So the time has come to share my pre-travel tips and insights for those of you who are keen to know what planning and preparation I’ve actually done and what I needed to prepare for this trip… FYI I’m mainly writing this so my family know that I’m not mental and have, contrary to my outwardly my laissez-faire attitude, looked into this thoroughly.
If you’ve read my journey posts you’ll know that I haven’t exactly got to the point where my full route is planned but trust me the exact route is probably the least of my worries. The biggest issues I’ve had are thinking about is what the hell I take with me, how to fix my bike up for the trip and the nightmare of visa bureaucracy. I tend to geek out when researching these things and because of this I can get stuck in internet search tangents to the point where I start suffering from ‘analysis paralysis’.
With three weeks to go there were still some major issues I had not sorted:
- I have no visas for the Middle East or the Stans yet
- I have no insurance
- My bike is still not ready for departure
So why did I announce I would leave on May 12th? Well the fact is if I didn’t commit myself to this I won’t be able to leave this year as I need to make it to Turkmenistan before the seasons get too cold for me to cross into Nepal and India. I wanted to do it this year because I ain’t getting any younger and quite frankly I was afraid I’d get too comfortable in London because the last two years here has been possibly the best two years of my adult life.
Announcing a date (and buying Eurostar a ticket to Brussels, the real starting point) has galvanised me to finish off some projects and tie off some loose ends. But hang on let’s get back to those three points above because they are deal breakers if I can’t get it sorted…
Visas from Turkey to China you need them all…
So the visa situation is potentially very annoying but then I read this post on Tom’s Bike Trip which basically answered everything I needed to know including maximum duration of stay for each central asian state, process for application and rough costs to get me all the way to China and even a travel agent to get it all done… Jobs a good’un time for a pint.
Insurance or paying through the nose despite probably being safer than any other form of travel.
Okay so there is no easy way to say this but the Cycling Two blog and Tom’s Bike Trip both say the same thing it costs a fortune, read approximately £500 smackers for the the trip I want to do. That covers my bike, some belongings and medical emergencies etc. Thats a hard pill to swallow considering my daily average budget is gonna be in the £7.50 range but I think a £1000 medical bill might be harder to swallow. Anyway for those looking at a similar trip here is an insurance survey from Cycling Two and here is another of Tom’s helpful pages on the subject.
The perfect touring bike and all the kit
First of all let me tell you right now – there is no such thing. You can ride pretty much anything so long as its holds you, your gear and more importantly holds together. The distance you will be riding and the strain you’ll be putting on the bike inevitably means that you will break something, a chain, a spoke, maybe bust a rim definitely some inner tubes. Whatever you’re putting together to ride on is not going to be perfect for all terrains and will not be impervious to damage.
I chose the easy option – buy a mid-range ready-made tourer from a brand that gets some pretty good reviews. I got a Genesis Tour de Fer (1st generation) which came fully loaded with front and rear racks, 3 spare spokes built-in into the frame, 30 odd gears, 3 water racks, TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes (because you don’t want complicated hydraulic systems that no-one knows how to fix in the bike shop in the middle of the desert), Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres (these things are practically bullet-proof) and steel frame. No its not a Kona or Dawes or Surly or a bloody Thorn. It says it tours, it’s from a good brand if it breaks I’ll fix it or find someone else who can.
So why was my bike not ready you ask. The main reason is that until last October I had never toured ever and didn’t know the first thing. However I left with Gregory Chauvet of the Glasgow Bike Station and he gave me some pointers about what I could improve. First thing was swap the high riding front rack for a Tubus Tara Lowrider for better stability. I also decided I wanted to be able to charge a few things on my ride and this has caused me a little bit of a headache.
I bought a Son Dynamo hub (these are the best buggers you can buy) and I got a great deal on it via SJS and James at the Bamboo Bicycle Club who kindly bought it at trade for me so I save almost £100. This little bad boy replaces your front hub and generates power. The only problem is you need to rebuild your wheel and you need a good power converter to use the power. Once again James saved me some cash and sent the wheel to his man and I went on to order the Cinq5 Plug III, a nifty little device that replaces the top cap and star nut in your steerer and connects to the Son hub to give you a steady supply of power.
Problem 1: The wheel came back wider so then I needed to buy a 180mm brake rotor to replace the 160mm disc and push the caliper further form the wheel centre so it doesn’t rub my spokes. The realisation that there was a scary rubbing sound was more than a little annoying and meant yet another delay in making the bike ready. Until the new break position can be sorted I can’t put the front rack and mudguard parts back on the bike, however I have connected and test the Plug III while stationary and confirm it’s working quite impressively even at a low speed.
Problem 2: As soon as I had loaded up the bike my immediate worry on the way to the station was “I’m too heavy” but maybe I’m not used to a fully loaded bike and how much it handles like a milk float.
Problem 3: I forgot my capoeira pants! NOOOOO oh well even when you think you have everything and you’re ready to go there is always something.
Anyway to hell with it I managed to catch my train. I’m now sitting in my friend’s kitchen in Brussels and I’m about to head out to play with my new camera and do some street photography. A luxury of time and the fact that we have an agreement with the Europeans called Schengen – so guys all I’m saying is while I’m gone don’t fuck up our situation in Europe vote to stay in otherwise this little wanderer may not return!