Fit Longer and Better Quality Bolts
It’s not just the frame material and components that make a bike durable – the little things like bolts and bearings matter too. It tends to be these that manufacturers skimp on because they figure, probably correctly, that most people won’t think about them too much before buying. They should! Cheap bolts can make a bike practically a write-off if they get damaged and can’t be removed. Replace them with good-quality stainless steel bolts. The rack bolts that come with most bikes are fairly short and tend to come loose quite easily, leading to breakages and trashed threads. Fit longer ones. Grease the threads of bolts so they go in tight and keep out water and dust.
Fit Wider Tyres
There is only a thin cushion of air between the hard metal of your bike’s rims and the hard concrete of the road. Narrow tyres need to be at high pressure to carry a lot of weight and this will put a lot of stress on the bike and be uncomfortable for the rider. Wider tyres mean you’re less likely to slam your rims onto the road, helping to avoid punctures and rim damage. You can also run the tyres at lower pressure, which will be more comfortable and put less stress on the bike. There is also a big difference in the durability of good touring tyres compared to cheaper ones. While they may be two or three times as expensive they will probably last more than two or three times as long and give fewer punctures.
Apply Grease Where Water Might Seep Through
This only applies to non-moving parts like the top of your seat-tube, the bottom bracket holder and round any spacers on the steerer. It will stop water running in which could cause rust on a steel frame. You can also put a little grease around the tops of bolts and any fittings. Don’t overdo it as the grease will attract dust and grit. A little grease on the frame can also help prevent rust if you get any frame scratches on tour.
Protect the Frame and Racks With Tape
It may not look great but duct tape is pretty tough and can protect chainstays, which tend to get muddy and battered. It can also help protect racks and stop panniers moving about on them. Make sure the frame is clean first and be careful the duct tape isn’t too sticky or it might take the paint off when removing! Using insulating tape is another possibility.
This shouldn’t be necessary if you have handbuilt wheels but machine-built wheels often have loose and uneven spoke tension and can be a liability for cycle touring. You don’t want to over-tighten the spokes but the ones on the rear drive side should be pretty tight as these are the ones most likely to break.
Put More Weight at the Front of the Bike
On modern touring bikes the rear and front wheels usually have the same number of spokes. However, the rear wheel is asymmetric making it weaker, at least on derailler-geared bikes. And yet, most of the weight on the bike is carried by the rear wheel! The vast majority of spoke breakages occur on the rear wheel, particularly on the drive side. If you can transfer some of the weight to the front spoke breakages will be less likely and the bike will handle better too.
Carry Some Gear on the Frame and Saddle Rather Than the Racks
Racks take a lot of punishment, due to their position and the way they’re attached. The frame of your bike is much stronger and keeping weight nearer the centre of the bike distributes it better. A frame or saddle bag is a good place to carry tools, which don’t take up much space but tend to be heavy.
Use Dry Lubricant
Dry lubricant attracts less dust and grit. In wet weather it gets washed away more quickly, and, since there is less dust and grit in the air, doesn’t provide much advantage. In dry weather though, particularly when it’s windy and dusty, it can really make a difference to the life of your chain. You can even use wax as a dry lubricant rather than the commercial dry lubricants.
Learn to Brake More Efficiently
Using the brakes too liberally will wear out your rims and brake pads. You can even overheat your rims and blow the tubes. Braking too fast and hard can stress spokes unduly and lead to them failing earlier. Apply firm pressure to slow down your wheels quickly without locking them. Alternate your braking between front and back on long descents to avoid overheating your rims or disc pads.
Use All Your Gears
It’s quite common to favour a certain chain ring and sprocket(s). These particular cogs will wear more quickly than others and need replaced. Most touring bikes allow replacement of a single chainring but this could be inconvenient on tour. Wearing out a single sprocket generally means the entire cassette will need replaced. This means a drastically reduced lifespan compared to using all sprockets equally.
Lose Some Weight
Ok, this may not exactly be a simple step but the more weight there is on a bike the more stress on the parts and the quicker they will wear out. You’ll probably notice it most on tyres and wheels but the extra stress on your drive-train will wear that out more quickly too, and your brakes and possibly even your frame eventually. Some people spend fortunes on ultralight gear to lose a few pounds but that will be pretty insignificant compared to their bodyweight. For the vast majority of cycle tourists the heaviest thing they will carry is themselves!