Introduction to adventure cycling

[-] Choosing a bike

General points

Technical guide

Converting an MTB

Mid-range tourers

Expedition bikes

[+] Carrying your kit

Camping gear

Spares, repairs & tools

Where to go


Bikes on planes

Enjoying your tour

Safety and security




Any bike will do

Of course, your bike is the most important bit of kit you are going to buy. But while the choice of bike is important, it's not that important. People have completed the most amazing adventures on very unremarkable bikes. In 1963, Dervla Murphy cycled from Dunkirk to India on a very basic, single speed Armstrong Cadet. Heinz Stucke has cycled most of his half million kilometers on an ancient 3 speed bike. Recently, I have been reading Hamada Shather's blog about how he bought a second hand mountain bike for 40 and rode it to Thailand. That's a great example of the "Just go!" spirit of adventure this website is all about. The point is, if you haven't got 1,500 to spend on an expedition bike don't let it stop you. It's much, much, more fun being on the road on a 300 bike than sitting at home trying to save up for an expensive one.

You can see a good range of the bikes people actually use for touring at fullyloadedtouring.com.

Bikes - the main options

In terms of getting kitted up with a bike for adventure cycling, there are three main options: Which option you choose depends on a number of consideration - see below.

Key considerations

Before going too far down the road of buying a bike for touring. you need to think through the following:

How much have you got to spend?

Bikes for adventure touring range from around 200, for a 2nd hand MTB, to 3,000 for a top of the range, full-on expedition bike. If you are on a tight budget, your choice of bike is your biggest opportunity to keep costs down. Buying an expensive bike in the hope of saving money on the rest of your gear isn't an option.

What sort of roads are you going to be riding on?

The type of surface you will be riding on makes a big difference to the type of bike you need. If a fair amount of your trip is going to be on unmade roads or gravel tracks you need the strong frame and wide tyres of an MTB or expedition bike, On the other hand, if 90% of your trip will be on paved roads, you can get away with a lighter frame and skinnier tyres, so a mid-range tourer might be your best choice.

How much are you going to be carrying?

Are you a "Weight Weenie" (see below) or are you going to be carrying full camping gear? If you will be "credit card" touring, i.e., staying in guesthouses and carrying the minimum of stuff, a lightweight mid-range tourer will be fine. On the other hand, if you plan to carry full camping gear, with a few days food and water, into remote areas, then the load carrying capacity of an expedition bike will be more suitable.

*Weight Weenie = Cyclist with an unnatural obsession with reducing the weight of his/her bike and associated gear, to the extent of cutting labels out of clothing and drilling holes in cutlery.

Warning: about bike shops

If you are thinking about buying a bike for adventure cycling, don't rush down to your nearest bike shop. Unfortunately, most local bike shops and the national chains do not have much expertise when it comes to bikes for big trips. The majority of staff in local bike shops are from a racing or mountain biking background, and have little or no expeience of riding a loaded bicyle or doing any touring. Your best bet is to read widely and use the touring forums (see links page) to get genned up on what you need, before approaching a bike shop.

Copyright © Tim Barnes 2007