“My tastes are simple: I am easily satisfied with the best.” So said Winston Churchill. This philosophy seems to be shared by many cycle tourists, who buy extremely expensive bikes and components with the justification that they will be very reliable and last a long time.
But it isn’t necessary to spend a fortune on equipment to enjoy cycle touring. Spending less might even make your tour more enjoyable. Put a little thought into your equipment buying strategy or you might spend more than than you need for a great touring experience.
Here I’m going to examine the pros and cons of two equipment-buying strategies, which I shall call ‘only the best’ and ‘cheap and cheerful.
ONLY THE BEST
Buy really expensive equipment that will last for a long time, e.g. a high quality touring bike with a Rohlof hub and CSS rims.
- initial cost is offset by lower running costs
- greater reliability and durability make extended cycling in remote areas possible
- cycling will be smoother and more comfortable
- familiarity with the bike – it becomes an old and trusted friend
- bike and equipment will hold value
- High up front cost
- A major investment – you might lose interest in cycle touring and be stuck with a heavy and expensive bike
- Loss will be much more severe leading to increased worry while touring
- High-tech parts might be harder to replace or fix if they do break
- Bike may need insured as loss or damage will be costly
- A solid, heavy lock will be needed
- You will be afraid to leave the bike and gear unattended – the bike owns you!
- Less money to enjoy yourself on tour
CHEAP AND CHEERFUL
Get cheap equipment that will need replaced but is essentially throwaway. You could even buy a cheap bike at your destination saving you from carrying it on a plane.
- No major outlay
- Fewer worries about theft or damage of bike
- Parts will probably be easier to find and cheaper
- You can use a lighter and cheaper lock
- Bike can be left unattended with less worry – you own the bike – it does not own you!
- You have more to spend on the trip
- General running costs may be higher
- More repairs and replacements
- Cheaper parts may wear out in remote areas where replacements aren’t available
- Higher chance of serious failure
- Cycling will likely be less comfortable and may be beset by niggles like rattling parts
For extended cycle touring it’s always advisable to have some knowledge of how to repair bikes. Repairs can be costly, even on a cheap bike, simply because of the labour involved. However, expensive components aren’t always the most durable. They are often built with lightness and speed rather than durability in mind. Budget components are often simpler and sturdier so may in fact last longer.
One area where it’s not worth economising is wheels. Cheap wheels and tyres wear out quickly and tend to be more expensive in the long run. They can also fail catastrophically and your life is much more valuable than any savings you will make. Even on a cheap bike good quality touring tyres and hand-made wheels are worth having. If you use cheap, machine-built wheels it’s a good idea to check the spokes are tight enough, particularly if you are carrying a lot of weight.
Don’t spend lots of money just because you have it or because you think you should. Touring bike manufacturers want you to believe a high-quality bike is essential for loaded touring but so long as you are sensible with regard to components it is possible to tour for long periods without spending a fortune on equipment.