There are hundreds of modifications and additions available to bicycle owners to make in preparation for a long bicycle tour. There are a lot of special things you need to think about before embarking on your first, next, or possibly final bike tour. Even if you are only considering modifying your existing bike to commute to work, there are a lot of options for making your ride more efficient and more comfortable. In this post, we’ll look at some of the better additions and modifications that are available while checking out my Surly Long Haul Trucker additions.
Consider your purpose
There are many types of cyclists on the road today. There are your road racers, mountain bikers, tourers, and commuters. This is a bicycle touring blog, so we’re going to spend our time considering a bicycle tour and what kind of bicycle it requires.
You should ask yourself some questions before equipping your bike with upgrades and accessories.
- Will I do self-supported touring?
- Will I do overnight touring?
- Will I have a riding partner?
- Will I encounter extreme weather conditions?
Self-supported touring is a type of tour that requires riders to carry all of their equipment on their bicycles. This is a contrasting style to credit-card touring, where riders carry minimal equipment and rely on their credit card or cash to buy things along the way. Self-supporting bicycle tourists carry camping equipment and food in addition to clothing and repair tools. Credit-card bicycle tourists carry clothing and repairs tools and purchase food along the way and usually stay in hotels during overnight trips. These two scenarios present drastically different requirements for your bicycle.
Overnight touring is usually when bicycle commuters turn into bicycle tourers. Whether you are on a self-supporting tour or a credit-card tour, an overnight tour requires carrying more equipment.
Riding partners are great for a number of reasons. Safety comes to mind first. Having another rider a long increases the chance that people will leave you alone and it gives you an immediate line of assistance if you have an accident and are injured. Riding partners can also help share the load. If you are on a self-supported tour, each rider could carry half of the common gear. Some good examples of this are camping equipment and food. Having one rider carry the tent and another carry the camping equipment greatly reduces the load. You also save weight on tools and replacement gear and can also share that load between the multiple bicycles. One last thing to consider is motivation. Having a good riding partner who is able to keep your spirits high, motivate you up a big hill, and lend an ear during a rainy night in a leaky tent will certainly make your bicycle tour more enjoyable.
Bicycle touring requires riders to spend a large part of the day on their bike exposed to the elements. Especially if you are on a long trip with some timeline, riding through extreme weather is something you’re probably going to have to prepare for. Depending on your trip, it might be monsoon rains (Southeast Asia, India,etc), snow and ice (Russia, Canada, etc), wind (everywhere), heat (deserts). Knowing the conditions you will face greatly alters the equipment you need to bring on your tour.
Consider your budget
A rider’s budget effects just about every aspect of a bicycle tour and starts with the bicycle. I’ve written a number of reviews for touring bicycles in the past so I’ll just take a quick snapshot here to give you an idea of what kind of bicycle you can afford.
Inexpensive (Good for short tours and commuting)
This is the Novara Safari Touring Bike. Pictured below is the 2009 model. This is visually appealing and inexpensive. The price tag is 849.00 at REI.com. Click on the picture to learn more. I would recommend this bike for commuting, credit-card tours, and shorter self-supported tours. It is a nice bike but there are a couple of things I don’t like on this bike if it is used for a long self-supported tour. There are very good components on this bike so I’d check it out if you’re in the market.
Economical, Versatile, Reliable (These models will go anywhere and have a small price tag)
This is the Surly Long Haul Trucker. Pictured below is the Surly LHT 2009 model in truckaccino color. This is a simpler bike that is designed specifically for bicycle touring. Surly bikes have a pretty impressive following in the bicycle touring world, considered a great value for all types of tours as well as commuting. The reasons people love these bikes is because they are extremely durable and are very easily upgraded. There are four total braze-ons on the front and rear of the bike, these are screw holes used to secure racks, fenders, and other accessories. There are 3 sets of water bottle bosses on the frame, allowing owners to attach three water bottle cages to the bike. The frame also accomodates huge tires, check out these stats:
700c: w/o fenders: 45mm; w/fenders:42mm
26″: 2.1″ with or without fenders
The ability to fit tires is a great option for bicycle touring because you can fit snow tires, MTB tires, or road tires on the bike. This model can be bought for around 1,095.00.
This is the Raleigh Sojourn. This is another one of my favorite touring bicycles. The Raleigh Sojourn is very visually appealing with creme tones and brown accents. This bike is recommended for all types of tour including commuting. I personally would be a little wary of the disc brakes if I was out in the middle of central Asia or some other remote region, in case they fail you will have a hard time fixing them. The Surly comes with canti brakes which are found just about anywhere. You can see in the picture, the Raleigh Sojourn comes with a set of fenders, a rear rack, and a frame-mounted mini-pump. This model sells for $1,099.00.
This is the Koga Miyata World Traveler. This is one of my favorite high-end touring bikes. If you’ve got some cash to throw around, I’d go with this model. Nice components, a ton of accessories, and high-quality materials.
Don’t forget you’re going to need to buy other things for your tour, like bags, clothes, and camping equipment. Keep this in mind when choosing a touring bicycle.
Consider your options
Now that you know what kind of bicycle tour you’re going to embark on, whether or not you’re riding with a partner, and what bike your going to use, we can look at some additions and modifications you can make to get tour ready.
Clean, drinkable water is the most important thing to have with you on tour. If you’re doing a credit-card tour you don’t really have to worry about carry more than a bottle or two of water as you can stop by the 7-11 convenience store and pick up extra liquids just about anytime you desire. When your bicycle tour gets long and more self-sufficient, you’re water carrying needs increase quickly. The farther from civilization you get, the more water you need to carry on board in case you can’t find it. As a rule of thumb, you need about 1 liter of water per riding hour, and 2 liters per person for cooking dinner and breakfast at camp. Think about a typical 8 hour day, that is 10 liters of water! For an example, the Surly Long Haul Trucker has three water bottle bosses, allowing you to mount about 75 ounces of water, or 3 liters. Here are a couple of ways to upgrade your bike to hold more water:
- Install water-bottle cage adapters on your handlebars, seatpost, frame, and racks. Check out this post for more.
- Carry a water backpack, like a CamelBak.
- Buy water bags and store them in your bicycle bags, I recommend Platypus brand bags.
- Install Topeak Modula XL 1.5 little water bottle cages. Check these monsters out.
Bicycle racks attach to the front fork and rear frame and give riders the option to carry gear in a number of ways. Some racks come with top platforms which are ideal for loading tents, sleeping bags, pads, and cooking gear. Simply put it on the platform and strap down with a strong bungee cord. The sides of the racks are ideal for securing bicycle luggage, called panniers, that hold clothes, repair gear, and other smaller objects. There are a handful of rack manufacturers, I recommend the Surly Nice Racks, as well as the following companies:
Topeak doesn’t offer front racks so consider pairing its rear rack with a Surly Nice Front Rack like my riding partner Derek.
Panniers are the bicycle touring version of luggage. These bags clip onto the front and rear rack of the bike and give you added storage space. There are a lot of different brands out there, so I’m just going to say remember to consider your weather when buying bags. Expecting a lot of rain? Get waterproof panniers. A little rain? Panniers with rain covers. I’ve written a post about the types of bicycle panniers on the market, click here to go there.
That’s all for now, part 2 will be posted tomorrow, so come back and check it out. In the meantime, please learn more about the Long Haul for Hunger, an 8500 mile bike ride on Surly Long Haul Truckers from South Korea to Portugal.