Altering a road bike for record
I am currently living in Rio de Janeiro, although I am from London, UK. I have a plan to cycle the length of South America, from Colombia to Argentina, and have a go at breaking the current record for doing so (59 days). My last major cycle trip was London to Istanbul in 2010, and as I was in no rush on that trip, and was carrying lots of stuff, I used a touring bike (Dawes Horizon). Although at the lower end of the touring bikes out there, it did the job nicely.
However, this trip is obviously different, and I will need a much lighter, and faster bicycle. After the last few weeks of research I have concluded that a cross between a cyclocross and a touring bike is probably the way to go. Something which is built for speed and endurance but is also strong enough to carry a light load (I'm going to be travelling as light as possible). Braze-ons aren't completely necessary (although the option of a rack would be nice), as I'm thinking to use this: http://www.revelatedesigns.com/index.cfm. Most importantly, it has to be relatively comfortable (as I will be doing 100-150 miles a day for over a month). My shortlist of cyclocross-touring bikes include the Jamis Bosanova and the Bianchi Volpe. These appear to me to be suited to the task, although neither is necessarily ideal.
However, here is the issue - as I mentioned I am currently living in Brazil, with no intention of returning home within the next few months. Here in Brazil my choice of bicycle is extremely limited and unfortunately I simply can't find either of these two bikes, nor anything similar. I have scoured the web for US or UK bike shops that could deliver a bike to Brazil, but unfortunately the shipping costs are over $500.
So I have to find an alternative way of obtaining a suitable bike. I am now considering getting hold of a second-hand road bike and making the inevitable changes myself. I would very much appreciate some advice as to what major changes people think would be necessary. For instance, I imagine I will need lower-gearing than most road bikes have, and replace the double crankset with a triple. What would be an ideal gearing ratio, considering I will be traversing the Andes? I may also need to replace the wheels so I have a minimum of 32 spokes. The tyre width is also something I will have to address, a wider tyre being more appropriate for uneven South American roads. Although it is very expensive to have complete bikes delivered here, I am sure I can find free (or cheap) delivery on bicycle parts. I guess my question is can such changes be made on most road bikes, or are some limited in the extent to which they can be altered.
I appreciate any advice people can give.
I've never been to South America, but I've known people who have ridden there and I've seen their slide shows (the usual Tierra del Fuego to Arctic Ocean expeditions). The one thing that stands out about riding in SA is the poor quality of the roads, and the impracticality of using standard 700C wheels, even with 32 or more spokes. These guys were using 26" wheels with fatter tires. Even though, as I recall, 26" wheels/rims are more readily available down there, they were still breaking wheels and having to wait for shipments of new wheels from North America. But then, they were on heavily-loaded bikes, doing a LONG expedition.
Were I to travel in SA, I would likely just fly to a major center (Santiago, Buenos aires, Sao Paolo, etc.), camp out at a hotel, and just do rides on my fixie within one-day's range of the hotel. But I think this would be about the extent of 32-spoke 700c practicality in SA.
I am a proponent of 26" wheels for bike touring in Latin America, simply because it is easy to find replacement rims, spokes even in the smallest towns... yeah, they'll suck as far as quality but they'll keep you going.
I don't know the level of support the O.P. will be getting for his record-breaking attempt. Scott Napier used a 700c Thorn Club Tour for setting the world record crossing the Americas in 2009. Mark Beaumont also used a 700c Koga Miyata that was custom-made for his world record around the world. It looks like those guys received a lot of sponsorship to make it happen, so they started their trips with excellent equipment . They also had back up wheels and expensive parts ready to be fedexed in case of major breakdown. Your largest decision/investment will be in selecting top-notch handmade wheels and tires. If using 700c, I personally would go for 36-spoke wheels simply for the sake of having a sturdier wheel for the kind of roads in South America (32 spokes is fine on 26" rims.) A cyclocross bike seems like a good compromise. As far as the gearing, it will depend on how many Kg. of cargo you'll be carrying on the bike (any ideas?) You could go with the new "compact" MTB cranksets and 10 speeds cassette: 11-34 should do the trick. This should save you weight while still attaining a good range of gear ratios. This will also be good in finding replacement parts in major cities. Shimano is strongly pushing their 10-speed drivetrain worldwide.
Should you decide to go with a second-hand road bike, you may have to rebuild it entirely from the frame up. You need to be careful in selecting the material for your frame given the way you envision traveling. For example, a carbon fiber frameset with racks and panniers might be a horrible from a safety perspective. If you'll be going ultralight with frame bags, a CF frameset will be OK. If I were to do this, I think I would go with a steel frameset and use CF components where it makes sense.
If you can't find suitable bikes/parts in Brazil for your purpose, I would check with friends traveling from the U.S. or the U.K. to see if they can bring those things back for you. You might also consider making the trip yourself to Miami (there are usually flights deals into Miami from Latin America) pick up the bike and all the necessary parts. Maybe you could even do a "shake-up" tour in the U.S. before flying to Colombia to start the real deal. Otherwise, you will, unfortunately, have a lot of "getting used to" (not recommended) in the beginning of your trip.
As far as flying with your bike, it is sometimes cheaper than getting it shipped into Latin America. A lot of countries do not assess duties & taxes when you arrive at the airport with a bicycle. Bikes are most often considered part of your personal items, just like a laptop. With shipping on the other hand, some countries can screw you horribly with those import taxes. I don't know what the current situation is, but Brazil used to be one of the worst countries for people to import goods (used to be prohibitive!) Most countries have websites where they stipulate their customs requirements for tourists.
Last edited by Chris Pringle; 10-29-12 at 05:51 PM.
[FONT=verdana]I second some of the ideas above, especially:
• I don't think you can nickel-and-dime your way to a record attempt.
• You need to select parts for reliability and replaceability over "light weight." If something breaks in the middle of Oeste en Ninguna Parte, you could be stuck for several critical days.
I'd also point out that a regular tour, at whatever pace you feel like, is very different than "touring to break a record." You need supplies, you need support, you need resources.
If you are really serious about a record attempt, as opposed to "pleasantly passing 2 months," I recommend you use this opportunity to get some much-needed experience. Get whatever bike you can lay your hands on, do a section of the route, figure out how many miles you can cover in a week, and use that as the groundwork for a real attempt.
Thanks guys for the feedback. I'm aware of the level of preparation required for this, and that is one reason why I have given myself almost a year before I will attempt it. The following 10 months will be used to prepare the route in detail, I will have a daily itinerary with mileage etc., providing me with an accurate understanding of what to expect during each stage of the route. I'm also focusing my efforts on raising as much publicity as possible, particularly here in South America. I agree that 26" wheels are the way to go, purely because if something was to happen while on the trip I won't be completely screwed, although having spare parts ready in Rio for my girlfriend to FedEx out if need-be is also sensible.
Since my original post I have had a change of plan, and decided to fly back to UK for xmas and to buy a bike. Although it is on the heavier side, I believe the Surly Long Haul Trucker (very similar to the Thorn Club Tour used by Scott Napier), while carrying as light a load as possible, is suitable. As was mentioned, reliability is of most importance, and I think the very strong LHT, if fitted with the correct gearing and 26" wheels, is one of my best options. I just need to try to cut weight where possible. I have discovered, from reading endless forums, that there will never be a unanimous agreement on the 'best' bike - "a camel is a horse designed by committee" springs to mind! Also, although I don't underestimate for a second the importance of the bike, the majority of this challenge will be physical and mental, the bike is only so important.
I would still value your views on the LHT, check out the Thorn Club Tour for comparison! Another option, although probably not the best idea, would be to upgrade my Dawes Horizon 2010 to make it suitable.
The 26" LHT is a good bike, but I would try to get something a little more race oriented if you're going to build it from the frame up. The trick is finding bike manufacturers that have experience on 26"-wheeled road bikes. Unfortunately, very few exist around the world. This is the time to write some small British or even American custom bike manufacturers who might be willing to subsidize (most likely it won't be free!) the cost of the frame for a world-breaking attempt with their bike. You'll need to show them a solid plan. If you are a racer with a good résumé, the odds are on your side. From the U.S. builders, I will suggest Rodriguez in Seattle. They already have a very nice 26" touring bike called the UTB. They can spec it for you based on any strict requirements you may have as far as the geometry for the bike and body measurements. A nice plus is that the owner is very knowledgeable. Co-Motion also has the 26"-wheeled Pangea. Frame bags (seem to be a recent U.S. invention for ultralight touring) might be the way to go for this feat. I bet the guys at Revelate Designs would also contemplate the opportunity to sponsor you.
Last edited by Chris Pringle; 10-31-12 at 12:44 PM.
Since you're going back to the UK, I'd talk to the folks at Thorn. I'm sure they've had customers who have successfully navigated those routes.
Offhand, I'd think 26" wheels, IGH with low gearing, perhaps locking suspension.
I'd also delve into CGOAB for ideas on equipment, routes and likely obstacles.
I would second the recommendation of an IGH, especially a Rohloff.
While I have no first hand experience of the kind of riding you're planning, a friend of mine toured for several weeks in south west China. He was glad to have a bike with IGH (his was a Shimano 8 speed) and he was glad not to have to worry about derailleurs in the mud and on god-awful roads.
If anything, he would have liked to have had even wider tyres and more mudguard clearance on his bike.