose a welded frame, make sure it has clean welding, free of bubbles and cracks.
Additionally, old bikes are cheaper and easier to come by. A simple Craigslist search can yield many possible fits for your body and budget. Although older bikes often require refreshing with new cables and components, customizing it with new pieces that better fit your needs not only makes you intimately familiar with your bike, but it also requires that you learn the general mechanics and repairs. Furthermore, a used, mismatched bike is less of a target of theft than a shiny brand new one.
If you do have the money to buy a new bike, we recommend the Trek520 or the Surley Long Haul Trucker because they are relatively relatively inexpensive, solidly built, and will not have the same quirks used bikes do. Buying new provides you the opportunity to buy exactly what you want without the hassle of finding the right components to fit your comfort level.
Ensuring that the frame you choose fits your body is of the utmost importance not only to your comfort but also in preventing strain or long-term damage to your body. Check out bikesizing.net to determine what size bike works for you.
Deciding between a road and a mountain bike is your next consideration. Older road bikes, while only 10 speed offer a larger gear ratio, allowing you more momentum on straight away and downhills, and easier pedal strokes for mountains. However, they are designed strictly for road use and their thin tires make uneven roads especially jarring. Today we spoke with fellow tourist, Jade, who expressed his disappointment that he was unable to explore his surroundings more thoroughly due to the limitations of his road bike. When we met Jade, he was looking for a 700cc tube, which is harder to find and generally more expensive. Similarly 27″ 1 1/4 size tires on older road bikes are more common in Europe and the US but are harder to find anywhere else. Choosing a bike with 26″ tires will give you the most and cheapest option of wheels, tubes, and tires.
The points of contact on the bicycle are your handle bars, peddles, and seat. Road bikes with the ubiquitous drop handle bars may look stylish, but from experience, function trumps form. For touring purposes, straight handle bars afford one very comfortable hand position, rather than a few mediocre positions. With ergonomic grips (we chose Ergo g2 to alleviate the pressure on our wrists and assist in climbing hills) you’re ensuring a more comfortable ride with fewer chances of nerve injury and finger numbness. For pedals, we chose toe clips, rather than cleat pedals that secure your shoe to the pedal. Cleat peddles work brilliantly for racing, but don’t allow adjustment or enough mobility for long term riding. Plus, when you’re touring you don’t want to carry a bunch of shoes. Choosing shoes you can wear on your bike, on a hike, or at a pub reduces the weight and limited space you have. A seat, is what you will be sitting on the entirety of your cycling adventure. We recommend you choose your seat wisely and many months before your tour from a store that will let you exchange a seat as many times as you need. Some people require more cushion and wider seats while others prefer a more streamline pseudo racing seat that is narrower and has more contour to cradle your baby makers. It may take hundreds of miles to break it in so it fits to your form, so start testing seats early and often.
We chose to convert mountain bikes into touring to have the best of both worlds. From experience touring on a Japanese road bike, and a Taiwanese mountain bike, a mountain bike provides more comfort and options. Having the option to go off road has made the experience richer.
First things first. It’s important to remember your have to carry every single thing you bring, and the weight adds up quickly! You might have two pairs of street pants that make your booty look ‘licious but you have to lug them around, and they probably won’t fit the same by the end of your tour. Carrying as little as possible is the only way to travel long distances on a bike, especially if the terrain is mountainous and/or the weather changes dramatically. Even for us self-proclaimed minimalists, we have already sent about 10 pounds of stuff home.
Storage and Sleeping
For Kelly’s first bicycle tour from New Orleans to New York, she made a pannier bag and bought a generic one before shelling out the big bucks for top of the line bags. Her reasoning was if she decided she wasn’t all that into touring, at least she didn’t spend a lot of money for something she would never use again. As it turned out she really enjoyed it and quickly became disappointed with the cheaper bags as they broke only a few hundred miles into the tour. Luckily bungee chords helped keep the bags functional for the remainder of the trip.
This time we decided to go with the trusted Ortileb brand. Durable with welded seems, waterproof, and multifunctional, these bags are still like new 1500 miles into our current tour. Ever the conscience consumers we went with Ortileb becauase they are made ethically in Germany. The other brand we have seen numerous tourists use is Jandd and they rave of their excellence. They are waterproof, durable and slightly cheaper but no longer made in the USA.
Having the proper pannier bags is important, and staying organized within them is a must. A “bags within bags” system helps us know exactly where each item we carry is. For instance, we each have a rear pannier bag devoted in part to clothes. To keep the clothes separated from other items, we have a stuff sac for them. Within the clothes bag we have color-coded ditty bags for socks, underwear, shirts, etc. This goes for each of the panniers. At any time we can identify the exact location of any of our things.
Our budget does not include hotels so we have a Mountain Hard Wear Drifter 2 (2 persons) tent. It has two doors so we can enter and exit without disturbing each other, it is quick and easy to assemble, it is 3 season, and completely waterproof. However it did not come with a footprint. Fortunately, we have a tarp which serves the purpose of a footprint as well as many other uses. We chose this tent because the REI tent we originally brought had been used on Kelly’s first tour among other adventures and quickly broke in numerous ways. We recommend researching and choosing wisely so you don’t find yourself in a wind or rain storm with a broken leaky tent. Some tourists choose tents that have the capability of housing an extra person so they can comfortably fit some gear in the tent and not be crowded.
We also chose Big Agnes sleeping pads and bags because they are light and are compact. The sleeping pads are blown up by mouth and fit nicely in the slip connected to the sleeping bag so we are not constantly rolling off it while we sleep. Furthermore, the sleeping bags can be zipped together which makes for a comfy, cozy, warm night.
For our next adventure, we are going to invest in a larger sleeping pad for us both to share in order to avoid slipping into the space between our pads. Our current setup works but becomes a bit tedious to scoot the pads close enough together to share sleeping space.
As with any trip, it is important to choose comfortable and weather-appropriate clothing. Our excursion has taken us from snow to desert so we each have devoted an entire rear bag to our various layers. Throughout the day we typically undergo numerous costume changes. We each have a pair of padded spandex cycling pants and shorts, moisture wick-away t-shirts, and tank tops. We also carry street clothes: 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of shorts, and 2 shirts. When cycling, Mi wears a bright colored jacket which can be converted to a vest in warmer climes to maintain optimal visibility at all times. Kelly has a bright yellow cycling shirt that is also visible from long distances.
For shoes, we decided to only bring one pair each of multi-use shoes (Kelly sports Sambas while Mi has vegan Macbeths) rather than carry multiple pairs. Ours are waterproof and good for hiking or going out on the town. However, they don’t breathe especially well which makes for some pretty noxious feet by the end of the day. We also have Mi’s Vibrim Five Finger shoes for showering and swimming in rivers.
Additionally, we both have two pairs of sport ankle socks, two pairs of wool socks, three pairs of underwear and two sports bras. Every night we wash what we wore that day. All of this wear is specially designed to dry quickly. If it is not dry by morning we bungee it to our bikes and it dries during our ride. This way we can stay clean at all times.
We each have cycling gloves for both warm and cold weather. Gloves make all the difference for comfort and the ability to grip the handlebar when cold or sweating. Our warm weather gloves have easy finger removal tabs which make it easy to take off without turning them inside out. It also reduces the chance of damaging them.
We each wear a bandana tied around or necks while rising to keep the sun off or to put over our faces to warm the air on cold mornings and keep from inhaling sand when it’s windy. We also each have a cooling headband filled with little gel pellets that can be soaked in water on those hot days. When it’s cold we each have a beanie and when hot we each have a sun hat.
Depending on the quality of thrift stores in your area, you can find much of what you need at a greatly reduces price. In Ventura, for example, Kelly was able to find 2 very slightly used Performance cycling shorts, a North Face mid layer sweater, a Columbia waterproof shell, and all of her cycling shirts. With enough time and patience, it is possible to find all the necessary gear used for a reasonable price.
Lastly we each brought a warmer jacket for night. When not on a bike, it can get really cold on breaks or at camp. It is nice to be able to be at camp and not need to be in a sleeping bag to stay warm.
For any traveler, choosing toiletries is always an important task. This is especially true for cyclist or backpackers as weight is always a concern. We use Dr. Bronners multi-purpose soap for everything to our body to the dishes. It comes in a lot of varieties but we prefer the eucalyptus scented soap for its bug repelling qualities. We also carry crystal deodorant because it is natural, it lasts for years, and does not attract bears. Everything else is really about preference so finding small containers is the key. Here are a list of other things we have:
Toothbrush with an anti microbial travel cover
Dental floss (for teeth and the occasional sewing repairs.)
About 50 q-tips
Sunscreen (designating a time at regular intervals to re-apply will not only set a schedule for breaks but will also keep you from frying your skin and reduce the risk of sun stroke.)
Last but not least, we each use a menstuaral collecting cup( we chose the Lunette and Diva cup but their are many brands to chose from). Rather than carrying around toxic bleached, cotton sticks that are uncomfortable, messy, and hard to dispose of, we have chosen a zero waste option. We both think these are a godsend and are the most comfortable, cleanest option we have ever used, not to mention the reduction of cost that goes into the monthly madness. They are invisible, makes the cycle shorter and less painful, and requires less maintenance. we recommend them for everyone, regardless of if you’re touring or not.
Do you need a stove, pots, and utensils, or can you afford to eat out for every meal? Our budget is limited which means we do not eat out very frequently. When consulting your bank account, the choice can become very clear. Additionally, if you have dietary restrictions, like we do, cooking your own food will ensure you’re getting everything you need out of every meal. All too often you can find yourself in a situation where all you can eat are hashbrowns and that can effects your energy level and mood.
There are numerous options and a deal of research to be done on which device is best. On Kelly’s first tour she made a burner with a couple aluminum cans with holes in a ring shape made by a needle and used 100% isopropyl for fuel. Pure isopropyl was hard to find and the cans were easily damaged, rendering the stove useless.
This time, we decided on something more reliable. We chose the Primus Omnifuel with a fuel container that fits neatly in a water bottle cage. Mounting a cage on your bottom tube will ensure fuel will not leak on your gear. It can handle a variety of fuels and can boil water at any altitude or temperature. You can use one of those semi-circular Coleman pressurized fuel containers, but it’s heavier, bulkier, and harder to tell when you’re running low.
We use 2 MSR pots and one fits neatly in the other where we also store some rice and an MSR spatula. We also have 1 spoon, 1 fork, and one trekker multi-utensil-tool which has a fork, spoon, knife, can opener, cork screw, and poker.
We find that wash cloths work better than sponges because it is easier to dry.
Inevitably, there will be repairs needed on your bicycle. Having a tool kit and supplies will be a lifesaver. We each carry an air pump, extra tube, repair kit, 2 crescent wrenches, 2 tire leavers, a key to true the wheels, a chain breaker, a set of Alan wrenches, bike lube, a grease rag, a Gerber multi-tool, and duct tape. Kelly also has a Crank-Brothers multi-tool which has most of what we just listed to make minor repairs.
When exerting so much energy, it is suggested that a person drink a gallon of water a day. Storing that amount of water can become problematic. Mi has a 2 liter Platypus and Kelly has a 1.5 liter Camelback. We each have a 1 liter Nalgene bottle, 1 liter platypus bag, and two .75 liter Klean Kantene bottles in our water bottle cages. This is more than enough water for one day, but in stretches with limited access to water, it is important to have the capacity.
We generally have at least one type of 100% juice( usually V8 fusion) or a couple cans of coconut water for that extra boost. Coconut has a great deal of potassium and electrolytes without all of the counter productive sugars and additives typically found in sports drinks. It’s tasty, refreshing, and is recommended before and after exercise.
We both use 4 bungee chords and have 2 extra each because when all else fails, a bungee will keep something strapped to your bike. We also have a personal bag with things like journals, pens, phones, iPods, chapstick, wallet, pepper spray, knives, and postcards etc.