Choosing a Bike for Cycle Canada Events
For distance riding, my bias is towards an alloy steel frame with touring angles. With racing angles, performance is better but you will feel the bumps more on long trips. Angles referred to are those of the head and seat tubes relative to the ground or top tube. With a high number, the angles are steeper and you get more direct and efficient power to the pedals. Aluminum and carbon fibre frames are better able to absorb shock, which still allows the tight angles that come with a high performance frame. And if you have the money, titanium combines the good qualities of steel with lightness of aluminum. But be cautious about new frame materials. In some models, there is some evidence of fatigue at joints where the tubes come together. Anyone considering a non-steel frame should check the pedigree of the builder and look into the performance record.
While I'm willing to swap performance for comfort on the frame of a touring bike, I've always gone for performance in the drive train. That means changers that give me quick, efficient shifts and a high-quality, light crankset. However, I do give up a bit of weight on the pedals because they take a lot of abuse and sturdy pedals last.
One of the old cycling sayings says an ounce on the wheels is worth a pound on the frame. The weight you're pushing around at the periphery of the wheel is much more significant than the weight of your frame and components that get carried along. That's why I've always gone for lightweight rims and tires. New rim designs make the 19 mm (less than one inch) models as strong or stronger than the 32 mm (1 1/4-inch) models of a earlier years. Still, when you ride light tires and rims you have to take more care when crunching over gravel and railroad tracks. So you must make an assessment of your riding style when deciding how light to go.
My biggest complaint about companies that build bikes for the recreational market is that they often gear bikes too high. A 52-39 set of rings on the front is standard for an entry-level racing bike and builders often copy that configuration for touring models. Most tourists simply do not need a 52-tooth chain ring on the front. A related pet peeve is that bike shops will sell people bigger sprockets for the back to gear down a bike. If you want to gear down, go to smaller chain rings on the front. Using larger sprockets on the back simply adds weight to the drive train. Note that some cranksets only go down to 39-tooth rings. When shopping for a crankset, check the range of available rings. If you are thinking about changing gearing, do some research. Any standard cycling reference book will contain a gear chart. John Forester's book, Effective Cycling, is one that has considerable detail on gearing. In planning for this trip, consider whether you need a triple front chain ring or a wide range of rear cogs on a 10-cog cluster. Either will allow you to gear down to a quite-low ratio. If you are prone to sore knees, you should have a low gear so that you can spin at a higher cadence up those hills.
A mirror is an essential accessory. The ones that fit on a helmet or a pair of glasses are lightweight and very effective. Ones that fit onto the handlebars give a good view if properly designed. With these, you need to spend a few dollars to get one that works well.
Memo to Women Riders
Women are different than men, obviously. But all too often, bikes are designed for the male anatomy. If you're looking for a bike, find a shop that has a "Fit Kit." It's a stationary bike for measuring body dimensions and this will help you make better choices about bike size and fit. Bike saddles are made wider for women, so do some research on different designs.
Type of Bicycle for Tour Arctic:
Dealing with Paved and Unpaved Sections
Tour Arctic cyclists are on paved roads in British Columbia and in the Yukon to Dawson. The Dempster Highway segment from Dawson to Inuvik is mostly unpaved.
On Cycle Canada's other expedition trips, we recommend a touring bike. For those trips and for the paved road segments of Tour Arctic, tire widths of 25 to 32 mm are fine. Tire choice depends on personal preference. For Tour Arctic a touring bike may do the job but there is a qualification.
On The Dempster
The Dempster Highway is unpaved but it is regularly and continually maintained with ongoing grading and maintenance thoughout the year. For this section of Tour Arctic riders will need tires with a minimum width of 32 mm and tire widths in the range of 35-40 would be better. Choice of tire width depends in part of the weight of the rider. In looking at tire fit on a bike, keep in mind that wider ties likely will have a higher profile, so more clearance will be needed to accommodate mudguards.
Touring, Mountain Bike or Cyclocross?
Some touring bikes would fit that bill. A mountain bike would as well but it is a less attractive choice for the paved road segments of the trip. If you used a mountain bike, you would want one that can lock the suspension for more efficient riding on road. And you would want slicks (not knobby tires) for the paved road segments. A cyclocross bike is a design that can work for the paved road portion with skinnier tires and with wider, tougher tires for the Dempster section. There has been a resurgence in cyclocross in recent years and several manufacturers have cyclocross models