Tour de Lab September 1st

Optimize your Ride: Getting ready for the long haul

Posted by on July 27th, 2011 at 10:24 am

As I demonstrate, a road bike with a trailer can work on a multi-day tour (just make sure the gearing will get you up the hills).
(Photo: Daniel Sharp)

If the thought of loading your bike with camping gear and heading out for the weekend into the wild blue yonder seems like a faraway dream, we’re here to help. You don’t actually need fancy gear or a special bike. Even if you’ve never toured before it’s easy to convert the bicycle you’re riding now for overnight touring the many beautiful country roads surrounding Portland.

The good news is that you don’t have to run out and buy a special bike to do a multi-day, self-supported tour. Chances are the bike you’ve got will work just fine. Check out some tips and resources below and you’ll be ready for the open road.

Hybrids/Older Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes make great tourers.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Mountain bikes and hybrids work well because they’ve got plenty of room for racks and fenders and you’ll have very low gearing. Having a three chain rings (the gears in the front) will give you one very easy option for getting up hills. Older mountain bikes without front or rear suspension work best for pedaling efficiency and rack mounting. Remember to swap out knobbies for slicks before you hit the road.

Road Bikes

Even an old road bike can work.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Depending on how fancy it is, you can attach a trailer to most any road bike and a few can even take racks. Most road bikes have higher (harder to pedal) gearing which make it more challenging to travel. Consider finding a bike with three chain rings if your route includes any significant hills.

Longtails

Family trip to Stub Stewart State Park-1

Ready to roll.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Longtail cargo bikes like Xtracycles have become ubiquitous around Portland; but they also make perfect touring machines. The long wheelbase provides stability and the side bags give you lots of room to store your bedroll, food, and other touring essentials. For family touring, longtails might be the perfect option.

Loading it Up
Racks
Rear racks are usually the preferred method by beginning travelers because of convenience and stability. However, carrying weight over your rear wheel can increase flats and spoke breakage. Some folks spread the weight out by using a front rack as well.

Racks can be attached in two ways. Your bike may come with eyelets that bolts can easily thread into, or you can use rubber coated hose clamps which are easily found at hardware stores to fashion one on. If you use this method, make sure the clamps are very secure.

Never underestimate the
power of a milk crate.

You can install racks on most bikes and don’t necessarily need to spend money on panniers (the bags that attach to the sides) if you strap a milk crate or soft backpacking pack on top. The weight carried high can be unstable, so pack carefully!

Panniers advantage is being able to carry your load much lower, which increases stability. Consider borrowing some or purchasing an inexpensive set, or making some out of waterproof buckets.

Trailers

Trailers are a good option for people with bikes that don’t easily take racks by attaching to the frame or through the center of the rear axle. They keep the weight off your rear wheel and have less wind resistance, but can decrease stability at high speeds, add the weight of the trailer to your load and increase overall drag.

Getting A Little More Comfortable
Take Care
Your bike needs to be in tip-top shape. A trip being cut short by mechanical troubles is never fun — and it may take a while for that ride back.

Getting to the Bottom
Make sure your saddle is tested over long hours. Sporty bike shorts with padding (chamois) help ease soreness, but for trips without them try to wear breathable fabrics that wick moisture away. Chamois cream or lotion to ease chafing might also be something to consider.

Over the Hill
Consider the number of gears you’ll need. You may have noticed much of the Pacific Northwest is mountainous, and you’ll be adding 25-50lbs of weight to your ride. Your gearing choice can make the difference between riding and pushing your bike up those hills and can protect you from injury.

Fenders
Hey, it rains here! They can make a wet day much more bearable.

Tires
A wider tire (over 1-inch or 28c) can make for a smoother, more stable ride. Investing in a Kevlar tread is your first defense against flats — but before you head out, make sure you know how to change a tube!

Water
You must drink and there may not be places to stop. Install 2-3 water bottle cages, or carry a bladder on your back or bike.

Handle It
Handlebar bags make it easy to get to snacks and maps. They range from fancy to hand-made — I found my last one in a used bike shop for a dollar!

Check it Out
When you’re on the road, oil your chain and air up the tires daily. This gives you a chance to look the bike over and make sure all looks sound and keeps your ride smooth.

In the end, just remember to not let your lack of a “real” touring bike keep you from enjoying the thrill and satisfaction of self-supported touring. For a bit more inspiration, check out a great upcoming event on August 2nd, DIY Cycling Adventures with Michael Sylvester.

Other Resources
Now that your bike is ready, here are some resources on what to bring and where to go.

Cycle Wild: A Portland non-profit with a mission to reconnect people to nature via the bicycle. They organize group trips in the Portland “rideshed” as well as touring education and support.

PBOT Regional Maps: The City has some great maps available for overnight options from Portland.

Cycling Sojourner: This inspiring blog details Portland author Ellee Thalheimer’s bike touring adventures — including rides around Portland that make great beginner tours and inspiration to see more of our great state on two wheels.

Bicycle Touring 101: A website that offers touring options, advice and opinions. Another great resource for what to bring and creative ways to convert your bike.

Cycle Oregon: This non-profit offers superlative supported group rides, but check out the past routes (with maps!) for great destinations throughout the state.

— Tori Bortman is the owner of Portland-based Gracie’s Wrench, a business that offers individual and group bike repair classes tailored to your needs. Want more tips? Check out Tori’s past columns in the archives.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

30 Comments
  • Avatar
    9watts July 27, 2011 at 10:54 am

    “Some folks spread the weight out by using a front rack as well.”
    Don’t forget to put stuff on the front (rack). Your great photos curiously show all the weight on the rear rack, which is far from optimal. Great article. Thanks!

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      Spiffy July 27, 2011 at 1:34 pm

      also don’t forget to put a front rack on the bike in order to put those things on it… c(:

      I would have liked to see a professional looking touring bike all loaded down both front and back, just for perspective…

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    Evan July 27, 2011 at 10:57 am

    I’m planning on riding from Portland to Pendleton later this summer. Where can I get info on how to connect to all those side roads and paths east of Multnomah Falls so I don’t have to ride on I-84 so much?

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    G. Tyler July 27, 2011 at 11:10 am

    A friend and I are headed out on our first S24O on Friday, so looking forward to it. Perfect timing on publishing the article. I am going to try out the Burley Travoy trailer that I have instead of putting racks on my bike. Might add racks eventually but at least for this short trip the trailer should work fine.

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    Tomas Quinones July 27, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Nice work and thanks for the Cycle Wild shout-out, Tori!

    I’m pretty sure the mountain bike with the blue crate is Matt Picio’s.

    But I’m a little bothered by the lack of photo credits. Are all the photos of your own?

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 27, 2011 at 11:35 am

      Hey Tomas, I am responsible for the photos and captions. Tori supplied them so I assumed they were hers. Please email me if you know otherwise.

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        Tomas Quinones July 28, 2011 at 12:52 pm

        Thanks Jonathan, I’ve recently been let down about promised photo credits so now I’m on the lookout and try to be diligent in my own blogging when using other’s photos.

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      Tori Bortman (Contributor) July 28, 2011 at 10:05 am

      Thomas,

      There was a mis-communication with Jonathan that some of those photo credits were to go to Cycle Wild. There were no photo credits on that site to give direct credit, but I was hoping to at least credit the site (unless you know who the credits belong to). I’ll let him know which ones and get that straightened out.

      Go Cycle Wild!

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    PomPilot July 27, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Another resource for beginners (or experienced bicycle tourists), is the Adventure Cycling Association’s ‘How To ..’ section on their website.
    http://www.adventurecycling.org/

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      April July 31, 2011 at 8:04 pm

      YES!!! Adventure Cycling is an excellent resource, including bicycle maps for many routes, forums, a great magazine.

      Me and my boyfriend are currently on a cross-continent tour ourselves, and I encourage anyone to try touring who is interested! My favorite spot for first-timers is Stub Stewart! Take the MAX to the end of the westside line to start, and then it’s eleven miles through rolling low-traffic farmland, a stop in Banks, and then eleven miles on a rail-trail. It doesn’t get better than that. And if you get a cabin in the park, you don’t have to carry much camping gear.

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    benn July 27, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    excellent article!
    when considering a trailer think about a 2 wheel as an alternative to a one wheel shown in the photos. both work well. i’ve been using a buley nomad..stable at 30mph (downhill, of course) w/full load
    good site for trailers & info
    http://www.biketrailershop.com/
    safe travels!!

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      Erik July 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm

      I’ve gone over 50 mph with with my Nomad, very stable. I did upgrade my tires to ones that can take 85 psi though.

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        AC. July 27, 2011 at 4:12 pm

        I have gone over 50 mph with my BOB and it was a bad idea….

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          Greg July 31, 2011 at 2:10 pm

          I’ve gone thousands of miles with my BOB, including some +50 mph downhills, and never had an issue with stability.
          Why was yours a bad idea?

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    SilkySlim July 27, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    +1 for the handlebar bag. It is unbelievably convenient to have your essentials (sunscreen, map, wallet) in easy reach. The less times you dig into your bags the better!

    Evan – check out this map from ODOT: http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/BIKEPED/docs/ColumbiaGorgeBikeMap.pdf?ga=t

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    Spiffy July 27, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    after many years of car-camping I’m about to start acquiring more lightweight gear better suited to being packed on a bike (or a backpack)…

    very encouraging article for a n00b with a piqued interest…

    not sure I’d want my heavy cruiser on a really long ride, but I’m sure it would do ok… handlebar bags, forgot about those since I haven’t had one in a while, yes very convenient… and yes, a 2-wheel trailer is cheap and easy, but not as narrow so might not be as good for long unfamiliar routes…

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    J-R July 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    The states of Oregon and Washington have state bicycle maps for free. Check local bike shops, Oregon and Washington Dept of Trans offices or state government websites to find them.

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    Ted Buehler July 27, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    You can bring along the “highway maintenance hotline” phone numbers and emails for all the states you plan to travel through.

    Even though the roads won’t be improved for some time, your requests may make for a better riding experience for next year’s riders.

    For instance,
    Oregon
    http://highway.odot.state.or.us/cf/comments/comments.cfm
    AskODOT@odot.state.or.us
    1-888-ASK-ODOT

    Washington
    http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Contact/feedback.htm
    Maintenance office 360.705.7850
    wsdotmaintenanceoperations@wsdot.wa.gov

    Montana
    http://www.mdt.mt.gov/mdt/​comment_form.shtml
    http://www.mdt.mt.gov/mdt/​contact_list.shtml
    Highway Maintenance – 406.444.6200

    If you want to be really wonky about it, see my blog post on it at active right of way
    http://www.activerightofway.org/p/reporting-problems-on-oregon-state-highways/

    Otherwise, just take pictures of poorly maintained roads, or just call them in and tell them they need work.

    Be the squeaky wheel…

    Ted Buehler

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    aljee July 27, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    for a great source of fully loaded touring bike pr0n, visit: http://www.pbase.com/canyonlands/fullyloaded

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    marshmallow July 27, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    I found this little gem on craigslist: http://portland.craigslist.org/mlt/bik/2508408630.html
    It’s a bushtrekka fold out tent on top of a trailer. I wouldn’t really buy it since it has horrible quality control issues per reviews on amazon.

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    Evan July 28, 2011 at 9:53 am

    Thanks for the link to the Gorge map!
    I’ve seen a couple comments on trailers, so I’ll throw in a few things. I have a Burley Solo that I bought for utility use. I removed the seat and created a “suspension floor” using climbing rope. I then placed a thin sheet of wood on top. It’s flat and distributes the load over the entire frame. I also put Maxxis Hookworm BMX (freestyle) tires on it. They have a super thick tread to reduce flats and can be run at high pressure. The conversion has allowed me to carry some pretty bulky items (like a whole extra bike and all my recycling, but not together!). I’ve also got a set of Vaude panniers that I have used on my commuter bike for ten years now…highly recommended…with good heel clearance to boot.

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    esther c July 28, 2011 at 11:36 am

    ODOT publishes a bike touring map of the coast and its a great tour. The shoulder is wider on the north to south bound side and that’s the way the prevailing winds are headed. The map has suggestions for detours off 101 where the shoulders are crappy, or the sight seeing is better elsewhere.

    link to map pdf download.

    http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/…/docs/oregon_coast_bike_route_map.pdf

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    Dan O July 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Hey is that you I just saw coming through Salem? If so, you guys were riding one of the nastiest possible routes – only a few blocks parallel to the sweet Willamette Valley Scenic Bike Trail.

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    Joel Grover July 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    GREAT ARTICLE!
    +1 AC, +1 Erik and +1 Benn…2 wheel trailers are the way to go for long distance touring…1 wheel trailers,not so much because you still have to balance the load while riding and the torsional flex at the trailer hitch makes for speed shimmy possibilities at + 25 mph……..(my $.02)

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    GlowBoy July 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    As a longtime BOB-trailer tourer, I’ve got to defend the one-wheel trailer. Personally, I don’t find load-balancing to be an issue at speed. And while you do have to find something to lean the bike+trailer against to park it, I’ve never found that to be a big problem.

    The problem with two-wheel trailers is that instead of one wheel path down the road, you’re now rolling on three parallel lines. I’ve heard lots of stories of two-wheel trailers causing problems for touring on roads with narrow shoulders: optimal positioning of the bike results in one of the trailer’s wheels rolling on gravel, or in the brutal rumble-strip separating the shoulder from the travel lane, or off the road completely. Two trailer wheels also means twice the added rolling resistance as one trailer wheel.

    I’ve also done a fair amount of touring with panniers. To me the rule of thumb is this: if I can fit my gear into two rear panniers , I will do so, thus avoiding the extra weight, complexity and rolling resistance of the trailer. This works well for single overnights in warm weather, or where services are readily available and I don’t have to carry too much food and water.

    If rear panniers alone won’t fit everything, then I’ll usually go with the trailer. The extra warm clothes and bedding needed for cool/cold weather camping, or the extra water and survival supplies needed for safe desert touring, generally push me into using the trailer.

    One more big thumbs-up for handlebar bags, especially those with map windows. In addition to handlebar bags, I like to tour with two Mountain Feed Bags (http://www.revelatedesigns.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=store.catalog&CategoryID=2&ProductID=12). Between these and a handlebar bag you can have a lot of your stuff easily accessible.

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      Greg July 31, 2011 at 2:14 pm

      +1 to the BOB. One of the benefits is that packing becomes much simpler with a single compartment.

      In off road situations, a two wheeled trailer tips over constantly.

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    Joel Grover July 29, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    I’ll take the slightly more rolling resistance and periodic wheel tracking annoyances of a two wheeled trailer over a 30 mph sphincter tightening death shimmy any day! And I speak from experience here…

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    April July 31, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Personally, I’m a fan of front-and-rear panniers. But the pannier vs. trailer debate will probably rage on forever.

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