Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Welcome to the wonderful world of Bicycle Touring!

Recently, I was told that a local bicycle shop, Bike Pro is stocking & selling Surly Long Haul Trucker frames. This development with the number of inquiry that I received from visitors to my Blog, indicated that more and more people are interested in Bike Touring. Hooray!!

I started to be interested in Bike Touring about 10 years ago when I visited New Zealand South Island in Summer 2002. It was in Picton that I saw a guy loaded his bicycle onto the train heading to Christchurch. Then, on the way to Greymouth via Arthur's Pass, I saw a lone rider with a trailer. She was struggling climbing some steep section of Arthur's Pass. Then I met an old lady who looked like a seasoned triathlete, camping near our cabin in Te Anau. That was the first time that I saw a folding bike that she was touring with. And  her age, lean physique & folding bike really amazed me.

Came back from New Zealand, I decided to embark on a bike tour. But it took me about 1 year before I started my new venture of bike touring to Scotland in Jan/Feb! And it was still winter. There were still snow in some places. The towns were empty but I still can see sheep on the empty grounds and the Highlands.

So I brought my road bike converted to touring bike of striking yellow with rear racks along.

It was my first experience of bike touring as well as winter riding. It was a bit cold for some one who came from a country with 32C average temperature. But I did all my research from internet, on how to ride through snow, winter clothing, winter ride equipments etc. It was cold but I really enjoy my ride. And I learned that it rains everyday in Scotland.

So, when I came back to Malaysia, I start planning to tour Malaysia for 5 days. Therefore, we choose to ride from Alor Star to my house in PJ. About 500km in 5 days. Being young and active at that time, riding 100km a day is fine with us. We successfully finished the tour by stopping at Sg Petani, Taiping, Ipoh, Teluk Intan. It was an amazing experience. I got hooked.

Since then, we have met a local group of 'seasoned' riders who were into Bicycle Touring. And then joined their group riding and touring. Over the years, we have tours around the roads of Malaysia, Sarawak, South Thailand. Riding in a group is always fun and give you a sense of security especially if your tire got punctured, bicycle parts failed, if you meet an accident, or too exhausted to continue, etc. you can always rely on someone to assist you.

I personally love riding in group for above reason. But prefer to ride alone or with another rider because I love to manage my own time on what time to wake up, where to stop for lunch, ride at my own pace, etc..

But riding alone, you will have to carry everything by yourself- tools, spares, cooking utensils etc. Which in group these can be shared among the tour members.

Bicycle touring is exciting. I love stopping at the roadside stall and have my ice lemon tea and pisang goreng.I remember being surrounded by people who got stuck by traffic jam on the way to Maarhi, India. They start asking question about my handheld GPS, camelback and my bicycle. In fact a newlywed did took picture with my bicycle at Manali! Majority of the people thought that my handheld GPS was a satellite phone and even 1 guy thought my Camelbak hose is for oxygen when we were at 12,000ft near Rohtang Pass.

Bike touring allows us to meet various types of people. Majority of them are friendly. Maybe because we shared the same interest.

In Thailand, I met a German lady who allows me to try her KTM bicycle with Rohloff Speedhub which she was very proud of for being made by the German. In India, I meet a couple from France who were teachers, a couple from Australia who work as doctors on 1-year sabbatical leave touring The Himalayas, an Indian Ironman who traveled with his backpack, notebook & DSLR hanging on his neck, a group of fun-loving British guys, and nice old couple from Scotland who were embarking on a very long tour! What I like about these people is their down-to-earth attitude and never trying to show off like some Lance Armstrong wannabes. Some of them even ride on normal bikes with cheap parts.

What I like about Bicycle Touring is that it is for everyone regardless their physical condition but willing to take some time to prepare. It is not for macho men or women with perfect bodies or fancy carbon bikes, it is for anyone who with sense of adventure, humor (cause we like to joke around when travel in group) and those who drawn to explore the back roads, countrysides, the highlands, cruising the coastal roads etc. It is for people who would like to travel with few barriers as possible. Whether you are young or old, male or female, you don't have to be all that athletic, gearing & patience are more important than raw strength.

I personally love it because I can manage my own time to travel i.e., ride at my own pace, take lots of photographs, enjoy the local delicacies and as well as enjoying the beautiful scenery. Also, I don't have to wear those colorful jerseys and tight pants (ha! ha!). And if I happen to come back last from a ride, I can always say that at least, I did enjoy the scenery longer.... HAPPY RIDING FOLKS!


If anyone would like to send an inquiry regarding bicycle or bicycle touring and require my reply, kindly send it to my email mattouring@gmail.com instead of the comment section.

Thank you.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Building your own Touring bike.

I have been asked many times what is the best touring bike. Where to buy a touring bike? And so on.
The answer is your bike is the best touring bike.
It doesn't has to be specific brand e.g. SURLY, KOGA MIYATA, RODRIGUEZ, DAWES, etc.
The most important is that your bike is comfortable to ride on, durable for long distance ride whether it is on or off road and it is equipped with accessories that are essential for bicycle touring.
My favourite is a folding bike. Because it is lighter, easy to pack, easy to maneuver in busy places and most important of all, its upright sitting position.
My Dahon Speed P8 is fully modified for bicycle touring. I choose P8 because it is a workhorse. Tough and cheap. Cost me about RM2K. And I modified it to be fully touring-ready.

P8 uses Schawalbe Big Apple tires. This is one of the best fat-tires because it is comfortable & puncture proof. I fixed the fenders to both front & rear wheel. Rack to both front and rear as well.
I changes the seat post to Kore I-Beam (with adapter) because it is lighter.Then I fixed my favourite saddle, At 800g, the BROOKS B17 FLYER. It is quite heavy but very comfortable especially for long distance ride.
The handlebar is fixed with bar ends, side mirror and handlebar bag. but for my future upgrade, I will install the butterfly bar and new sets of gear shifter, just like putting icing on the cake.
But this is my touring bike, my baby.
How to build you own touring bike?
Ok..let's build an affordable touring bike.

Let me start with the frame.
I have a frame, a chromoly, trekking, hard tail bike that cost about RM60. This frame was given by a friend to replace my SILVER BULLET which I was forced to gave away in Lato, India. Just go to any Bicycle Shop (not fancy/pro one) and ask for bike frame. They might have it and will sell to you at reasonable price.

A hybrid can be a nice touring bike. Same goes with MTB Hard Tail.

Try to find a frame with at least 2 sets of bottle cages eyelets, with eyelets for rear rack as well as fenders.
Touring bike is slightly different with 'normal' bike because they have longer wheelbase and their stays have larger clearance for bigger tires. Its geometry also allows you to sit more upright that will make you feel comfortable in the long run.

Chromoly will make a better touring bike than aluminiumm or carbon. Despite its heavier weight, it is more durable and allows for on-site repairs/weldings especially when you tour in country like India or China.

My favourite tires are Schwalbe Marathon because it is puncture-proof.
Invest in good tires with some puncture guard/protection because it's so cumbersome to exchnage tubes during a bike tour.

Get a good wheel like MAVIC with at least 32 spokes. Make sure that you get the right wheel set either for using with V-brake or disc-brake.

Invest in a good parts that will be last longer and lighter. I'm not talking about XTR or DURACE level. That are for professionals who were sponsored. I'm mean Shimano Deore, Alivio, etc
MTB crankset with granny gear is a must. A 12-34T cassette is favourable.
And I would prefer using the v-brake because they are easy to adjust/repair on site.

Straight or riser handlebar. My favourite it butterfly handlebar as they have more place to hold on. Fix the bar ends for both straight or riser handlebar. The handlebar shall be as per your shoulder width.
Get a good saddle that suits you. remember that saddle sore is not caused by what brand yr saddle is but caused by ill fitting. Your sitting position could be wrong that cause lots of uncecessary movement on the saddle, thus pain.

Make sure you measure yourself with the position of your saddle, its height. If you feel pain on the above of your knee cap, it means that your saddle is too low. And when you feel pain at the behind of your knee, it means your saddle i too high. And just & tweak it untill you find your best position.

My favourite accessories are handlebar mirror and fenders.
Mirror e.g. ZEFAL allows me to look at the incoming traffc from behind with ease. I always feel safer when I dont have to turn my body and risk imbalance.

The fenders allows me to ride through puddle of water without worrying it will dirty my clothes. I believe fenders are the most under-rated accessories in touring bike.

Aluminium rack with bigger diameter shall be the best option. Because we need a reliable and durable rack to carry our bags & stuff on tour.

And finally, use the dual-platform/SPD pedal. e.g. SHIMANO. It is so convenient to ride wearing my touring shoes with SPD cleats but sometimes I would ride my bike wearing sandals. This dual-platform will cater for both!

Established in December 2006