Bicycle touring can seem like a complicated undertaking for those who have never done it, and we hope to explain here some of the questions you may have about spending a week on your bike. There are many sources on the internet for those who are interested in learning more about bike touring (see http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/ or http://www.adventurecycling.org/mag/ ), and rather than try to be the definitive source here, we offer our views based on our varied touring experiences in Mexico. The main thing to remember about all of this is that it doesn’t have to be hard, and, in fact, riding your bike on a week’s vacation is one of the simplest great pleasures we can think of.
To start off, you need to bring along a bike you are comfortable with. This means a bike you already have, are familiar with, and enjoy riding. We feel that the trouble and expense of transporting your own bike is far outweighed by the reliability and comfort you may not get with a rental. We’ve toured on borrowed and rented bikes before and have spent many hours in the (crummy) saddles wishing we were on our own bikes. Why take a chance of ruining your vacation?
So, for the question everyone always wants to know: What kind of bike should I bring?
The answer is: There’s no perfect answer, but you can tour on just about anything if you take the limitations and attributes of your kind of bike into consideration.
Road bikes offer a sleek, aerodynamic platform on which to ride, but you have to be sort of creative in setting them up with a rear rack to hold your panniers. Because of their lighter frames, you can’t carry as much weight on them as you can on a mountain or hybrid bike, so you’ll want to leave the kitchen sink at home. You also have to make sure that the gearing on your road bike is suitable for climbing the elevations you may encounter. And you will want to change your lightweight, skinny racing tires over to something more substantial to be able to handle rougher surfaces and avoid frequent flats, because flat tires while on vacation are no fun.
There is a subset of road bike that is perfect for touring, and, not surprisingly, it’s a called a touring bike. Touring bikes are essentially a road bike already set up with the changes you would make to a regular road bike you wanted to tour on. They have low gearing to handle heavy loads and climbs, accept racks and panniers easily, roll on wider tires, and often have fenders. The frame design features a longer wheelbase for stability and heel-clearance with the panniers, and the front end is usually a little taller than on a regular road bike.
Another road bike variation that’s great for touring is the cyclocross bike. It, too, has a more relaxed geometry and lower gearing, and a wider frame enables it to take wider, more comfortable tires.
Mountain bikes, on the other hand, are the most versatile bike for getting around on a variety of terrain. Most mountain bikes will accept a rack and panniers easily, and their large gear range will handle just about any climb that’s out there. But their heavier weight, suspension forks, wider tires and upright riding geometry make them much less efficient on longer rides. Because we ride 40-60 miles per day, we don’t recommend touring on one unless you’re super-strong.
Hybrid bikes make a better touring bike, but they are essentially watered-down mountain bikes. Less heavy, with skinnier tires and a lightweight suspension fork, they are a bit more efficient than a mountain bike, usually accept a rack easily, and have similar gear ranges. The ability to lock out the fork and adding some slick tires would make the deal even better, but their upright positioning still makes longer rides a bit of a challenge.
No matter what sort of bike you decide to ride on your tour, we recommend that you go to your local bike shop to get their advice. Bike shop folks will save you hours of inquiry and frustration in trying to figure out how to do this thing.
Your local bike shop can give you advice on whether you have the proper gearing for the climbing involved (refer to the elevation profiles we include in the tour descriptions). They can also tell you what kind of tires your bike will take. A lot of riders are hesitant to take on the additional weight of a touring tire, but when you consider the extra weight you’ll be carrying in your panniers, this is a drop in the bucket. We can also tell you that in many areas in Mexico there are cactus thorns, and you would be wise to ride a tire that has kevlar reinforcement for puncture protection.
You’ll need a rack and panniers to haul your stuff. If you have a bike that already has braze-ons to accept a rack, then there’s no problem attaching it. If you don’t, however, you have to get a little creative to affix the rack. Road bikes have shorter chainstay lengths, so you’ll want to make sure you can get the rack attached high enough so that your heels don’t hit the panniers while you pedal. If you’re at all mechanically inclined you can go to the hardware store and rig something up. If not, then check out http://www.oldmanmountain.com/. They sell rack systems that fit just about any bike.
We generally tour with just a rear rack and panniers and some bungee cords to lash things on top, but you can add a front rack and panniers to a sturdy bike if you want to carry more stuff. We have also toured pulling trailers, but that’s really only necessary if you will be bringing camping gear, which is not needed for the tours we offer. Finally, a small handlebar bag is convenient for carrying things you’ll want easy access to, like cameras, food, and wallets.
We recommend that you bring along a few tools and parts for the tour:
Your guides will have additional tools to help make repairs, but keep in mind that our ability to make repairs on the road is limited, and our tool chest is composed of common bike tools. If you know that your bike has particular maintenance issues, or if you have exotic components on it, please pack for your trip accordingly. Or bring a simpler bike.