Our much anticipated gear review has finally arrived! If you are actively planning a tour, or just thinking about “one day,” check out this review to get your own wheels turning. Selecting gear for a large tour can be overwhelming, so just start out by gathering as much information as possible. We agonized over our decisions, but with a lot of research and conversations with others we were able to find excellent gear that fit our needs and desires. In the end, selecting good quality gear paid off because we had very few problems along the way. Sources of good information include blogs, bike catalogs, online reviews, and your local bike shop. If you are hoping to accomplish your tour on a small budget, we recommend talking to your local shop to see if you can work out a special deal. If you buy your bike at full price, shops may agree to give you a discounted rate on accessories (panniers, racks, etc.). Of course, riding for a cause may increase your chances of getting the local shop excited about your trip and on board with a discount. In addition, if you have any questions about our journey, or the gear we used, please feel free to email us at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading and happy trails!
-Katie, Kerstin, and Lauren
Katie: Surly Longhaul Trucker
This bike is one of the most popular touring bikes available due to its solid components. It has a steel frame and all necessary braze-ons for attaching racks. The tires are of exceptional quality and mine were still in moderate condition after the conclusion of the trip. The bar end shifters were easy to use. In addition, my chain and cassette lasted the duration of the trip, though they started to skip a bit after about 3,500 miles.
I recommend switching out the seat for a model with more cushioning- if you keep the original seat you will have saddle sores within twenty miles. In addition, the wires used in shifting tend to stretch out overtime, throwing off the shifting. Thus, it is important to learn how to adjust the shifting before starting your tour- a fairly simple process. Also, because my bike was of a smaller size, it had smaller wheels (26 in) vs. the 700 c wheels most common in touring and road bikes. When riding with a group, I would recommend that all members have the same size wheels in order to be more in sync initially.
Lauren: Bianchi Axis
The Bianchi Axis is specifically a cyclocross bike, but I was able to convert it easily into more of a touring style bike. To do so, I replaced the carbon-fiber fork with a Surly steel fork in order to take the weight of a loaded front rack. This simple switch has allowed me to convert my bike to and from an aerodynamic road bike to a reliable touring vehicle.
My favorite feature on my bicycle is a feature that is adaptable to many bikes, which is the second set of brakes on the tops of the handle bars. These brakes are ideal for city riding or for posture relief while riding long distances.
The Axis was extremely light-weight and reliable. Despite only having two chain-rings on the front cassette, which was a bit challenging on hills at first, the shifting was smooth without any cable stretching for the entire trip.
Kerstin: KHS TR-101
This is a steel frame bike designed to be loaded for touring. Even though KHS isn’t as much on the radar for touring, this proved to be a solid bike. The brakes and shifting were flawless throughout the trip. The chain definitely stretched out by about 2,500 miles, but I’m not sure how much that had to do with my riding style versus the quality of the chain. The tires also did not make it the whole way- I replaced the front at about 2,500 and the back at about 3,500 miles. The fenders that came with it worked fine, although a bit flimsy. The seat was great, I would suggest leaving it. The rear rack that came attached was solid. I really liked the bar-end shifters and the wide range of gears.
Katie: I liked that these were waterproof and had two big pockets inside. Easy to attach to the bike. Moderately expensive.
Lauren: The waterproof feature was nice, however that does not keep your belongings from getting damp. Extremely durable with convenient pockets inside. The color and reflective patches were also beneficial.
Kerstin: I liked that these were waterproof- I never felt like I had to worry about my belongings in these. I also appreciated the adjustable straps, which we often ended up lengthening to carry around as a shoulder bag when we spent time in a town.
Katie: I wish these had been waterproof, but otherwise loved the simple design. They had a nice zip pocket on the top that made the storage of small items easy and accessible. Easy to attach to the bike. Low price.
Lauren: These provided ample space and convenient outside pockets, however the non-waterproof fabric required an additional purchase of dry sacks. Small holes appeared in the bottoms after extended use and the color was not optimal.
Kerstin: With plastic bags or dry sacks, these were great. The little pocket on top and on the side were great to keep things like chapstick or chain lube in. These are also not as flashy as other panniers, which was nice.
Katie: We used the pocket rocket about 2-3 times per week to cook hot meals. I loved how small the stove was and how easy it is to use- you just have to turn a switch rather than pumping fuel (as with the also popular MSR Whisperlite stove). A major downside, however, are the disposable canisters required to use the stove. They are difficult to recycle and I would have preferred having one refillable canister.
Kerstin: This was perfect for our purposes. It’s easier to use and super lightweight. The disposable canisters are a negative, but I believe we only used 2 during the entire 3-month trip.
Topeak has some great pumps!
Katie: This tent was wonderful. It provided just enough room to sleep three women comfortably and we were able to fit all of our panniers in the vestibules. On nights that there was not a cloud in the sky we could take off the rain-fly to let the breeze in while escaping from mosquitoes.
Kerstin: I love this tent. It was super easy to put up and take down. It was tight for three women width-wise, so I would not recommend it for anyone wanting a couple inches to themselves. Lengthwise it was perfect- we always had space to store valuables, water, and a book at our feet. The two doors were wonderful for better access, as were the two relatively spacious vestibules where we kept our panniers at night. This tent was very weather-proof, except the included footprint often allowed some dampness through the tent floor. The only major downside is the very bright (though gorgeous!) orange color, which made stealth camping a bit more difficult.
For long hot summer days when two water bottles just isn’t going to cut it. Usually you can fill up on water at gas stations and church faucets, but there were definitely some stretches during our trip where water sources were few and far-between. We took two of these bladders.
One jersey, one wicking tank-top, one wicking short-sleeve, one cotton t-shirt, one long-sleeve spandex top, one fleece, rain gear, spandex leggings, two pairs of bike shorts, atheletic shorts, reflective vest, 1 pair wool socks, 3 pair cotton socks, warm hat, cycling gloves, fleece gloves, flip flops
We used tail lights while riding early in the morning and at dusk. This will greatly improve your visibility to drivers and should be a part of your gear for any bike tour! Paired with a reflective vest you will be equipped to hit the road. We used lights from Planet Bike, which were easy to clip onto our panniers and had a long battery life.