“I was never a cyclist. Merely a person with a bicycle.”
I have recently had a few questions about my gear, and though I really don’t know anything about bikes, I figured I would share what I know for those who are interested. First off though, I want to start out by saying this – you don’t need a fancy bike or the best gear money can buy to tour, you simply need a bike which fits (so much more important than quality) and the right attitude. I have met tourers on fixies, broken down mountain bikes, and road racing bikes alike, and though of course it’s easier to invest in a good bike and panniers when possible, it’s equally great to tour with your backpack strapped to the back of your old commuter.
I ride a Surly Long Haul Trucker (Disc) which has lived up to its reputation as a sturdy and simple touring bike. The reason it works well for touring is because it has a steel frame (heavy but sturdy and anyone anywhere can weld it if necessary), 26in wheels (opposed to 700c which are hard or impossible to find or replace outside of Europe/North America), and simple parts such as gear end shifters, which are easy to fix when broken.
When I got the bike I immediately got a Brooks B17 saddle to go along with it, a tried and true leather seat which is renowned for its reliability and long life. I then bought front and back surly racks (heavy but bomb-proof) and front and back ortlieb panniers. Though there are plenty of pannier companies out there, 99% of the cyclists I have met have these ones since they are simple, 100% waterproof, and reasonably durable. Ortlieb makes many types of panniers, I just opted for the cheapest which are called “city.” I also invested in their expensive but worthwhile waterproof handlebar bag where I keep all of my electronics. I ended up buying a “rack pack” (the blue bag) as well which sits on my back panniers as I ride and acts as my “sleepover bag” with everything necessary for life in the tent. It’s a wonderful duffle because it has easy access and can expand or compress depending on how much you want to fill it. It also works well as an airplane carry-on.
Through I started out on my tour with clip-in shoes, I quickly replaced my special pedals with some three dollar “normal” pedals in Nepal and now enjoy cycling either in my running toe shoes (I know they look ridiculous, but they are comfortable, breathable, and make for great water shoes!) or my Birkenstocks in the summer, and my hiking boots in the winter.
Besides my cycling gear, my most prized processions are my sleeping bag since it is rated at -20C and enables me to sleep everywhere, my sleep sheet because it keeps my sleeping bag clean, and my pajamas, because nothing is better than a clean pair of clothes after a day on the road. I have also really appreciated my SteriPen (a small ultraviolet light filter) since it enables me to drink the local water or river water wherever I happen to be. Because I was snow camping and trekking throughout the Himalayas last winter I am still carrying a lot of extra weight (backpacking backpack, large winter boots, an expedition down jacket…), though thankfully I will be able to shed a few kilos once I meet my brother for Christmas in Istanbul. Though I admire “lightweight” bike tourers who tour for months with only back panniers (easily done when traversing warm countries) I would rather carry the extra weight in order to live comfortably in the mountains, climb peaks, and trek along the way.
My gear and my bike have worked wonderfully for me and I’m glad I invested in the high quality items that I did since I don’t want to be dealing with broken parts or issues too often along the way. That being said, if you are interested in cycle touring, don’t let money (or your lack of it) stop you. I recently met a Spanish man who has been cycling for over a year from Spain (met him in India, now headed to Australia) on a ten-year old bike that cost him thirty bucks at a garage sale. He had a basket on the back, ate rice for every single meal, and had only one sock, but none of that stopped him from living the life of his dreams. Sure, it’s nice to have the steel frame, the completely waterproof panniers, and winter-worthy sleeping bag, but in all honesty, you can make this lifestyle work with what you have.