I’ve been wanting to write something about cycling for a while now.
And yesterday I bumped into a man from Holland, I didn’t ask his name, but he has our website now.
So if you are reading Mr Dutch man, please get in touch. The reason why I mention you, is simply because you commented on our simple bikes. So this is about keeping it simple.
The general trend of the internet is the overwhelming amount of information available. Type in cycle touring and there’s quite a bit on the subject. There’s even such a thing as a specialised touring bike believe it or not. Unfortunately you need a good wad of cash to get one.
So whats the alternative?
Looking into it further, a touring bike consists of a steel frame usually Chromoly steel. As far as I understand its stronger and lighter than other steel. But our bikes weigh a bloody ton! So I was on the look out for a Chromoly steel framed bike. Turns out that most non suspension mountain bikes made in the 90’s are Chromoly steel frames, looking very much like a touring bike.
Now I had something to look out for, the search began. I picked up my bike second hand on gumtree in cape town for roughly 40quid. It was a good size for me I am 178cm in height and the bike is an 18cm frame. It had all of the attachment bolts for a rack to hold the bags, so it was pretty much perfect.
The next thing I had to consider was the weight and were the wheels up to the job? Maybe they were, but I wanted a hassle free journey without having to change spokes all the time. So I found the strongest rims I could in cape town and asked a local shop woodstock cycles to build some wheels for me. From rough memory I think the rim, the spokes, and the building cost about 70quid in total for two wheels. Some days the bike has weight 50kgs or more and I’ve had no problems what so ever.
The next thing to consider were the tires. A german company called Schwalbe make some very durable tires. And very puncture proof. Mayu has only had two punctures in seven months!
However these were expensive at roughly 40quid per tire. But again, having to take all of your bags off, flip the bike to change a puncture, strap everything back on and still have to ride 70kms on a bumpy gravel road, you’ll soon wish that you invested in good tires.
Theres a whole lot of other details I could go into but I want to gloss over most of it. Mentioned above I think are the three most important things to consider when putting a bike together. The right sized frame, strong wheels and durable tires. Sounds pretty obvious doesn’t it.
The biggest learning curve was to strip the bike down to the frame, take everything apart that could be taken apart. And then scream and shout trying to learn how to put it all back together again.
Youtube is a gift to everyone, there is a video on just about anything. I wanted to do this, because I was paranoid about what I was getting myself into. Having visions of being stuck on a lonely road in the middle of no where with a broken bike, not knowing how to fix it.
However its not like that, Namibia was the remotest part of Africa, we have been. And still we would find cars passing a few times a day. But be warned, this was the busy period for tourists and most of those cars were sightseers. Outside of this time of year I think it would be very foolish to cycle those roads without knowing how to fix a problem with your bike. Between May and September, Id say relax, carry plenty of water and hitch hike your way out of trouble.
Mayu and I spent a long time planning, or rather thinking and re thinking about this trip. Its the first time either of us had cycled for more than an hour. So really we had no idea what to expect. And it really has taught me to relax, its not a big deal. Make a list, get some things together and go.
We soon realised upon leaving the western ideas of having the right gear for the job, and entering the realms of East Africa’s attitude of use what you’ve got and make it work. It’s actually pretty embarrassing sometimes. Sorry most of the time.
Riding next to a guy, on a beaten up wreck of a bike, carry three times as much weight as you with only one gear. Somehow I don’t think he trawled through the internet researching the right rim for carrying 150kg of maize flour to market. Pretty sure he just woke up and got on with it.
I must admit that this fear has taken a long time to dissipate. What happens if this happens. What happens if that happens.
Where are we going to stay in that town. What is it going to be like in this country. I can honestly say my mind has mellowed. There is such a joy in turning up to a place, knowing nothing about it and just discovering something new. And I think thats the key word. Discovery.
Depending on your angle of view, good or bad. The world has been mapped out. Written about. Reviewed and re reviewed. Its very hard to go where no one has been before. And often I feel that tourism sells us a lie. Gives us pretty pictures, reviews about how mind blowing a place is. Pumps us up to the point that you get your fix, before you even arrive.
This trip has taught me, that there are no must see places. 100 things to do before you die etc etc. My blind fold has been on until I arrive, to have a fresh perspective on what I see and truly experience something new. I guess my message is plan less and enjoy more.
Keep it simple.