The bikes worked great

One year ago I was scrambling to assemble my frame and parts into the bike that I would take around the world. Keltie’s bike was 6 years old and needed a new rear wheel and chain, gears, tires and brake pads in order to work well for the trip. My choice of frame and parts to use was based on years of experience with similar equipment that has proven reliable and easily repaired, is light and affordable. After a year of travel I feel like there is very little I would change. This post is going to be a bit bike geeky in order to provide some information to consider if setting up a bike of your own for travel.

Relax – this will take a while. Bike touring is not a race even if you are fast. Spending a large part of many days riding can be more than a pain in the ass. Neck, shoulders, arms hands and back are greatly affected by the posture and pressures of bike riding. If you are susceptible to any or all of these things then consider an upright riding position. An upright posture can also help avoid numb genitals. Bumps are less jarring on hands, arms and shoulders if you lean over less. Aerodynamics suck but unless you are racing faster than 20km (that does not happen much on normal tours) or riding into a strong headwind this has little effect. If you are catching that ferry then lean over a bit to cut through the wind – otherwise sit up and enjoy the ride.

At the eight month point when I bought new tires, chain and gears I also got a softer saddle. That turned out to be a mistake as it was a bit too soft and caused too much friction. After a couple of weeks I found a harder saddle but am still not thrilled with that one but it was an improvement over both other ones. Keltie’s seat was many years old but well liked so it came along. It started to wear out along several seams so she made a seat cover from an old swim suit to hold it together rather than experiment with new saddles. Medium wide seats with a decent amount of very firm padding at the sit bones seems to be what works for us.

Thudbuster seat posts are recommended for any sort of riding but especially for gravel, trails, rough pavement and any bumpy surface. Vibration and bumps are reduced which is very helpful for bum and back. This suspension system is far more durable and more supple than the telescopic type of suspension post yet light weight. It is far beyond the simple telescoping suspension seat post and is well worth the investment.

Hill climbing gears are vital to a good trip. Unfortunately touring, bike packing and gravel bikes are tending toward bigger gears. It is very helpful to have a smallest front gear of 26 or less and a rear of 34 or more teeth for loaded touring. It was surprising how much time we spent using our extremely easy gears. A few times we even had to walk up the steepest hills! We never felt such a need for our hardest gears.

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Our Schwalbe Marathon 700×35 tires were outstanding. We had about 7 flat tires over 7500kms including quite a bit of off pavement and thorny country. Two of the tires were new, one was slightly used and one was another model that was ultra light but had bigger treads. These older tires were replaced a little over half way along. Occasionally a fatter tire may have been helpful for rough or loose surfaces but overwhelmingly that was not needed. The tires held up very well and felt quite efficient.

I chose to use rim V brakes for their reliable simplicity and potentially to allow repair or replacement at any place where bike parts are limited. While not as powerful as high end hydraulic brakes they were adequate for the steepest hills with our loaded up bikes and are more tolerant of abuse. Hydraulic systems are susceptible to kinks and leaks of hoses or bending discs and we encountered a lot of rough handling through repeated loading on buses, boats and ferries.

Kool Stop brake pads are highly recommended for long wear and less abrasion of rims. After 7500kms of loaded travel they’re better than half left. The salmon colored ones are a bit softer but grip best so I used those. The Kool Stop Mountain pads are the best of the shapes available for V brakes.

Even though we used our phones to map our routes in detail I also installed basic old fashioned bike computers on our bikes to keep track of speed, average speed and trip and total distance. Also I mounted the computers low on the frame instead of the handle bar so that when we left them on the locked up bike a thief might not notice them yet we could see what info we needed when we wanted.

We started our trip using MAPS.ME mapping App and later also used Komoot to plan routes. Both have great features but Komoot has more useful information such as: amount and location of climb/descent and steepness, length and location of various route surfaces, type of route ie cycle path or highway etc. MAPS.ME has easier ways to set way points and location notes and more quickly test out different routes for distance and climbing. Both can do this without using data if you store maps for offline use when you have data. Komoot can save routes for offline use but needs data to plan or modify a route unlike MAPS.ME We continue to use both methods to map our trips. Google maps is best for finding coffee shops but is horrible to use in the sun since it has very poor contrast between roads and non roads.

Windy! This free App is handy to let you know wind direction and speed. Several times we decided to change route direction and change travel plans to avoid strong headwinds or take advantage of tailwind on a diverging route. It was accurate for many days in advance which was handy and now has released a map App which I plan to check out in the near future.

Refill my bottle App is great to try and find bottle refill spots instead of buying bottles of drinking water.

Quick release handle bar bags are so handy! Keltie did not want one but since I had an old one it was simple to take it and if it really was not wanted could be donated somewhere along the way. We both relied on them to hold items we most frequently used plus valuables that we could instantly detach from our bikes and take with us.

Handlebar phone holders with a quick release were great. We could see the routes on them, select podcasts, and release the phone for photos faster than a gunslinger. Get the holder that is not a clear dry bag but simply clamps onto the phone. Occasionally it rained on us but our phones are water resistant.

Kickstands are very important. I was not a fan but Keltie showed me how helpful they are for touring. The best ones are around $30 or more and mount at the rear of the frame – not near the pedal arms. This type is more stable with heavier bags. Being able to stand the bikes anywhere anytime makes so much sense.

Combination lock. any time we left out bikes we quickly deployed our easy to use combo Abus Bordo Lite lock. This sturdy-looking lock folds open and locks up in 10 seconds. It is light weight and has an easy to use holder that mounts almost anywhere on the bike.

Dynamo hub and phone charger. This is a popular item to purchase for longer tours. I was interested in this since we planned to camp and would need to keep our phones working for navigation and finding bakeries.

Power straps for our feet provide some extra help pedaling and keep your feet nicely on the pedal. These diagonally mounted foot straps allow your foot to enter easily at an angle and then snug up as you straighten your foot. Now there is no chance of slipping off the pedal over bumps yet it is easy to remove your foot when needed without having to cinch tight or release anything. When climbing steep hills these straps allow you to pull up as well as push. It is helpful that no cleat or special footwear is needed and are a very lightweight piece to add to the pedals.

Some of the listed items are not commonly seen on gear checklists but I would not tour without most of them. There are also a lot of items that I would not add to my tour gear that might be great to have because I know how important it is to keep your total amount of gear to a minimum in order to reduce the amount of work it is to haul everything on long distances and over hill and dale. Be judicious with what you select to bring on your trips. It is interesting after a tour to identify the items that were not needed that came along for the ride!

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