Worldwide touring bikes come in many different guises, from the guys touring on their father's old hybrid to bicycles costing over 2000 pounds and everything in between. When selecting the right bicycle for you it is important to consider what is correct for you. If you have a large budget and want to ride a new, fitted, almost indestructible bicycle then something at the top end of this range will be perfect for you, alternatively if you are looking for an adventure and do not have the money to purchase anything new, it is better to go for a cheaper bicycle and spend your money on your trip of a lifetime. Most people will however fit somewhere in the middle and this is where Finola and I sat, wanting something reliable but not something which did not cost too much money as we needed every penny to be saved towards life on the road. I want you to see that if you want to cycle around the world the set up costs do not need to be expensive and that money should not put you from your dreams. This is a guide for what we did...
Finola's bike was a steal, we found it on Ebay, second hand but in really good condition. The man who listed it described it simply as a woman's touring bike and failed to mention the quality of the bike. XT brakes/gears/hubs, rock shox suspension, steel rack, Thompson stem; the bicycle was perfect for her, and Finola wanted it since it was purple! The night the auction ended we did not go out, instead we were to be found hovering over our computer to ensure we won the auction. We did. Finola's bike was purchased for £120 and she has had no problems with in in the first 7.5 months we have been away. No broken spokes, nothing! There are plenty of bargains to be had on ebay and it is worth checking and rechecking since your patience is going to save you a lot of money which can be spent elsewhere.
My bike was a different matter, after seeing no suitable deal on Ebay or elsewhere I decided to build my own bike. I was volunteering at my local bike kitchen. A bike kitchen is a community interest group, staffed by volunteers which allows local people to repair their own bikes using good quality tools/stands under the help and guidance of a lead mechanic and several volunteers with different skill sets. My local bike kitchen was Reading Bicycle Kitchen (www.readingbicyclekitchen.co.uk) please pop by if your passing through Reading as it really is a great project and only charges about £4/hour to use the facilities.
As a volunteer I was able to attend closed training evenings on Tuesday nights where I learnt the skills to enable me to build my own bike and also repair anything which goes wrong on the road. Invaluable. So first off I needed a frame, after doing my research I knew I wanted a strong steel frame, around 20" in size, with all fittings and brazings for all manner of racks and bottle holders! I came across a guy selling a Dawes Sardar frame, forks and front rack for only £90 on a bicycle forum, and just one week later was taking delivery of everything I needed to start to build my own bike :)
So far I had a frame and forks suitable for touring around the world. The original Dawes Sardar bicycle comes with glowing reviews from many different sources and is tough as an old oak! Bulletproof frames are one of the main staples of a worldwide expedition bike and to get one for £90 proved to be a real bargain. This was however just frame and forks and I needed a headset to join these two parts together. A trip to my local bike shop and I purchased a new headset for £40 including fitting. This was a mid-range cane creek headset and has given me absolutely no problems so far. So now with frame and forks joined together it was time to look at drive chain, brakes, gears and wheels.
New components on a bike can cost as much as new frame, so again it was time to look at second hand options. My old bicycle was a 1992 Specialized Rockhopper, with all Shimano Deore components. It was a 7 speed set with thumb shifters and DX/LX mechs on the front and rear. It has never needed to be replaced since new and everything has worked perfectly for about twenty years. Proven reliability. This bike also cost me just £40 from ebay two years before. So I decided to just transfer these parts from my old bike to my new bike, along with a new chain and bottom bracket. £15 for both. This is the perfect way to get all the components you need without spending a large amount of money. Look at getting a host bicycle, second hand with reliable bits and then strip down the bits you need. Older steel frame mountain bikes from Marin, Specialized or Giant all used reliable 7/8 speed Deore thumbshifters alongside Deore front and rear mechs and these do not break. They will also not be expensive due to their age/condition. Parts on these older bikes are simple to use, and more importantly you will find replacement parts across the world if you needed. Newer gear is more expensive and therefore not available in the more remote regions, also I have spoken to lots of cyclists who do not find the XT (the most expensive of shimano components) any more reliable than my older set-up and is also more expensive to replace. In Bishkek, me and a friend went to buy new chains. My seven speed chain cost me £3 whereas his 10 speed chain was £15, five times more expensive and you don't really need all those extra gears! I spent one Saturday at the bike kitchen stripping all my old components and fitting these to my new bike it was very easy to do with the right tools and guidance. That evening I was able to cycle around Reading on my brand new bicycle having spent just £185!
I now have a working bike which is capable of touring the world. Time for accessories, from Ebay I purchased a new steel rear rack for £15 alongside two new Swalbe Marathon tyres for £30. I think this blog is starting to sound like a Ebay advert, but it really is a great way to purchase bicycle cheap cheaply. The next step is upgrading the wheels, as whilst the current set were great for town riding they would not last off-road or carrying heavy weights, both things I needed my wheels to do. I also wanted a reliable dynamo with the ability to charge our electronic devices as we went, meaning we could contact home wherever we were and also to keep our iPhone charged as we used that for maps & translations. This is where the biggest expense came from since I needed strong wheels, a dynamo and a ac/dc converted for charging. Whilst searching again on my favorite auction site I came across a 36 spoke hand-built front wheel (the strongest combination) with a SON Dynamo hub for £150. I quickly bought this since a new SON Dynamo can cost over £150 and new front wheel £100! The SON Dynamo is a small electromagnet which creates a charge when the wheel is spinning. This charge produces minimal effect on your speed and alongside the fact that they are known to be very reliable it makes it the best hub for your adventure if you want to power your lights/gadgets. I was very happy with this and purchased alongside a new (yes new!!) Ewerk converter. This cost me a further £100 and is required to enable you to covert the current from your dynamo from AC to DC 5v and therefore you can charge anything which works on a USB power supply which these days is almost everything. My rear wheel came from Austria. Finola and I were on a cycle trip two years previously cycling from Munich to Vienna along the River Danube and whilst cycling around the city of Linz, my rim broke on my rear wheel. Luckily I was close to Linz so therefore close to a bike shop where I managed to get new 36 spoke rear wheel for £60. This wheel is the same wheel I have used to this trip and other than a few spokes braking whilst off road it has caused me no problems and is always easy to quickly fix. This was a bit of a gamble since the wheel was not hand built and therefore not as strong as I would have ideally liked but has so far proved a successful one.
Finally I added front bags purchased from Ebay for £40 and I received my rear bags and brooks saddle as Christmas and Birthday presents the year before. This is a valuable tool to remember if you have planned some before you leave, to pick up some supply's from loving friends and family.
So far Finola and I have cycled from our doorsteps in Reading to Mainland China, which is where I am writing this blog entry from. We have covered 11,500km and have cycled for over 800 hours. We have had no mechanical problems on either bike and due to our low costs we have extra money to spend on our adventure and if we did not have, we would not be able to cycle all around the world. You do not need much money to begin with, we both worked low paid jobs in Reading and saved hard to be here and by choosing to ignore new or expensive in favour of our current bikes we can cycle for longer and more importantly we both love our bikes and would change them for anything!
The Total Cost:
Old bicycle with components-£40
Front Wheel with Dynamo-£150
Buy me a beer!! Thank you
This blog follows my cycle ride from Reading, Berkshire to Reading, Pennsylvania.