Advanced Touring Method Introduction

Imagine a touring bicycle that is faster and easier to pedal, and that requires dramatically less effort to ride than any touring bicycle that you have ever ridden.  Think of what it might be like to ride a touring cycle for weeks, or months, or even years on a tour that affords the pleasure of, and feels a lot more like, an unloaded bicycle or even a high-performance road bike than a typical touring bike.  And think of what it might be like if you could shed 8 or 10 pounds from your racks and panniers, and 10, 20, 30 or even 40 pounds from the touring gear that you normally mount on your touring bike and still travel quite comfortably.  Such an image is not a dream or fantasy.  It's a very realistic possibility through careful touring-gear selection and with the easy modification of gear, which is combined with ultra-lightweight touring racks and panniers of an advanced design and carefully selected, lightweight bicycle wheel components.  By learning and applying some of the basics of setting up high-performance touring bicycles in a thoughtful, systematic way you can transform your own bicycle into one that will perform at a level that you probably would not have thought possible in a touring bicycle.     

Ultra-lightweight, intelligently designed rear panniers are in integral part of each phase of the Advanced Touring Method. Panniers like these very narrow, ultra-stable panniers that tip the scales at 21 ounces per pair are a fundamental element of high-performance touring.
Thoughtful, conscientious gear selection to greatly reduce gear volume and weight, and a bit of inventive gear modification are the foundation of a three-phase system of an Advanced Touring Method.  They are an introduction and pathway to a new world in high-performance bicycle touring.  I've developed this system through many years and tens of thousands of miles of my own bicycle travel, to aid in making bicycle touring much more fun and pleasurable, and to greatly reduce a lot of the effort of bicycle riding on tours both short and long.

I feel exceptionally fortunate to have learned about bicycle touring in an almost completely independent way, developing my own ideas, methods and specialized gear through touring extensively under an extremely wide range of conditions.  I also sense that luck smiled on me in that I adopted an unencumbered, minimalistic style of bicycle travel during my very first tours.  A streamlined style was my foundation in touring and it led to experimenting endlessly in developing high-performance gear and in fine-tuning my preparation for tours.  Such an approach provided a unique perspective on bicycle touring that helped me immeasurably as I became more adventurous in my travels and learned how to minimize my own effort as I toured further and further from the beaten paths.

Bicycle travel for most cyclists has evolved quite differently.  Without really knowing it, most bicycle tourists have toured in a manner that is without well-designed, high-performance gear and in a way that also requires a much greater degree of effort than that which I have experienced.  It's unfortunate, but very few bicycle tourists have had the opportunity to even be exposed to high-performance touring racks, panniers and bicycles or the methodology which is the foundation of their development.  However, creating a high-performance bicycle for touring is relatively easy and it may be an inexpensive process.  It all revolves around what I have referred to for decades as the 3 W's: wind, weight and wheels.  At the root of the 3 W's is thorough and conscientious gear selection.  Select your touring gear wisely and a lot of good things fall into place.  Carefully minimize your gear and you can still travel very comfortably, but in the process of reducing gear volume you may eliminate the need for front panniers.  If you remove the need for front panniers you will significantly change the performance of your touring bike by altering and effectively reducing the effects of the first W: wind resistance.

In Phase Two touring the front of your bicycle can look like this. Many types of touring will never require the use of front panniers, which always add a measure of wind resistance. The Phase Two gear carrying system in the photo weighs only 10.75 ounces and creates little wind drag. But when it is called into use it provides tremendous gear-carrying potential that is developed in conjunction with extraordinarily lightweight (about two ounces per pair) stuff-sack panniers that may be pulled out of the rear panniers.
Eliminating the need for a front rack and panniers is simpler than you may think.  The Advanced Touring Method is based upon creative, systematic gear selection to reduce gear.  It's a process that can make the use of front panniers unnecessary for touring in a wide range of conditions, significantly reducing wind resistance, and it will also have a critical impact upon the second W: weight.  Eliminate 10 or 20 or 30 pounds of non-essential or poorly selected touring gear, eclipse the need of a front rack and panniers and their five to nine pounds of weight, and greatly reduce the weight of rear panniers and a rack through the purchase of a high-performance rack/pannier system, and you will again very dramatically change the performance of your touring bicycle.  You will very clearly feel the reduced effort of pedaling a much lighter bicycle.  And, as long as you do not overload the rear of the bicycle, you will feel the advantages of a lightly loaded bicycle in its handling qualities.  Eliminating the front rack and panniers, and greatly reducing the weight of a rear rack and panniers has a important impact upon a touring bike's performance because their effect is at the ends of a bicycle (cantilevered off of, and behind, the rear triangle of a bicycle frame, and forward of the bicycle fork) where weight has its greatest negative influence upon the performance of a loaded bike.

The front wheel in the photo is a very lightweight wheel with a 32-hole, 559mm (26 in.) rim that is 19mm wide and weighs 385 grams. For touring this may seem very lightweight, but in Phase One and Phase Two touring in the Advanced Touring Method, this wheel for many lighter-weight bicycle tourists, could be viewed as over-built.

Select touring gear wisely and you can also greatly alter the performance of the third W: wheels.  For decades most bicycle tourists have overlooked careful gear selection and the use of high-performance racks and panniers as a critical step in setting up a touring bike.  Consequently, when the combined weight of touring gear, racks and panniers adds up to 40 or 50 or 60 pounds, or even considerably more, cyclists sense a need to increase the weight, strength and durability of their wheels to support the added weight they must carry.  I've often looked at such a practice as being entirely backwards and very shortsighted.  By selecting touring gear carefully you can greatly reduce its weight and (negative) influence on the riding and handling characteristics of your touring bicycle.  In the process, if you can minimize your gear substantially, you will be able to use lightweight, high-performance wheels that are designed to match your body weight and the conditions in which you ride, not to support unnecessary and excessive touring loads which greatly compound the demands and burdens of bicycle travel. 

When you ride a bicycle, getting the weight of rims, tires, tubes and spokes in motion and maintaining that motion requires a lot of energy and effort that are likely to not be aware of.  Choose your gear wisely, and select wheel components thoughtfully, and you will be able to significantly reduce your effort.  You'll be doing yourself a great favor, especially when that effort is measured over long hours, days, weeks and months in long-distance travel.

One of the things that I've seen missing, or greatly diminished, for many over-burdened cyclists on bicycle tours, is the pure pleasure of riding a lightweight bicycle!  Unfortunately, most touring cyclists travel in an highly encumbered way simply because they lack an understanding of what makes a touring bicycle perform well.  A closer look at the 3 W's and the Advanced Touring Method can help you move toward a much higher level of fun and pleasure in bicycle touring.

As a bicycle tourist you are truly the master of your own fate. You can determine how well your bike will perform by selecting all of your touring gear wisely and by selecting wheel and gear-carrying components that are designed with performance in mind. You, and not the bike itself, will determine whether a touring bicycle will be a grudgingly slow pack mule loaded with ill-chosen or extraneous gear, or a thoroughbred that is an absolute pleasure to ride.
The bicycle in the photo to the left is one that was built in the early 1980s.  I bought it for a friend of mine for $125.  It's old and tired and a bit beaten up, but it doesn't take much to transform such a bicycle into a superb performer as a touring bicycle.  The first photo shows it set up in a typical fashion for bicycle touring with top-of-the-line racks and panniers from the 1980s.  The second photo below shows it after I've modified it a bit, to change it from one that was extremely solid but painfully slow, into an absolute thoroughbred that will perform superbly and will be a pleasure to ride.  The modified Trek 720, set up with high-performance touring racks and panniers and much lighter wheels, from a distance may not immediately appear to be dramatically different than in its original form, but its performance is in a completely different dimension.

My personal guarantee of performance is that if my friend were to take her old, but carefully altered, Trek on a cross-country tour along with other 100 cyclists, with each of them riding their own bicycles set up for touring in typical ways, that her bicycle would out-perform all other bicycles, old and new, and most by an absurdly wide margin.  If each of the cyclists on such a tour had the opportunity to swap bicycles with the other riders, they'd quickly find out, by comparison, just how excruciatingly difficult most touring bikes are to pedal down the road. 

Touring bicycles set up in common ways utilizing unstable front and rear panniers carrying 30, 40 or more pounds of gear, or with single- and double-wheeled trailers (which are very heavy and add, through one or two wheels, a great deal of extra rolling resistance that is totally unnecessary) carrying a similar amount of gear, are not much fun to ride.  Compared with a bicycle like my friend's bicycle, which would be set up following the Advanced Touring Method with only a rear pair of ultra-stable, extremely narrow panniers and less than 15 pounds of gear, virtually all typical touring bicycles are much more difficult, and require much more effort, to pedal.  It wouldn't make any difference what variations of common touring bicycles the other cyclists were riding, the old Trek would widely out-perform all others simply because it has been set up for speed and efficiency utilizing the very basic concept of the 3 W's.  The Trek may be old, but I'd prefer the pleasure of an old bike wisely set up, to the punishment of a new one set up typically, any day.  

The changes that I've made in the bike (I still have to make a few minor ones) are relatively simple, but they have radically altered its efficiency.  Perhaps a clearer or more important way to look at its advancement in designs and setup is that it will require much less effort to pedal on a tour.  It will be a very fast and fun bike to ride.

A bicycle with the basic elements of a high-performance touring bicycle: lightweight, rider- and conditions-appropriate wheels, a well-designed ultra-lightweight rear rack/pannier gear-carrying system and a very lightweight front rack that can be used in conjunction with highly effective stuff-sack panniers for Phase Two touring. As the bike is set up the racks and panniers have a combined weight of three pounds (which includes pannier rain covers). The addition of 18-ounce front panniers will allow the bike to be used as a superb high-performance bike for Phase Three touring. Wisely and carefully choosing touring gear, to eliminate the need for front panniers in most conditions is a fundamental part of the Advanced Touring Method.
By following gear-selection ideas of Phase One in my Advanced Touring Method, her full compliment of touring gear, including cooking and camping gear, may be reduced in weight to as little as 12 or 15 pounds .  The low amount of gear will eliminate the need for a front rack and panniers and will significantly alter wind resistance along with a great reduction in weight.  In addition to eliminating a front rack/pannier system, in modifying her bike I took the 26 ounce rear rack off the bike and replaced it with a 14 ounce rack that is more rigid.  The 4.5 pound panniers were replaced by superbly stable ones that weigh 21 ounces and that have are dramatically narrower, and that have a advanced gear-loading design.  Those modifications made a substantial improvement in the bike's performance, but it still had the potential to be much easier to pedal and ride through altering wheel components.

Originally, the bike had 24mm rims that weigh 510 grams each, but because my friend weighs 115 pounds I replaced them with much lighter 19mm rims that tip the scales at 405 grams.  The original wheels had 36 spokes.  I know from experience that with no weight over the front wheel far few spokes can be used. Consequently,  I very conservatively reduced the number of spokes in the front wheel from 36 to 28.  The rear wheel was changed to one with 32 spokes, which is more than enough to support her body weight along with a rear-pannier load which is quite moderate.  The bike already had reasonably lightweight tires but I replaced the 305 gram tires with very lightweight ones that are 215 grams (the lighter tires are actually longer-wearing ones), and that are touring-appropriate as the bicycle is being set up for touring on paved roads.  The wheels had 140 gram tubes, so I replaced them with ones that weigh 65 grams.  Originally, the spokes were straight-gauge spokes, but I opted for double-butted spokes in the new wheels.  The reduction of wheel component weight (about 1.5 pounds) substantially improved the performance of the bike; another example of addition (in performance) by subtraction (in weight).

The two versions of the same bicycle don't look all that different, but there is a night and day contrast in how easy they are to ride, and that contrast in required effort is so extremely easy to casually overlook.  The bicycle is being set up, in terms of efficiency, as a modern, high-performance touring bicycle.  It still may look old, but as it is now set up it can, with a few minor additions (like ultra-lightweight front panniers), be extremely versatile even as an expedition bicycle, without being a heavyweight.  As the altered bicycle is pictured, it can easily be modified for Phase Two and Phase Three touring with the addition, amazingly, of just a bit over a pound of pannier weight.

The weight savings of the current modifications, and the increase of performance which also reflects an amazing difference, adds up to something that looks like this: a weight reduction in the panniers of 7.5 pounds, 20 ounces in the racks, 7.4 ounces of rim reduction, 5.6 ounces off of the tires, 4.2 ounces of weight shaving in the tubes and 5.8 ounces of reduction in the spokes, for a total loss of about 10 pounds in the bike.  The reduction of the rapidly revolving weight of nearly 1.5 pounds in the wheels is very critical.  Through greatly reducing outer-wheel weight, opposed to the common practice of significantly adding wheel weight in a touring bike to compensate for the weight of high volumes of touring gear, the bicycle is a completely different type of touring bicycle.  Factor in the loss of 8.5 pounds in rack and pannier weight with significantly reduced wind resistance, and combine this with a very lightweight gear load of 13 to 15 pounds, and it all adds up to a very new dimension in touring for an old beater of a bicycle.