Why are we asking?
It’s a timely question for us. Our brand new bikes will be ready for us to collect from the shop on April 6th. We want to prepare properly before taking them out on the road, and to lay the first foundations of a caring relationship between us and our bikes.
It’s good to know how. Part of the appeal of cycling touring is the independence that it offers. Confidence comes from knowing how to set up and maintain our equipment; it means we can concentrate on the ride without worrying about the bike. Self reliance is satisfying. Our city has limited access to specialised bike shops – most only handle mama-chari city bikes. DIY is our only option.
There were several types of advice about preparation that we found, including: mechanical checks of the bicycle and its parts; adding custom components, like a new saddle; bicycle fit adjustments; test rides; security advice. There’s some overlap between these categories. For example, painful test rides can mean a further fit adjustment is required, forming a kind of feedback loop. Some mechanical adjustments are only possible after test rides, such as tuning up extended cables. We summarised the tips we found into five steps.
Five steps to preparing a new bike for its first tour
Step 1: Initial mechanical checks – check over the bike from front to back. Make sure every bolt is tightened, everything that needs lube is lubed, and that the moving parts move the way they’re supposed to. There are several simple bicycle maintenance guides available online – we like this one by London Cyclist. For your first check, go through everything on the monthly checklist. Use this as an example that you’ll repeat regularly. Build good maintenance habits. Buy a calendar. Set up your ongoing maintenance routine, and stick to it.
Step 2: Add-ons and upgrades – install any required parts that don’t come with your new bike, and replace any parts that you want to upgrade. Our new bikes ship without pedals, racks or mudguards, so we need to add those before we can begin touring. Check local laws, which may require bikes to be fitted with lights and a bell. We’re adding dynamo hubs to our front wheels. Many cyclists replace the standard saddle for a more comfortable model, or swap in handlebars of a different shape.
Step 3: Adjustments for fit and test rides – the position of the saddle, handlebars and pedals can have a big impact on the comfort and power output of a cyclist. The owners’ handbooks that we reviewed (Trek, Specialized, Kona) give a simple introduction to bike fit. Peter White’s overview of the principles of bike fit is great for more detailed information. We recommend following up your initial fit with a series of test rides, using Sheldon Brown’s guide to bicycle pain to address any discomfort you experience. Test, adjust, test, adjust, repeat until comfortable. Don’t forget to test your fit with the kind of rig you’ll be carrying when touring, as additional weight will put different demands on your body.
Step 4: Post break-in tune up – a new bike needs to be tuned up after a certain amount of riding to account for cable stretch. Slight stretches to new cables affect braking and gear shifting, with more pull needed to brake, and trouble shifting into the far ends of available gears. This can be solved with a little adjustment, but different types of brakes and gears require different tune-up methods, so it’s worth checking with a reliable source like Sheldon Brown or Park Tool first. This first tune-up is another good opportunity to go over your monthly maintenance checklist.
Step 5: Fully loaded test overnight – before riding across continents, ride around your county. Choose an appropriate destination, and then ride your fully loaded bike out to it for a test overnight stay. Be generous when planning your journey times, so as to have lots of room to make alterations to how your gear is carried. If you can arrive with plenty of daylight left, it’ll be easier to examine your bike. Inspect racks and other load-bearing parts, and check for signs of rubbing or scraping. Do this on top of your other every ride checks at the end of the day. When you’re satisfied, sit back and relax. Take a photograph. Enjoy the moment.
Your bike is the single most important piece of equipment when cycle touring. With good preparation and maintenance, your bike can give you amazing freedom to explore the world, with the immense pleasure of doing it at your own pace, and the satisfaction of travelling under your own power. Take care of your new bike, and it will take you places.
Joshua Tack of the Adventure Cycling Association has put together a really good pre-tour bike maintenance checklist, much of which also applies to a new bike. Check it out.
Thanks to everybody who helped out with this Cycle Touring Question of the Week. Thanks especially to @TravellingTwo, @MrMarkBeaumont, @cyclingeurope, @alexscycle, @goingbybikes, @cycletraveller, @ShaneCycles, @tiredofitdotca and @DanielMartinAdv on Twitter. Thanks to Sheldon Brown, Peter White, Park Tool and Josh at ACA, who I’ve linked to above, and to Andreas at London Cyclist.
Keep an eye on the hashtag #ctqotw for more cycle touring questions and answers.