After many years of cycle touring in all terrains and temperatures I have wittled down my essential criteria for a good touring bike to two obvious things: comfort and reliability. (Being of a candy pink colour is a bonus, but not strictly essential)
On a tour you’re going to be spending many hours with your bike in daily direct contact with various parts of your body … mainly hands, feet and bottom. Setting the bike up to fit you will lessen the pressure on these parts meaning you’ll be able to spend more time looking around seeing stuff (the object of the exercise?) and less time thinking about how much your bum hurts. And also you won’t be walking around like John Wayne when you’re off your trusty steed. Mind you, if you’ve still got your padded lycra on, that isn’t going to help the look.
But getting the set up right is either science or ‘suck it and see’ depending upon your outlook. As your saddle and sensitive bits will be in intimate contact, minimising the discomfort there (bicycle saddles are never comfortable …. if they were, your dining room chairs would be that shape too) seems like a priority. So what is the right saddle height? … ‘1.09x inside leg length’ or ‘can you slide one finger under your bum whilst standing with your heel on the pedal’? I start with ‘science’ to get in the right ballpark (instant result) and then ‘suck’ for max comfort (takes time and miles). You choose.
Get the saddle level too …. tilt it up and those sensitive bits just get more squished …. tilt it down and your hands and shoulders won’t thank you … you’ll be pushing on the bars all day just to keep yourself on the saddle.
Another way to get your upper body to hate you is by getting the reach (distance between the saddle and handlebar) wrong … too short and you’ll be so upright that all the road shocks will go from the rear wheel straight up your back … too long and although you may look like Wiggo or Cav going for gold, you’ll be overstretched and your shoulders and neck will soon give you gip. That’s one reason touring bikes have drop handlebars … to give you a variety of positions and reaches to give your body a break. I’ve got a long body so when I buy a bike I usually get a longer stem to go with it. Your bike shop may or may not do a swap. Ask.
You can cycle in any old shoes …. most of the people I’ve seen cycling in Asia wear nothing more substantial than flip-flops … but for long term comfort, shoes with a stiff cushioned sole are best as they will spread the pressure. You really don’t want to be feeling your pedals through the bottom of your shoes. SPD type shoes aid cycling efficiency but not comfort.
Now you’re comfy on the bike, on a tour you want to ensure it just keeps on going with the minimum of fuss and maintenance. Get good bits. A hundred quid bike will get you from A to B as well as one costing ten times that …. but not for long. You don’t have to rob a bank though … it’s the law of diminishing returns … you don’t need XTR throughout! Be selective: good frame and wheels and you’re most of the way there. Transmission, tyres and brakes wear out and will need replacing periodically anyway, depending upon miles, load, surface etc.
On route, check your bike daily for loose bolts and bearings, spoke breakages, tyre wear (swap front and back around) and panniers and their fittings. Replace the chain before it wrecks your whole transmission. Take spares …. what and how many again depends things such as where you’re going and for how long. Steel frames can be repaired almost anywhere in the world by the local smithy … aluminium can’t. Having said that I cycled fully laden from Thailand to Vietnam via Cambodia with some shocking road surfaces … well, no surface really … on an ally mountain bike with no probs.
So, why did I buy a Kona Sutra for this TransAmerica trip? I looked at various touring bikes (off the peg and handmade) including the Surly LHT that Paul chose, Spa Cycles Titanium, Ultra Galaxy, and the Toute Terrain. All had good specs … mostly bombproof. The Kona came up trumps though because I found a last year’s model in my size with £300 off. Nothing more scientific than that. Oh, and it’s a nicer colour than the 2014 one, but sadly not pink. The spec level is fine (I hope!) and with a longer stem to cope with my ground-grazing arms …. job done. Only four and a half thousand miles to go. Watch this space.