Gates Carbon Drive

Belted Blog

Top 10 Essential Bicycle Touring Tips

  September 28, 2022

After four days of battling wind, we made it to El Chaltén. It was a tough going as we were constantly blocked by the wind. But upon entering El Chaltén, we were rewarded by the views of magnificent Fitz Roy. In El Chaltén, we are going to take a break and do some hike in the National Park of Glaciers. After that we plan to cross into the Chilean Territory once again. There are a lot of stories and pictures to share but the internet connection here is very bad.

1. Start Small

You don’t have to quit your job for your first bicycle adventure. Invest in a good quality touring bicycle, and start doing weekend tours to nearby places and see how it goes. Don’t worry about your stamina. It will only get better over time. When it comes to bicycle touring, you must take a relaxed approach.

2. Component Consideration

The drive system of your bicycle takes a toll on tours. Gears, brakes, and wheels are some of the parts that take the most wear and tear. When you are out in the wilderness, you don’t want things to break as it might spoil the fun and put you in a vulnerable situation.

You can either go with the traditional derailleur setup equipped with a chain, or choose an internal gear system paired with the belt like I did. I have had a lot of problems with the derailleurs in the past. Sometimes, there was an issue with the gear shifting, or the chain broke. All these problems were gone when I switched to an internal gearbox and Gates Carbon belt drive.

The belt is silent in almost all conditions. Secondly, it requires zero maintenance. My bicycle went from the windy and rainy Patagonia to the driest desert on the planet. It experienced -20°C temperature on rough tracks of the Bolivian Altiplano and then crossed long stretches of the Uyuni salt flat. A good drive system will save you a lot of headaches and give you peace of mind when exploring the world. 

Other key areas of consideration are robust tires, strong wheels with 36 spokes, and good hydraulic brakes. Always carry spare parts (for example an extra belt) and tools for repair, just in case. 

Kamran's bike enclosed Pinion P.1.18 gearbox bike gates carbon drive belt driven

As you can see, I don’t have a traditional derailleur drive system on the bike. Instead my Stevens Bikes P.18 bike has an enclosed Pinion P.1.18 gearbox fitted in the bottom bracket of my bike. It is a new technology and has many advantages over derailleurs, such as being virtually maintenance free and long life. Read my review about the Pinion gearbox at:

3. Get Good Panniers

On tour, you would be carrying clothes, electronics, food, spare parts, and camping equipment with you. All this needs to be hauled safely inside bags. Good waterproof panniers are very important to protect the gear from rain, snow, and dust. They would also help protect your precious equipment in case of an accident. Make a complete packing list and pack only what you absolutely need. Organize items into categories, like cooking, camping, repair, clothes, etc, and assign them bags. Also, distribute the load evenly to the left and right sides.

Landscape with mountains and trees with yellow leaves and in the distance Kamran Ali riding a belt driven bike

4. Get Comfortable

It is very important to be comfortable on the bicycle as you would be spending a lot of time in the saddle. You might need to custom-fit the bike according to your body size. Handlebar height, seat height, handlebar length, saddle type, and hand grips are all crucial. Leather saddles and padded shorts have worked well for me. 

Whatever you choose, you must test it extensively before a long tour to make sure that you are comfortable with it. If your body is in pain, it will ruin the whole experience.

Other important areas are pedals and shoes. The sole of cycling shoes should be stiff to avoid foot strain. Wearing padded cycling gloves also helps with comfort and safety.

Kamran Ali  posing for a photo on the welcome sign to the James Dalton Highway

5. Make a Plan

Before starting a tour, research the road conditions, elevation profiles, the distance between towns, availability of food and water along the way, safety, and the climate. Explore routes by other athletes on Strava or Komoot. However, don’t stress too much about it. Leave room for route changes. Go with the flow and take some time off the saddle to explore places and recuperate.

Kamran Ali riding a belt driven bike on a path between a couple of lonely mountains

6. Choose Quieter Roads

Bicycle touring is more fun when you are cycling out on quieter roads in nature than riding on busy highways. The biggest threat to touring cyclists is not wild animals, bandits, or ghosts living in abandoned buildings. It’s the distracted drivers. We are most vulnerable to passing cars and trucks.

So, always choose quieter roads whenever possible, even if it requires taking long detours. After all, the purpose of bicycle touring is to explore and have fun, not take the shortest path.

7. Eat Healthy Nutrition

Long-distance cycling takes a toll on the body. You will be consuming a lot of calories. Eating a good amount of healthy food and drinking plenty of water is very important. Make sure to stop for meals and take a bite at energy bars and fruits on the go. Bring multivitamins tablets and protein powder with you as they pack light.

Kamran Ali found a small abandoned place and went in to sleep there so he set up his tent and lit a campfire.

“Where there is a will, there is a free shelter!” I took this picure about thirty minutes ago and I am posting it from my tent which you can see in the picture. Today I cycled 62 km and climbed over 1100m. As I needed water and a place to sleep, I decided to take an exit from Ruta 5 and went to La Higuera, a small town along the Pacific coast. As I approached the own after climbing for over two km, I noticed an empty building from quite a distance.

After cycling for about five months, I am beginning to spot abandoned buildings like a vulture is able to see a carcass from high up in the sky. I first fetched some water from a nearby house and then went to check the building. A couple of stray dogs were roaming around but left when I gave them a long steely stare.

The key is being discrete when camping or staying at such places, don’t hang out in the windows with your headlamp etc. As I write this text, it is very quiet here. Once in a while there is a loud sound of dynamite explosion in the nearby mines. The dogs are barking in the distance as if singing a lullaby for me. Tomorrow I am entering Atacama region and after few days I will be cycling in Atacama desert, the world’s most driest desert. Good night!

8. Save Up

Save enough money before starting your next big trip. Luckily, bicycle touring can be very cheap if you mostly camp and cook meals. Apply for sponsorships and gear partnerships. Do freelance work, sell images, and write articles to fund your travels. Sustaining a long journey is not easy, but it is possible.

Kamran Ali riding and behind him is a long road between green mountains that he has traveled.

9. Document Your Journey

The world could be better if we knew each other a little more. And there is no better way to connect people than telling stories. Stories have the power to change people’s perceptions of others and foster empathy. As you explore places and meet people along the way, you will encounter tales that will change your heart. Do take the time to document them in your daily journals and share them with others earnestly. The world needs your perspective.

Stories are the way to educate and inspire. It’s a way of giving back to the world. Also daily journals will give you an opportunity to look back on your travels and relive all the moments spent on the road.

10. Slow Down

The best thing about bicycle touring is that you do not only see destinations but also what comes in between. Instead of clocking kilometers day-after-day, take a moment to experience life while you are on the road. Explore landscapes and appreciate nature. Make frequent stops to chat with people, take photos, and exchange stories and gifts. As you slow down, fresh perspectives and details will emerge, and you will begin to see the world with different eyes.

Kamran Ali talking with people from a town where he has just arrived sharing his experiences

From thereon, there was very little traffic on the narrow road which curled and snaked through the mountains, passing tiny settlements on its way.