Q: After years of mountain biking I’ve decided to try something completely different and ride John O’Groats to Land’s End. I’ve bought myself a road bike, but the problem is I’ve never toured before and I don’t know much about the practicalities.
Normally after a ride I give my bike a wipe down, relube it and tweak anything that needs adjusting. If anything is worn or damaged I’ll pop to the bike shop. Over 1000 miles of riding I’d expect to have to do a reasonable bit of maintenance, but when touring I won’t have the luxury of a shed full of tools or a local bike shop. I’ve read books, CTC factsheets, websites and so on, but there is a huge variety of opinions about what I should take. Some say you’re a softy if you take anything more than a patch kit, others say you’re doomed to die a lonely death if your toolkit doesn’t include a workbench, wheel jig and welding gear! (The only thing they seem to agree on is to shove some spare spokes up my seatpost, strange as after two decades of mountain biking I’ve broken pretty much every component on a bike other than a spoke.) What do I really need to take?
Also, what about clothes? Normally after a ride I bung all my kit in the wash, but how do you cope when you’re on the road all day and stopping in a B&B each night?
A: Compared to mountain biking there’s generally less to go wrong when you’re touring – especially if you’re keeping to tarmac roads. It’s really the day in, day out wear and tear that you’ll need to keep an eye out for. Riding a new bike ensures you’re starting in good mechanical shape. When I’m planning a decent length tour, I generally fit a new chain and cassette, and check the bottom bracket and hubs for play. It’s well worth keeping the drivetrain clean by wiping it down and oiling it lightly every few days (Finish Line Wet chain lube) to eke extra life from your chain. On longer trips I’d consider taking a spare chain and rotating them every thousand miles or so to extend the life of the cassette – SRAM’s chains feature quick release PowerLocks that make this very easy. Fitting some fast rolling, high pressure tyres with strong sidewalls is also a good idea. On my tourer, I run Schwalbe’s large volume Marathon Supremes (£36.99). They’re expensive but light, comfortable and relatively puncture proof, though the cheaper Marathons (£17) are very good too.
Regularly check the state of your bike’s rims, as riding on a laden bike can be harder on your wheels than even mountain biking. Road wheels will probably be fine as you’re packing light, but you could consider more touring-specific hoops; Spa Cycles does an excellent range to suit various styles and budgets.
Most of your standard MTB trail tools should keep you rolling: a multitool with chainbreak, Allen keys, crosshead screwdriver and spoke key, plus a patch kit, tyre levers, a couple of spare inners (in case the valves tear) and a pump with a gauge so you can check tyre pressure (Turbo Morph with Gauge, £29.99). Keeping to the maximum psi should ensure fewer punctures and extend the life of your tyres when your bike’s fully loaded. Though you’ll rarely be far from a bike shop in the UK, I’d still recommend carrying some spare brake pads all the same. And now that you’ve evoked Murphy’s Law by boasting about your history of unbroken spokes, you’ll need to carry the relevant spare lengths! I tape mine to the chainstays. Stein’s diminutive Mini Lock Ring tool (£15, from Spa Cycles) allows you to change driveside spokes without a chainwhip. Also, a set of lightweight LEDs are useful in case the days take a bit longer than expected.
Everyone has their own style of touring, there’s no right and wrong, and you’ll probably find that after this trip you’ll have a much better idea of what works for you. I generally follow the ‘wear one, wash one’ clothing mantra, to make sure I always have dry clothes after a downpour. Many bike-friendly B&Bs or hostels listed by the CTC will be happy to give your washed undies and jersey some space in an airing cupboard or drying room. Two sets of padded Lycra shorts from different manufacturers are a good idea, to avoid being rubbed in the same places.
Finally, if you ride Cornwall to Scotland rather than vice versa, the prevailing wind should help rather than hinder you.
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