Do you need a purposely made touring bicycle for long distance adventures?
I really want to say ‘Yes’ you do need a proper touring bicycle with all the bells and whistles attached when taking on long distance journeys, but from my experience I’m going to say no, no you don’t. You definitely don’t need to spend hundreds or even thousands of pounds/dollars on a bicycle and kit to take you on a journey. Use the saved money to make your days on the road last longer.
My long distance bicycle touring experience started in 2010 with my bikecar. Now for the price it cost me to build my bikecar (£1000+) I could have purchased a sweet purposely made long haul touring bicycle, but then my bikecar was a four seater which I guess makes it a lot cheaper than buying four touring bicycles..? That four wheeled bikecar cycled over 10,000km through Europe, Canada and the USA. From the bikecar I moved to some strange hybrid road bike for £170. I cycled 2500+km from Finland to England on that strange hybrid road bike... then I cycled it around the UK for another 1000+km... and then for a further 1000+km from England to the French Alps with my snowboard attached to a trailer in the search of snow.
While in Germany in 2015 I decided to purchase another bicycle to cycle from the German/Austrian border to Romania. While searching German bicycle shops I started to think that maybe it’s time to buy a touring bike. The Germans definitely know how to build good touring bicycles, but my heart and mind couldn’t justify spending well over £1000. Then my eyes drifted to a £350 mountain bike, I loved it instantly and it was blue - Yep the paint job won me over and not it’s capabilities. I was now a proud owned of a £350 Cone mountain bike. I cycled that bike from Germany and to Romania, and then cycled it back from Germany back to England. Then in 2016 I cycled my Cone across Canada and the US with Kelly, from Canmore to Barrie. I love this bicycle and I look forward to more journeys together.
Most recently after kayaking from Skagway, Alaska to Sidney, Canada we switched up from kayaks to bicycles - problem here was our budget was small. Kelly ended up buying a used bicycle for $60USD and I got a brand new bicycle for $73USD [Reduced from $280USD]. I was now riding a 7 speed Schwinn to get me from Seattle to Canmore, Alberta. My 7 speed Schwinn took me over many mountain passes over our 6 week journey and it only let me down on the last 2 days when the tyre wall decided to wear away due to the heavy braking on the last mountain pass.
Not one of the above bicycles is a purpose built touring bicycle, they’re all bicycles within a minimal budget and survived 1000’s of miles.
Lessons learnt along the way
What I will suggest if you’re going to get a second hand bicycle or something on the lower end of the market make sure it's up for the challenge and think about the following points.
Get it serviced. Take your bicycle to a bicycle mechanic for a once over before departure to see what abnormalities and potential problems could occur, or do this yourself If you know your way around a bicycle.
Upgrade tyres. Now this is something I’m personally rubbish at doing, but from cycling thousands of miles I know that a good set of tyres is worth investing in... unless you love fixing tubes.
Carry spare parts. Don’t get caught out in the middle of nowhere without the means to repair, replace or macgyver your own remedy. But to fix a problem you need the tools, so don’t forget to pack at least the basic of tool for your journey.
Know your bicycle. Listen to your bicycle and get familiar with its noises, this can help determine if a problem is in the near horizon.
Be prepared. Do a crash course on bicycle maintenance so when the day comes you can put things right so you can limp into the nearest bicycle shop, and it will happen.
Never be afraid to ask for help. If you can’t fix a problem there will always be someone around with the knowledge and know-how, or just look for a YouTube video.
Do you need the gears?
Having a wide gear range and ratio will definitely make the uphills easier on the legs and the straight flats faster, but at the same time determination and stubbornness has got me a long way on just 7 gears. Having as little as 7 gears will still get you over mountain passes, but slowly. It will leave you with a great sense of achievement once you get to the top of a 5000ft pass with just 7 gears, and when you meet fellow bicycle tourers who have all the expensive kit and massive gear range at the top - their look of disbelief of your achievement is priceless.
Believe in your journey and capabilities, but also believe in the bicycle - it will get your from A to B no matter what.
Stay safe on the roads and trails, and please comment below with photos of your bicycle set ups.
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