Tips for Distance Bike Touring

Trying to cram in everything I can remember here.

For starters on tours of 1000 kilometers or more, check out the terrain layout. Lots of resources online like Google Maps. The next thing would be the kind of local climate — cold, very cold, hot ….. . You need to fix your carry along clothing according to the climatic conditions.

Next would be the bike gear setup.

On mixed hilly and plain terrains 7 freehub/freewheel gears with 14-28 teeth worked fine for me. But, you do need front gears for hill climbs. I have done hilly terrain with just 7 gears and it was strenuous. I opted for freewheels because these are readily available in local markets here. I may switch to cassettes if they seem more durable than freewheels. The debate between freewheels and cassettes rages on. On an average my freewheels have done 800-1000 kilometers before they start wearing out. Chains did about 500-700 kilometers for me, before the chain tool starts flagging them.

Mountain biking would require more modifications, like 8 gears and you would probably need to switch to cassettes with a higher gear-teeth ratio, we don’t have 8 speed freewheels here so for 8 gears or more cassettes it is for us. Mountain biking also requires a lesser load than the usual say 20 kilogram load that bikers like me usually carry. I am discussing mountain biking in the context of the Himalayas, the mountain range I plan to tackle next.

Wheel size is another issue. Some mountain bikers have opted for larger front wheels to have easier climbs but that is debatable. In general larger the wheel size, the more distance you traverse with each pedal stroke. However, I have found balancing ( with load ) to be difficult on the ‘taller’ bikes like my roadie.

The handlebars need to be such that you can switch your shoulder/hand stance, to avoid fatigue and injuries. I have a straight handlebar but have attached a triathlon aerobar to give my shoulders some rest while touring. Some cyclists prefer drop downs but having toured with drop downs I did not find them to be very comfortable.

An all steel 26″ MTB frame worked best for me, lasted more than 30,000 ++ kilometers, with this Grand Tour really battering it up. No frame repair work was required till this point. Alloy or aluminum bicycle frames are lighter but can not hold up heavy battering on a long term basis. Carbon frames are too risky for repeated long haul distance biking, and would require regular patching up. Was planning on building a carbon bike frame but realized that it’s not all that ‘super’ after working with carbon for some time.

All these tips are based on the local road/terrain conditions. Roads here can be really good on the national and state highways and then an absolute terror on many of the inner stretches with nothing but rocks, dust and gravel instead of a road track.

The weight a biker carries bears down on the biker, the bike and the luggage. Chipping out bike weight wherever possible is a good idea, like opting for alloy wheel frames, but these need to be double walled for long term use. The front fork, handlebar and bike chassis with the rear carrier was an all steel setup for me. I went for a customized lighter bike stand and an alloy seat post to cut down on the weight. Many bikers opt out of having bike stands altogether. My setup was heavier but lasted longer. I may change to a lighter setup but haven’t made up my mind yet. It also seems like a good idea to change the cranks and the chainwheels to lighter alloys, the steel ones are heavier but more durable. Cotter pin cranks worked OK for me, since most roadside bike repair shacks here have spares for the same. Switching to square taper or the more exotic Shimano cranksets could be done. But, here, one will not get any help if things go wrong with the latest cranksets.

Suspensions are another issue, I use double suspensions because the tracks here can get really wild. Have toured on my other roadie with no suspensions at all, and all I can say is that for road conditions here, you need at least one rear or front suspension to make life comfortable. The catch is that suspensions increase bike weight. 

Keep life simple by adopting a bike setup that can easily be stripped down and repaired.

Bike luggage could include clothing, bedding/tent, water bottles and spares. Clothing is a perennial balancing equation with either one running in excess or short of it. I hope to get it right one day. So, do not be discouraged if you haven’t hit it just right, yet. Bedding in my case is a sleeping bag. It should be lightweight but warm enough to get one some sleep and rest. Bike spares are very important and I have had occasions where some clothing had to be dumped to make way for bike spares. Chose bike spares wisely, on a desolate desert/forest stretch spares may save the bike from being dumped. Water is a necessity, and I keep one bottle. One can opt for more depending on the terrain.

Lastly, do check out the political/security situation of the terrain. For example, regarding my Grand Tour, I knew beforehand that the Sawai Madhopur-Jaipur-Bharatpur-Agra belt was very volatile and decided to cut off my tour at Bharatpur, instead of heading into Agra and then to Kanpur. I took cues from the local news and in general from my observation of the region itself. Currently, the whole area is in a lock down because of a tribal protest. All roads/rail tracks leading into Jaipur and the entire Jaipur-Dausa-Bharatpur-Agra route, are affected. The protests started around the 8th Feb, 2019 and continue raging. Its a good idea to keep checking local news and getting the latest news and information from locals. Learning key language words is a good idea if you are stepping into an alien land. Be mindful of the local culture and try to follow the advise of the local police regarding security. 

That’s it from me, stay in touch !

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