My new book; ‘Ultralight Cycle Touring Guide‘, which is available on Amazon, deals with the subject of using a road bike, and a very carefully chosen selection and arrangement of equipment, to make an ultralight touring setup.
Road bikes have many natural assets; they offer precise handling at high speeds, are lightweight and aerodynamic. But, on the other hand they are less capable on rough surfaces, have a more fragile frames and often don’t have attachment points for racks.
To make your road bike work as a touring bike you will have to make some fundamental changes to the way you tour as well as a few compromises. In return, you’ll be able to build a sensational lightweight touring bike and enjoy the freedom of easy miles and easier hills.
Cycle Touring on a Road Bike
The first and biggest change when cycle touring on a road bike is that of your available routes. One the one hand, your road bike will really struggle on anything other than tar-sealed surface – though I’m sure you’ll be able to cope with small patches of gravel if needs must. But, riding on roads will be easy, swift, and fun.
Cycle touring on a road bike means that the hills won’t take so long, your potential daily mileage will significantly rise with no extra effort and with less kit to worry about you’ll feel very Zen. You’ll be able to take your road bike further and higher for less effort than a fully loaded touring bike.
To really benefit from cycle touring on a road bike you must choose to work within the limitations the bike has set you. I learned to spend more time on cutting out equipment I could do without and less time trying to find ingenious ways to hold more stuff onto the road bike’s skinny frame.
Forget panniers and look towards drybags and compression sacks as your primary storage. Minimise any intermediate items such as those that exist to serve another. For example; don’t take a pump mount, store the pump directly into an essential piece of luggage like a dry bag, if you don’t have panniers you don’t need a pannier rack and if you only have two bottle mounts then go with it, don’t try to bolt on a third unless you really think it’s essential.
By letting the bike dictate what you pack and not fighting the natural restrictions that come with cycle touring on a road bike frame you’ll end up with a leaner and meaner configuration. Basically, when the bike says ‘No’… humbly and subserviently obey.
I would suggest, if you don’t already, to wear Lycra – I know not everyone is a fan but trust me on this… There are two main reasons, one is that it’s lighter, aerodynamic and washes easily, meaning you can take one set and wash it as you go. It’s common sense that everything, including your selection of clothing, should be as light as possible for ultralight touring. The other reason is, you’ll probably be cycle touring on a road bike saddle, which can be skinny, hard and unforgiving. The padding in the shorts will be instrumental in keeping you comfortable.
One thing I asked myself when I began building my ultralight touring bike was; “Can the frame and wheels take the added weight and rigours of touring?” The answer is, that if you don’t overload your road bike and choose a route with mostly smooth roads, there will be no question of frame or wheel strength. Though it varies by manufacturer, most road frames and wheels have a rider weight limit of about 125kg (275lb). So, if you weigh, for example, 100kg you still have 25kg head room.
With food and water the total of your ultralight luggage should not exceed 12kg, leaving you in the clear with a 13kg margin of safety. As a proportion to your own body weight the equipment on an ultralight touring bike is low to negligible. The most important metric to look at is rider weight.
I’d be interested to hear if anyone has toured with a full carbon frame? Did you feel comfortable mounting equipment to it?
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