Janick Lemieux and Pierre Bouchard have been bicycle touring the world onboard their burdened bikes, seeking adventures and searching for the people and landscapes of our planet, since 1990. They are long-time regular contributors to Canada’s Pedal, Vélo Mag, Géo Plein Air, Müv and La Semaine magazines. In May 1999, after having pedalled more than 100,000 kilometres in some 40 countries, they set off for the Pacific Ring of Fire’s volcanoes and dwellers.
The third and final leg of this “cyclovolcanic” quest launched last January, they now find themselves in the Philippines and getting ready to continue on their mission northbound towards Taiwan, Japan and Far Eastern Russia.
Humans may be capable of adapting to almost any given situation, whether in life or on the road, but certain mishaps and discomforts are best avoided. Imagine a rack breaking in the middle of the desert, an inflamed knee swelling up on some deserted road, or a hydraulic brake hose bursting in the jungle. That would be enough to bring most any bike trip to a sudden stop.
We've been cycling across continents and around oceans for the last 16 years, so we've acquired a great deal of knowledge and expertise, mainly from trial and error. We'd like to share some basic tips that might help you enjoy your next bike trip that much more. Enjoy and happy pedaling!
Since we are particularly attracted to wild and remote regions that are most often linked to the rest of the world by some disused road or sketchy trail, we prefer mountain bikes. Even though they were not designed to be road bikes, they do serve that purpose very well, and they offer great versatility. Mountain bikes have actually become the most common type of bicycle around the world, and their parts clutter the shelves of most bike repair shops in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
We each carry crazy amounts of gear with us and therefore ensure our bikes have very sturdy forks. The only shocks you'll find on our bikes are inside the seat post, where it matters most.
To learn more about choosing a bike, read Choosing the Right Bike article.
We manage to fit our “home away from home” into panniers attached to three racks: one on the rear and two on the front. Not only does this give our bikes a certain amount of character, but it also makes us feel like knights on our trusty steeds, beneficial to the soul when crossing vast expanses of landscape. As for bike trailers, they've never been our thing: we don't really trust them and we have enough wheels to maintain as it is!.
Bike racks play an essential role in any bike trip, but their importance is often downplayed. Anyone envisioning a bike-touring trip or thinking of cycle commuting on a regular basis would be well-advised to spend a little more and invest in alloy steel (chromoly) racks. Racks from Tubus (Germany), Nitto (Japan) and Bruce Gordon (US), are all sound investments that will last for generations. Tubus racks have the most ingenious design, are best suited to long trips, and are very affordable. Chromoly steel racks are much sturdier than their aluminium counterparts, and provide thousands of kilometres of faithful service. If they break, they can be welded back together nearly anywhere in the world.
Aluminium racks are time bombs waiting to detonate. Using one for more than weekend adventures or summer vacations would be like pulling the pin! We always keep a supply of spare bolts, collars and tie-wraps, just in case.
Whether your panniers are water-resistant or not, we recommend you line them with heavy-duty plastic bags. You know what they say better safe than sorry!
There are two things to keep in mind when outfitting a bike for a long-haul cycle-touring trip: simplicity and durability. Opt for friction shifters, such as Dura Ace, rather than automatic ones like those from Grip Shift or Rapid Fire. Imagine your bike falling to the ground while it's leaning against the wall of some border station, not a far-fetched scenario. Your Grip Shift's plastic casing would split open, or one of your Rapid Fires might crack, and you'd be chasing after 32 little springs, pulleys, and other parts. Even worse, you'd be stuck cycling in the same gear until the next bike repair shop!
Also on the topic of gears, avoid 9-speed cassettes – their sprockets are more fragile and don't last as long. Instead, opt for 7 or 8-speed cassettes and keep it simple.
Outfit your bike with 36-spoke wheels. They're the norm outside of North America; in several countries you can't even find 32-spoke wheels or their hubs.
We started threading our bikes' braze-ons to fit them with 6mm bolts rather than the standard 5mm. Since then, our bolts have stopped breaking. We also use heavy duty galvanised steel collars to attach the top part of the racks to the seat stays. We find it easier to replace a broken collar than to extract a decapitated bolt from an eyelet.
We have all too often met travellers who were on their first bike-touring trip and about to give up due to self-inflicted injuries. Several were riding with their seat too high while others had their seat too low, but all had inflamed knees or Achilles' heels. Because cycle tourists pedal hard several hours a day while carrying a heavy load, doing this day after day, it is crucial that the seat and handlebars be properly adjusted. One centimetre too high or too low, too close or too far, and your trip could end abruptly.
That being said, relief is almost instantaneous once the right position is found for each component. The rider can then enjoy the therapeutic effects of cycling. Take our word for it!
Even if you regularly change your cycling shorts, you might still suffer from the occasional bout of chafing. When the pain strikes it's time to call on Dr. Burt and his Miracle Res-Q ointment made from bees' wax. Before retiring for the night, just apply a thin layer of this antiseptic salve to the affected area and you'll wake up with your skin feeling incredibly soft.
You can spend a lifetime getting ready for a trip, but why obsess about planning out every little detail just to minimize the impact of the unexpected? Isn't that what adventure is all about? The best thing is to set a departure date and to venture off into the unknown when the time comes. The road will teach you about planning your next trip better and a great deal more. Happy pedaling!