Before I start, I must mention two things: Firstly, if you are interested in our stories on the road and not in bike maintenance, then stop reading now. Secondly, this is our first bike tour and before this tour, we had no idea about bikes, so, go easy with the criticism. This is a guide for beginners and I will learn a lot from your reviews.
Below is an outline of our bikes, the toolkit we carry and our top 5 tips on keeping your bikes on the road.
For our first big tour we needed a bicycle. The bike was to be a trusted brand as a custom-built bike made no sense to us because we did not really have an exact idea of what we wanted/needed. Jasi had her heart set on her bike being turquoise and I only knew, that a good world touring bike should probably be made of steel. These were the only two criteria we had: turquoise and steel.
We were absolute beginners. Running out of time to find a bike and joint organizing the trip from different continents (Jasi was in Switzerland and I was working in America). As I am a mechanical Engineer, I gladly took the reins on bike selection and on road maintenance/repair side of the organizing.
We purchased two Salsa Marakesh 2016 deore flatbar bikes. For 1,200 USD, a relatively cheap, but reliable option considering how expensive these touring bikes can be. From this we introduced our modifications which were nothing more than a couple of wild guesses.
- Swapped out the handlebars for more ergonomic designs which offer more hand options
- Removed the rear racks and added Tubus steel racks for front and back
- Front handlebar bag mount
- Drink/fuel bottle cages
- Little Abus frame and under saddle bags
- Abus NutFix wheel locking system
- Abus folding lock BORDO lite
- A few stickers
And that’s it folks, with our Ortlieb waterproof panniers clicked on, we were ready to roll out the door. Obviously, a lot more planning goes into all your camping gear and what goes in the panniers, but in terms of getting you and your wheels on the road and the bags to carry it, that’s all you need. I would have spent close to a thousand hours or so researching which bike, but when it all boiled down, this were the basics to get us on the road. That simple.
Now, our shiny new bikes would not get far without regular checkups and keeping it all in good working order. This is where a good toolkit will get you through those remote little hicups.
The beauty about the Salsa Marrakesh bikes is, that everything on the bike is very low tech, good quality and made to be relatively easily repaired / adjusted on the road.
Tools in my kit:
- Multi tool (leatherman)
- Pliers/wire cutters for brake and gear cables
- Tyre levers (flat tyre repair)
- Tyre pressure gauge (particularly useful for beginners who don’t have a good feel of correct pressure)
- Shifter (to remove pedals)
- Spoke key
- NBT2 (cassette lockring remover)
- Toothbrush (chain cleaning)
- Bike pump
- Swiss army knife (hunter version)
- Sewing kit (panniers/clothing)
- Brooks saddle adjustment spanner
- Allen keys (for those tight to reach places)
- Size 8 spanner (saddle and wheel nuts)
- (Red box contains MSR stove maintenance kit)
- Wet lubrication and high penetrant lubricant
- Brake/gear cables
- Ortlieb plastic pannier clips
- Brake pads
- Bolts and washers
- Tyre boot (have no idea how to apply this if needed, but good to carry it anyway…)
- 1,000 cable/zip ties
- Duct tape
- Chain link
- Puncture patches
- 2 inner tubes
This entire toolkit clocked in at about 2kg. Not exactly lightweight touring, but enough to get me through a pinch situation.
Things my toolkit cannot fix:
- A wheel rebuild
- New Cassette changeout
- Cracked frame
- Derailleur failure
- Stolen bike (haha obviously)
My top 5 bicycle maintenance tips
So, after 10 months on the road, here are my top tips for keeping your beauty rolling on! Here we go:
1. Inspect your bicycle
I know, I know, finished a long day riding, just want to put the feet up, I get it! But these checks will give you peace of mind when flying down those big downhills. With a new bike (or freshly rebuilt bike from the airport) it is even more important to perform routine checks. As all bikes will take time to break in, you will find bolts wiggling free, brake lever stretches and several other minor adjustments.
From the start, I decided to inspect our bikes after every 7 days of riding. This interval was simply my best guess on a balance between catching potential failures and my own discipline to perform the task. Set yourself a reasonable inspection frequency and try to stick to it. You’ll get to understand your bicycle a lot more and it will help you when the time comes to stick on that Band Aid.
My inspections checks:
- Brake pad wear (visual)
- Brake alignment and brake cable security
- Missing/loose bolt
- Cable/cable housing wear
- Rim cracking (pay attention to spoke eyelets)
- Wheels running approximately true (use tool/v-brakes as visual gauge)
- Tyre pressure (should be notable when riding, but for our first few months, what was correct tyre pressure?)
- Sufficient grease (but without over greasing) on chain
- Cassette and chain ring noticeable wear
- Exercising bicycle through full range of gears
Due to my inexperience with bicycles, these checks have already foreseen a number catastrophic failure, particularly regarding Jasi’s brakes. I once found Jasi’s brake caliper almost completely falling off!
Lesson 1: Don’t be lazy, Inspect those bikes.
2. Can you pack a bicycle ready for the plane?
If you’re on a world tour, the sad day will come when you must package your bike. A plane or even a bus ride can and most often will try to eat your bike. A baggage handler doesn’t really care if it is your expensive touring bicycle or a box of brooms.
Google it, Youtube it or ask a local bike mechanic to show you. It is really an art to get your bike packed all snug and secure. That broken derailleur or missing wheel will spell a horrible start to your tour. If you are flying to a remote destination, where finding spares to your precious bicycle will be unlikely, then you should do everything in your power to secure your bike.
Lesson 2: Baggage handling is a shitty job, don’t blame them!
3. Don’t, ride it like you stole it
Take it easy on those killer downhills, through those knee deep potholes and through that Indian traffic. I have met a few tourers (commonly 20 something year old males) who have told me the tragic story of a busted wheel, cracked frame or broken face. I understand the thrill of the downhills, but those potholes will jump out at you and a fully loaded touring bike with you and your big smile will stand no chance at high speeds.
So take your time enjoy the views and replace brake pads, not your nose! This has been a hard one for me to learn, but I’m getting there.
Lesson 3: The road is long, you are touring, not racing.
4. Keep your bikes shiny
Washing a touring bike can be a pain, especially the chain… but I’m sure this has unknowingly kept us on the road longer.
The benefits of a clean/well lubricated touring bike:
- Correctly lubricated and cleaned chains will stretch less and will have reduced wear on cassette and chain ring. An over lubricated, dirty chain will attract dust and will act as sandpaper wearing your cassette and will increase the rate of chain stretch.
- Cleanliness around all structural bolts (racks, pedals, drink cage bolts, handlebar mounts etc.) plus the use of a high penetrant oil, will remove moisture, prevent corrosion and maintain a lubricated thread (crucial for removing those pedals at the airport).
- During the cleaning process you will identify areas of wear or corrosion.
- Clean Derailleurs will move more precisely and reduce wear on the cassette and remove strain from cables.
- It will look beautiful, take pride in quite possibly your only worldly possession!
Lesson 4: Clean and lubricate that chain more often than you feel like.
5. Leave the high-end repairs to the bicycle experts
Know your limitations! While it is great to be able to perform that band aid fix when you’re miles from the nearest bike shop, these band aid fixes are just that. We made this mistake in Iran. I hit a manhole, flipped over the handlebars and bent the back wheel at least 5 cm out of true. 2 hours of grunting and groaning later, I had the wheel back to a rideable standard. I continued with the wheel for 4 more months keeping it align by a few kicks and tightening/loosening spokes where needed.
Cut a long story short, the spokes ended up busting through the rim as I undoubtedly tightened them too much. This wheel would have had a much longer life if I had it correctly trued by a professional and professional equipment.
Lesson 5: Band Aid fixes, are just that!
I hope this helps a little for newcomers to bicycle touring. There is a mountain of technical information on the net from bicycle mechanic experts to help you with specific problems. There is also a lot of support that can be found through facebook pages, Warmshower forums and blogs. Good luck!
Talk to you soon