It Is About The Bike

I’ve given this trip a lot of thought over the past couple of years and one of the most difficult decisions for me was what I should ride. I knew I would be carrying more gear than I’m used to and it was this fact that made me consider alternatives to carrying a set of panniers on my bike, as I usually do.

At one point I was keen on towing a small trailer, lots of people do this and it appeals to me to try something different. There are also advantages to towing a trailer,  particularly the reduced weight and strain on the bike itself. I almost bought one but the ride will  involve a lot of climbing which made me think again.  A trailer weighs about 6kg, which is fine on the flat but on the hills that becomes dead weight. I know how hard it is to ride up mountains and it would be another item to try and transport over to America so eventually I ditched the trailer idea.

I also like the idea of riding a recumbent, they’re very comfortable but without towing a trailer I think I would have problems getting all my gear on one. The ones I like are also very low to the ground and that would be a worry for me in traffic so that idea was ditched as well – at least for this trip.

A good bike is essential to a successful trip and with bike shops sometimes hundreds of miles apart our bikes need to be very reliable and it’s vital that they’re comfortable for extended periods.

I’ve owned my touring bike ( a steel framed Raleigh Randonneur) for 10 years. In that time it’s been my commuting, training and long distance touring bike and was looking worse for wear. I wasn’t confident about riding it across America and even considered buying a brand new bike for the trip. In the end though common sense prevailed. I like my bike, I’ve ridden it all over Europe and it’s served me well. I decided therefore that I should stick with a set up I know and use my existing bike, carrying everything in panniers.

If that was to happen my bike needed a serious makeover so in January I stripped it right down and took the frame to Argos Racing Cycles in Bristol.  I wanted the frame checked over, resprayed and a new steerer tube added to the forks so I could upgrade to a threadless headset. A threadless headset requires less maintenance, less tools, is easy to adjust and swapping parts is easy – a worthwhile upgrade.

Old headset

This hasn't been removed for ten years.

Argos were great and nothing was too much trouble. They took the time to talk through my requirements and made other upgrade suggestions I hadn’t considered. I would definitely recommend them and I thank them for all their help.

Frame before respray

Oh dear - that's not good.

I picked up my frame from Argos Racing Cycles on the 6th Feb and wow, it looked fantastic – as if it was brand new. I can’t believe I was considering riding something else!

Resprayed Frame

Looks like new

While it was being done I ordered new parts for the bike, pretty much everything except the saddle. It would have been cheaper to buy a new bike! I’ve upgraded everything and used carbon where I can to reduce the weight of the bike without compromising its strength. This will offset some of the extra weight I’ll be carrying in the panniers.

My rebuilt bike looks great and I’m so pleased I made that decision. It’s also lighter by at least a Kilo, however there’s a problem!! Since the rebuild my beloved Brooks saddle is now causing me pain on long rides (60+ miles). I’ve tried to rebuild the bike as close to the original set up as possible but clearly fitting a new stem, handlebars and shifters has altered it slightly. In my experience it can take months to get the set up just right so at the moment this is a concern to me so close to the start. I think the reach to the hoods has increased with the new set up so I’m about to try 90mm stem rather than the 110mm one fitted in the picture below. I’ll be trying that out over the next few days so fingers crossed.

New threadless headset - but the stem is too long.

Other than that my bike is almost ready to go. I’m having new wheels built for the ride and I need to fit a new 9 speed cassette, shifters and chain before we leave. The bike is currently running a 7 speed set up which I’m leaving on while I’m training to reduce wear on the new parts.

Chris has also renewed his wheels and drive train but stopped short of a complete rebuild. The front end of his bike was rebuilt a short while ago so he’s confident that his bike is ready to go.


  1. I do wish he would make his mind up which saddle to take!