Data complied by the U.S. Census Bureau and released in its 2012 Statistical Abstract shows a steady increase in the number of people taking up cycling. Apart from a couple of blips in 2005 and 2008, when the number of people cycling declined, cycling has maintained its status as a growth pastime in the United States.
So what happens if you decide that cycling to work, or getting involved with a local club just isn’t enough? What if you decide as Paul Woollams did that you want to go out and see the world on two wheels? How would the average person go about getting kitted out? These are the moments when it’s probably best to seek out the advice of an expert.
Matt McMillan and Ian Venable are both bike builders and avid cyclists who work at Lee’s Cyclery in Fort Collins, Colo.
“I’d recommend a touring specific bike,” says McMillan, “something with a steel frame.”
“Yeah, steel definitely, because it’s stout and it’s repairable,” adds Venable.
The importance of having a steel frame becomes obvious when you realize that even in the most remote areas of the world, there is someone who can fix it.
Next on the list of components that need to be able to hold up to the rigors of multiple environments are the gear sets.
“If it’s a self-supported tour, then you’re going to need to carry a lot of gears, something like a mountain bike rear cassette,” says Venable.
There is also the dilemma of wheel choice; should you go with fashionable 29-inch wheels or something else?
“26-inch is the most common size, they do make touring frames with these wheels,” says McMillan, “add onto this something with a wide range of gears, something that can haul your load.”
It is possible to walk into a bike store and pull something like this straight off the rack, have it tuned up, and then head out on your journey. But how much money are you going to pay for such a bike?
“Probably about $1500,” says McMillan, “maybe a little bit less.” Of course, there is the other option of a customized build at the store.
“You can make it as expensive as you like,” laughs McMillan. “I guess I wouldn’t want to put absolute top of the line stuff on there, because some of that is very specific and not every part of the world is going to have parts available.”
“You’re bound to have mechanical issues, it’s just a matter of time. Something that’s going to be fixable is going to become more desirable.”
So armed with a wallet and desire, what brands should the prospective traveler have in mind?
“Shimano, they’re known for their reliability,” says McMillan, “they are also worldwide.”
There are also multiple versions of steel frames available, so picking the right one is an exercise in weighing up competing variables.
“A frame is not a frame, there are many, many different types of steel out there,” says McMillan.
“There’s Reynolds steel, Columbus steel, Tengay steel, and many more that I don’t even know about.”
The steel itself varies on lightness and strength and so does the price. But McMillan felt that it wasn’t completely necessary to go for the top of the line in frames all the time.
More importantly, you’re going to need some wheels to get yourself on the road. McMillan and Venable both have some suggestions.
“An aluminum alloy wheel is just going to be stronger and lighter than a regular wheel,” says McMillan.
“It’s probably worth spending a little more on the wheels than you would think.”
Venable suggests a particular brand prospective riders should be thinking about, “Shimano XT hubs with Sun Rhyno Lite rims.”
“They are really good value and they are bombproof.”
Surprisingly, you could put all of these separate components together for roughly the same $1500 that you would spend on an off the shelf model. So why bother?
“You would just have much more bike in terms of quality, and it would be personalized to the specifications that you wanted,” states Venable.
So when you get that desire to go a little further than nearly all other riders, get a plan together and make your way down to your local experts for some professional advice. It will pay off in the end.
© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved