The bike is one of the least important parts of a tour to spend a lot of time stressing about to in order to be successful and have fun. I have a feeling that this statement will make some of you reading this stop and say “This guy has no idea what he is talking about.” Well, you may be correct but I will tell you why I say this. From my experience, the first thing people seem to think about when going on a very long bike ride is the type of bike itself. What bike will I take? Should I buy a new bike? I’ll need a lighter bike to do this won’t I? What are the pros using? A bike that works well is all you need.
Touring should be about grabbing the bike you have – be it an old steel frame with a 6 speed cassette, or the $4000 carbon frame ride you use on Sundays – and getting going. You should be prepared to ride appropriately with the bike you have while also ensuring that mechanically it is up to snuff – it is critical to ensure your bike is in good mechanical shape. The point is, I wouldn’t bother stressing about needing a conventional touring-specific bicycle to tour with, unless you want to do conventional touring.
I rode my last tour on an old ’70’s equipped fixed gear from Sweden to Spain wearing army wool and Chuck Taylors. I packed what I needed and set off with a slow pace and a tourists agenda. I planned a relatively flat route and I had realistic expectations. Conversely, this tour will be one with mountains and much higher pace, therefore, I will be riding a bike ready for this. Now before I jump ahead, I know this bike will demand me to make some sacrifices. As with the fixed gear, sporting small panniers and a light sleeping arrangement, I will have to keep weight to a minimum, even more so this time around. The fixed gear ride also required me to ‘sacrifice’ other elements: high speeds, beautiful mountain passes, bounties of comforts carried with me and a bail-out-free plan. With one 43×15 gear it was very important to set myself up to achieve a realistic set of expectations. This time, I’m putting myself in a position where I will sacrifice some freedoms such as sleeping outdoors, fresh clothes daily, creature comforts and bunches of tourism and I’m ok with that. For the most part, people ‘credit-card’ tour for these reasons, sleeping day after day in hotels. This is not something I want to do for two reasons: First, it’s expensive. Second and most importantly, I will miss out on a significant cultural opportunity. This is why I have chosen to couch surf as previously mentioned, to spend more time interacting with the locals.
What I am planning for at this point is to carry very little other than only the true necessities. I will likely opt for carrying only basic repair tools, food, water, daily maps and one set of riding clothes – those I will wear. This way I can ride the bike I want to ride, the way I want to ride it. That bike is an ’03 Look KG 386 HM Carbon with a Campagnolo Chorus/Record group. It’s quite light, weighing exactly 8kg (17.6lbs) complete. For me, it is important to have something of a relationship with my bikes, as a horse-rider does their horse. I like to know the creaks and groans my bike makes and why they are happening. This I don’t have. This bike is new to me, a project I have been piecing together for about 6 months, which worries me slightly. This bike does however have a story which I will take to Spain with me. Briefly, that story is the same frame was ridden by Santiago Botero, Santiago Perez and the rest of the infamous Kelme-Costa Blanca team in the 2002 Tour de France. The Look 386 was also used by one of my favorite pro riders, Alejandro Valverde, the same year and the following year. Lastly, the Kelme team was one of the longest serving teams in the tour and one frequently cheered on by the patrons at Xana 7, the little cafeteria in Madrid where I will be relaxing in after my ride. Xana 7 is owned by my partners parents, where she remembers the many drunken cheers for Miguel Indurain as he tore through the individual Time Trials in the early 90’s. So in the next month and a half, I have some getting-to-know-the-bike riding to do, so that I know it’s dependable. So that I know why it creaks and groans. Then I can spend less time stressing about the bike and focusing on planning a realistic and successful tour.