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You Are Viewing Bike Touring Basics

Chapter 13: Loading Up The Bicycle

Posted February 6th, 2012

Now that you have camping gear, clothes and a whole pile of other stuff to take on tour, how will you carry it all on your bicycle? The options are numerous.

Loading up your touring bike
Will you use two panniers or four? Or maybe a trailer?

You could go for the classic combination of panniers and luggage racks, or you might opt to tow a trailer behind your bicycle. Some people have both luggage racks and a trailer. Other folks travel ultralight and get away with barely more than a handlebar bag.

There’s no one correct answer. The only way to know for sure is to try some different combinations yourself and see if you’re happy with that solution. That said, here are some starting points to get you thinking about what might be best for your trip.

1. Panniers
2. Luggage Racks
3. Trailers
4. Still Confused? Trailers vs. Panniers

 

Bicycle Locks For Touring

Posted February 6th, 2012

I came off the twelve hour ferry from north Cyprus, tired, a little crumpled from the lack of sleep. I made my way to the station as I was about to cheat to make haste, wanting to catch the apricot harvest and spend three days at Cappadocia before shooting east, pretty much non-stop over the mountains and into Iran to be part of the action unfolding. The bike was just behind me and in plain view while I went to get the ticket. Turned around -GONE! -Keith Hallagan 

Don’t worry too much about your bike being stolen. Although it’s every bike tourist’s worst nightmare, this is one thing that honestly is very unlikely to happen.

Bicycle tourists tend to stay with their bikes most of the time and are drawn to rural areas instead of high-risk big cities. Also, a loaded touring bike is a fairly obvious thing. It’s not easy to ‘fade into the crowd’ or make a quick getaway with such a big, weighty bicycle.

If you’re worried about your bike in places where poverty is relatively common we have one word of advice: relax. We had no bike security issues when we cycled through some of the world’s poorest countries. The people there were among the most hospitable of our trip.

In general, they would not steal a bike because the traveller is an honoured guest and because your bike would be very obviously something stolen, when compared with local bicycles. Also, if your bike is taken in these countries then community leaders are likely to launch a search to find the offenders! Often the thief is known to the community and has taken things from locals before.

The biggest chance of your bike being stolen is when you leave it unattended for ‘just a second’ in a town or city. “I’ll only be a minute. It’ll be fine,” you think but that’s all the time an opportunistic thief needs to hop on and ride away. It’s in these situations when you need a lock to secure your bike so it’s there when you return.

Here are some of our favourite locks:

1. Cable Lock

A good cable lock is perhaps the most useful type of lock for touring. It’s relatively lightweight, not too expensive and can be stretched around anything from bike racks to telephone poles. Make sure you get one that’s long enough (over 1 meter) and don’t go for the cheapest one. The very thin, flimsy cable locks that tend to be sold in supermarkets won’t slow a thief down at all. There are many types of cable locks. We like two locks from the Kryptonite KryptoFlex range: the 1007 Looped 7’ cable and the 815 Combo Cable Lock. Both can be used in combination with a U-lock or separate padlock.

Locks
Two locks from Kryptonite: the 1007 Looped 7’ cable (left) and the 815 Combo Cable Lock (right).

2. U-Lock or D-Lock

These locks are effective and secure but very heavy to carry on a bike tour. It’s up to you, whether the extra security is worth the added bulk. If you plan on passing through a lot of cities on your tour, a big lock like this may be worth it. For many bike tourists, however, a U-Lock is probably overkill. We like the Kryptonite Evolution Series 4 U-Lock.

U Lock
If you’re going to get a U-lock go for a heavy-duty one that will be of use to you in high-risk areas such as cities.

3. Wheel Lock

cablelock.jpeg

This type of lock is known by at least 4 names: o-lock, ring lock, wheel lock or frame lock. It’s standard equipment on many bikes in Europe. The varying names all refer to the same thing: a lock that attaches to your frame. You put the key in and push down on a lever so that a metal ring slides between the spokes of your back tire, locking the bike.

We love wheel locks because they’re so darn convenient for quick stops while on tour. Coupled with a cable lock, they also make for a fairly secure setup. Our current touring setup includes the ABUS 4850 LH NKR wheel lock, plus a compatible cable lock that slots into the wheel lock.

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In addition to buying a good lock, there are several things you can do to make your bike more secure:

1. Tip a local shopkeeper $1-2 U.S. to be your ‘bicycle security guard’.
2. Get a hotel room when staying in a city (instead of staying at a campground or in a hostel dorm room) and keep the bike in your room.
3. Lock your bike to something secure in a highly visible place – not down a dark alley.
4. Make the bicycle look undesirable. Cover brand names with tape and string your laundry across the back to dry.
5. When wild camping, lock the bike to something solid like a picnic table or tree.
6. On trains and buses, take responsibility (where possible) for loading your own bike into the cargo area. On a train, lock it inside the luggage car or take off the saddle and turn the handlebars so it can’t be easily ridden away.

For a humorous look at bike theft, read this story about a bike being dragged away by horses in Mongolia.

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Campstoves For Bicycle Touring

Posted February 6th, 2012

Here are a few campstoves we recommend for bicycle touring:
MSR Whisperlite Internationale

1. Whisperlite Internationale

The MSR Whisperlite Internationale is a bike touring classic. It’s also the stove with which we are most experienced. We’ve fired it up well over 1,000 times and carried it for our entire 3-year world bicycle tour. You can run it on almost any fuel (from white gas to unleaded petrol) and it’s easy to fix in the field using the MSR tool kit.

If you need to replenish your tool kit, you’ll find that many of the parts can be picked up at plumbing or hardware shops around the world. We’ve also found MSR customer service to be fantastic.

On the downside, the burner does get black with soot (only the burner – not the pots you use to cook with) and – despite its name – this stove is reasonably loud. It also needs to be primed. If you release too much fuel during the priming process (or if there’s a lot of wind), it’s possible to get an impressive flare from the Whisperlite.

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2. Primus Omnifuel

The Primus Omnifuel has accompanied many touring cyclists on their journeys. We tested it during a 2-week tour of Denmark and found 3 main advantages over the MSR Whisperlite: it burns canisters as well as liquid fuel, it’s very clean (the burner doesn’t get nearly as sooty) and it’s relatively quiet. It does, however, cost much more than the MSR Whisperlite so you have to be a keen cook to really get your money’s worth out of it.

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*Note: MSR is releasing a competitor to the Primus Omnifuel in 2012: the MSR Whisperlite Universal. It will also burn canister fuel. Watch for it in your local camping shop!
Jetboil

3. Jetboil Group Cooking System

A super easy stove to operate. Like all canister stoves, this Jetboil stove doesn’t need to be primed. It’s ready to cook at the flick of a lighter; perfect for a quick cup of coffee by the side of the road. On the downside, you’ll have to be touring somewhere fairly mainstream for this stove to be an option because you won’t necessarily find the fuel canisters everywhere in the world and you can’t take them on a plane. Also, this stove isn’t easy to fix in the middle of a field. If you have problems you may well need to send it back to the dealer for repair.

Trangia Stove

4. Trangia Stove

Trangia stoves are adored by many cyclists. They’re extremely quiet, easy to maintain, very robust and simmer beautifully.

They burn methylated spirits by default – a fuel which is broadly available worldwide but can be tricky to find. Research the local name for this fuel before you fly off to an exotic destination (there are many lists of translations into multiple languages online). You can buy converter kits that allow the Trangia to use gas cartridges and unleaded fuel but these kits add a lot to the price of the stove.

The performance of the Trangia can also suffer in cold weather, so it may not be the best bet if you’re planning on a lot of winter camping.

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Camping Gear For Bicycle Touring

Posted February 5th, 2012

These are some of our favourite camping accessories for bicycle touring.

1. PHD Minim Sleeping Bag

This is the sleeping bag we’ve used for over 4 years. It’s a down-filled bag that retails for about $400 U.S. and is made by UK company PHD. You may not end up buying this particular bag (there are many good bags to choose from), but here are a couple things we particularly like about this bag, so you can bear them in mind when you’re shopping around.

PHD Minim
PHD Minim sleeping bag: with no zipper, there’s no way for a draft to get in.

First of all, we prefer down-filled bags because they’re warmer and lighter for the size than synthetic fillings. On the other hand, a disadvantage of down is that it won’t keep you warm when wet whereas synthetic fillings will. We have never found it difficult to keep our bags dry. They are packed in a dry bag when we’re on the road so the only moisture we’ve ever noticed is a little condensation on the surface from morning dew. This dries very quickly.

Also, our particular sleeping bag has one unique feature: there’s no zipper. You just slide yourself inside. This means no draft coming in from one side of the bag and no rolling onto an uncomfortable zipper in the middle of the night. It also shaves a few grams off the overall weight of the bag and removes one of the few things that can break on a sleeping bag.

On the other hand, you can’t open a zipless bag if you’re too hot. For couples, it also rules out the possibility of zipping the bags together. If you do get a sleeping bag with a zipper (by far the more common design), choose a bag with a ‘zip baffle’ or ‘draft tube’ that helps seal out cold air. The zipper should also be heavy duty. It’s the one item on your sleeping bag that gets used over and over, and will almost certainly be the first to wear out.

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fl_prolite3_regular_l.jpg

2. Thermarest Prolite Mat

Among bike tourists, Thermarest Prolite sleeping mat is one of the most popular choices. It’s light, super compact and should keep you warm as long as the temperature doesn’t dip too far below freezing. Like all inflatable mats, however, it is prone to punctures and – after several months of constant use – can fail entirely.

Thermarest have a great lifetime warranty on these mats, so if you’re doing shorter trips and can get the mat replaced easily enough, then go for it. On an extended world trip, however, we prefer a solid foam mat like the Thermarest Z Lite.

Exped SynMat

3. Exped DownMat & SynMat

For the ultimate in comfort and warmth, Swiss-based Exped make a DownMat 7 (with down feather filling) and SynMat 7 (synthetic filling). They’re both worth considering. The thick profile of these mats will keep you cozy, even in temperatures well below freezing.On the downside, they take longer to inflate than thinner mats and can be noisy when you toss and turn during the night. Read our review of Exped mats.

Thermarest Zlite

4. Thermarest Z Lite

If your priority is an indestructible sleeping mat, try the Thermarest Z Lite. It’s a closed-cell foam mat. This means you never have to worry about damage to the mattress. You can throw it on top of a bed of thorns, and the mat will be just fine. It’s also half the price of an inflatable mat!

What’s not to like? Some people find it too thin and uncomfortable, although we slept just fine on it. It’s also relatively bulky. We carried our Z Lite mats in a bag, on top of the back luggage rack.

If you’re debating between the Z Lite or the Prolite sleeping mat, see our comparison of the two.

5. Petzl Headlamp

We’ve had our Petzl Tikka 2 Headlamps for 6 years now and they’re still going strong – even though they’re well past the 3-year warranty period. We’ve dropped them, thrown them in our panniers with no special care and lugged them all around the world and they haven’t yet developed a fault. You get up to 120 hours of burn time on 3 AAA batteries and they’re very light: just 85g, including the batteries.

Petzl Tikka Headlamps
The same Petzl Tikka 2 headlamps have worked well for us for over 6 years now.

Thermarest Pillow

6. Thermarest Pillow

A pillow is a luxury camping accessory that’s not carried by most bike tourists. Many people simply create a pillow under their heads every night by stuffing clothes together in a sleeping bag sack. We did that for several years as well but in 2010 we decided that we needed a bit more cushioning.

We picked the Thermarest Compressible Pillow because it’s compact, washable, lightweight and reasonably priced. For us, the foam filling also felt the most like a real pillow and we liked the fact that didn’t need to be inflated every night.

Finding the pillow that feels ‘just right’ is obviously highly individual so this is one item which we would highly recommend buying from your local camping store. You definitely want to test out the various options before deciding which one to buy.

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Touring Bike Accessories

Posted February 5th, 2012

Ergon GripsThese are some of our favourite accessories for your touring bike.

1. Ergon Handlebar Grips

For longer trips, it’s essential to have handlebars that give a variety of riding positions. This helps to prevent conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tingling hands. We’ve used Ergon Handlebar Grips since 2009, specifically the GC3 model. They have a supportive rest area for your palms and – with the extensions – offer plenty of options for different hand positions. Also worth considering are traditional, simple bar ends (the cheapest option and by no means a bad one) and butterfly bars – a large figure-8 shaped handlebar.

Mudguards

2. Mudguards or Fenders

Unless you plan on touring exclusively in the desert, you’ll want mudguards or fenders. A good set protects you and the rider behind you from the grit and dirt being kicked up off the road. We use SKS Mudguards. They come in several sizes, to fit almost any bicycle, and they’re incredibly durable. After 50,000km of use, ours were still in good shape (there was a small crack on one of the mudguards).

Feeling creative or just out of money? You can also make your own mudguards out of things such as plastic bottles. Search online for directions and many examples of cyclists who’ve done just that.

One small warning about mudguards: if you’re hauling your bike through a wet field or down a muddy road, mudguards can quickly become clogged with mud, and this stops the wheels from turning. cleaning the mud away from your wheels is a messy, time consuming job. The lesson? If you see roads covered in thick clay-like mud, take the mudguards off first.

Mucky Mudguards
Mudguards can become completely clogged if you ride down a wet dirt road. Sometimes it’s better to stop and take them off first, before your bike reaches this point and becomes unrideable.

Ding Dong Bell

3. A Loud Bell

Every cyclist needs a bell, and the louder the better!

We like the DingDong Bell – a very popular choice among Dutch cyclists. As its name suggests, it gives a classic sound and is one of the loudest bells on the market.

Your bell can be used to alert cars and pedestrians to your presence, to communicate with other cyclists if you’re riding in a group (for example, to signal that you’re stopping), and to ‘sing’ hello to people by the roadside. A bell also attracts great attention when you stop by the roadside. It’s often the first thing people touch. If you’re inside a shop you merely have to listen for your bell being rung by local folks, to know that your bike is still where you left it and hasn’t been stolen!

4. Lights

Lights aren’t just for night riding. They’re also for navigating through dark tunnels and improving visibility in fog and rain. For a back light, we’ve fallen in love with the Planet Superflash light. Don’t be fooled by its small size. The Superflash has LED bulbs that blink bright enough to be seen up to a mile away. It also lasts a long time – up to 100 hours – on two commonly available AAA batteries.

For front lights, our choice is the Supernova E3 Pro but it requires a dynamo hub such as the SON. If you want one that runs on batteries, try the Cateye HL-EL530 LED front light.

Lights
From left to right: the Cateye HL-EL530 front light, the Planet Superflash back light and the Supernova E3 Pro front light.

Brooks Saddle

5. A Comfortable Saddle

You’re going to be sitting on your saddle for several hours each day so it’s worth getting a decent one. Despite the importance of this accessory, many bikes come with terrible saddles. Expect this to be one of the first things you upgrade.

Brooks leather saddles change shape to fit your bottom over time and fans of Brooks saddles evangelise about how comfortable they are. The most popular model for touring is the Brooks B17.

Not everyone fancies the long break-in period. On the other hand, not everyone finds it as painful to wear in a Brooks saddle as you might imagine from the online chat forums! We found ours comfortable from the first outing.

Terry saddles are also popular, especially their women-specific models, such as the Terry Liberator X Gel saddle.

Whichever saddle you go for, remember the counter-intuitive rule that harder is better. Softer saddles are actually less supportive than their firmer rivals.

6. Pedals

Ergon Pedals

Like saddles, the pedals that come with most bikes tend to be cheap. happily, it doesn’t cost much to upgrade to a better pair. Deciding which type to buy is a little more difficult. Ideally you’ll want something with a bit of grip, that helps your feet stay firmly in place on wet days. Friedel is currently using Ergon PC2 pedals.

They come in a regular and a large size, and have a sandpaper-like surface that helps ‘stick’ your feet to the pedals. SPD pedals are another common option. They require you to wear special shoes with cleats, which ‘click’ into place on the pedals, locking your feet firmly in place.

When you need to stop, you twist your foot slightly to release the lock.

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