Levi Boughn

How to Use the Bike You Have for Touring

Feb 5, 2019
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So you’ve got a bike already, but you’re worried it’s not up to the task of bike travel? First, consider taking it into your Local Bike Shop for a once-over, a tune-up, and to help identify any parts that might need replacement or that you might consider upgrading.

A well-maintained bike is an underappreciated thing, and a $75 service is a lot cheaper than a brand-new rig! Your local mechanic can also help you identify upgrades and changes within any given budget to help make your bike trip more comfortable. Here are some key things to look at, especially if your wheels have been collecting dust!

Not the most ideal bike touring setup, but people have made it work!
A cruiser and a backpack might not be the most comfortable but it's definitely doable.
Levi Boughn

Brakes

New pads and a professional adjustment can do wonders for even the most tired stoppers. Once you’ve added some luggage to your steed, this quickly becomes important!

Saddle

There’s no magic bullet for posterior comfort on a bike, but the best bike shops will let you test out different saddle brands, models, and sizes to find the one that’s best for you. Many bike travelers swear by classic leather models from Brooks or Selle Anatomica, but beware that these often require a break-in period. Heading out for a long trip on a new Brooks is guaranteed to be memorable, but not in the way you’d hope.

Gearing

Your bike may not be able to achieve the “magic” 20-gear-inch low gear without a full-blown drivetrain upgrade, but often a small investment in a new cassette and/or new chainrings can gain you a few steps without breaking the bank. There’s no shame in walking the steep hills, just plan your mileage accordingly!

Kelsey Pasteris waits with fully loaded bikes.
Fully loaded and ready to explore.
Kelsey Pasteris

Racks and Bags

If your existing bike doesn’t have mounts for racks, options are somewhat limited (though a few brands such as Old Man Mountain offer solutions). Bikepacking-style soft bags attach to handlebars, frames, and seats and can fit a huge range of applications, though they require a lighter packing list. Racks and panniers can ferry extraordinary loads and an LBS can help find a rack that fits your frame mounts. You may also consider a hybrid setup utilizing a combo of racks/panniers and soft luggage to get the best of both worlds!

Tires

A mountain bike can make a perfectly good road touring bike, and a touring or gravel bike can often be quite at home on rougher terrain, but optimizing your tires will make a huge difference. Slick or knobby, narrow or wide, tires in every diameter are available for every application. Choose the right rubber and your bike won’t be magically transformed, but it’ll be close.

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