Bicycles as a mode of transport have been with us for well over a century.
Many of us are familiar with bicycles for work, or as sport, but there is another dimension of cycling, where it is used as a mode of traveling from place to place, or to reach a destination. Whilst cyclists locally tend to fall into one of 2 camps, MTB or roadie, with a certain amount of cross-over between the two, there has been a nascent core of riders in Malaysia over the past few years who use their bicycles as a means of travel, and seeing our country, as well as beyond.
Cycle touring is not new. Certainly, the first cycle tourer would have been the person who carried some clothes and provisions on their bicycle and set off down the road to see what they could see, find what they could find.
Cycle touring has always been a popular and low cost means of seeing the sights, especially in Europe, where distances between towns and city centers tend to be closer than they are in other parts of the world, and the road infrastructure is geared towards smaller, slower vehicles.
1 The basic design of a touring bicycle is a rugged frame, usually made of steel, although there are aluminium and titanium frames available. The frame will usually have built-in mounting points for pannier racks, front and rear, as well as bosses for extra water bottles.
2 Braking is normally v-brake, but disc brake models are becoming the touring cyclist’s choice, due to their dependability under wet conditions, and much greater braking power. Touring cyclists also have a choice of bars, from a basic flat bar, to racing bars, and the oddly shaped ‘butterfly’ bar. This is not as odd as it sounds, as tourer’s spend large amounts of time riding, and a butterfly bar allows a variety of hand positions, letting the rider relieve stress on the back and shoulders. It also gives more options for mounting gears like GPS, handlebar bags and the such.
3 Racks and bags are an important consideration for touring cyclists. The success of a touring trip can depend upon the quality of the rack and bags fitted to your bike. Racks are a steel framework that attach to your bike using mounting bosses that may already be on your frame. If the bosses are not available, there are racks that attach to the seatpost using a clamp, but obviously these are not as sturdy, or will carry as much weight, as a frame mounted rack. Bags are a personal choice, and will depend on factors such as the length of your trip, how self-sufficient you intend to be, whether you will be camping outdoors and so on. The first and most obvious criterium is that bags should be waterproof. Most bags today are made out of ballistic nylon, with a waterproof PVC interior liner. They will attach to your rack using clamps, and usually have a simple quick release fitting or handle that lets you mount and dismount the bags easily.
4 There are 2 main wheel sizes for tourer’s, 700c, or 26”. There are pros and cons to either size, but all touring wheelsets are built with ruggedness and dependability in mind, rather than lightness. Since wheel size dictates tyre size, most tourers go for a 1.25 to 1 inch width on 26” wheels. If you’re riding 700c, the widest size available to you is 23c to 35c. Most touring riders will choose between a 25c and 35c width, giving the best compromise between ride comfort and speed.
Planning your trip depends on your interests. Some will ride a distance for food, or to reach a particular destination. Some others plan to ride across the country, across a continent, or even around the world. There are even those who start cycling, and simply don’t stop. What many have found is that cycle touring is a good way of seeing the sights, and interacting with people. The fact that you are moving under your own power is an eco-friendly way of travelling, and you will find many people on your tour route appreciative of that fact. Cycle touring is a good way of meeting the local people, and the biggest barrier between human interaction, the car, is removed.
For most, cycle touring begins with a round day trip, or a point-to-point trip with return by bus, train or other conveyance. This tends to slowly build up into overnight trips, and then multi-day tours stretching across weeks or months, covering several countries. One thing is for sure, cycle touring is a great way of getting to know a country or state, and having a wonderful time while keeping fit.