Includes information on ‘Touring‘, ‘Audax‘, ‘Sportive’ and ‘Road Race’ bikes
Scroll down for information regarding touring clothing and cycle tour preparation.
1)Different types of bike used for touring, Race, Sportive, Audax, Touring, Hybrid, MTB plus frame materials and geometry
2)Equipment choices; Gear ratios, chainsets, gear mech’s, bars, pedals, saddles and wheels
3)Panniers and bags
4)Clothing , general touring clothing, shoes and rainwear
5)Tour preparationTraining tips, what to expect on tour, what food to take, what to expect on tour.
Forward: Click on blue bold text for ’links to pictures or external webpage’
First and foremost you need to decide what style of touring you want to do on the bike, what features you want it to have and as such what kind of bike will achieve all that for you. Here are some basic pointers generic to bikes that you could expect to be used for touring that should give food for thought, as these days a "touring bike" bike can be either a focused mile eating quite ’Heavy duty touring bike’ or a lighter faster set up ’Audax Bike’ that can carry lighter loads. There are many other bikes that can also be used for touring, some 'Hyrid bikes' are as the name suggests a hybrid of different styles, some have more of a mile eating road riding focus than others that can take guards plus a pannier rack and are proving to be very popular as 'tourers', which is why I have included them. To an extent any bike that can carry luggage can be considered, I know of some riders who tour on ’Hardtail moutain bikes’, although I have concentrated on bikes that are by design set up for touring
All those bikes apply simply because what many call 'touring' these days also differs, to some it is carrying camping equipment over long hilly distances, to some it is shorter weekend B & B rides where a saddle bag will do, others will call their fast day ride bike a tourer, as such the style of bike and equipment choices also differ.
Although the below is quite extensive I have tried to put it all across in a plain and simple manner, they are my opinions based on over 30 years as a club cyclist and over 20 years as a specialist cycle retailer, as such I must add these are my personal opinions; I fully respect that others may have some different opinions to mine.
Section 1: DIFFERENT TYPES OF BIKE USED FOR TOURING
In very general terms as there are of course variations of each type, frame materials play a part in how a bike feels for example, here are some general guidelines regarding the various styles of bikes, I have included race bikes simply to give a comparison. Well I say general but I have gradually built this post up to give more and more information so it is now quite detailed, I have used a 56cm frame as a guideline as frame geometry varies with size:
Road/Race Bike:Far less relevant as a load carrying touring bike, but listed here to illustrate the differences:
73 degree seat, 73 degree head tube with tight clearances, will feel stiff, lively and fast, least comfortable and stable when compared to those below; many use a full on race bike for fast day rides, especially when the owner is feeling a little bit frisky in the speed department (as I get older this happens less, normally one week in May and one in August, except of course when I have a tail wind), plus it can be rather pleasing to sit with your mates remembering how good you once was and how super your bike is; no harm in that, it's what cycling is all about.
A race bike is not especially robust for touring with narrow section tyres, which to an extent act as a bumper to protect the rims, and often using a frame material that although stiffer will be more delicate, if you are prepared to compromise it can be done of course, providing you can weather proof it sufficiently to meet your requirements and get what you need luggage wise on it then if you find it comfortable enough then it is your call. I would recommend that carrying carry light loads only, a race bike by design is set up to feel responsive, but this also means less stable, even of you could get large rear panniers on the back on a bike with race bike geometry the stability would be so poor that I wouldn't want to ride it; I have tried in the past, like many when first starting out I tried to make one bike do a multitude of roles and quickly learnt that compromises need to be made. So in conclusion of can you use a race bike for touring, ideally most prefer a bike with guards, luggage carrying capacity, a more comfortable and more stable geometry when loaded with luggage and lower gearing like the examples below for touring though.
What’s the difference between a ‘Race’ and ‘Sportive’ bike?:Many ask this question, essentially they are both set up with speed in mind, although the race bike will have a focus more on speed and the sportive bike will be set up to also offer an element of comfort.
A sportive bike set up will achieve this in various ways, one is rider position, compare the ’Specialized Roubaix and Tarmac’, in the first picture you will see that the Specialized Roubaix has a slightly higher front end to their race bike ‘Tarmac’ model. This is because a race bike rider will normally try to achieve a long and low position, where as a Sportive rider will often want a position slightly higher and shorter. Other differences will be gear ratios, the Sportive bikes will have ratios set up for fast riding, yet not quite race bike speeds, compact 34/50t and even triple 30/40/50t chain sets being the common choice for sportive bikes, where as a race bike would normally have 39/53t to give overall higher ratios for competition race bike speeds.
Other differences will be in the frame, as well as the differences in rider position as mentioned above the actual way the bike is set up to perform will be slightly different. For example a race bike will have thicker, straighter rear stays for stiffness; a sportive bike may have slimmer, shaped rear stays to absorb some of the road shock; all to achieve a slightly more comfortable ride. Note that I am highlighting what is in reality a subtle difference, some race bikes use shaped stays in races over aggressive courses, the race bike ridden by ’Tom Boonen’ he used when winning Paris Roubaix being a good example, on his bike you may also notice that he has Zertz inserts as he has on the rear stays; these again help to absorb some of the road shock, something normally reserved for their Sportive range.
I have mentioned Tom Boonens bike to illustrate that the difference between race and sportive bikes can sometimes be quite close, in this example the rider position and gear ratios are naturally set up for a world class sprinter. As a foot note the focus on that bike is for Tom to be at his most effective in the final sprint and the low position he likes for that moment, a position he simply can’t cope with for what are often hours leading up to that final effort, to achieve a higher, more normal race bike position for the early stage of the race you will see he has his brake/gear levers set far higher than many professional road race riders would normally have.
Audax and day ride/Sportive bikes:I have listed both in same category as they often share similar set up:
Where as race bikes are set up to be very stiff, audax and sportive will be set up to offer slightly more comfort, for example chain and seat stays on a race bike will be large and straight, by comparison audax and sportive bikes will often have slimmer shaped chain and seat stays to allow for an element of comfort. Most Audax bikes have a 73 degree Seat, 72 degree head, (Sportive and race will normally be 73/73) with slightly larger clearances for slightly larger tyres than a race bike with space for mudguards, as you can see the seat tube angles are similar to what you would find on a full-on race bike, whereas the head tube will have a slightly shallower angle to give a bit more comfort and offer stability if a light load is carried; yet they are still set up provide a fast ride, I only notice a difference over a race bike when sprinting/climbing out of the saddle, cruising in the saddle it will feel much closer. Some Audax frames will be same 73/73 geometry as a race bike but again with larger clearances, a traditional steel frame builder will still often build like that.
Most modern manufacturers have a bike to cater for the fast day ride bike sector, it is indeed for many manufacturers this sector that we have seen the largest growth in terms of sales. From the larger manufacturers we have, for example, the fair weather Specialized ’Roubaix’ range, sales for which have indeed grown to the extent that it out sells their similar priced flagship race bike ’Tarmac’ range, Trek had their Pilot range although this has been replaced with their performance fit models. Most other leading manufacturers also have a similar styled bike. Many are set up more for fast day rides than Audax though, Roubaix will not take full guards for example, where as the Enigma ’Etape’, Sabbath September and the Van Nicholas Yukon are aimed more specifically at the European market so can take guards and pannier rack as well. This style of bike is also very often used as a touring bike, all the tours I have listed at the bottom of this page are on such a bike, most can carry rear panniers/luggage with ease, a pair of panniers being sufficient for most tours.
Bikes like the Specialized Roubaix are often called ‘Sportive’ bikes, where as bike likes the Van Nicholas Yukon are often called ‘Audax’, in reality the performance and as such the style of riding and the type of riders they appeal to are also quite similar, as normally bought by those who want to potentially ride long distances at a good pace. I know many can take a while to decide which type they need.
My personal take on this is that I have found that those who want a bike they can keep for best and to an extent afford to be precious with, will often decide for a ‘Sportive’ set up, especially if they Do Not need to take luggage or weather proof the bike then these bikes are a very good choice. Sportive bikes are also a popular choice for those who although they may not actually compete in race events, still like to use their cycling as an opportunity for a work out, they want a bike set for this high work rate and give near full on race bike performance, they want to look and feel like a racer to inspire them to achieve their goals, yet still have an element of comfort. This style of rider and riding is extremely popular; it is no surprise that as such the growth in this style of bike has grown to cater for this demand.
Those who decide to go for the ‘Audax’ set up will often do so as although they do want similar performance, they also want to weatherproof the bike and perhaps take light luggage, as many will use this style of bike for light touring. Quite often competitive racing riders will use an ‘Audax’ bike as their winter training bike, they will then have a best bike, or bikes for summer use. Although this style of bike is popular they are not sold in such high numbers as Sportive bikes, especially in Europe, normally it is the smaller more specialist manufacturers that cater for the Audax and to an certain extent a UK specific market, as it is in the UK that Audax bikes are the most popular, Europeans are inclined to ride ‘Sportive’ style bikes, as such this is the main reason the larger manufacturers concentrate on their ‘Sportive’ range.
Touring:72 degree Seat, 72 degree head with even larger clearances, longer fork rake and overall wheel base than Audax, they will often be fitted with even larger tyres and mudguards, most common for load carrying and as such need to be set up to be more robust than the two categories above, not only with larger tyres but more heavy duty wheels and more often than not more robust frames as well, bikes like the Dawes Galaxy range for example, often this kind of bike will have lower gearing when compared to an Audax bike. ’Touring bike’ are very stable, very comfortable but will feel less lively for out of the saddle effort. Still popular with those who like a traditional mile eating comfortable bike, although to an extent the Audax, fast day ride bikes have taken over for many, as apart from heavy load carrying and rougher terrain they will do the majority of the tasks that a tourer will do, yet quicker and almost as comfortable, such is the impact that modern materials have had, no longer do you need relaxed frame geometry like a full on touring bike to achieve comfort. This shift in demand is reflected in what is available of course, where as the Audax, fast day ride styles are ever increasing so the choice of traditional tourers is diminishing, although it often means you just have to look a bit harder.
Cyclo Cross: Often titled as such but note can vary, some have a focus as ’competition with a race bike fast geometry and no braze on for guards’, racks or even bottle cages, especially on the seat tube. Some manufacturers will still market a bike as suitable for ’Cyclo Cross’ yet the set up will be more versatile, with braze on for guards and rack(s), as these bikes can also potentially be used to carry luggage expect these to have a slightly shallower head angle than those set up with more focus on competition; the more versatile models can and do make superb bikes for ’Touring’, the geometry interms of frame angles is often similar to the Audax frames, although generally more heavy duty in comparison as potentially they can be still used for Cyclo Cross, where as a focused Audax bike will have a slightly lighter overall set up nearer a Sportive style of bike.
As such expect larger volume tyres, often as large as 700 x 35c, Cantiliver or even disc brakes, required as normal road bike calipers will often not go around large tyres, note that dop bar brakes are not design to be used with V Brakes, so they still use the more traditional cantilever, it has to be said no where near the same R & D has gone into this set up so many do comment that the brakes are not as good as other more modern set ups that they may have been using on most other modern bikes; I’ve noticed that many of those who are simply upgrading their old bikes with the same set up have no issues, as this set up is no worse now of course, it’s those that have become used to the more modern powerful brakes that naturally notice the difference. Recently ’Disc Brakes’ are being introduced on some of these bikes (for a while disc brakes were not allowed in Cyclo Cross races) although most still use cables which many don’t actually find these an improvement over cantilever! However there are hydraulic options now becoming available that will address the balance somewhat interms of braking power at least, naturally all this comes at a cost and they are more technical than cable operated brakes which is a deterrent for those who prefer the simplicity of something more standard when on tour. As well as a more robust wheel package the frame will often have a more robust construction with larger stays and often main tubes, the forks will also be more robust as again they may need to take more punishment. Often many manufacturers will only have this Cycle Cross style of bike and not the more focused Audax bikes, as the latter are far more popular here in the UK than in Europe; sadly for many manufacturers the Audax specific market isn’t even on their radar.
Hybrid Bikes:Hybrid: As the name suggest a hybrid of other styles of bikes, normally most share the design features of a tourer as described above with ’Straight Bars’, the majority can take guards plus a pannier rack and are proving to be very popular as 'tourers', which is why I have included them. To an extent any bike that can carry luggage can be considered. Note that some have a focus nearer ’Road Specific’ and some are set up with more versatile terrain in mind, towpath riding for example, these often have front ’Front Suspension’, although they can normally take a rear pannier the fact that they are set up for absorbing the slightly more technical surfaces of tow paths will normally mean they are slightly less efficient as a long distance road bike when compared to the hybrids with a focus nearer a road bike.
Mountain Bikes:’Hard Tail MTB Bikes’ with slick tyres (note pic just linked to has off road tyres shown) and rigid forks makes for a robust expedition bike, especially if you can fit panniers and guards of course. Although slower than all the above providing you are not riding long distances in a group with fitter riders on faster bikes then in reality many could use such a bike for touring and be perfectly happy with their choice. You can of course do other things than simply fit guards, racks and slick tyres. Most atb bikes have a short upright position, a longer stem positioned flat as apposed to raised along with straight as apposed to riser bars will also make a difference, I have seen this is done quite often.
Frames made of Steel : Very durable (if built correctly) with low performance drop off with age. These days still a popular choice for club riders who like to know that their frame has been built in the traditional way by craftsmen. Production bikes built with steel are less common, although it remains popular with the companies that still cater for touring bikes.
Many cyclist like the fact that they are having something built often to their own specification, you can personalise your frame with your own braze on items, light bosses, extra bottle bosses etc, you can even chose your own colour. In the past all top quality frames were purchased this way, as it was how you got exactly what you wanted, both in quality and especially frame size. The old diamond shape frame being less adaptable in terms of variations in riding position than the modern sloping top tube frames; even Lance Armstrong used an off the peg frame size. Although I fall into this category, as in uses as steel frame, not Lance Armstrong, I have to admit that modern off the peg frames are now so good both in terms of production quality and the flexibility that the modern geometry gives you to achieve the perfect riding position, that the necessity to have a bike made to measure is less of an issue. In more recent years steel frames are starting to make something of a come back, as many realise that in many ways steel is a better option than aluminium alloy, especially when it comes to comfort.
Frames made of Aluminium Alloy: Often simply referred to as ‘Alloy’ Light, cheap, reasonably robust although some do comment that aluminium alloy frames are not as comfortable when compared to the others; in part this is why most will not use aluminium alloy forks, most current roads bikes will use steel or carbon. Aluminium Alloy supposedly has the most performance drop off, which in fairness only really effects a racing cyclist where a few percent reduction in performance can make the difference (especially in their heads) of winning or coming second, in reality that applies more to the older lighter frames when Pro’ riders used extremely light versions (now most pro teams use Carbon), the modern budget frames use a heavier, more robust alloy and are of course aimed at a different style of riding. They are now the most common option in the mid range and upwards frame sets, fairly robust, as they will normally dent as apposed to crack. Normally the price dictates a purchase of a frame built in alloy, that does not mean that you will not be satisfied, you will see quite a few older frames still being ridden by club cyclists who find them perfectly adequate, plus many don’t have any complaints re’ comfort or performance drop off. Although most refer to these frames in general terms as ‘alloy’ if we are being pedantic then strictly speaking this is wrong, as steel is an alloy of carbon and iron, titanium is normally aluminum and vanadium, for example Van Nicholas use 3% Aluminium, 2.5% Vanadium and 94.5 Titanium, which they simply list as 3/2.5
Frames made of Carbon:With sufficient research and development can result in a bike that is comfortable, very light and efficient at transferring energy into propulsion as the material does not flex as much as other materials. Although strong they can be more delicate, where other materials dent, Carbon is more likely to crack, although I don't believe that they are as delicate as many fear them to be, quite a few have been ridden for a few years now and still going strong.
Most common rider is a racing cyclist or someone who still likes to have a ‘best bike’ that can to an extent have a more precious existence than say audax or touring bike, where robustness may be more of a consideration. Most production high end ‘Race’ and ‘Sportive’ bikes will these days use carbon frames, we are also starting to see this technology filter down into the mid price range models.
Note my comment above stating “sufficient research and development ”, I would always recommend buying from a reputable manufacturer/designer. Back when steel was the material of choice, the best were built by craftsmen and the mass produced manufacturers did not offer the same quality of construction. With carbon frames arguably the opposite applies, the larger companies put huge efforts into research and development when designing their frames. Modern construction, if you have the facilities, which the major companies have access to, mean that they can offer a well designed, high quality product; low volume craftsmen struggle to compete on both quality and price. As such care is needed with budget carbon frames, they often are not that light, stiff, good to ride and more significantly in some cases even that safe to ride!
In recent years high end mountain bikes have also started to use Carbon frames, note they are not road bikes with different geometry, they are designed to be far more robust and impact resistant than road bikes for obvious reasons.
Frames made of Titanium : Until recently they were seen as expensive and rather exclusive, although they are starting to become very popular as the pricing now competes with many of the comparable alternatives. Virtually no performance drop as they don’t even rust, comfortable, light, yet extremely robust, especially compared to carbon! So much so that although I personally don't believe that anything does last forever; Titanium probably comes the closest.
Race bike performance wise, a Titanium frame will not be as light or stiff as well designed carbon or now seldom used upmarket very light alloy frame, alloy when new that is, (note that as stated above most alloy frames are mid range only), although really it is that not far off. Until quite recently some pro racers used Titanium, like Magnus Backstedt, a former Paris Roubaix winner (2004), other Pro Teams used Titanium frames painted up to look like normal production bikes of their team sponsors, often used in races where comfort can become an issue, for example over the cobbles of the Paris Roubaix, as riders are bashed about so much it can lead to fatigue. However that in fairness applied more when Steel or alloy were more common place in the peleton, these days for those riders chasing grams and split seconds, most will now chose carbon.
The down side is that Titanium is very hard to work/build with; so most manufacturers don't! On the upside because of this the workman ship simply has to be of top quality and it shows, most Titanium frames do look and are very well made. Most common used when someone wants a fast, responsive, light comfortable yet robust, durable bike and of course where price is not so much of an issue. Titanium is therefore and ideal choice for touring, longer day rides, audax and sportive bikes. Even though arguably they are a less valid choice for use as a race bike, they are still quite popular, as many do buy with a view to long term ownership, where not only robustness is a significant consideration but also style, many Titanium frames have very classic designs that should not date in quite the same way that the ‘bang up to date styles of the moment’ may do.
Frame material conclusion :, Opinion is often much divided when it comes to frame materials and if it effects how the bike rides or not. Many will state that they can tell a huge difference and by the same token many will state that the frame material makes no difference at all. I would say I fall somewhere between both, I have ridden a huge variety over the years, when riding bikes similar in set up in nearly every respect apart from the frame material I would say that I can't tell a huge difference, but I can feel more than none that's for sure, a slight difference it may be, yet significant enough to play a part in my decision making when choosing a new frame.
A quality designer and manufacturer will be sensitive to the material they have used, so I would expect the bike to perform how it is supposed to and give you good long service, regardless of what it is made of. So although the frame material is indeed a consideration I believe that many are far more concerned about what they should or shouldn't use than perhaps they need be.
An example of this is more recently I've noticed that those who have a full on focused carbon race bike have commented how harsh they find it and have asked about a Titanium Sportive bike as an alternative, valid in as much that focused race bikes are indeed to harsh for many and in part it's carbon that has helped the bike achieve a set up where saving grams and split seconds are coveted. However, I've noticed that many have been under the impression that carbon is therefore less comfortable, when in reality they are comparing two different bikes, a carbon race bike versus a titanium sportive bike, in other words a well designed carbon sportive bike can be the perfect choice interms of riding experience as a sportive bike, yes there are the pro's and con's as I reference above, but interms of how a bike actually rides then it's important to chose the the correct type of bike designed for the style of riding that you are looking for.
Modern frame shapes
Many modern frames often have a slightly sloping top tube, so the seat pin has slightly more scope interms of up and down adjustment, ahead systems with their reversible stems, from near ’Horizontal’ to a ’Raised’ raised angle, plus their spacer set up again offer slightly more flexibility than ’Quill’ stems.
For sure it does not make a huge increase interms of variation, but to be effective it doesn’t need to be. For example I always rode ’23 Diamond shape frame’, very few of the mass produced frames came in that size, Raleigh for example, like many mass produced manufacturers would make a 22 ½ or 23 ½ even for their more up market 'Special products division' frames, to get my position spot on I could not quite achieve that with either.
So like many I went down the custom built route, not only to get the best interms of build quality but to get the exact size I wanted. Slightly to big and it would feel like you were leaning over the centre of gravity of the bike as apposed to with it when cornering at racing speeds, vice versa if slightly to small. Of course I was being very particular with my sizing, but I was racing, short circuit criteriums included, they involved cornering at speeds where I was effectively on my limit, if not racing I dare say I would have made do with a 22 ½" and been quite happy.
Many manufacturers again would not make a large range of sizes, four being the norm’, so where I have listed sizes 22 ½ or 23 ½ either side of that would often have greater jumps than 1”, (in their cheaper ranges they would often offer even fewer, 21 ½ to 23 ½ for example and not the 22 ½) where as modern bikes are more inclined to be offered in a greater number of sizes, that along with the slightly greater flexibility in size variations is just enough, meaning that custom build is now less of a necessity, most Pro riders as I implied in my above, now ride standard production frames.
Modern ’Horizontal (or very near)’ frames are still made, again they are inclined to be offered in a greater number of sizes which again helps as you are more likely to be able to obtain a size on or at least near enough to what you need. It is in fairness not just the frame that has made the difference, it is the whole package, plus the availability of more choice interms of frames sizes that as helped reduced the necessity for many to require custom built.
Compact frame Pro’s v Traditional Diamond Shape :
Smaller rear triangle so a race bike especially benefits from a stiffer rear triangle, being a Compact design the frames are often lighter.
Although I believe that they offer slightly more variations in terms of sizing options, which many designers would promote when initially launched, I must admit I have never fully embraced the concept that they were so effective in this respect that manufacturers could offer less frame size options and still cater for all riders. However now we are starting to see a larger variety of sizes being offered, so now I do believe more than ever before that the vast majority of riders can be accommodated without the necessity for a custom built geometry.
Compact frames also allow slightly more scope either end of the frame size ranges. For example very large riders can get a bike that doesn’t look like a garden gate and vice versa for very small riders. As well as the sizing benefits that brings to those two groups it must be remembered that to many cycling is not just about the activity, it is very much about the bikes, the fact that they can now get one that to them is easier on they eye is understandably very well received. Often previously when these riders collected their new bikes you could almost see the disappointment, often not commenting on anything other than the functional aspects of their machine, now you can often visibly see their excitement when they collect their new pride a joy. (Off topic and a personal note that is a big vocational box ticked for me as that is always a lovely thing to see, that people no matter how old and mature they now are can still be excited when they pick up their new bike).
Many riders comment how stable a compact frame feels when compared to a diamond shape frame, especially when high speed cornering.
Compact frame Con’s v Traditional Diamond Shape:
With a shorter seat tube bottles have less room to be fitted should you want one located there, reducing the feasibility of fitting them at all to many mid size frames and smaller.
Many still like a traditional frame fit pump, again due to the shorter seat tube coupled with that fact that on some compact frames the angle between the top and sea tube is such that the pump will not locate anyway.
On Compact frames the seat stays are often further from a rear pannier rack than with a diamond shape frame, meaning not only is the rack harder to fit but the longer fittings required can result in as less rigid rack as a result.
My personal conclusion of Compact frame ‘V’ Traditional Diamond Shape:
Although compact frames are now common place, most Touring/Audax style road bikes are not aggressively compact, the top tube will often slope down slightly but not as much as it would on a race specific bike, with more focus on providing slightly more variety of sizing options than to influence performance.
As such to an extent the 'con's' that I list above are therefore reduced, also worth noting that of all the styles of bikes, Touring and Audax are the two that are the most likely to retain a more traditional diamond shape frame, although if that style is still used many of the manufacturers will often offer them in a larger size range than they may have offered in the past.
Overall Conclusion regarding suitable bikes for touring:
To an extent the style of bike you want also dictates all the above, if you are only going to do credit card tours where only relatively light loads are taken as apposed to heavy load touring then an Audax bike will be OK, so lighter wheels and slightly higher gears ratios may be preferred when compared to a heavy duty tourer for example, so in many ways you need to chose which style of bike and intended use before you fine tune the equipment choices.
Section 2: EQUIPMENT CHOICES:
Chainring setup - triple? number of teeth?Cassette ratio:
What you need to do is work out what ’Gear Ratios’ you like to use and then try and achieve them, making sure they are correctly positioned, no point if mathematically you can only get your most common used gear in largest ring largest sprocket.
By way of an example that is all I have done on my ’Tour Bike’ I use a 13-29 Campagnolo 10 speed set up with 26-36-46, which gives me all that I am after
It does take a bit of thought as to what you need both in terms of ratios and then equipment choices to achieve them, but it can nearly always be done. In my case for example I did invest in a high quality chainset to get the ring combinations I wanted, as for me personally I find many road specific triples to large for me and the ATB chainsets too small for what I want.
Note I said 'wanted' not 'needed', my tour bike is used for tours, often I want to climb a long mountain pass with little effort to take in the scenery, so I chose lower gear ratios on that bike. Sportive bikes by comparison are normally ridden with no luggage, plus set up generally for riding at a higher speed than a touring bike. You can see from that gear chart above that a 34t inner chain ring with a 27t largest sprocket results in a 34" gear, which until a couple of years ago was a common set up on a Sportive bike. Note Shimano road cassettes then evolved to offer upto 28t, then 30t and the Shimano 6800 Ultegra now offers upto 32t, resulting in a lower gear ratio than the previous generation triple transmission offered! As I said, even the 34 ring 27t sprocket combination gave a lowest gear ratio of approx' 34", on that style of bike that for many was low enough for most riders, even on a mountain pass.
Although a 34" gear was OK for me on Lejog I realised when I was riding in a group I had to keep the gear turning on the climbs and ride quicker than many of my new friends, who were using lower gear ratios than me and able to ride at a slower more sociable pace, that along with wanting to take in the scenery is why you will now see that bike had a triple in some of the later tour articles. As I said gear ratio choices can take some thought, the decision may not always be down to ability. In my case for local rides I seldom, if ever need to use it the smallest ring, I have even done full tours and never once used it, yet I have no intention of taking it off as I know that it’s there if wanted, arguably I could have fitted a larger small ring and still been happy, as my choice of chain ring sizes is more for to achieve the 46-36 combination than it is the 26.
To try and explain what a 34" gear ratio equates to, well I'm no fabulous racing whippet, but when I rode from 'Lands End to John O'groats, (LEJOG)’ I used a higher gear than that and I rode up every climb. In that specification I also toured the High Alps with two full panniers and again rode every climb; just, but I did it. That said I do believe that the way the compact transmissions have gradually evolved from 34 chainring to 27t rear sprocket, then 28t, to 30t and now on some 32t largest rear sprocket does result in more usable gears on the large chainring and more importantly in the correct chainline locations, on the small ring it gives you a gear for riding high mountain passes; or a get out of jail gear if in short you have just blown up! The Shimano 6800 group now offers such a low gear they dropped the triple version, personally I would like to have seen the triple still offered in 30t chainring 32t largest rear sprocket
Note my bike is an Audax bike, I have mentioned it purely to illustrate the thought process that can go into deciding what gear ratios to go for. An Audax bike like mine is often used potentially for slower tours, as such many spec' a triple over a double, where as some are set up more as fast day ride/sportive bikes, as I said above normally used for a slightly faster style of riding, as such they will normally have higher gear ratios than my Audax bike as a result. Just because I have set my bike up with a very specific set of gear ratios and more importantly the equipment choices I have used to achieve them, it doesn’t mean that I therefore believe what manufacturers normally supply are as such wrong; far from it, for the majority of Audax bikes-riders, they can achieve what they personally are looking for with normal road triples of 30-40-50 or 32-42-52; likewise many Sportive bikes-riders find that the 34-50 double compact transmission also offer their desired ratios. Along the same lines in many ways what I have done arguably is not recommended, for as you will read below there are certain compromises by using ratios outside the design parameters that the mech’s were designed for.
Front and rear derailleur
How you go about chosing what front and rear derailleur to use is to a large extent influenced by how you go about achieving the desired gear ratios as I described above. Modern systems will generally use the same brand through out the transmission set, Shimano mechs with Shimano gear levers and sprockets, Campagnolo with Campagnolo etc, although to a degree you can mix and match, often called ’Shimergo’, with the exception of chain sets mix and match is still quite rare on new bikes being built from scratch.
I would suggest if possible keeping the transmission set up compatible, you will see my bike that I refer to above when discussing gear ratios isn’t, I have used a Chainset smaller than the mech’s were designed for, nearly all road bike mech’s are designed for larger overall rings, as you can see the ’mech line does not follow the chain ring’ so the mech’ pushes the chain too far away from where the chain disengages the chainring
This can and in this case does mean that you don't get such good gear change, more noticeably when changing into the smallest ring. I have got it working just good well enough, but it is definitely a compromise, I try not to change down under full pressure and if possible not when in the largest rear sprocket, I get a better shift if I am in 3-4th sprocket down as the mech' engages the chain nearer where it was designed to do, as a precaution I have also fitted an ’Overshift Protector’.
Preferred shifters :
As to preferred shifters you will get many say Shimano are better than Campagnolo and vice versa, some can get quite passionate as to which they prefer. In reality providing you can achieve the ratios you want then even though they differ in certain ways most who have either Campagnolo or Shimano should be satisfied with their choice. Although some riders still use down tube shifters, or bar end shifters, most will use a brake/gear lever system, the two most popular being Shimano STI and Campagnolo Ergo
Drop or straight bars:
If you chose the same bike in any other respect and the only difference is the bars and relevant equipment that requires then again it is very much a personal choice. Some prefer what is normally a slightly shorter more upright position of a straight bar, others can achieve their perfect position with drops and prefer the variety of positions that a drop bar offers.
Although a few still use flat pedals or traditional shoes with toe clips and straps, the majority will now use a clip less system, the most popular by far is the ’Shimano SPD pedals and compatible shoes’ as the cleats are recessed to aid off the bike walking. Note I have shown two styles of shoe, the softer soled training style and the harder MTB soled shoe, the latter have a stiffer sole, more ventilated upper and will dry quicker, a consideration when on tour. The training shoe style are ideal for shorter distances, although many prefer the stiffer sole of the MTB shoe for longer rides.
Saddles are one of the many items of a bicycle that can divide opinion. Where one rider swears by a particular saddle, another can quite justifiably swear because of it; let's face it, the interface between the rider's 'seat' and the bicycle is something that we simply need to get right, so how can we chose. Firstly you need to get the correct width, many stores now how a simple yet effective device to measure ’Sit bone width’. This can vary greatly, slim looking people can have quite a wide pelvic and vice versa. Get the width wrong and you can end fidgeting up or down the saddle in an attempt to get comfortable, so in many cases it can not only cause discomfort but it can effect the riding position While on the subject of riding position this also plays a part in saddle choice. For example on my drop bar tour bike I ride ’Quite long and flat’ so compared to an upright position as I roll forward the sit bones narrows, due to the V-shape of the pelvis, as such I use a saddle which is not only narrower but also with a cutaway section further ’Forward’ than a saddle designed for an upright position, which would often be wider with the cutaway section ’Further Back’
The cutaway sections are designed to alleviate saddle pressure on your perineum or prostate. As I get older I have more hair up my nose and in my ears than on my head, hangovers arrive far easier and take for longer to disappear, I’m sure if ‘Top of the Pops, was still on it would now just seem like noise, along with these another problem with getting older is that my prostate seems more sensitive to saddle pressure, after a few miles my pride and joy started to go numb; now that as far as I am concerned is something that I do like to keep in tip top perfect condition; few things are more disconcerting than a numb Willy!!!!! I am somewhat relieved to say that a change of saddle has worked wonders for my feeling of well being.
Wheels and tyres:
Wheel and tyre choice depends on the weight you wish to carry, a bike set up for heavy duty touring may require stronger wheels than say an Audax bike that may only carry lighter loads.
Regarding heavy duty wheels Shimano ATB 9 speed hubs use 135mm hubs, where as road bike specific are 130mm and most are now 10 speed. Worth noting that most of the 10 speed cassette systems fit onto a 9 speed ATB hub, so they can if necessary be used. 135mm ATB hubs can even been seen on production touring bikes, as these are less dished than the 130mm road wheels it means that traditional built wheels are still the norm'.
Traditional built wheels are becoming slightly less common with the road specific 130mm hubs though, in part due to the severe dishing many will no longer use traditional built spoke and hub, opting for a modern prebuilt variety. This is because the modern design of these new wheels can help to reduce the impact of severe dishing; with the mid range and upwards wheels this has proved to be extremely effective, with the correct choice this can result in very reliable durable wheel packages. In fairness many of the modern designs are now of a standard and price that for an Audax style fast spec' bike they are becoming the norm‘.
Tyres again will depend on the style of tourer, expect an Audax bike to run a lighter narrower tyre than a heavy duty tourer. A common Audax tyre range being 700 x 23 through to 28c, where as heavy duty tourers will normally use more robust tyres and larger, often 700 x 32, although down as far as 28c or up as far as 35c are not that uncommon.
Section 3: PANNIERS:
Regarding pannier choice in popularity the two most that spring to mind are Ortlieb and Carradice, followed by Altura.
The modern ’Roll Top Closure’ designs are the most popular in the Ortlieb range as in theory they are more waterproof than the more traditional 'lid type' closure. All the Ortlieb panniers that have that design have the word 'Roller' in the description, where as the normal are called names like Bike Packer.
I am not saying that roll top closures in reality are indeed better, although this style has become extremely popular over the last few years. The traditional styled lid type closure still does in practice also make ideal weather resistant panniers, I have found that most who wanted the more traditional styling will often go for more traditionally made panniers like Carradice Super C, which are made of the tried and tested material 'Cotton Duck', the material itself is waterproof but the seams are not taped, so technically they can not advertise it as a waterproof pannier.
In practice however the material expands when wet closing the seams, I recall touring in the Picos De Europa one summer and carrying four litres of water in 2x 2ltr plastic bottles, one of which split emptying the entire 2lts into the pannier, which held the water like a bucket. I am not saying they are better than Ortlieb, both companies make a superb product, they are just different that's all, I doubt we will see many who have anything negative to say about either and rightly so.
Worth noting that front panniers can be used on the rear. Modern travel clothing and indeed cycle kit is such that it packs small and drys quickly, I have done two week tours using front panniers as rears and that was when I needed to carry cold weather kit as was going over the high Alps.
You will be surprised just how you can reduce the packing size, a trial run packing before you go is always a good idea. Modern clothing also helps as will dry overnight, a Travel Towel is very compact. Obvious things like clothing that packs up small and will dry overnight are also available, take enough tooth paste and soap for tour only etc, it is the little obvious things that really make a difference. I actually use small panniers front and rear, even for camping, for B & B or hotel tours front panniers on the rear is sufficient
’Bar Bags’ are also very popular, ideal for locating route sheets well as GPS systems ( I have reviewed my 'Garmin Edge 810 Gps', that may be of interest) I also find it is ideal for use as a 'Camera Bag', you can see that my DSLR inc waterproof bag fits neatly into the waterproof bar bag for good weatherproof protection, the bag being supported off the bars like that also offers some protection against road shock, a pannier top bag less so of course.
Section 4: CLOTHING, SHOES AND RAINWEAR:.
As I mentioned earlier, although a few still use traditional shoes with flat pedals or with toe clips and straps, the majority will now use a clip less system, the most popular by far is the ’Shimano SPD pedals and compatible shoes’ to aid off the bike walking. Note I have shown two styles of shoe, the softer soled training style and the harder MTB soled shoe, the latter have a stiffer sole, more ventilated upper and will dry quicker, a consideration when on tour. The training shoe style are ideal for shorter distances, although many prefer the stiffer sole of the MTB shoe for longer rides.
By Comparison ’race bikes shoes’ (note pic’ does not show cleats) are far less common as ’cleat is not recessed’, walking in these is far less convenient in every respect as you hobble around on the cleats, which as a result then wear out quickly resulting in a less accurate contact with the pedal, eventually they will disengage the pedal, initially this show just as you make an effort, which is the very moment you could do without them unclipping!
Most use cycle clothing of some kind, using materials that are cut for cycling in a material that dries quickly when it rains which also translates to easy care when on tour, as nearly all will dry overnight keeping luggage to a minimum. As well as quick drying they also retain moisture in a different way, layers next to the skin for example will allow sweat to pass through leaving you dry and comfortable, as apposed to holding the sweat like a cotton T Shirt would for example, which would soon becoming cold and clammy. Winter weight thermal top layers are even more tailored for cycling, with longer back and arms and shorter fronts, they also don’t retain as much water when it rains, although not waterproof this does mean that if caught in a shower you do not get as cold, as a waterlogged garment would draw body heat far quicker than a dry one.
As with the shoes, where many use the MTB styles, the same applies to the clothing, quite a lot of the MTB styles are very popular with touring riders. This is in part due as the leisure styling allows for a multi role. For example remove the ’liner’ and they are perfect to wear in the evening off the bike, when touring light I may just take two pairs with me, a clean pair each evening that I add the liner the next day. Same theory applies to the ’Cycling baggy style T Shirts’ as you can see from that link I have both which on that tour did double up for both on and off the bike wear; the advantage being that the luggage taken is minimal, an important consideration if you on an unsupported tour and you are carrying your own luggage on the bike. I also quite like the baggier styles for when it’s really hot, although personally for longer distances I do prefer the more common ’’lycra shorts and slim cut jersey’, eespecially as in that picture if it is a day with the odd shower, although all the above do dry very quickly I would rather not have a damp loose fitting jersey flapping against my skin in the wind! On occasion if I do ride a high mileage and still don’t want to look like ‘Captain Lycra’ I do wear my lycra shorts under the baggy shorts instead of the liner, simply due to the superior lining
If the weather is changeable or riding in colder weather then gloves, ’Winter Jackets’ and leg wear are necessary; for the latter I prefer 'Tights’, the bib section is unseen when you have the top layers on, they look like 'This’ with those layers removed, I personally find them more comfortable when leaning forward than a waist tight, which I can find restricting, especially in the winter when I am fatter! Bib tights also keep your tummy and lower back warm, the former is something that many don’t realise can get very cold with the wind chill. Many don’t like the look of tight fitting bib tights, as such the 'Lesuire cut waist tights’ are extremely popular, note that these will also have quite a high back.
One of the most common questions I get asked in the shop is, Q: “ How do I stay really dry when it rains”, A: “Stay in”! No matter how good your rainwear or how weatherproof you have made the bike you will still get wet; it‘s just a case of by how much. However when people say “how do I stay dry” what they often actually mean is “how do I stay warm and comfortable when riding in the rain”; there are various things that can be done to achieve this
Firstly I try and keep some of the rain off me by using 'Full Guards’ on all my tour bikes. In addition I would always recommend a 'Rain Jacket’, which can double up as a layer if you get caught out with a sudden change in temperature, in that picture it was really hot at the bottom of the mountain and freezing at the top! Most rain jackets store small enough to fit into a bag or pannier, some so compact they will fit into a jersey pocket. The price range is quite extensive, although generally the higher quality jackets are more waterproof and breathable than the cheaper versions.
I would go as far to say that modern rainwear in the mid range and upwards price brackets are so breathable that many do use them as a top layer in the winter, this wouldn’t have happened in the past when you would have just as wet and ultimately cold and clammy from sweating! the same applies for the really compact varieties, some are even just designed as a shower proof and often used simply as an emergency extra layer, these 'Rain Jacket’ models are often cheaper and more breathable than the versions that have more focus as a waterproof; care is needed when choosing one as they do look very similar.
As well as rainwear modern fabrics of modern thermal garments are also far better in the rain than they once were. I remember the older fleeced lined tights that would retain water and get sopping wet, drawing body heat very quickly, modern materials used in outer thermal layers don’t hold the water anywhere near as much, so the thermal qualities to an extent remain.
As for keeping my feet dry, in the winter I does use neoprene overshoes with a water resistant coating for when it rains hard; yes eventually the water will get through, but your body heat can warm the water; wet and warm is so much better than sopping wet and freezing cold.
I even take ’Overshoes’ on summer tours, although my modern summer cycling shoes are design to keep me cool with a ’mesh upper’ which will also dry quite quickly, I would still rather they didn’t get too wet to start with. Like jackets there are many different types, those I am wearing are just a slim water resistant pair that I take on summer tours, the thicker pair for winter use I mentioned have the same water resistant coating as the summer version but with a with a neoprene lining in an attempt to keep me warm as well as dry; although at a glance they would look the same they are naturally thicker. Something else that can help keep your feet dry is a ’Mudflap’ at the bottom of the from guard; easy enough to make if yours don’t have one, bleach bottles cut to fit and carefully screwed on are ideal, if riding in a goup one fitted like this to the rear guard is also not a bad idea.
As a result I have done some long cold rides in the rain, even in the colder winter months and thoroughly enjoyed them, I definitely can’t say that I stayed bone dry, but I was warm, comfortable and far drier than some of the others on the ride.
Section 5: TOUR PREPARATION
If you have bought the right bike and all the correct gear how do you prepare for a cycle tour like ’LeJog’. For a healthy reasonably fit person with the correct preparation a two week 1,100 mile plus tour like that is an achievable challenge, it does strike quite a good balance between the tour being a holiday and something that you will be pleased you have achieved. As someone who has done this kind of tour a few times here are a few tips from me:
1) Get the miles in during the months leading upto the start of the tour, a typical day on something like ‘Lejog’ will normally have you on the road at about 8 to 9am until late afternoon, so try and do a few training rides that replicate that. However that’s not to say that the old saying of “all miles are good miles” doesn’t apply, when preparing for a tour it is indeed not a bad train of thought. Plan a a day ride that also replicate the style of terrain, potentially 'Gps System' of some kind where you can enjoy plotting them riding that route is something I know many find of value.
2) As well as making sure you get the right type of bike as mentioned above, make sure that when you start it’s in good working order, so many waste time on tour addressing what were avoidable maintenance issues when they should enjoying the holiday
3) It’s folly to invest hundreds if not thousands of pounds on a bike if it then isn’t set up to fit you correctly. Many will quite rightly take great care to get the correct style of bike, in the correct size, with all the correct clothing, shoes and kit, yet with all these important factors in place I so often see riders with the incorrect set up on the bike, so they have to try harder than they need do and often get aches and pains they don’t need to have as a result.
4) What will work on a single long day ride may not work quite as well on two weeks worth of long day rides. For example I like to eat at lunchtime and not graze on energy snacks all day, the latter I may often do on a Sunday over the familiar roads at home. Stopping on tour for lunch like this will probably have you feeling a bit lethargic when you get back on the bike, but personally I find this will pay dividends later in the ride and helps me to finish the day feeling good, as far as I am concerned there is no substitute for solid food, I use the popular energy products as a top up, not a substitute. Note that often at lunchtime you may not actually feel that hungry, be careful though for by the time you do it may be too late.
Another advantage of a lunch stop is that it mentally splits the ride into sections, novices often start a day concerned that they may have eighty miles ahead of them, this can seem daunting especially if starting in the rain and the forecast is not good, with a proper stop this splits to the ride into smaller less daunting and more achievable targets.
5) On a group tour, some you will find will treat each day as a stage of the Tour de France, others, novices especially, like to get it over and done with as they are nervous about reaching their goal, it's often the same faces that will reach the days end first each day, these riders may prefer the grazing theory as they will reach their destination much earlier. Personally I like to take my time, some of my best memories are the stops! Training for this ride will give you and indication of what style of tourer you are, for my ten pence worth it as much about enjoying the journey as it is about reaching the magnificence that is John O’Groats; after all it’s far easier to admire the view when you are not trying so hard that you are all boss eyed or concentrating so hard that all you are focusing on is the road in front of you.
6) I mentioned above that some of the first to reach the days end are not only the competitive types but the novices who may be a little anxious; to the former I say that’s great if that’s what you like to do, to the latter I say try not to be anxious, take your time and give yourself time, leave early not late so that you are not always clock watching at each stop, go at your pace and you will get there, in your own time; but you will get there
7) Most of my tours have given me life long memories that I will treasure forever; I hope you enjoy touring as much as I have, I have listed a few of them on this site that you may find of interest.
By Paul Smith