Before setting off on your tour, it is essential that your bike is fully equipped with the essential components and, most importantly, you are properly fitted to your bike. There are a number of factors to consider when you are being fitted for your bicycle.
1. Frame & Suspension:
The bike has to be comfortable in order for the rider to remain pain free and fresh during the duration of the tour. This means the rider needs to fit on the bike and the bike has to have suspension to absorb any shock that may cause discomfort to the rider’s knees or back.
A. Fitting on a bicycle frame
1. In order to fit on the frame, the rider needs to make sure his/her sit bones (back of the butt) are rested flat on the back of the saddle. There should not be any weight placed on the soft tissue situated in front of the butt. If there is any weight on soft tissue, there will be irritation & pain, which can NOT be solved by a ‘comfier’ saddle.
2. The ball of the rider’s foot should be right in the middle of the pedal for optimal power transfer and optimal fit.
3. The rider should have a slight knee bend at the furthest point from his/her hip. An exaggerated knee bend will make cycling more difficult. Equally, if the rider’s legs are too straight, pedaling will become uncomfortable and the rider will not be able to properly sit on the bike.
4. The wrist should be straight when engaging the brake levers. If the wrists are bent, the rider will likely experience a number of wrist issues down the track.
B. Frame Material and Suspension:
For touring, it is essential that the frame being purchased has braze-one for a rear rack and multiple braze one’s across the frame for bottles. Bicycles without frame mounted rear racks should only be used for credit card touring (short tours or tours with support).
1. Titanium - This is a super soft and strong metal. With the suspension provided in the frame, it is ideal for touring. Unfortunately, it is very expensive.
2. Chromoly Steel - This is very strong and somewhat soft alloy steel. It can be used without additional suspension. A carbon fork on 700C bikes is advisable to help with suspension.
3. Carbon - A well-made carbon frame will flex in the vertical plane, making the ride more comfortable for the rider. Additional suspension may not be necessary.
4. Aluminum - Aluminum is a very stiff metal and requires suspension, ideally for the front and rear of the bicycle.
5. Hi-ten Steel - This is considered junk in the industry due to its heavy nature. If your frame was made from Hi-ten steel, it would become ridiculously heavy when loaded. Hi-ten steel is not recommended, particularly when touring.
C. Frame Style:
People have used road bikes, mountain bikes, folding bikes and much more on loaded tours. Your choice should reflect your style and personal preference. However, keep in mind that smaller wheels are stiffer and need more suspension than larger wheeled bikes. The suspension can be in the frame or in the tires by using balloon tires at low pressure.
Classical geometry and compact geometry bikes feel different. The classical geometry will be taller, and flex more, meaning it will be more comfortable than the compact geometry models.
A bicycle’s weight is not distributed evenly across the frame of the bike; since most of the weight in a bicycle is supported by the rear wheel, the rear wheel is the weakest point. In order to reinforce the rear wheel, double wall rims with at least 36 spokes should be used. Keep in mind smaller diameter wheels are stronger than larger ones, hence, using less spokes are acceptable on folding bike with 20" or 16" wheels.
STI (brake lever shifters), and downtube shifters are excellent on road style bicycles and trigger shifters are the next best option available for most other bikes. Grip shifters are not recommended on tour, as they can leave a rider at risk of developing wrist problems.
3. Gear range (Chain rings/ Cogs):
A triple crankset with an 11-34 cassette has been the standard. However, you may be able to do a single chain ring with a super wide 11-42 cassette depending on your route (i.e. mountain climbs). Generally, a single chain ring is not recommended for touring as the gaps between gears can cause the rider irritation to the knees. A double chain ring is always an option and is the best for small wheel bikes. Keep in mind that small wheel bikes will have lower gears than bigger wheeled bikes. Hence, a granny gear triple 20" wheel bike would serve no use for most people.
4. Racks & Bags:
A solid rear rack & rack pack is essential during a tour. Panniers can hold lots of gear but, unfortunately, they can become somewhat of a sail in the wind, slowing the rider down; A normal rider will average 1.5mph faster without panniers. Please refer to my Super Rack Concept for my own ‘wind proof’ alternative to panniers.