Welcome back to the amazing journey two friends had in Western New Mexico and how that journey provides a great platform for discussing the important points of preparing for and enjoying a bike tour. Last time in part II John and I climbed up the Mogollon, a gnarly 5000 ft climb up Bursum Road to the second highest point of our trip and we discussed how to properly plan a route and the things to consider when looking at a map to pick out where you want to go. Today we are going to continue the journey and discuss choosing the right bike gear for your trip, specifically bikes and bike setup. I know this might sound like a fairly obvious task, but I have learned from experience, that when you are relying on pedal power and you are at the mercy of the elements having the right amount, of the correct gear, makes a big difference.
For John and I, we knew that our trip was going to consist of mostly dirt forest roads, some ATV track and some pavement, so fat tires were going to be a must. Whether you are into 29 or 26 mountain bikes, having fat tires when your touring off road makes a world of difference. The geometry of a mountain bike is slacker then that of a road bike providing more stability off road while carrying a load. This might be subjective, but I feel like the beefier design of an MTB also lends it self to carrying bike panniers or pulling a bike trailer. It would be like putting a bunch of weight on a race horse when a donkey would do much better in the long run, but that’s just my personal opinion.
So pick your self out a nice MTB frame that either has pannier mounts or can pull a trailer, steel and titanium handle fatigue much better then aluminum, but aluminum is better then carbon fiber from a touring standpoint. When choosing parts don’t think fast or light weight, think about whats gonna hold up and not need field service, you don’t want to try and overhaul a hub in the woods, trust me. Get strong sturdy wheels, I prefer 36 spokes for extra strength, don’t worry about going tubeless, it ain’t gonna happen with a touring load. Like in any situation, tires are you contact with the road, don’t skimp here, I have done countless tours and have had to only change a flat when I ran lite weight tires that I knew I shouldn’t have. I choose to go with a wide, high volume tire with low tred and a protective casing. You might think you need some big nobbies but realize that your gonna be carrying around 50 extra pounds of gear, you’re not going to have any problems hooking up and the high volume with provide a cushier ride and help prevent against pinch flats. And just for safety use some tubes pre-injected with sealant.
The parts on your bike should remain fairly common, things that any bike shop would carry, 9 spd drive train, cable disc brakes, hydrolics are a big no no for touring, if they brake your screwed. The simpler the part the easier it is to fix and find replacements for. I keep it simple 9spd xt drive train, bar-end shifters and Avid BB7 cable disc brakes, every body carries Shimano, you can’t go wrong. Make sure your bike fit is for long hours and comfort not for racing. Plan on spending alot of time just sitting and grinding, but the bright side is you’ll finally have time to look around. Get a saddle you can spend all day in and maybe even a suspension seat post. It is important that your hands and neck will be content as well, a case of numb hands or a kink in the neck can make a day of riding not so fun.
Always be sure to carry essential spare parts, tubes, cables, a few spokes, a couple of random m5/m4 bolts and some zip ties etc. If your using a bike you already own make sure it is up to the task, if you are purchasing one with the intent of it being a touring bike, do your research and ask your self what type of touring you will be doing most.
So…. John and I crested the top of Silver Creek Divide almost 6000 ft above where we started that morning. The great thing about long climbs is that they are followed by long descents. It was a little misty at the top so we geared up and started down the back side of the climb. It was amazingly beautiful up there, it was only a slight downhill at first weaving back and forth across a high ridge covered in Aspen and Spruce trees and amazing views on either side. We were treated to a couple of mule deer sittings and other small forest critters.
The traverse across the unknown ridge lasted longer then we expected, but eventually we started to roll down hill, fast! It didn’t take long to get back into the ponderosa forests in to a badly burned area. The camping area that we had originally chosen to stay the night at was closed due to a mud slide, no doubt from the erosion caused by the forest fire, luckily we ran into a forest ranger and she was nice enough to point us towards another spot that she said would be quite lovely this time of year. So we saddled back up and road another hour arriving at Dipping Vat Tank, I’ve seen alot of so called tanks in the Southwest but this was actually more like a lake. The scenery was different on this side of the mountains then on our starting west side much dryer and more open grass areas mixed with pine, most likely caused by the rain shadow of the mountains. We arrived to a nice camp ground over looking the lake and proceeded to exploded our gear all over the pick nick table and start eating and drink beer that out campground neighbor was kind enough to share with us.
Stay tuned for the next episode when we discuss and further gear selection and John and I tackle the toughest and highest point of our trip, the climb up to Bear Wallow look out!