Monday, August 8, 2011

So, you want to go touring ah!

A good and well-planned ride yields plenty of pleasure on the road

A proven workhorse: the Dahon Speed TR
TAKING your bike on a long-haul is no joke.
You will need to plan your routes, get accommodation and prepare yourself physically for the hardship of cycling on long and steep climbs, unfamiliar territory and language barrier in foreign countries.
Unforseen things like accidents, theft and illness may cut your trip short or bring it to an abrubt end.
 
Here's my take on organizing a short tour:

FINDING THE RIGHT COMPANION

- You meet plenty of people along the way, some are sincere, while others waste too much time talking about things they want to do, but never gotten around doing it.
Commitment is very important. Its also the first step. The next thing is trust. You have to trust your riding buddy to overcome the challenges on the road. Patience is a virtue and to those who have it, its a blessing.
I've come across people who have a gajillion ideas in mind, but are not committed to their cause. They want others to do their bid and get involved as a willing participant. And when shit hits the fan, they are the first ones to kick a big fuss. This is definitely a no-no when you spend a long time on the road. You might end up ripping off the person's throat. For this, I am very fortunate to have a soulmate who is mentally strong enough to put up with the rigors of riding far and hard. So, pick wisely.

PLANNING
- With the advent of technology, its easy to plot a riding route.
Thanks to softwares like Google Map and on-line touring journals that provides crucial information on where to go and what to expect while you are on the road.
Its crucial to plan on how far you want to ride and break the journey in the route.
Most towns in Peninsular Malaysia are at least 50km apart. So, plan your average distance. You can also estimate your time spent on the road by looking at information such as elevation and terrain on the maps.
A carefully-planned trip ensures that you have ample time on the road and to meet contingencies.

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING...
- There is no substitute for strength and endurance. In a self-supported ride, you are all you have and it takes a lot to push yourself on the last mile.
Climbs and long rides enhances your stamina and strength. Part of the endurance factor is mental. If you are fickle-minded and insecure, a tour is out of the question.
Highly recommended: Is a twice-weekly workout on your bike. Load it with panniers and get used to the set-up.
A fully loaded bike is not the same with an empty bike. When you hump the load, you will notice that there is plenty of resistance.
This is why you would have to train for strength and endurance.

EQUIPMENT
- The emphasis here is getting the right gear.
Touring bikes are heavy. Folding tourers are compact, but lacked the finer points of handing found on higher-end road-tuned foldies.
So, in short, if you ride a folding road bike, better think twice.
My preference is a bike which is hefty enough to take the weight and punishment of a full load.
In this light, the Dahon Speed series came highly recommended.
For a short tour, you only need to load it with a set of rear panniers. Anything longer than that - you might want to add a pair of front panniers.
And as far as getting the right panniers are concerned, your gear is as good as how deep is your pocket.
To me, good equipment gets you far and gives you the confidence that its not going to fail you along the way.
Many times, people want to stinge on their equipment. They ended up disappointed with the cheap stuff they paid for.
Items like your personal clothing, toiletry, first aid kit, medication, bicycle recovery kit are the ones that going to be the bulk of the volume.
Some tourers even pack a tent, sleeping bag and mat for their ride.
I found that stuff like food and a stove is uncessary for the route in the Malaysian Peninsular West Coast.
Why? There are ample places for you to makan and sleep, thus - eliminating the need to pack your ration and cooking gear.
But for the prepared cyclist, its always a welcoming idea to carry food bars and liquid gel that provides energy to  fuel your ride as a contingency plan.
On your bike, its also a good idea to plug in a GPS.
This helps in navigation and it would give you an idea on your estimated time of arrival to your next destination.
For cyclists, its best to get a GPS system like the Garmin EDGE800 or 705 that are meant specifically for bicycles.
GPS-enable smartphones are cool, but they suck majorly on energy consumption.
Unless you have a dynamo hub that can power up these devices, its worth a go.
To stay in touch, you might want to carry a smartphone or a netbook. I found these to be very useful when it comes to retrieving emails on the trail. It never failed me so far.
For timekeeping, my Casio Protrek PRG-500 wristwatch had proven to be a valuable asset.
Its triple-sensor capabilities became useful to predict the weather as well as keeping time on the go.
Other stuff like tools, a folding pocket knife, flashlight and my personal survival gear are considered as 'essentials' on the road.
There may be many more items that I would like to include on the haul, but having just a portion of it proved to be a ball buster as the front and back panniers become heavily loaded.
So, pick your gear carefully and don't end up lugging stuff that you don't need!
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