Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. This month he looks at rental bicycles: what to pay attention to when you first receive them, what to bring along on a cycling holiday and what to wear.
Unless you are signed up on a dedicated road biking or mountain biking holiday, nearly all cycling tour operators like Sherpa offer hybrid bikes as their usual bicycle rental provision. These humble steeds have coalesced from the mountain bike evolution as the industry standard. They may share multiple gears, disc or cantilever breaks, and maybe some degree of suspension similar to mountain bikes. They also may have panniers or connections at least for racks and comfy touring seats. The wheels and tyres are narrower which make them more efficient on the road like the older-fashioned touring bikes. Hybrid bicycles get used on gravel tracks and dirt roads as well.
Ready? Get Set. Go!
Normally when you hire your bicycle with us and give us your dimensions, we can source a more or less correctly sized bike for you. When you receive your rental bicycle and before your first ride, make sure the brakes are progressive and the wheels don’t lock on braking too easily. Check if your wheels aren’t buckled, a slight movement is however quite normal. Check that you can get into all the gears without a fight, and that the front derailleur doesn’t rub too much on the chain. At extreme gear ranges this does happen - but it means that you shouldn’t be cycling in extreme gear ranges…!
Nuts & Bolts of Cycling Gear
To get more out of rental bicycles a lot of people elect to bring their own clip-in pedals such as SPDs and a 15mm wrench for changing the existing pedals. Sometimes the operator can do this for you, which saves you worrying about stripping the crank via cross-threading. Clip-on pedals can offer you more direct power transfer during pedalling when they are used well, but take a bit of getting used to.
Although your bicycle will be cleaned and serviced for you and include some basic tools, sometimes stuff gets missed. It is important to bring a quality multi-tool yourself to do on-road adjustments: you don’t want to have to waste holiday time calling someone out for a minor adjustment. Never over tighten bolts and Allen screws (they are usually aluminium and can shear), gentle hand tightness is usually just fine. A very small bottle of oil for chain lubrication is also recommended to bring along on your cycling holiday. Apply sparingly to all links and wipe off surplus with a cloth. It is amazing how quickly your chain will start squeaking in a very irritating way if you had a run of wet weather!
Such is the versatility of pocket tools these days. I have had the pleasure of reconnecting a mountain biker’s snapped chain within five minutes in the watery wastes of the Pennines. He would have had a long lonely walk out without that…
The main dread for many is the hissing deflated ego caused by a puncture. Once you get the hang of fixing a flat tyre, it only takes about 12 minutes to be on the road once again. Normally you are given a spare tube at the start of your cycling holiday and it is prudent to partially inflate this before you leave. Just in case it has perished or the valve has unexpectedly failed. I normally carry two inner tyres plus patches, three nylon tyre levers and a high capacity mini pump. There is no room here to talk about the most efficient way of changing an inner-tube, I suffice to say that after a puncture often people forget to pull out of the tyre what caused the puncture in the first place resulting in puncture number two. An extra note on tyres: running the bicycle tyres at correct pressure is important especially on the road. In wet conditions it may be worth reducing pressure by 5-10% to allow for better grip and in sand or gravel maybe by 20%.
Besides spare tyres, you may also receive helmets and water-bottles to get you on your way. For hygiene reasons you ought to bring your own bottle and for safety and hygiene reasons you should bring your own helmet. Even if they look fine, it is hard to know the impact history of a helmet, unless you have bought it yourself. If you are wearing a helmet make sure that it sits correctly on your head! I have seen people wear them too high or even round the wrong way.
Talking about what to wear, Lycra: let’s face it, it is not flattering on 85% of people. If you are just on a cycling tour you can get nice shell shorts with many pockets and still have a discreet padded seat with Lycra inserts for comfort. You will feel more at ease walking into that coffee shop.
Cycling tops are useful and they have handy pockets and pouches like a hamster. The advantage of baggy shirts however, is that they’re nice and airy. Some of the fabrics today quickly dry overnight if you rinse them through. A lightweight water resistant garment is worth stuffing somewhere and nowadays you can buy neoprene overshoes really cheaply to keep your feet dry and warm.
Don’t forget those energy bars, drink powders and potions to keep you on the road!
Find the full offer of Sherpa Expeditions cycling holidays here.