Bicycle Touring: How to Choose the Right Bike
So you’ve decided to embark on an epic cycling trip across the country (or maybe even around the world). Great! But now what? Do you have the right set of wheels for your journey?
There are lots of questions to consider when choosing the right bike for a long-distance cycling trip. Where are you going? How far do you plan to go? What are the road conditions like? These are important considerations for selecting a bike.
There is a sweet spot in prices for touring bikes from around $800 to $1, 200 CAD. It will be cheaper to maintain bikes in this price range, as parts for them are generally widely available and cheap to replace. They are also pretty robust and tankier. Spending significantly more than $1, 200 means you might get into more specialty parts that are lighter, but not necessarily stronger and that are usually harder to find. If you are cycling in a remote region or in another country, it may be very hard to find a replacement part.
Fatter tires will give you a softer ride but skinny tires will be a bit faster. If you’re not an experienced touring cyclist or this is your first time taking off, then it can be hard to choose. I happened to get 700x28c tires on my first touring bike and I’ve enjoyed them for touring in Canada and commuting around Toronto. They were also quite good for touring in Korea, but I wouldn’t have minded 700x32cs, as the routes we chose had a few unpaved sections.
If you sit on a bike that is your size but still feels a bit off, you can adjust other parts of your bike to make it feel more comfortable. I bought a completely new stem (the piece that connects the handlebars to the steerer tube) for my touring bike just to make my positioning better. You can also get adjustable stems to help you fine-tune the fit.
Getting good and sturdy pannier (carrying) racks that don’t bend or collapse under anything over five pounds is a sound investment. I have had racks that feel solid enough to sit on and racks that bend and sway on bumps. Also, ensure you have enough foot clearance between the pedal and front fender, and between your heel and rear pannier. It’s not fun to always have to carefully avoid hitting your foot on the front tire at the end of a long day.
Pedals and Shoes
I strongly recommend riding clipped-in (with feet clipped to the pedals). Not only does this make climbing easier, but it will also result in a smoother and more efficient pedal stroke. Find shoes that are comfortable and that you can walk in. While touring, constantly changing shoes is not something you will be doing, so having a shoe with a bit of tread is great for quick stops in grocery stores or even setting up camp for the night. Be prepared to be in your biking shoes for at least 10 hours of the day during your tour. I have had intense foot cramps so be sure the shoes are a good fit for you.
And just as it goes for bikes, you don’t need to buy the most expensive biking shoes at the store. I’ve found comfortable shoes for under $100 on sale and all the way up to $180. I like a bargain, but comfort is the priority with shoes. I have a pair of eggbeater clips with a small platform as they offer a little more foot support with a strong clip and they don’t easily clog with dirt.
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