Bicycle Touring Pro: Questions & Answers – Bicycle Touring Pro

Bicycle Touring Pro: Questions & Answers

Jeanne Roberts was recently announced as the recipient of the 2013 Bicycle Touring Pro Travel Scholarship and the $500 USD cash prize.

However, there were over 80 other amazing young people from all around the world who applied for this year’s scholarship money… and I didn’t want to leave them totally out to dry. I didn’t have any additional funding to give away, but I did want to help as many of those 80+ people as I could, so I sent them all an email and asked them to send me their two biggest questions or problems they were having with their upcoming bicycle tours.

In this article I will be sharing with you some of the questions I received, and taking the time to answer each question at length. My hope is that by answering these questions here on the website, not only will the individual who asked the question benefit, but the entire Bicycle Touring Pro community will learn something as well.

So, without further adieu, here are the first seven questions I received from this year’s Bicycle Touring Pro Travel Scholarship applicants:

Question: What solar panel do you use on your travels and what do you power with it? I have a tablet that I’d like to bring along. – Aaron Dixon –

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Answer: For the past year I have been using an amazing solar charger called the Voltaic Fuse 4W Solar Charger to charge my iPod Touch, GoPro video camera and lithium camera batteries. See my full review of the product right here.

The Voltaic Fuse is the best solar panel I have ever owned (and I’ve used at least a half dozen different solar panels over the years) and the only one I would recommend for use on a bicycle tour. The Fuse 4W (which is the smaller of the two Fuse models) is the perfect size to fit on the rear rack of a bicycle, but it is not big enough, and therefore not powerful enough to recharge a tablet or laptop computer.

If you want to power a tablet or laptop, you will need to upgrade to the larger Voltaic Fuse 10W Solar Charger. I have not used the 10W for myself, but I plan on buying one very soon to test and use on my future travels to recharge my laptop and larger electronic devices. I’m afraid the 10W charger might be too big to put on the back of a bicycle (and might better suited for a motorcycle instead), but we will see.

If you’re looking for an amazing, easy to use solar panel that actually works, then I would highly recommend the Voltaic products: www.voltaicsystems.com – also available at Amazon.com.

Question: What is the best (safest) way to fly with a bike? I read this article about using plastic bags vs other means and I was wondering how you package your bike to fly. I like the idea of the compactness of a plastic bike bag (it can be easily folded and stored) but I’m worried about the lack of protection it offers. – Kara F. –

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Answer: Watch this video. I would never fly with my bicycle inside a plastic bag unless it was a last ditch effort and I had no other options. I’ve flown with my bicycle either one or two times on almost all of my long-distance bicycle tours… and every single time I’ve flown with my bike, I’ve packaged the bike inside a cardboard bike box.

When your bicycle was delivered to the bike shop where your probably purchased your bike, it was delivered to that shop in a cardboard bike box with the pedals, front wheel, and seat post/saddle removed and the handlebars turned to the side. This is exactly how I recommend you package your bicycle when flying with it on an airplane.

Before you leave home, go to your local bike shop and ask for a cardboard bike box. Make sure it is appropriately sized for your bicycle (in other words, make sure they give you a big box and not one sized for a BMX or children’s bike). Most bike shops will give you the cardboard bike box for free. I have never in 13+ years paid for a cardboard bike box. Most bike shops end up just throwing them in the trash, so don’t be afraid to ask for the box for free – although offering a little cash is always a nice thing to do.

Once you get your box, remove the pedals, seat post/saddle and front tire from your bicycle and twist the handlebars to the side. For a touring bicycle, you will need to remove the front rack and front fender as well. In most instances, you’ll need to remove the water bottle cages, and in some cases, you may need to remove the rear rack and rear fender as well. Once you’ve done all that, you simply slide the frame of your bicycle (which contains your rear wheel and drivetrain) into the cardboard bike box. The front wheel will slide in next to the bike (usually somewhere in the middle of the box near the center of your bicycle’s main triangle) and then the seat post, front rack and fender can be fit into any extra space that is available. Depending on the size of your bicycle and the bike box, you might be able to also fit your tent, sleeping mat, sleeping pad or any other non-fragile items in with your bicycle. Just make sure that the weight of your bike box does not exceed the weight limits for the airline you are flying with.

Once you’ve got your bicycle inside the box (it shouldn’t be bulging out the sides – if it is, you’re box is either too small or you’ve packaged it incorrectly), tape the box shut with a ton of tape, wrapping it around in every possible direction… and then write your name, contact email, phone number, and an address near your destination where the bike should be delivered in the event that it gets lost at the airport, etc.

Then, you simply bring that bike box, along with all the other gear you need for your trip to the airport on the day of your flight and check the bike in as additional/sports baggage. Again, check your airline’s website for their rules/prices in regards to flying with a bicycle. Some airlines will fly the bike for free and others will charge at outrageous amount of money. So do your homework before you even purchase your airline tickets.

Once you reach your destination, you will pick your bicycle up in the same area where all the other baggage is being claimed at the airport, or it will need to be picked up in a special oversized/sports baggage area – usually located near the regular baggage pick up area.

I usually recommend that on the first night of your bicycle tour, you sleep in a hotel, so that you can go straight from the airport to a nearby hotel where you can then unpack your bicycle, put it back together and prepare it for it’s upcoming bicycle tour. However, you can (at most airports) find an area on or near the property where you can put the bicycle together right there at the airport. Then you can simply jump on the bike and ride right out of there (although I don’t recommend this – it can be super stressful).

After you have unpacked your bicycle and put it back together again, simply throw the cardboard bike box in the trash and pick up a new box at the end of your bicycle tour.

In some instances, however, you may want to hold onto that original bike box. For example, when I recently flew to Iceland, I knew that the chances of finding a new cardboard bike box at the end of my bike tour were slim to none, so I had a Bicycle Touring Pro reader who lived near the Keflavik airport hold my cardboard bike box for me and I simply picked it up from him once my bike tour was over. I then used that same bike box to fly my bicycle on to its next destination.

In most cases, however, those cardboard bike boxes are easy to find in most large cities where airports and bike shops are located. At the end of your tour, arrive in your final destination city a few days early and find a bike box to use to ship your bicycle home.

If you are worried about not being able to find a cardboard bike box at the end of your bicycle tour, call a couple local bike shops well in advance and ask them to hold a bike box for you. If that doesn’t work, check the local airports and train stations. Many of these places have cardboard bike boxes that they sell to people who want to ship their bikes via plane/train.

In some instances, an airport won’t have a cardboard bike box, but will have a plastic bike bag to wrap your bicycle in while it is being transported. I would avoid these bike bags if at all possible (especially if you value your bicycle in any way), but they can be used (and used safely) in some instances.

Question: How do you keep your bike maintained during your tour and what supplies do you use to do this? Cleaning it, keeping it in good working condition, etc. – William Groth

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Answer: There are several steps you should take over the course of your bicycle tour to keep your bike clean and in good working order.

First of all, you want to start each day by performing a quick safety check of your bicycle. You will do this before you even get on your bike in the morning. This involves simply looking at the bike for any irregularities (such as flat tires, broken spokes, missing parts, etc). After you have done this, feel the air pressure in the tires with your hand to check for proper inflation. Also, check the screws that hold your bicycle’s fenders, water bottle cages and front and rear racks in place. These screws can wiggle themselves loose over the course of several days, so you need to check them regularly to make sure they are staying in place. Finally, make sure your brakes and shifters are working properly and wipe off any debris from your bicycle’s frame, wheels or drive-train. That’s all you need to do most days.

Every few days (maybe once a week) you will want to check your bicycle’s chain/drive-train for the proper amount of lubrication. If your chain is dry, it will begin to squeak, rub, and wear… so it is important to keep the chain properly lubricated. You should probably check your chain every day to make sure it has enough lube, but you will probably only need to add new/additional lube every one week or more. This will depend on the terrain you are cycling in, the weather, etc.

Finally, you will want to perform a deep clean of your bicycle every couple weeks. A quality touring bicycle can go for quite a long time without being cleaned. You don’t need to clean your bike every day or even every week. But the more you clean it, the better it will perform over the long run.

When you are on the road, cleaning your bicycle is not always easy. The best way to do it is to find a hose at a hotel or elsewhere and then use that hose to rinse off your bicycle, etc. If you don’t have access to a hose, a bucket or warm water can be used. And if a bucket of warm water cannot be found, simply wiping the bike down as best you can with water and an old rag will work wonders.

As far as which equipment you need to carry in order to keep your bicycle cleaned on the road, the only thing you really need is a bottle of chain lube. Some cyclists like to carry an old rag with them solely for the purpose of cleaning their bicycles. But I prefer to find old rags while I am traveling (you can find them in garbage cans, on the side of the road, or by simply asking for them at hotels, guesthouses, car washes, etc.) – that way I don’t have to carry a heavy, dirty rag on my bicycle while I ride… and once I’m done cleaning my bicycle, I simply throw the rag in the trash.

Question: I’ll be touring on an inherited Raleigh Revenio 3.0 – a racing bike more or less. On top of getting larger 25mm tires and any kind of fenders that will fit, what kinds of adjustments would you recommend I make before embarking on my tour across California on the Pacific Coast Highway? – Alison Quach –

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Answer: I talk about this at great length inside The Essential Guide To Touring Bicycles, but you are going to be riding every single day on a non-touring bicycle, which means not only is your bicycle not properly equipped to carry large loads, but it may negatively affect how your body feels on the bicycle after several days on the road. You can likely expect to have a sore neck, back, shoulders, hands, arms and crotch during the length of your tour. Traditional touring bicycles look very much like road bicycles, but there are a number of subtle differences that make them better suited for long-distance riding.

There is little you can do to turn a road bicycle into a touring bicycle. The differences in the frame material, measurements, etc can not be altered. My only suggestion is that you keep the weight of your bicycle as low as you possibly can. Try and fit everything you need for your trip into two small panniers that fit on the back of your bicycle… or consider carrying everything in a trailer that you pull behind your bike. Adding too much weight to your bicycle could destroy your bicycle’s frame, fork and/or wheels.

While your trip can be done on a road bicycle like the Raleigh Revenio 3.0 (I did my first bicycle tour down the California Coastline on an old Sierra Schwinn mountain bike and had some difficulties with both the bike and my body, but still made it to the end of the tour, because the bike was not designed for long-distance touring), I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are planning to travel ultra-lite and are extremely comfortable riding in a hunched over road riding position for days on end.

Question: How do you deal with electronics/valuables security while riding and camping, and also manage internet safety (so both virtual and physical threats to electronics)? – Ben Corwin –

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Answer: As far as carrying electronic items on your bicycle, you first of all want to make sure they are safe against the bumpy roads that you are sure to encounter on your travels. This usually means packaging each device in some kind of padded case. Camera lenses, laptop computers, and external hard drives need to be specially padded for life on the road.

After you’ve done that, you then need to think about keeping your electronics dry. This can easily be done in three simple ways:

First of all, use waterproof panniers (or a waterproof bag inside your bicycle’s trailer, if you are using one). While waterproof panniers cost more than water-resistant panniers, they are worth the extra money – especially when it comes to protecting your precious valuable electronic items.

Next, never let your electronics and liquids mix. This means always storing liquid and electronic items of any kind is separate panniers. For example, you would never want to put your camera in the same pannier with a bottle of soda. The soda could leak or explode inside your pannier without you knowing it, and the liquid could quickly destroy your camera. Same with other liquids such as water, wine, gasoline, milk or chain lube. Don’t let any of them get near your electronic items. Keep your liquids and electronic items far away from each other and in separate panniers on your bicycle.

Finally, remove all electronics from your bicycle and place them inside your panniers (or trailer) when it starts to rain or become especially hot/humid. If it’s raining heavily and you’re worried than the panniers containing your electronic items might not be protecting your belongings, stop riding entirely and find a safe dry place to wait out the storm.

Obviously, you need to be smart in regards to how you handle your electronic items on tour. Don’t toss them around, avoid large bumps in the road that could jostle or destroy the gadgets you are carrying on your bike, and pay attention to the temperatures you are riding in (making sure not to get your gadgets too hot or too cold).

As far as securing your electronics from people you might meet on the road, I recommend not having any electronic items displayed on your bicycle Even a simple bicycle computer can look like an invitation to a thief to hi-jack your bicycle or any of your belongings. So if you can, keep your electronics inside your handlebar bag or panniers at all time.

Notice how on my bicycle you can’t see any of the electronic items I am carrying. Yet, I have more than $5,000 USD worth of electronics on my bike. But because of the way I’ve packed my bicycle, someone passing me on the street would never know. They’d probably just assume that my bags were filled with dirty clothes, used camping equipment and a bunch of squished food items.

When it comes to Internet security, I have one major recommendation: a VPN network.

When using a laptop, smart phone, or tablet device through an unsecured WiFi signal, your information is at risk to local hackers who could me monitoring your online activity and stealing your usernames, passwords, etc without you even knowing it.

If you plan to use public WiFi on your travels, invest in a VPN service (I used one called BolehVPN, which I would highly recommend) to hide your online activities from potential hackers.

While it has become easier and more popular over the last couple decades to carry a vast array of electronic items on a bike tour, keep in mind that most electronics are not meant to handle the demands of long-distance bicycle touring. Don’t be surprised if an electronic items does break, rattle apart or simply stop functioning after a significant amount of time on the road. Sometimes this is simply the cost of traveling with an electronic item!

Question: How do I find a group or a partner to bicycle tour with me? – Alison Quach –

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Answer: My first suggestion is to contact any friends or family you might know and ask if they would like to join you. In my experience, it is a much better idea to travel with someone you know than to travel with a complete stranger.

If you can’t find a friend or family member to join you, try looking online. There are several places on the Internet where you can find a bicycle touring parter. Try for example:

If you find someone online who is interested in joining you on your bicycle tour, I suggest you try and meet with this person well before your tour begins. If possible, conduct at least one (if not more) short 2-4 day bicycle touring excursions with this person before you set off on a longer tour together.

You want to make sure you find someone who is not only interested in traveling the same route as you, but someone who also has the same goals for the tour, is in the necessary physical shape to complete the ride, has a positive can-do attitude, is self-reliant, and who wants to cover the same distances each day as you.

There is nothing worse that going on a bicycle tour with someone who is too slow for you, too fast for you, complains the entire time, drives you crazy, has completely different goals/interests or relies on you for every little thing.

Personally, I would rather go on a bike tour by myself than go on the tour with a complete stranger and risk having to put up with that person for days, weeks or even months at a time. I recommend you pick your travel partners very, very carefully… and if you can’t find anyone to join you, don’t be afraid to travel on your own.

Question: Do you think it is necessary to have a footprint for your tent? – William Groth

Answer: No, it is not 100% necessary to have a footprint for your tent. Eliminating your tent’s footprint will save you both space and weight on your bicycle. However, if you care about the long-term survivability of your tent, then a footprint is not only a good idea, but is highly recommend.

Most lightweight tents (which are ideal for bicycle touring) have extremely thin floors. This means that even the smallest thorn, stick, or rock on the ground can penetrate the floor of your tent and cause a hole. Once a hole has formed, you open yourself up to water leaks, insect infestations, and more!

Using a footprint helps to protect the floor of your tent from any such objects which might otherwise easily cause damage to the floor of your tent.

While many tents are sold with extra footprints, most of these items are large and heavy. I tend to opt out of using a company’s pre-designed footprint and instead use a custom cut sheet of lightweight painter’s plastic. This type of plastic can be found at almost any home repair or design store (such as Home Depot). I buy a roll of this thin plastic and then when I get home, cut out a piece of the plastic to fit the exact size of the floor of my tent.

Making your own footprint this way typically turns out to be cheaper, lighter and more compact than using a proper footprint … and I recommend you give it a try.

Question: How do you get sponsorships and how do you raise money for your travels? – Aaron Dixon –

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Answer: When it comes to getting sponsored for your bicycle tour, I generally tell people that they should forget about it. Getting sponsored sounds wonderful, but it rarely ever happens – especially to someone planning his or her first bicycle tour.

If by getting sponsored you mean receiving free or discounted gear, then yes, you can do that. This is much easier. But receiving a financial scholarship for a bicycle tour of any kind (it doesn’t matter how impressive the tour might be) is almost entirely unheard of.

Receiving free or discounted gear from both large and small companies, however, is entirely possible and does happen on occasion. However, you should remember that outdoor companies are approached all the time by people conducting bicycle tours and similar expeditions and if they gave away free or discounted product to every person going off on an adventure, they would be entirely out of business.

That said, some companies will give you free or discounted products if you contact them, explain your travel goals, and ask for a limited amount of product in a short and succinct manner.

The reason getting product for free or at discount is relatively easy is because it costs a company very little to send you a free or discounted product.

For example: While a new tent might cost $300 USD in a retail store, it probably only costs the company that makes it about $75 or less to create that product.

This is why many companies will give you what is often times called a “pro deal” on their products, which is typically around 50% off the normal retail price of the product. It seems like a great deal to you, but the company is basically just selling the product to you at the same price they would sell it to any old retailer.

In the end, you think you are getting a great deal, the company gets you to spread the word about their company, and they still end up making money off you because you purchased the product for more than twice the amount of what it cost them to make it.

In regards to the level of difficulty in obtaining free, discounted or cash sponsorship for your bicycle tours, it goes something like this:

  • Discounted product – moderately difficult
  • Free product – difficult
  • Monetary compensation – extremely difficult

When it comes to raising the money for a bicycle tour, I would never recommend chasing scholarship money from a large corporation. The likelihood of it happening (especially if this is your first bicycle tour, you don’t know how to receive publicity and you’re unfamiliar with the sponsorship game) is slim to none. You’ll only end up wasting your time.

Instead, I recommend you raise the money for your travels by:

1. Working – get a job, do something beneficial, and raise up the money you need for your travels.
2. Writing to friends and family – send your grandma, aunt, uncle, cousins, and everyone you know a letter (not an email or a Facebook message, but an old fashioned letter) and tell them what you are planning to do and ask them to support you. The people closest to you are much more likely to support you than a faceless corporation that doesn’t know you and receives thousands of sponsorship requests each and every year.

I know that this is not likely what you wanted to hear, but getting to the point of sponsorship requires an incredible amount of time, effort and inside knowledge. For most people, it simply isn’t even worth pursuing.

My advice is to spend your time chasing something more realistic. Work for the money you need for your travels. Save up every cent you can. Then hit the road, enjoy yourself, and learn as much as you can from the experience.

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Do you have a question about bicycle touring that you’d like for me to answer? Or is there something in my answers here that you would like me to expand upon further? Leave a message below and let me know what you have to say!

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8 thoughts on “Bicycle Touring Pro: Questions & Answers

  1. Kristoffer says:

    Hi Darren,
    I’m a long time and experienced cross-country mountainbiker, but am now planning my first touring of about a 1000km. However I am unsure of what distance I can manage daily (on flat terrain and with 15kg of gear). My first thought is 100km per day; is that very short/long? I don’t know what to expect from my body on a multiday tour compared with daytrips…
    Thanks a million for the feedback, and good luck on the road wherever you are,
    Kris

  2. Wojtek says:

    Regarding your last comment about sponsorship, that is all very fine (working, saving up the money etc.) if you’re planning a tour that lasts several weeks, maybe up to two months. However, what I plan is gouing to take between 2 and 3 years, and there is NO WAY in the world that I am going to make that much money (I need approximately 30 thousand dollars) within one year that remained to my trip (especially given that I live in Poland where most salaries are lower than in the US or Western Europe, even despite the crisis). I find the “NO” policy of large companies whenit comes to financial sponsorship appalling. having worked for a large, multinational corporation for close to 20 years, I KNOW that their turnover/income exceeds millions of dollars annually. What I need is probably ONE THOUSANDTH of what they make, if not less. Still, they will keep repeating the same old mantra about crisis… I just wonder how yhe hell can I raise that kind of money… Or is my dream just too big, even though I have heard of (and, in one case, personally know) guys who have done just that: cycling oround Europe, America, Africa or Asia?

  3. Evaldas says:

    What is your opinion about generator hubs instead of solar charger? Some of them seem to have ability to charge devices via USB.

  4. Dan says:

    Last September I went on a solo overnight bikepacking trip near the autumnal equinox. I had a great time except for spending about twelve hours inside my tent awaiting sunrise. I think I would have gone mad if I hadn’t brought along my iPod. Of course there are books and podcasts, etc. Wondering how *you* deal with the extended amount of “tent time” in the winter months?

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      That’s exactly what I do Dan. I read… listen to music… podcasts, etc. I travel with my laptop as well, so sometimes I do work, watch movies, Skype with my friends and family back home, etc. You have to learn how to entertain yourself when you bike tour, travel alone, etc. The “tent time,” as you call it, is currently one of my top 3 favorite aspects of bicycle touring.

  5. Joe says:

    Hi Darren
    I am thinking of buying a touring bike with a chain ring gear of 38 teeth up front and a rear cluster of 11 /42 in the rear. Does this sound like an appropriate set up. It’s the low gear that I am concerned about (38/42 in the rear) as I am quite old (66) I need it to be quite low to get up the hills with my gear in tow
    Thanks darren

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