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Touring with your race bike

A few changes can set you on new adventures with your fast machine on a bike packing trip

by Ryan Taylor

Photo: Beardy Mcbeard

The idea of having to ride a 40-lb. bike that handles like a dump truck is what kept me away from touring in the past. While I wanted to see new and exciting places and explore the world, I wasn’t prepared to lug around a bike that would cost me a lot to travel with and that would make me want to stab myself in the leg as soon as the road pointed up.

With the emergence of well-designed, and bigger, seat and handlebar bags, the possibility of doing shorter touring trips on a race bike or cyclocross bike, without panniers, opens up, as do many new possibilities for cycling adventures and experiences. These seat bags typically have roughly 10 L of carrying capacity and don’t require specific mounts. They can be added to almost all bikes that have enough exposed seatpost. If you combine one with a lightweight handlebar bag, what was once your straight-ahead race bike becomes a lightweight adventure machine.

After realizing that these new packing options offered a much lighter and streamlined setup, I was able to get my entire bike and gear down to 33 lb. for a recent 10-day trip. While it took some planning to pick the right lineup of gear, I found exactly what I was looking for in terms of simplicity and weight. I used a gravel bike that was durable, but still felt spry on climbs.

Race-bike touring can provide a great change of pace late in the season. If you’re a bit cooked or tired of the same training loops, you can head out exploring, at whatever pace you want. Make it an adventure that spans two days, or more – whatever your schedule allows.

In early season, some touring makes for a great way to build base miles. Famously, it’s worked for Svein Tuft, who’s ridden across North America and Europe at different times in his career to rack up the kilometres. On your long trip, if you crave a shower and bed to crash on, you can stay at hotels and hostels. Bike touring doesn’t need to be a death march where you find yourself camping on the side of the road wondering where your life went wrong.

Touring enables you to see and experience food and cultures in new areas in a way that most tourists would never be able to. Do consider taking a few days off the bike at a remote beach town to unwind along the way, or make it the final destination. If you plan your routes so they are challenging, I guarantee you will gain those base miles and fitness along the way. You will probably finish more mentally fresh and retain (or regain) motivation while learning more about yourself along the way.

Top touring tips

Leave the race wheels at home

Touring can stress a pair of wheels, especially race hoops. Make sure you have a durable wheelset, ideally with brass nipples. Always carry extra spokes and nipples.

Weigh and pack everything beforehand

The weight of multi-tools, jerseys, shorts and even underwear, can vary by hundreds of grams. Weigh your stuff and choose the lightest items. The savings will add up. Well before your trip, pre-pack your seat and handlebar bags to ensure that everything fits. It’s best to do a few rides fully loaded to ensure your setup works for you. You may have thousands of miles on your bike, but maybe the seat bag chafes your legs too much. Maybe the handlebar bag is too heavy, making it difficult to steer at low speeds. These are things you want ironed out before the trip.

Take tools and know how to use them

It’s possible to do many repairs with the tools that fit in a small seat bag. Mini-tool manufactures are very clever at fitting in spoke wrenches, Allen keys, Torx bits and chain tools into the smallest of spaces. While touring, don’t leave anything to chance. If you’re not confident replacing a spoke or fixing a chain, make sure you learn ahead of time.

Plan your route in detail

You should know the distances for each day, the things to avoid and the interesting sites along the way. You should also print out your destination and the addresses of your hotels or AirBnBs beforehand. Smartphones and GPSs are great, but if they die or get stolen, they’re useless. Still, a plan doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible. If you get a tip about a better, more scenic route, why not take it?