Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

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Western Red Cedar
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Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by Western Red Cedar »

I've been toying with the idea of getting into bicycle touring or bikepacking for a few months now. It seems like a great way to travel while minimizing environmental impacts. I'm looking for advice or thoughts from those with experience either bikepacking, touring, or even long-distance day cycling:

-What advice would you give to someone interested in self-supported touring?
-Thoughts on touring as an individual or with a larger group?
-Thoughts on doing it from your backdoor vs. going to a specific destination?
-How do you meal plan and prep?
-How often did you use services like hotels, organized campgrounds, or restaurants?
-What is the minimum amount of bike maintenance knowledge necessary?
-Anything else I should have asked?

Feel free to answer the above questions in general, or tailor a response based on my circumstances.

Background:

I own an REI brand mountain bike that is about 15 years old. Currently has knobby tires, but I've ridden it with skinnier hybrid tires before. My preference is to try to start with this bike, but have funds to purchase a used touring bike if it would significantly improve the experience (ergonomics, speed, etc.). Most of the trips I'm envisioning would be more along the lines of cycle touring, rather than bikepacking.

I own a lot of lightweight backpacking gear so probably wouldn't need much along those lines. I'm fairly fit and regularly ride, but usually only between 10-20 miles on a trip. I'm looking to do some longer rides over the spring and summer, and have my eye on some 50-80 mile loops to train for a longer trip. The main route I'm looking at is 350-450 miles. I'd probably categorize my maintenance skills as "novice". I've changed a few flat tires, tightened my spokes, and adjusted my brakes, but I'm pretty reliant on internet videos when it comes to maintenance.

Based on my background in backpacking, I realize I'm basically like a novice with no overnight experience. Appreciate any suggestions!

guitarplayer
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by guitarplayer »

https://tomsbiketrip.com/

This guy's website is the best resource I found on the English internet. In particular https://tomsbiketrip.com/planning-a-bike-tour/ is what you would like to read.
Last edited by guitarplayer on Sat Mar 20, 2021 12:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by Western Red Cedar »

@gp - Thanks for the links! I heard about him on this podcast but somehow missed that planning page. (there was a weeklong series on travel via bicycle): https://zerototravel.com/epic-bike-ride ... l-podcast/

Do you have personal experience on overnight trips?

I think what I'm struggling with is whether I should just make a go of it with a mountain bike or whether it is worth it to buy a used touring bike. Space is more of an issue for me than funding as I live in an apartment and already have a bunch of outdoor gear filling up our storage space.

I also know I could go the easy route and do a supported tour, but I feel like self-supported with stealth camping is more compatible with ERE.

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Ego
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by Ego »

-What advice would you give to someone interested in self-supported touring?
Weight it the main issue. Food, camping gear, water, clothing.... We gave up trying to be lightweight and got stronger as we went. Touring with a group can be challenging as the longer the tour the more impactful the variation in abilities (unless electric bikes are involved). We carried a lot of food (two large Ortlieb duffles full plus one pannier for two people) and made our own. In the US we stayed in one hostel in three months. In Asia we never camped. You can get buy with very little bike maintenance skills, though taking the REI basic class might help. Ortlieb panniers are the best, by far. Also, consider a trailer if you do not need to return home by air travel. I have an Extrawheel and love it.

Where would you go? Does your bike have rack mounts? Is it steel? We used old 1980s MTBs for our tour and they worked well. No need to buy a special touring bike unless you are doing it for the long haul.

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by Western Red Cedar »

@Ego - Thank you - appreciate the perspective! I've noticed a lot of similarities with backpacking - where weight is probably one of the most important factors. I hadn't really considered a trailer but it would probably be feasible with what I'm thinking about.

I have a Novara Aspen (believe it is an aluminum frame) that I bought in 2005. It has eyelets but I've never put a rack on it. My wife has a Schwinn Express with a rear rack and a water bottle holder that I may be able to use, but don't know if they'd actually fit on my bike.

I'd like to ride the Selkirk Loop. One of the appeals is that I could leave from my doorstep, or my parent's cabin, to make this happen:

https://selkirkloop.org/maps/bicycling-map/

https://www.wacanid.org/

There is quite a bit of elevation change on this route, so other options I've thought about with more moderate elevation gains are trips on Vancouver Island, BC or through some of the San Juan Islands in Washington.

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Ego
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by Ego »

I looked at the Novara online. Looks great. Years ago front suspension was a problem for those who wanted front racks. Now there are plenty of front racks for suspension bikes. I think it would be perfect for the Selkirk Loop, which looks like a fun trip btw.

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Jean
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by Jean »

One of the drawback of leaving from your doorstep is that you risk going home at the first setback. While if you're on another landmass, you'll rest for a day or two and continue your trip.

Also, the most important piece of gear in my opinion is your sleeping bag. It helps a lot to know that what ever happens, you can put yourself in it and be warm and rest.

I don't overthink meals, I did a two week trip in iceland eating only bread, cabage, cheap cheese and sausage and mustard. That was fine. I sometines leave with only salted peanuts. That's fine too.

There is no need to train beforehand, just don't overdo on the first days. Human body gets used to walking pretty quickly.

Changing or repairaing the air chamber, repairing the chain, changing brake pads, undoing and eight are the only maintenance i ever had to do on my bike for 10 of thousands km, so i guess that's enough to know.

sky
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by sky »

Gravel roads, singletrack, rails to trails, two tracks are all going to be a lot more fun than sharing a lane with high speed auto/truck traffic.

If you start from that perspective, then bikepacking becomes the preferred touring style. Bikepacking is using almost the same equipment as backpacking. You can carry a bit more weight when bikepacking, compared to backpacking.

macg
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by macg »

Years ago I had ideas of doing this type of trip, but never did it - I ended up selling my house and wandering in an rv for years instead lol.

But, in one of the books/sites I read, one suggestion that stuck with me was to try a weekend trip. For example, pick a destination (campsite, hotel, whatever) fairly easily reachable from your house, ride out there on a friday, stay for a full day, ride back on a Sunday. With that type of "test" trip, the type of bike doesn't matter, and it will give you some information about how you will like it, I think.

Then after, you can either do longer but still short trips to build up skills/try different things, or jump right to a big trip, depending on your confidence.

I've recently been thinking of doing this as well, so I am interested in this thread, thanks! I will do some research, and try to find the books/sites that I looked at back in the day ...

mooretrees
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by mooretrees »

My primary advice is to just go do it. You have the gear, are more competent with bikes than I was on all three of my tours and have some fitness base. I did my first tour on an old 10 speed I found near a dumpster. The next tour I added a few lower gears and that was amazing. I think any mountain bike should be geared low enough to handle climbs and the extra weight.

I biked from Portland to San Fran, it took two trips (due to limited time off) and the second trip started where we left off the previous summer. It's nice to be in shape but you will definitely get in shape, especially if the tour lasts longer than a few days.

I don't think you need a different bike, especially as it's your first go at biking day in day out. It's okay to be a little uncomfortable and figure out what feels bad/good and use that information to figure out what bike might be better suited. I liked having multiple options for hand positions. With the drop down handlebars I had a few options to reduce hand fatigue. I did enjoy having gloves with a bit of padding, that seemed to help with road bumps. I can see most mountain bike handlebars being too limiting for hand placement.

I biked down the coast highway and traffic was mostly fine. I've never done the bikepacking people speak of here, guess that means going down forest service roads? I had a few close calls with trucks, but mostly we all left each other alone. My last tour, we chose a much quieter route so we could have less car exposure. I had plenty of fun sharing the road with cars/trucks. Also, more bikers on those routes and it is fun to meet up with them.

I camped mostly at state parks, it's much cheaper to bike/hike in and I was with another woman. We liked having showers and some limited security. I think now, if I toured with DH and DS, I'd try and 'wild camp' more and every few days intersperse a motel day for showers/laundry and a good nights sleep. I didn't have much money when I did my tours, so we really could only afford state parks. The handful of times we stayed at a KOA/motel were due to weather and it was heavenly.

We stopped for food everyday. Maybe we could have done a better job, but after a few long days (60-80 miles/day) it was hard to eat enough. I remember stopping at some mom n pop gas station and buying a sleeve of knock off fig newtons. I could hardly get them in my mouth fast enough, and I went back inside for a second round. Plus it's a good excuse to get off the bike and walk around. We never locked our bikes and took turns watching them, but didn't really worry in small towns. I saw people using trailers but sorta fell in love with the ridiculousness of packing everything in panniers. I can see the advantage of the trailers, but feel some resistance to using them personally. Not sure why, I think I like the look of the classic bike with panniers. I didn't use Ortliebs, and am not sure I really like them. They don't have pockets so there's a lot of inefficiency in packing. I have used them before, but wouldn't use them for longer trips. They are so frustrating as usually everything I want is down at the bottom. I like panniers that have a few external pockets as it's much easier to quickly get a snack, a jacket, etc. There are rain covers for most panniers so that's not a problem.

I had a small front handlebar bag that was super handy. Maps, food, water and extra clothes could all easily go there without a big dismount and propping of the bike. Oh, don't bother with a kickstand as they are useless when you're really loaded down. Maybe a double kick stand would be worth it? We always just found a place to rest the bike when we stopped. I've never used front panniers, but guess they could be useful if the trip is going to be really long. My longest trip was 12 days and two back panniers and a front handlebar bag were more than sufficient for storage.

I've started a trip at my house and drove to a starting point too. It's nice to do the former, but it can be limiting. If I were going for a shorter ride, less than a week or so, I'd try and make the most of the trip by shaving off time with a car. For a longer ride, month or so, I'd start at home. It is fun to feel that satisfaction of only relying on yourself. Of course, the trip we did starting from home quickly turned into a Metro ride! So, not sure if it counts.

As far as food, it's really easy to eat a bunch of prepared food-tuna in a sack ect. That gets old and I was always ready to have fresh food, which is harder to come by if you're in a remote area. I don't have any good advice for food or food prepping, we just stopped every chance we could get. Since you've done a bunch of backpacking, I imagine you have some routines that would likely carry over to bike touring.

I would never go on a tour with a lot of people. It's too much work to deal with all of the different ideas of when and where to stop and rest, camp ect. Each tour I did with my same friend we got into HUGE fights. It's a pretty intense situation to be with someone day in and day off, plus the physical fatigue of riding and poor sleep. I couldn't read her very well sometimes and was kind of clueless about when she might have needed some time alone. I don't think I would have the same problems these days, I hope! Edited to add: DH said for sure we'd have a fight or two and I think he's right. Also, he mentioned trekking bars for mountain bikes. They look funny but offer a lot of hand positions.

I'm so excited for your trip! I hope you do it, it's so worth it. I remember feeling so ALIVE after getting to the top of our biggest climb. Nothing to think about except the road ahead and the beauty of the world around you.

BMF1102
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by BMF1102 »

I'll echo what others have said.. just do it. Do it alone. Ride what you have.

I rode a good bit of the Western Wild Lands route https://www.bikepackingroots.org/western-wildlands.html last year. I started riding about 20-30 miles first thing every other morning in the spring till I left for the trip in August, just for a good base line. I live in Michigan though so it really did little to prepare me for the elevation gains. It really is pretty tricky to "train" for such a trip besides just getting out there and doing it. Took about a week to really get everything fine tuned on the bike and feeling good riding all day. I had never done such a trip only some casual mountain bike 10-20 mile loops a couple days a week in past years. I got motel/hotel room every other week or so. I stopped at most stores I passed for a cold drink and snack (I also went a few days between civilization at times though). Mostly ate Knorrs rice packs with salami or pouch chicken mixed in. You should be comfortable changing/fixing a flat tire and changing brake pads (although I ran the same the set for my whole trip). Also handy if you have an idea how to adjust your derailleur.

The route you propose looks interesting... also seems like the border will still be closed this summer?

Here's a pic to wet your appetite. Taken along the Hiawatha Scenic bike trail.

Image

guitarplayer
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by guitarplayer »

Western Red Cedar wrote:
Fri Mar 19, 2021 6:29 pm
Do you have personal experience on overnight trips?
Yes, some in the 1st / 2nd world. If the trip is long enough there is a wow factor allowing to quite easily crash at someone's place through CouchSurfing. Otherwise Warmshowers is dedicated to that, members of it will be able to advise you on good / better detours or spots to see on the way, or this is my experience. Then there are (rarely) cycling projects with lots of synergy, for example once I was helping with an eco film festival that was delivered in schools and libraries to which the crew cycled. Two weeks of a kind-of guided tour but free, with organised places to stay and food and some good people around. I read about at least one another such project in Europe.

Not sure about the 3rd world but 1st/2nd, camping is easy. To the point of me once camping by a cycling lane (old railway line, and this was not planned), maybe 6km form the city centre of a major city. More often it is others bothering you (people passing by, animals) than you bothering anyone. I am not tremendously experienced but should probably have between 30 and 50 nights of stealth/wild camping, maybe more. In some places it is outright legal to camp in the wild.

In my experience if you are tidy and considerate, you will very unlikely ever pose a problem to anyone.

I sign under the basic advice from the website: you can start today. I went for a 1 month trip once on a bike a friend found in a dump, a KTM from 1990's I think. Did not do much to it before setting off. The chain broke on the first day of my trip, middle of a forest. With no tools for fixing a chain and no spare tools, I put it back together with a couple of stones, it then carried me through further 500 miles, give or take, plus after the trip.

As always, good sleep is fundamental. I recommend Thermarest sleeping mats and a good sleeping bag.

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by Western Red Cedar »

Thanks everyone! Loads of great information here and food for thought. If anyone feels like elaborating a bit on their bicycle adventures, I'd certainly be interested, and I'm sure others would too. No pressure though.

Ego wrote:
Fri Mar 19, 2021 8:05 pm
I looked at the Novara online. Looks great. Years ago front suspension was a problem for those who wanted front racks. Now there are plenty of front racks for suspension bikes. I think it would be perfect for the Selkirk Loop, which looks like a fun trip btw.
Thanks for the feedback. I think I would be able to fit most of my gear on a rear rack with two rear panniers. A lot of my gear is pretty lightweight and small. Most of the trips I'm looking at pass through towns every 50 miles or so, which means I wouldn't necessarily need to pack too much food. I tried putting DWs rack on my bike this morning but it didn't fit my frame. I'll check out the local co-op when I have some time.

sky wrote:
Fri Mar 19, 2021 9:18 pm
If you start from that perspective, then bikepacking becomes the preferred touring style. Bikepacking is using almost the same equipment as backpacking. You can carry a bit more weight when bikepacking, compared to backpacking.

Thanks for the perspective Sky. One limitation with my current bike is that my saddle is only 1.5 or 2 inches up from the frame. It might be challenging finding a good rear bikepacking bag.

Based on the feedback from everyone, it looks like I'll just move forward with my current mountain bike. That will allow me to travel on rails to trails, gravel roads, a bit off the beaten path.

Jean wrote:
Fri Mar 19, 2021 8:21 pm
Also, the most important piece of gear in my opinion is your sleeping bag. It helps a lot to know that what ever happens, you can put yourself in it and be warm and rest.

I don't overthink meals, I did a two week trip in iceland eating only bread, cabage, cheap cheese and sausage and mustard. That was fine. I sometines leave with only salted peanuts. That's fine too.
Thanks for the tips Jean. One of the nice things about pursing this hobby is that i already have lightweight backpacking gear, so it shouldn't require too much extra stuff or expense.

A two week trip in Iceland sounds amazing! Probably one of the more epic locations for a multi-week bike trip that I could imagine.

macg wrote:
Fri Mar 19, 2021 10:58 pm
But, in one of the books/sites I read, one suggestion that stuck with me was to try a weekend trip. For example, pick a destination (campsite, hotel, whatever) fairly easily reachable from your house, ride out there on a friday, stay for a full day, ride back on a Sunday. With that type of "test" trip, the type of bike doesn't matter, and it will give you some information about how you will like it, I think.

Then after, you can either do longer but still short trips to build up skills/try different things, or jump right to a big trip, depending on your confidence.
Thank you! This is really good advice and something I had in mind. I recognize that I'm planning on taking on what would be the equivalent of a week long backpacking trip. I'd always recommend that new backpackers try out a one or two night trip before taking on something more challenging. It's really nice just to try out gear and get comfortable being in the backcountry.

Last night I scoped out a shorter trip, much of it on a separated, paved bike trail. It would be about 250 miles if I did it from my home and went back, or I could do it one way and arrange a ride.

mooretrees wrote:
Fri Mar 19, 2021 11:00 pm
My primary advice is to just go do it. You have the gear, are more competent with bikes than I was on all three of my tours and have some fitness base.

I'm so excited for your trip! I hope you do it, it's so worth it. I remember feeling so ALIVE after getting to the top of our biggest climb. Nothing to think about except the road ahead and the beauty of the world around you.
@MT - so much great advice in your post - thank you! This was exactly what I was looking for.

The advice of just go do it seems to be a common theme. It ties into a lot of what @AxelHeyst has been noodling on as well :D .

BMF1102 wrote:
Sat Mar 20, 2021 8:50 am
I'll echo what others have said.. just do it. Do it alone. Ride what you have.

I rode a good bit of the Western Wild Lands route https://www.bikepackingroots.org/western-wildlands.html last year.

The route you propose looks interesting... also seems like the border will still be closed this summer?
Thanks for the input! The Western Wild Lands route looks great. I wasn't familiar with it, but I'm realizing there are tons of potential routes and options out there.

I'm assuming the border will open by the end of spring, at least to those who have proof of vaccination. There are a lot of border communities on both sides that rely on tourism and have been struggling, so there is pressure to open back up as soon as possible. There are other options in the states that I could pursue as well, but something about the Selkirk loop calls to me. I've been through some of those Canadian towns on a road trip and it is strikingly beautiful in BC. Plus, Canadians are just so friendly.

guitarplayer wrote:
Sat Mar 20, 2021 1:16 pm
Yes, some in the 1st / 2nd world. If the trip is long enough there is a wow factor allowing to quite easily crash at someone's place through CouchSurfing. Otherwise Warmshowers is dedicated to that, members of it will be able to advise you on good / better detours or spots to see on the way, or this is my experience.
@gp - thanks again for the info! I hadn't really thought about couchsurfing (actually have never used it) but it could be a great option.

https://www.warmshowers.org/ - this site looks great. Wasn't aware.

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by Western Red Cedar »

Exciting Update:

Well things have progressed quickly for me on the touring front. I've been looking at Craigslist the last couple months for panniers. After I posted this I saw a fully equipped bike with all kinds of tools, extra tubes, lock etc. He was asking $300 for the whole setup. I initially didn't want to pick it up because I'm trying to get rid of stuff, not acquire more of it. It is a steel frame mountain bike. When I started calculating the costs of all the improvements I would need to make to the Novara (handlebars, rack, panniers, saddle, etc.) I figured I should probably pick it up. I pretty much have everything I need to take off now.

Image

Image

He told me he had built a trailer and was planning on selling it as well. He wanted $40 for it, so I picked that up too. All designed and constructed from scratch. I don't plan on taking the trailer, but figure it could come in handy with errands around town. He added all kinds of cool features to the bike. A retro dynamo headlamp, a dual european-style kickstand, and canvas panniers he designed himself from old backpacks. The tires are fairly new and the chain only has 500 miles on it. He replaced the cables a year ago. He said he had put at least $600 into improving the bike. It rides great and I'm stoked!

It was clear he put a lot of love into the bike. I kind of felt like it was meant to be and that I was the one to continue the life of the bike. Looking forward to some new adventures with it! I appreciate all the feedback and nudges from folks here. I probably wouldn't have picked it up without you. :D

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Alphaville
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by Alphaville »

nice saddle!

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by Western Red Cedar »

Thanks! I noticed it retails new for $140. That was actually the feature that triggered the mental accounting of necessary upgrades, and helped me realize it was probably worth picking up the bike.

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Alphaville
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by Alphaville »

yeah... nice fenders + mudflaps too, for your region

mooretrees
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by mooretrees »

Nice! With nice weather approaching big plans can now commence!

theanimal
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by theanimal »

Cool! I'm looking forward to following your adventures. I'd say in general weight is your enemy, while a bike can carry more, it is still more pleasurable to go with less. Winter bike touring is very common up here on snow machine/dog mushing trails. For some reason that I have yet to figure out, nobody uses panniers. This includes trips on the Iditarod Trail and throughout Interior Alaska where temps can go below -40. I guess it's an aside but also my way of saying beware of having too much space as your gear will expand to fill it.

I enjoy videos from Foresty Forest on Youtube. He's done some epic, long bike tours throughout the west on old trails and gravel roads. You may find him interesting. Here's an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P88L0mySkpo

Gilberto de Piento
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Re: Touring, Bikepacking, and Long-Distance Cycling

Post by Gilberto de Piento »

Good for you! That bike should be a great choice, they are simple and were well built back in the day. That one looks like it has very few miles. Parts for it should be available in any shop if you need something on your ride. Looking forward to a trip report later on.

Some random suggestions but do your own thinking, everyone has their own preferences and I'm not a touring expert. Hopefully I'm not telling you a bunch of things you already know:
- I'll second the warmshowers site, I've been a host in the past.
- Crazyguyonabike.com is a good resource for trip ideas but it looks like it might be gone now.
- Inspiring youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqiYX6 ... qhH_kvHeOw
- Those panniers don't look waterproof, if not get some heavy duty garbage bags to use as liners.
- Some of the accessories on that bike are just adding weight without much benefit in my opinion (bells, bar ends, fork centering thing, centerstand, thing on the seatpost) but you may feel differently.
- It looks like the seat is pointed way up, flatten it out a bit.
- I'd remove the trunk bag and basket, the panniers look like they have a ton of capacity already.
- Get some loctite in the blue bottle and apply it to the bolts for the basket, rear rack and fenders. It is a common thing to bolts fall out while you are touring. For more cheap insurance get a few replacement bolts/nuts/washers for those points and bring them with you on the tour.
- Bring a little electrical/duct tape, zip ties, and/or pieces of wire with you. Good for improvised repairs. Same for a couple extra spokes in all the sizes your bike uses, though it may not be possible to swap spokes out on the drive side of the rear wheel without more tools than you will probably have. Some people like to carry a masterlink for the chain too in case you need to make a repair: https://www.amazon.com/SRAM-Powerlink-S ... B002BBRM98. Make sure your multitool works well with that bike. If the multitool doesn't have the right spoke wrench get one. If you need any other allen wrenches or other tools bring them with.
- Bring some extra tubes and patches. The sticker patches are not very good, get a vulcanizing kit instead: https://www.parktool.com/product/vulcan ... h-kit-vp-1. Consider more than one kit if you end up going somewhere that is known for flats.
- Bring a shifter cable and a brake cable. Know how to replace and adjust them.
- I'll second the idea of doing a shorter test tour before you go on a more committed one. Be sure it is under similar conditions and long enough to be a good test.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help from people, often people like to help and want to talk about what you are up to. Helpful people can be better than a bunch of tools and parts.

Have fun! As you can probably tell I overthink things, many people have done great tours with junk gear and no preparation.

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