Experiences with our bicycles and some thoughts about the components
First of all, the traveling is about getting to know new places, people, learning new things and sensing life and understanding yourself. There are many ways of traveling, but we liked it most on the bicycle – it’s unbelievable how much freedom you can feel, get to places you’d never get, perceive the surrounding with all senses, get in contact with people is much easier …
We’ve met travelers on old bicycles (we crossed Cube on old Flying pigeons), on cheap bikes from supermarket but also on special touring machines for couple thousands of USD/EUR => It’s possible to travel on anything, the difference is the price, comfort, reliability and availability of spare parts … but still you need to pedal! :)
In our case we jut bought what was big enough, available and for reasonable price – basic mountain bike: Mexican brand Alubike, 26″ wheels, basic suspension fork with lockout, 3×8-speed Shimano Altus, aluminum rack, price approx 550USD …in 8000km we (fortunately) didn’t have any bigger problems. :)
It’s said that touring bike should have a steel frame – mainly because it’s possible to weld it everywhere (we really met a guy who needed to weld broken chainstay). It’s also easier to mount things to simple tubes. It’s also good when the frame is bigger, because it’s possible to fit more things inside of the triangle. The specialized touring bikes have the geometry made for better handling under heavy load and comfortable position for long distances.
Our bicycles had aluminum frame and it worked well.
Important is the geometry of the bicycle – Evit realized after 6000km, that her bike was too short and that was the reason why her arse was hurting (not because of bad saddle). I cannot describe the best geometry but if you feel well on an mountain bike, it’s also a good touring bike.
Totally different category are folding bicycles – worth to consider.
And about the color … :) Of course it doesn’t really matter, but a black bicycle draws less attention that shiny new colorful bicycle with big marks (we wrapped innertubes around the frame).
Touring bikes usually have solid forks mainly for two reasons: there are no moving parts which can break and it’s easier to mount a front rack on it.
We were happy to have suspension – On bad or gravel roads we were able to go fast downhill and it helped on flats also. Of course, you have to lock the fork when going uphill.
Wheels and tires
26, 28 or 29? Considering central and south America – the most available components (rims, spokes, tires) and the cheapest were for 26 tires. Narrow 28 are better for paved roads (but you can do Carretera austral, too). 29 copy the terrain better and don’t shake so much without suspension, but to find spare parts on them can be difficult, they are a little bit heavier and more expensive.
One of the most important things are tires because the most common problem are flat tires. Cheap tire cannot hold big pressure which is needed on heavy loaded bike. On rear tire cheap tire wears off in 1000km.
Good tires (e.g. Schwalbe marathon mondial) can prevent many flat tires, last many times longer (Klaus’ front tire did 28000km) and you can rely on them off civilization.
More important is the rear tire – the front one almost doesn’t matter. I prefer wider tires because they can absorb the bumps and hold better off road (we had 2.0 but e.g. on sandy roads in Bolivia wider would be better).
After 2000km the spokes on rear tire started to break. We were changing them first and then changed all of them and didn’t have problems for next couple of thousands km-s. More quality spokes and good rim can definitely last longer.
We had Shimano Altus (basic series with 8-gears) and we were satisfied. The chain for 8-speed is easy to buy everywhere and it’s cheap (we were changing the chain every 3000km and only once Evit tore the chain – the connecting link got separated). The higher series can probably last longer (I had to whet the teeth on the smallest chainring because the chain got “sticked” on it) and have bigger range (we would like to have one more lower gear, the lowest was 24:32).
We had 2-lever index shifters and haven’t had any problems, but I can understand using of simple 1-lever shifters (there’s nothing which can brake).
So many times I was thinking about the Rohloff hub – it’s definitely incredible thing: reliable (but we’ve heard about some failures which can be fixed only in USA or DE and therefore cause longer delays, but it’s rare), minimal maintenance, long lifetime and no problems in bad weather conditions (also the possibility to protect the chain from dust).
The biggest disadvantage is its price (our two bikes were cheaper than only the hub).
There is common opinion that on touring bike just rim brakes should be used (simlicity, reliability, low weight). We had disc brake in the front and V-brake in the back.
For the next touring bike I’ll definitely choose disc brakes (long lifetime without problems, maintenance or adjusting; the rim doesn’t wear off; efficient in bad weather conditions). Their disadvantage is that their are more complicated and after a crash it would be more difficult to fix them (already a bend disc is enough bad). Definitely cable ones because the hydraulic ones are too difficult to repair and good bike service shops aren’t everywhere.
Tip: A rubber strap on handlebar which can be put onto brake levers and the bike can hold stable when leaned on a wall on uneven surface.
Really important thing! Next time I’ll definitely take steel one, because it’s possible to repair it. Our aluminum ones broke at the end of the journey (fortunately worked after fixing with a wire but we would just let weld the steel ones).
- Simple cyclocomputer – the battery lasts longer than a year and you have overview about distances which helps orientation. GPS is great but as a addition.
- Handlebars – dropdown or butterfly are good because you can change the position of hands (we also met people with more handlebar ends – we had just ones)
- Bottle holder – the best bottles are 1-2l normal PET bottles. Have as many as you can (also for a fuel bottle)
- Mudguards – always is better to not cycle in rain, but sometimes it’s not possible to avoid water holes or mud on the roads and mudguards protect you and panniers from dirt.
- Kickstand – We had perfect stand on the Cuban bicycles which lifted the whole rear wheel. On the new bikes we had center ones which didn’t work and one in back of the chainstay, but it broke (we met one French with both). It’s comfortable to have a stand but you can still use some stick, lean the bike or just put it on the ground.
- Bell – we had stylish big ones but almost nobody reacted on their specific sound. Generally it’s not needed.
- Lock – we had one cable and one good (and heavy) U-lock. Some lock is definitely needed but you leave your bike mostly on safe places (e.g. hostel) and a lighter cable lock should be enough.
- Lights – we had red rear led blinking one which we used couple times in tunnels and headlamps. Generally you don’t go in the night :).
The weight isn’t that important. The bike can carry a lot and you don’t feel 1-2kg difference so you don’t need to watch it so much.
It’s totally different to plan a trip in western Europe than in South America. In civilization you have a good bike shop in every town and it really doesn’t matter what kind of bike you ride. Off civilization it’s needed to have the most reliable components and components which are easy to buy or fix.
Thought about not transporting bicycle to your trip
One way flight costs approx. 100eur (there are some exceptions – companies that take your bike as a normal luggage).
Wouldn’t be easier just get to the destination with everything packed in panniers, buy (rent) a bicycle, enjoy the cycling and then sell (return) it? We did it but saw, that it’s not so easy …
But if you’d carry the most critical components – you can transform almost any bicycle to a touring bike! These are: good saddle, rack, tires, adjustable stem and maybe butterfly handlebars and of course the panniers (or special backpack which can be transformed to panniers).
Special touring bike with the best components is definitely perfect to have, but also a “normal” one can carry you to nice places and you can experience great moments, meet interesting people, see unseen and especially enjoy the freedom of traveling which is possible only on bicycle! It would be pity to not travel only because you don’t have the perfect bike!