Earlier this year, we were contacted by an anxious would-be bike tourist. He bombarded us with questions about gear.
From the bigger pieces of equipment such as the bike and the tent down to the tiny details of bottle cages and bar ends, he wanted everything to be perfect. The equipment, he said, should solve all his problems and never fail.
We had to disappoint him. This graph (spotted in a mountain bike magazine) sums up our view very well.
The more you ride, the less the equipment seems to matter – or at least that’s been true for us.
Good gear helps. Certainly it does. But it’s not the magic answer to a perfect bike tour and believing that the ‘perfect’ gear will ensure a ‘perfect’ trip will only lead to disappointment. No matter what the quality, bikes can break down, waterproof jackets sometimes leak and certain challenges – like fighting a headwind – can’t be helped by equipment at all. In tough situations, a good attitude will get you further than equipment ever will.
We also don’t have all the equipment answers. What works for us, might not work for you. What we like might not be your cup of tea. We list our favourite bits of gear in our free Bike Touring Basics book but every cyclist has to make their own decision. Finding out is half the fun!
We’d also argue that the ‘perfect’ trip is a rather boring one. Some of our best memories come from the toughest moments on the road, when everything seemed to be going wrong. Why go so far to avoid failure and challenges, when we have so much to gain from those experiences?
Back to gear, we recently posted this photo on our Facebook page. It’s from 1898. There’s not a waterproof pannier or high-tech tent in sight.
Fast forward to 1961, where we find this lovely image of two boys out for a bike tour from the Dutch National Archives. Didn’t anyone ever tell them that you’re not supposed to ride a bike while wearing a backpack? Apparently they just wanted to have fun…
At least their panniers appear to be in better shape (and less overstuffed) than the bags that this Japanese cyclist is carrying. The year is 1974 and he’s on an 84,000km trip around the world. How he doesn’t topple over is beyond us…
Back to Dutch cyclists, here’s a family, going on holiday with their self-built touring bike… including sidecar.
Ladies from the 1950s on a 6-month tour of Europe.
A dapper young man, ready for his summer holidays (the photo is from the 1930s).
Two young women, returning to Illinois after a bike trip.
And finally, there’s Frances Birtles, who rode around Australia several times in the early 1900s.
So, to the cyclist who wanted to perfect his touring setup before leaving home, we have just this to say. Go ride. Have fun. The rest doesn’t really matter so much.