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!
I cycled from one end of Cuba to the other in 2000 using a Raleigh Banana. It was a lightweight racing bike which adapted well to touring. I left it with a friend in Havana as a present, as it was by then twelve years old.
In 2001 I did a 350 mile circuit in the state of Oaxaca, southern Mexico, using a second-hand Falcon bought in a shop in Glasgow for a hundred pounds. It now serves as my “city bike”, as I am happy enough leaving a cheap old bike chained to lamp-posts in the city centre.
In 2003 I invested in a Dawes Horizon, recommended by West End Cycles in Glasgow. 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, as I wanted 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. It survived that and made it to Ecuador too, 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 supplied by West End Cycles, Chancellor Street, Glasgow. 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 hope to write another book about these experiences. More later........!
Panniers and handlebar 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!