In my last post I did say I would write up about converting a bike for cycle touring, but I have decided to write a quick post about getting started with cycle touring and the kit you may need. Next time, I promise to write my mountain bike conversion post with pictures.
If you are anything like me, you love to read about new kit, browse web sites/shops for new kit and overall get very excited at the prospect of new kit! I enjoy the pre-purchase research, maybe more than receiving and using the piece of kit! Now, that aside, you have to be realistic with what you need and ultimately what you can afford. And for people new to the world or cycling touring, or any other sport/hobby, you need to see if you like it first, before investing your hard earned cash. You can still do it on a small budget and you will still have a great time. Believe me, I have first-hand experience with this - dreaming of a new bike and shiny new equipment, but the bank balance not quite matching :-)
Don’t be fooled into thinking you need an expensive bike, luxury panniers, specialist clothing, ultra lightweight tent, etc.. Yes, these are nice items to have, but not having them won’t take away any of the enjoyment of cycle touring. You will be surprised as to how easy it is to pick up good quality and reasonable priced items to get you started. And I bet you can beg, steal and borrow from friends or family too. Visit the local boot fair, browse Ebay, etc… Or, take a look in your attic/loft for those forgotten items. My loft is a treasure trove of camping kit! You get the idea.
My first tour was a two day cycle tour in Brittany, France. A couple of hundred miles through the French countryside - a chance for me to stay away for a couple of nights and see if I liked this cycle touring. To get me started, I first dusted down my old mountain bike and gave it a good service. This is important with any cycle tour, but especially if you decide to use a bike that has been hiding away for some time. Get it out. Clean it. Take it out for a ride to work out what needs doing. Replace anything that is broken or worn and then test ride again. Anything you are uncomfortable with doing, get yourself down to the local bike shop. Don't just risk taking the bike out with little or no testing - chances are you would be fine, but do try to reduce the risk and plan ahead.
For my other equipment, I picked up a cheap 2nd hand (barely used) Targus rack from Ebay and searched my loft for camping gear I knew was up there somewhere! I think I spent less than £50 (GBP) to give me the gear I needed. A quick summary below.
Eurohike Backpacker 2 Man Tent
More like a one man tent with me in there! But perfect for first tour. Pretty light and compact - A good starter tent for spring/summer camping. Cost me £20 in a sale.
Unknown brand Sleeping Bag
Found this in the loft. Not entirely sure where it came from, but it kept me warm. Although quite bulky to carry, perfect for first time cycle touring
Cube hard tail mountain bike. Just added a 2nd hand Targus rack to the back to carry my tent and sleeping bag.
Cooking and Eating
Lighter to light disposable BBQ. Borrowed cutlery and plate from picnic bag. Couple of water bottles in the bike.
I use a fairly large rucksack for work, so decided to store my clothes in here rather than investing in panniers. A little sweaty on the back, but for two days touring, I survived!
Purchased a Mamut one in a sale. Less than £10 and very comfy. I still use this today.
Just used my normal cycling clothes. Put on a pair of normal shorts over my unsightly lycra when wondering into shops and other places!
For washing I took a small towel and took ages trying to dry myself :-)
Took my already owned work commuting lights for emergencies. I didn't plan to cycle at night.
Google maps on my phone, some print outs from Google and Michelin maps. Stopped a few times to work out where I was, but I got there and arrived home.
That is about all I took and actually needed. Even with this limited and not perfect equipment, some of my first touring rides have been the most enjoyable. The feeling of arriving in another country for a few days peaceful riding, is a great one and is what I find I’m always looking forward to when I go away. The realisation you have some chill out time and will get to explore a new area and get away from it all does sum up cycle touring for me. You don't need the best equipment to experience that.
I hope you can see from this brief post that you can go touring on a small budget. Just have a little think and start hunting around for a few basic items and you can be away before you know it. You don't need to go on a multi month expedition to go bicycle touring; a weekend away exploring somewhere new and exciting is just as enjoyable and is sometime what is realistic in this busy world we live in. So what are you waiting for? Get hunting for your basic kit and get out riding!
Next time, I promise to write my mountain bike conversion post with pictures and show everyone that recycling a bicycle for touring is possible and can still serve you well for many years.