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The Herald Friday, March 22, 1991
Touring isn't racing
When I'm on the road, I'm often told, "I would love to take up bicycling, but surely not on a professional basis like you." In no way am I a professional biker.
Touring by bike is not bike racing. Nobody cares if I go slow. The bike racers will use their awesome strength to pound a steep hill at 25 mph, while you and I crawl up that same hill at 9 mph. That's perfectly OK.
The bike racers are what most of the public identifies with. My bike is often inspected at rest stops and people say, "Wow, I'll bet this thing costs over a thousand dollars."
Yep, but my bike is a radical departure from the norm. You have to go out of your way to spend more than a few hundred dollars on touring equipment.
Most touring bikes are affordable because they are easy to build. Racing bikes are priced into the ozone layer because of the exotic materials they are made of, carbon fiber and titanium and such. Racing cyclists have learned that an ounce of weight is better than a pound of strategy, and they pay out the wazoo for a cosmically light machine.
Touring cyclists are not to worry. After conferring with Robert Baker at College Cycles and Dick Wilkinson at Dick's Bike Shop, I learned that a sturdy bike with a steel frame can be had for around $170. You can ride this bike across America, and it has been done. The real drawback of this machine, however, is its weight. If you climb a hill, you will suffer more than your buddy who's riding a chromemoly frame.
If you haven't ridden since childhood, the current steel frame bikes will seem like a cruise in a limo, but be warned. Don't even think of test-riding a chromemoly bike unless you can afford it. The difference in weight and ride quality is enormous.
The step up in quality from steel to chromemoly is cheap by comparison. You can score any entry-level chromemoly bike for around $250. In my book, this is the way to go. Have the folks at the bike shop recommend the frame size best for you, and take it home.
No matter what you spend on the bike, you are not through if you intend to travel. If your bike doesn't come equipped with a luggage rack, you need one ($40). A company named Blackburn has a corner on the mass market for quality, although my own rack is made by Eclipse. Don't buy a cheap rack if you intend to load it up and go. Cheap racks break.
Your bags (or panniers) hang on the rack. A decent set will run $50 to $170. Choose from Cannondale (sturdy and affordable), Eclipse (super), or Kirkland (elite). Many other brands are available, but you get what you pay for. A workable bag can be had for $25, but the zipper will soon break and you'll be disappointed the first time it rains. Cheap bags leak.
For heavier and extended touring, you'll need front bags too ($$bags/rack times 2).
A bike computer is like a microwave. You don't realize you need one until you get one, and then it becomes a necessity. For $30 to $80, you get your speed, time and distance spit out in a variety of modes. For long-distance riding, some form of mileage readout is absolutely mandatory. It helps with the ongoing plan, which might change by the minute. It makes for accurate training as well.
Next: A word on training.
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