Being a member of the CTC enabled me to make contact with other members who had cycled in Latin America for advice and information. This was tremendous for building my self-confidence for such a long trip.
The CTC campaigns for cyclists rights; for example road safety, carrying them on trains, there is even a cyclists defence fund to help fight legal cases. In my view the CTC is a coherent voice for cyclists, whether you want to tour, race, or use mountain bikes on woodland trails. I would recommend joining NOW!
In 2003 I bought a Dawes Horizon. It was the first time in my life I had ever bought a brand new touring bike. I took it to Chile for a 300 mile test run to see how it performed on dirt roads. It was excellent, riding the rough roads like a Rolls Royce. Boy, what a comfortable seat, too! It was an easy decision to use it for Pedalling to Panama. I then used it in Ecuador in 2007.
Sadly, my Dawes Horizon was stolen in Valencia in June 2008 (I completed a "denuncio" at the police station). I took the opportunity to upgrade to a steel-framed RIDGEBACK VOYAGE. During a wet week in Galloway (South West Scotland) I managed to test it out on both metalled roads and forestry roads including the famous Raiders Road near New Galloway. The bike handles well and is very comfortable. So the Valencian thieves have unwittingly done me a favour!
In 2011 I cycled the length of New Zealand, followed by a stop-over in Australia which enabled me to cycle from Alice Springs to Uluru (Ayers Rock) - about 500 miles through the desert. I also used it on my New Zealand trips in 2012 and 2014. I hope to write another book about these experiences. More later........!
PANNIERS AND BAGS
The only word I can say about panniers is Ortlieb. I believe they are guaranteed to be waterproof. In fact the guarantee is a bit academic as every experienced touring cyclist I have spoken to simply says “They ARE waterproof”. Providing you close them properly, you can cycle through any storm, ford any river, knowing that your towel and spare undies will be perfectly safe.
TYRES- go for Schwalbe!!
Tyres are the most important part of the bike. They cushion you from the hard tarmac and ensure that the miles just roll away effortlessly. Well, that sounds a bit like marketing jargon – the real acid test is: “Will I get many punctures?” Punctures are not only a time consuming inconvenience, they can be downright demoralising. They tend to happen in the rain of course, just to rub it in. Trying to work out how many puncture repair outfits to carry on a long tour is nerve-wracking torture – all that extra weight just in case. I remember when doing my Oaxaca circuit in 2001 I got three punctures in the space of an hour. It was horrible. I had no idea how many more to expect.
When planning Pedalling to Panama I wanted to avoid this worry. I asked many experienced cyclists for advice on tyres. “Get puncture resistant ones” was the cry. There are several brands available, but I settled on a pair of elegant looking Schwalbe Marathon XR tyres, with a confident tread. They have a white reflective band on each wall, for added safety in poor light. I can honestly say that they were a good buy as I DIDN’T GET A SINGLE PUNCTURE in over 4,300 miles between northern Mexico and Panama. Not even in glass-strewn Nicaragua.
They lasted well too. I took them on the Dawes Horizon to Ecuador, where they completed a further 1,000 miles. In between, they rotated quite a few city miles and day trips. I would have no hesitation in recommending Schwalbe tyres for touring or city use. Mend a puncture? I’ve forgotten how to!
My final recommendation - if you need repairs, parts, or a new bike, try GEAR Bikes in Glasgow, at 19 Gibson Street, Hillhead, Glasgow G12 8NU, near Kelvingrove Park. Tel 0141 339 1179. Ask for Joe, the proprietor, and mention my website.
NONE OF THE ORGANISATIONS ON THIS PAGE HAS PAID ME FOR THESE RECOMMENDATIONS, they are entirely based on my opinions and experiences as a cycling customer.