Cycle Equipment for Expedition Touring
What is an expedition tour? :
General considerations :
Racks and panniers :
Miscellaneous components :
Spares and maintenance :
Some final suggestions
What is an expedition tour?
The aim of this note is to address the needs of the cyclist who wishes to travel remote and difficult roads well away from civilisation, but within the range of what can still reasonably be described as touring. Your expedition is your own. You have your own plans and preferences. This note is not intended to be prescriptive, but to give you some idea of the problems you might face and some possible solutions.
The difficulties that I address in this note include:
- Unpaved roads for extended distances (100s or 1000s of km)
- Carrying full camping equipment and clothes for a wide range of temperatures
- Carrying several days food
- Carrying a couple of days water
- No availability of modern cycle equipment and tools for extended periods
- An extended tour months rather than weeks.
These are the kind of difficulties that routinely need to be met in touring on roads, or what passes for roads, in many of the remoter undeveloped areas of the world, particularly those with more challenging terrain. But you can also go looking for something similar in Canada, Australia or Iceland, for example.
Touring by my definition means travelling where a loaded bicycle can mostly be ridden. I do not discuss the needs of those who wish to jump rocks or wallow in loose sand. Conversely, if you mostly stick to tarmac, or stay within reach of modern cycle shops, then much of this note need not concern you.
The authors experience includes, among other rough tours, an 11,000km tour in the southern and central Andes in 1997/8.
The most important issue to address in expedition cycle design are:
- Load carrying. Several days food, a couple of days water, camping equipment, cooking equipment, tools, spare parts, and the usual paraphernalia easily add up to of 40kg or so. I have met many who carried much more. Whilst you may normally be modest in your luggage requirements, and many British cyclists are, its the unavoidable food and water load that can really pile on the weight. If you are travelling where you have a large climatic variability, common in mountainous areas, then you will require additional luggage for that. The long distance tourist is also likely to have an overhead of guidebooks, maps, first aid kit, film, and other stuff which may be needed for the road ahead rather than the immediate present. On gravel roads, loads like this put your bicycle, and in particular your racks, panniers and so forth, under considerable stress.
- Reliability. Are the important bits of your bicycle the bits which you cant carry and would have to ring home for a spare to be sent going to stand up to the beating and last long enough before you have an opportunity to get a decent replacement?
- Resilience. This means being able to avoid and recover from likely difficulties. How do you set up your bicycle so that you can recover from the likely problems which may occur?
- Self-sufficiency. Have you got everything you need to keep you going under all normal accidents and failures? If that is a very large pile of specialised parts and tools, perhaps you ought to consider some more basic components that can be fixed up locally.
One conclusion we draw from this is that lightness of the bicycle is of less concern than it would be for a normal tour. An extra two of three kg of bike is not a large penalty in comparison to your overall load, and may repay its investment in resilience and peace of mind.
Racks and Panniers
If you had seen the sorry state of the racks and panniers of the three Chilean cyclists I met in Coihaique, you would suddenly appreciate the critical importance of selecting the right load-carrying equipment. They had spent just one fortnight on the unpaved roads of their own country with relatively modest camping loads. They had the kind of racks and panniers you might see on many mid-range bicycles sold in Europe, which is the best you can currently buy in Chile. I had just spent four months on similar roads, and had set off with high quality alloy racks. In those four months I destroyed three front racks and one rear rack, before I was fortunate enough to acquire the racks which would keep me going thereafter.
Racks inevitably break under these conditions. The question is not if, but how often. Thats why the true expedition bicycle has tubular steel racks, because you can get a steel weld anywhere. Getting an aluminium weld is difficult to impossible, even at home. Tubular steel racks are not much heavier than aluminium racks, and break less often. You could get a frame builder to make some for you, but a less risky alternative may be to acquire some tried-and-tested Tubus production racks made in Germany. You can track down a continental mail order supplier on the internet, or try Swallow Cycles. An even better solution, which I have seen done a couple of times, is to have a frame built for you with an integral rear luggage carrier. This avoids the weak point at the rear dropout where the rack normally attaches to a single 5mm Allen bolt fitting eye. In the past I have had problems stripping the thread in this eye. Some custom built racks use two fixings to fit both eyes on the each rear drop-out. I also met a frame builder who fitted 6mm. eyes to his own bike.
A front rack is just about a necessity. Putting some weight on the front wheel will improve the roadholding of your cycle, especially on the climb, and also reduce the stress on components at the back of the cycle. But for some reason, front racks seem to be more difficult to engineer properly than rear racks. Despite the fact they usually carry less luggage, I found them particularly prone to break, as did many of the cyclists I have met on my travels. Low-riders are a popular design, but when made in aluminium often have insufficient stiffness below the spindle. Commonly the strut below the spindle breaks. A worse accident, which I suffered, is when the bottom of the rack flexes into the wheel. Several cyclists I met stiffened their low riders by bodging in additional struts, though this can hardly be a recommended long term solution. Standard front racks can also have a lack of lateral stiffness, this time at the top, particularly if fixed by a single bolt on the fork crown. If this shears off in the middle of nowhere, leaving an unextractable bolt end stuck in the eye, you will require more ingenuity than I possess to fix it up. Upgrading to tubular steel is perhaps more important for the front rack than the rear.
You may be able to get by with an alloy rear rack, provided it is of the highest quality. A standard Blackburn rear rack certainly took me a very long way. It has rather thicker struts and better metal than most others on the market. I found certain points on the racks were inclined to get eroded by rubbing from the panniers. I slowed this down by wrapping the affected points in old inner tube. But you will take the worry out if you go for steel here as well.
You will regret taking cheap panniers. Most long distance tourists use Ortliebs, which are equal to the task. Ortliebs do have one weakness, which is that the rivets are inclined to fail, so a goodly supply of short 5mm bolts and nuts is required to fix them up. The plastic hooks, often a weak point of many pannier designs, seem to be reliable. The roller design is more water- and dustproof. VauDe make a cheaper imitation of Ortliebs, with their own fixing system, but I have no experience with them. I used Ortliebs more expensive light-weight front panniers, and they still look nearly new.
I also carry a light-weight nylon kit-bag. This gets slung across the back with bungies when the load of water, food and clothes expands, and is also useful for complying with two-piece luggage rules used by some airlines. It was also most useful when my front rack self-destructed.
Many people have travelled amazing expeditions on pretty ordinary (and extraordinary) bicycle frames, so this area is plainly less critical than others. But taking the right frame will increase your pleasure (or reduce your pain) from the experience. Important considerations are:
- Comfortable geometry
- Sufficient stiffness for load carrying.
Most mountain bikes are designed to get you down a rocky hill-side, not carry you comfortably for long hours in the saddle hauling loads. Many of us would appreciate a design which minimises expenditure of energy, stiff necks and sore bums. Ordinary mountain bike frames are often pretty stiff, so with luck your load will not flex too much.
These days you can get frames which look superficially like mountain bike frames, and are therefore as robust, but are designed with a relaxed touring geometry. Many serious long distance cyclists use this type of bicycle. The only makes I know in Britain are Roberts and Orbit (Romany), but there is probably a wider selection on the continent where such people are more inclined to such activities.
Even if you choose a mountain bike type of frame, you may want to use something other than straight bars. They are designed for down-hill, not touring. Many people find them uncomfortable for extended periods in the saddle. Drop bars offer a choice of riding positions, allowing you to change position when you start to suffer a back or neck twinge, or saddle soreness, and reduce the risk of getting them in the first place. Special touring or randonneur drop bars are available, which are more comfortable than racing bars. You will also find drops cause fewer problems on public transport.
The alternative, definitely a minority alternative, is to use a touring frame. You will not wish to use a touring frame unless you are happy with the wheels and tyres it is capable of taking, so make that decision first. Most tourers are built for 32mm tyres, but mine is built to take 40mm. tyres which personally I find a good compromise between the rough and the less rough. There is a more extended discussion of this below. The main issue with a tourer for expedition purposes is achieving sufficient stiffness, particularly in the rear triangle. Having in the past used a fast light-weight tourer for things it was not designed for, I know the remarkably energy-sapping effect of having my rear triangle flexing when climbing a hill under load, not to mention discovering my chain and tyre rubbing bits of the frame they are normally nowhere near.
Production bicycles ostensibly designed for a bit of cycle-camping may well not have the unusual degree of stiffness and strength required for this type of activity. Today several UK frame-builders can put together a tourer with oversize tubes which solves this problem. Roberts Transcontinental is the frame I used in the Andes, and has also been used by several UK cycle writers.
Suspension is little seen on the long distance tourists bike. There are a number of reasons. One is the risk of it breaking down. Another is that it is difficult to fit a front rack on suspension forks.
Although I have seen it done, I would be concerned about the additional shaking given to a component already known to be vulnerable. Another reason is that suspension eats your energy. Those who are reluctant to give up their suspension could consider using handle-bar suspension of the variety that can be switched off on better roads.
Some other details to take into account:
- A steel frame is indicated for repairability.
- The trick of building the rear fork off-centre so that the rear wheel can be undished is worth discussing with your frame-builder.
- Something that doesnt look too flashy minimises the risk of theft I was entirely pleased to let people think my £1,500 bike, with its old-fashioned appearance, conservative paint-job and multitude of scratches, was cheap rubbish.
The iconoclast may wish to consider an alternative strategy. Bicycles are common in the third world, and the locals need to fix their bikes, and fit luggage racks strong enough carry senior family members. Why not buy a local model? It may be heavy and hard work, but it will be probably be robust, and any recurrent weak points should be capable of being fixed up locally. Not ideal for the remotest desert wildernesses or enormous mountain passes, but it will probably take you further than a western fashion toy. Some acquaintances of mine, who (illegally) cycled the 5000m passes of the trans-Tibet highway, said they met a Chinese long-distance cyclist coming the other way on a onespeed....
Wheels take some punishment, and most of us are unlikely to get through on the tyres we set out on, and perhaps not even the rims. The availability of replacements was a major concern to me. I broke a rim in Argentina and was exceedingly lucky I didnt need to ship out a replacement. I once met some cyclists carrying spare wheels, but that is going to extremes.
In the last analysis, if you have broken a rim or worn out your last tyre, you will take what you can get, at least until you can arrange to get something decent sent out to you. So resilience in this department means being able to use the locally available equipment, and that means knowing what size is available. There are four sizes of large wheel in use around the world and the nomenclature is confusing. 26", 27", 622B (or 700C) and 635B we call them. But just to confuse, both of the last two are commonly known as 28", and here you have to look at the small print: 622B/700C is 28"x l 3/8", whilst 635B is 28"x something else. The 28" notation has a third figure which is the width of the tyre. Even 27" is occasionally described as a sub-variety of 28".
- 635B is the probably the most common wheel size, as it is the Chinese standard exported to many countries, and this is what is most likely to be the 28" you hear about. But it is little used today in western Europe, and there is, so far as I am aware, nothing available in a quality you would actively seek out. But I would be pleased to discover I am wrong.
- 27" is probably the next most common, widely used in American influenced markets. But in those parts of the world, the good news is that the 28" you hear about could well be 622B (700C), but the bad news is that most of the available parts will be for racing.
- 26" is rapidly becoming the closest there is to an international standard for wheel size. In recent years the Chinese have taken up building mountain bikes and exporting them to all sorts of surprising places, so the availability of 26" tyres and rims, has taken off world-wide, at least in cities if not out in the countryside. Coupled with the availability at home of high quality rims and tyres to minimise your need for spares, it is probably by now the best compromise.
- 622B (700C) starts looking like a quaint European affectation once you get out into the rest of the world. It may be the international standard for racing bikes, but the availability of narrow section tubs is no use even in an emergency to someone riding a gravel road. I would have more hair and fewer grey ones if I had known this before I left home. If you choose this wheel size, you are going to need to be fairly self-sufficient for tyres.
A heavily laden bike ridden on the rough delivers some punishment to its wheels. You want bulletproof wheels, and this turns out to be quite complicated to deliver. I spend more time in bike shops because of my wheels than the rest of the bike put together.
- Strong rims. I have met people who travelled on steel rims, and whilst this is one way of taking much of the worry out of your wheels, it is not something most of us are prepared to stoop to. There does not appear to be an obvious ideal best rim, at least from what is today available in this country. Lightness rather than longevity is the characteristic of many modern rims. Paying more can get you less metal not more. Phone round the more reputable dealers and get the latest story.
- Brake erosion: the rim. Alloy rims are eroded by conventional braking. Eventually the rim can fail explosively, perhaps making holes in your leg. Once upon a time, some rims were notable for the generous thickness of metal on their braking surfaces, for example Wolber and Campagnolo Amber, which I believe are both no longer produced. The modern cycle industry treats rims as an expendable item, which is not reassuring for those of us who require long-term reliability. In Iceland I wore out an Alesa 917 in 1,500km. The best you can do is take the latest advice from reputable dealers.
- Brake erosion: the brakes. Some brake blocks are worse at wearing rims than others. Generally speaking, it is better to wear out brake blocks than rims, so it could be wise to go for cheap, soft blocks and carry a pile of spares. I was persuaded to shell out a fortune for some Ritchie blocks and am amazed that they are still in use after 16,000km, and didnt wear down my rims too fast. The worst is travelling on wet gravel roads where you have to brake a lot, as bits of grit get between the rim and the brake blocks. So try to avoid cycling in bad weather on hilly gravel roads if you have the time to afford that luxury. Another possibility is to use hub brakes, which will avoid the problem altogether, as well as giving better braking in wet or snowy conditions. Hub brakes are tried and tested technology, not uncommon in places like China, and modern models are proving highly reliable. The disadvantages are reduction in choice of hubs you can use, complications when you need to take your wheels off, and additional weight. If they do go wrong, in an emergency you can fit some rim brakes. They are well worth considering.
- Spokes, number of. When you ask your wheel builder for bullet-proof wheels, he may offer to search out some 40-hole rims and hubs for you. 36-hole is what the world uses, and if you need a spare, you could be grateful for sticking to the standard.
- Spokes, thickness. You want the best special thick spokes. And you want a substantial pile of spare ones of the right length, particularly for your back wheel. I keep them with my tent poles. If you do run out, spokes are something you can often get even in the third world, but they will not be as good as the ones you get here. Once you have had two or three spokes fixed, the wheel has probably become unbalanced and the breaks are going to start coming fairly regularly until you find a skilled wheel builder to rebuild it.
- Spokes, crossing pattern. When my wheel was rebuilt four-cross, I found that each spoke touched the adjacent spoke head and was notched by it, which may have contributed to the high spoke failure I then experienced. This was not a problem when I went back to three-cross.
- Spokes, tension. Some wheel builders think that to make a wheel bullet-proof you should make the spokes very, very tight. The argument is that if the wheel is permitted to flex in response to a bump, then spokes are more likely to break. But the consequence is that the rim takes more of the energy of the bump and can crack at the spoke holes. They are correct that a very floppy wheel will suffer, but few have sufficient exposure to awful road conditions to understand that an over-tight wheel can cause rapid rim failure. I would rather break spokes than rims. Whilst it is usually better to let a skilled wheel-builder get on with the job, on this point it is important to be firm.
- Hubs. It is worth choosing high quality sealed hubs which will survive the course and reduce need for regular regreasing. Hub bearings are never really sealed, so you will still have to regrease every few thousand km, more if it rains a lot. Carry a small quantity of best quality waterproof bearing grease, some spare ball bearings just in case, and necessary tools. It is awkward, but you can regrease a rear hub without removing the sprockets. I used to break rear axles regularly on rough roads, but this has stopped since I moved to a freehub and cassette, with its symmetrically positioned cones. I have not seen a system for combining hub brake and freehub, but with a hub brake you should have a solid axle which is less likely to break. I now always carry a spare rear axle and cones. You can get a combined hub brake and hub gear.
- Tyres, tread. The main requirement is for longevity. In many tyres the sidewall gives up well before the tread wears out, especially when used on rough roads. Since we rarely wear tyres out by wearing out the tread, we are often unaware of how far the tread will last. For the kind of distances you may have in mind, you will not only want a tyre that does not tend to suffer early sidewall failure, but also has enough km. in its tread. At home you can afford to use cheaper or lighter tyres and replace them every 2,000km or so. You may be planning to go rather further between quality sources of supply. Local tyres will frequently be available in an emergency, if you have the right sized wheel, but you could end up on something with a tread more suited to a tractor and think yourself lucky if you get 500km on it. Most long distant tourists choose a tyre with a thick flat running surface, a tread indented into that surface, and a fairly substantial black sidewall. This type of tyre has the potential to last very long distances, and is a reasonable compromise between the requirements for rough and less rough roads. Knobblies are good for very bad surfaces, but rapidly become a liability when the going is easier, and they do not appear to last very long. My Continental 2000s each lasted between 9,000km and 13,000km. Tyres wear faster on the rear, and these distances were achieved by giving each tyre some distance on both wheels. On the other hand, older style brown-wall Continental Top Touring are prone to early side-wall failure, and Michelins do not last long either. A wider choice is available in 26" tyres, of which I have no personal experience. However I can report being given regular advice that Panaracers do not last long on bad roads. It is wise to carry at least one spare.
- Tyres, width. Riders will have their own view on the appropriate width of tyres for this type of tour. Many people feel that if they are going to ride on gravel at all, then it is impossible to use anything other than 50mm tyres. There are also people who ride 50mm tyres and stick to tarmac. Personally I prefer something rather narrower (37-40mm) as a compromise given the range of surface qualities that will be met.
- Tubes. Longevity is the requirement, and most expensive is not necessarily the best. Many tubes are designed for lightness rather than strength. It is better to have a tube that does not need to expand much to fill your tyre. Fortunately tubes available in less developed countries are often more robust than those generally sold here, provided you can find something with the right valve. I got away with using 26" tubes on my 700Cs. Prestas are the hardest to find, except in racing dimensions. Brazilian Regina valves are presta-compatible. Less developed countries often use large, strong car tube repair patches for fixing bicycle punctures. I found punctures a serious nuisance in humid tropical environments. Old patches lifted. The rubber softened so that it was cut up by apparently blunt edges inside my rim, forcing me to line my rims with duct tape. New patches wouldnt stick, at least not unless they had a few days to cure before they were used. In these conditions it is wise to carry extra, unpunctured spare tubes.
Shimano is by far the most widely available of the quality brands, which means that you are more likely to be able to get a quality replacement if you are using Shimano-compatible components. But even Shimano is thinly spread, so anticipate on having to get by on the basic Chinese-made spares you can find anywhere. A regrettable disadvantage of Campagnolo, is that it uses its own peculiar threads and sizes on some components, which can make it impossible to replace even a lost nut with anything else. My general philosophy in choosing components is keep it simple.
Molybdenum grease is very good for greasing threads so that they will come undone again months later. But I doubt your bike shop will use it. Make sure at least you have some good grease on your pedal threads and crank bolts.
- Gear range. Normal physiques will demand some very low gears, starting well below 1:1. Dont bother with high gears. I used my small sprockets so rarely that as the chain wore they became unusable.
- Gear type. I dont think that derailleur gears are an inherent liability, but it is worth considering hub gears. The advantage is that there are few exposed parts to get knocked, and they are generally reliable and robust. On the other hand, if your hub gear does misbehave,
they are not so easy to fix up. The narrow range, even on modern 7-speed models, means that hub gear users often end up using some kind of hybrid arrangement to get the range they require. A hybrid arrangement appears to increase the risk of a breakdown, but it provides the flexibility of being able to abandon half the system if the other half breaks.
- Gear indexing. Assuming that you are using derailleur gears, there is less to go wrong with friction changing rather than indexing. If you want to keep the luxury of indexing, then the ideal solution is the type of index lever which can be switched off to run in friction mode. The advantage is that when the chain or gear parts get worn, or something gets a bit bent, or you have to replace a widget with a piece of rubbish, then you can switch the indexing off and carry on going. Ive been there.
- Gear lever position. Some people swear by the convenience of ergopower combined brake and gear levers. I feel that in this context they are an accident waiting to happen. Your bike is going to take a few knocks. Brake levers stick out waiting to be broken off, and to lose both a gear and a brake lever at the same time with little prospect of a spare would be more than inconvenient. Other people swear by bar end levers. They are also sticking out waiting to be knocked off, though they would be a bit easier to patch up.
- Chain rings. My experience is that Ritchie and TA chain rings last the course. I once used Shimano chain rings but the teeth were completely worn off in less than 5,000km. Cranks are rarely a weak point, but if they are Shimano then you will be more likely to get spares.
- Block and chain. You can get a spare chain almost anywhere. Take a good chain, and a couple of spare links in your tool-kit should get you out of trouble until you can get a new one. Ideally block and chain should be changed together or the gears start misbehaving. But this is rarely going to take you off the road, and you should have plenty of time to get someone to mail you some bits a few weeks down the road. Dont forget to carry a wee bottle of oil to keep the chain lubricated. I use hipoid gear oil (available from motor spare shops) for preference, as it is cheap and lasts longer than bicycle oils. Car engine oil is also excellent, and you can often find enough in the bottom of discarded containers at garages.
- Bottom bracket. I had no trouble with a top-of-the-range Shimano sealed bottom bracket. This does offend my keep-it-simple rule, but they do seem to be able to take the punishment.
- Bottle cages. My alloy bottle cages all broke pretty quickly, but nylon ones have stayed the course.
- Pedals. Long distance tourists rarely take SPDs. If you break the shoes, you are in trouble. The only long distance tourist I met with SPDs had the beginners type combination SPD/bear-trap, which allowed him to use walking shoes if he needed to. Pedal bearings need regreasing from time to time, so try to find a model which is relatively easy to dismantle and adjust. But it is amazing how long loose pedals will just carry on working. You need to take your pedals off on aeroplanes, so grease the threads, do not over-tighten, and check they will come loose about once a month.
- Shoes. Long distance tourists generally use walking shoes rather than cycling shoes. When my Shimano ATB shoes fell apart in Bolivia, only 7 months old, I felt it was a release. Walking shoes were a better idea. Inevitably your feet visit the ground much more often on rough roads than they do on smooth, sometimes for several kilometres at a stretch... . I always carry a pair of light sandals, which can be used for fords.
- Lighting. Take some. Sometimes you just have to ride after dark. If you use battery lighting, dont forget to oppose the batteries when out of use, or they will be flat when you need them.
- Cycle computer. Useful for assessing progress and navigating. An altimeter also assists in navigating in mountainous places. Take a compass. GPS is only useful if you have survey maps.
- Mudguards are an optional extra, much appreciated on wet roads.
- Pump. Light-weight pumps are riot easily found in developing countries. I carry a spare pump as insurance against theft or malfunction, but that is perhaps eccentric.
Spares and maintenance
Dervla Murphy has never learned even to mend a puncture, and she always gets someone to fix whatever goes wrong. Her tale of a mechanic trying to use a hammer to remove an axle nut suggests the risk of this approach. I have met mechanically naive long distance cyclists. Some get through with an angel on their shoulder. Others discover its easier by bus.
In general my travel philosophy is self-sufficiency. That means knowing I can mend minor niggles on the road, and keep going through all but total disaster. I also like to know what the state of my components is so that I am responsible for what is happening to me. I do a proper job, but a lazy mechanic may do a quick fix. I make my own luck by being prepared. Resourcefulness grows as assistance wanes. My greatest regret is that I cant build wheels, a skill which would have served me well, though wheel building skills, after a fashion, do appear to be widely spread. I would not have got by had I not had the tool which the wheel-builder needs to remove my sprockets, and the knowledge to tell him the trick of how to do it. I knew I couldnt carry a vice, so I also chose not to carry a large adjustable spanner, on the grounds that I would be able to borrow these at any workshop.
You will have your own views on what tools you should carry. If there is a tool that is essential to fix your bike and not universally available, then my view is that you should carry it, even if you cannot use it yourself. You will need to lend this tool to the mechanic so he can fix it. In some places, this might be something as basic as an Allen key.
This is what I carried in the Andes, with some comments to assist you to form your own conclusions.
- Cool-Tool multi-tool. I found this useful. It incorporates a smallish adjustable spanner (whose shaft can be extended with Allen keys for extra leverage), 4mm, 5mm and 6mm Allen key heads, cross-head screwdriver, chain link extractor, and a standard crank bolt socket. The 4mm and 5mm Allen keys are not always sufficiently accessible, so I carried a full set of ordinary Allen keys in addition. You can additionally purchase a part to convert it to a headset spanner, and this is useful as proper head-set tools are rarely found. If you need additional leverage from an Allen key or a spanner, a metal tube such as some old plumbing or chair-leg can be used to lengthen it. I carried two small fixed spanners (8-11 mm) for fine work.
- Cone spanner and bearing grease for overhauling hubs and pedals. Regularly used. I also carry a spare rear axle, cones and bearings.
- Cassette tool and spoke key and a pile of correct size spare spokes. Regularly used. You dont need a chain wrench. One can be improvised by wrapping an old chain around a sprocket and clamping the free ends against each other in a vice. If you have no vice available, you can also hold the sprockets by using a bit of steel wire to attach the chain to some spokes, though that is a trick for emergencies only.
- Crank extractor and spare small chain ring. Dont forget to check your cranks and chain rings are tightly fixed from time to time.
- Brake blocks. Always carry spare brake blocks if you wear through to the metal you need to change the brake block immediately.
- Spare cables. Cables need greasing from time to time.
- Jubilee clips and strong scissors. It is amazing what you can fix up with a cut-up tin can and a pair of jubilee clips, even a temporary fix for a frame or rack fracture. The scissors doubled up for beard-trimming, nail clipping and food-cutting.
- Pile of nuts and bolts, Allen bolts, a couple of spare chain links, bit of steel wire (found by the roadside), cable ties, duct tape, string, bungees.
- Spare tyre(s), spare tubes, puncture repair kit, tyre patches, tyre levers. Bits of old tubes can be used for wrapping round vulnerable bits of bike, tying up breakages, and as fire lighters. Keep an old valve with a bit of its original tube attached it so you can glue it on if you cant get a tube with the right valve.
Some final suggestions
Rough roads shake the most recalcitrant of bolts loose, so keep a regular check on vulnerable points (rack fittings, crank bolts, chain ring bolts, head-set, mudguards, hubs, pedal bearings, etc) once a day when you first set out, or on unusually rough terrain.
- Listen to your bicycle. Immediately investigate any new or changed bicycle noise, and keep thinking until you know what it is.
- Hide some emergency money and a photocopy of your passport and air ticket in a plastic bag somewhere inside your bicycle frame or handlebars. Spread your money and documents in unlikely places around your panniers.
- In traditional societies, you can reduce the cultural gap if you avoid wearing skin-tight cycling clothes and respect local sensitivities. In many places Where are you going? is no more investigative than our How are you?, so a short and upbeat reply, even if untrue, is courteous, at least as a first answer.
- Getting directions is often essential but frustrating. Poor people rarely travel far, and may go in the back of a truck with no visibility. So often they will not know how to get to places further than walking distance. But they consider it polite to give an answer and dishonourable to expose their ignorance. To ask where does this road go? rather than How do I get to... offers them less scope for use of the imagination and more scope for a true (though possibly unhelpful) answer. Beware of estimates of journey time. They may find it polite to suggest a very short time (you are very fast on your beautiful bike) or a very long time (to justify why they would not attempt such a journey).
- Keep the skin on your nose. Most sun cream is quickly washed away by sweating. One tube of hard-to-get sweat-proof sport sun cream can last over a year if you reserve it for use on vulnerable points. A wide-brimmed hat helps.
- A cyclist needs more time to acclimatise to altitude and tropical climates than inactive people. In particular, vigorous activity is more likely to provoke unpleasant symptoms from lack of acclimatisation than inactivity. Altitude sickness and heat-stroke are both potentially dangerous, so plan adequate time for acclimatisation.
- Keep your multi-fuel stove almost soot free (and fingers cleaner) by priming it with 96% alcohol (meths), usually available in pharmacies. The fuel line will still need regular and vigorous scouring and flushing.
- Start assessing the terrain for campability before you need to stop, so that later on when you are tired you have some idea about what to look for and what you will have to tolerate.
- Keep mothballs in your luggage to discourage unwanted passengers.
- Double bag items you really must keep dry, like documents and your sleeping bag.
- Putting a bike on public transport is often easier in developing countries than at home.
- Some countries have a reliable unaccompanied baggage service on buses send that luggage you dont need right now ahead by bus.
Have an exciting expedition.
Ivan Viehoff, May 1999.
Ivan comments (2002) that some of this advice is out of date. There are good heavy duty rims around these days, like Sun Rhyno; and Tubus racks are now readily available in the