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Picking the Perfect Bike for the Tour d’Afrique
Amongst the myriad of questions running through the mind of someone planning on embarking on the epic cycling adventure from Cairo to Cape Town, is “what bike should I bring?” While the Tour d’Afrique has been completed on an assortment of different bikes over the years, some designs are certainly better suited to the rigors and challenges of the tour than others. Following are the opinions of a returning tour mechanic on what the criteria for the ideal cross Africa bike should be. The purchase of a new bike can be an intimidating commitment for many participants and the temptation to bring an older bike is strong, but if the bike in mind fits what’s written below, then all the better. When all is said and done, the bike purchase is a small percentage of the overall cost of the trip. The enjoyment and comfort that can be had from the right bike is priceless, considering the rider and the machine will be inseparable over the next 4 months on the road.
Before delving into the many options available, it’s worth saying that the single most important factor is the bike fit. The bike should be purchased from a bike shop that has experience fitting, and the fitter should understand what the rider is planning to do with the bike. Too many times have I had to completely change someone’s fitting parameters. Numb hands, stiff ankles, and sore butts are all things that can be avoided if the fitter understands the necessities of a long distance touring fit. The rider should also put at least 50 hours of riding on the bike to iron out any inevitable kinks in the fit and the saddle. The terrain to be encountered is going to limit one’s choice to something between a mountain bike and a cyclocross bike. Either end of the spectrum is well suited to the ride, so the choice should be influenced by bike fit and local bike shop availability. A good starting point is a high and comfortable handlebar position.
The rough off road sections, the daily bike pile-ups at camp, the potential for crashes, the bike racks on the trucks, all these factors point to durability being the number one criteria. Steel and titanium are the most durable frame materials, but nothing is indestructible. Since a titanium frame will cost at least three times as much as a steel, in case the frame gets damaged or the bike is lost, my vote is for a steel frame. Aluminum can be durable and is certainly affordable but the ever nagging presence of soft and easily damaged derailleur hangers puts it at a far 3rd in my opinion. Of course, hangers can be replaced, but this leaves little comfort after the derailleur has jammed into the rear wheel and left you stranded at the side of the road. Though the tour has been completed by many carbon fibre bikes, bringing one is ultimately a gamble, a throw of the dice, as you can be left without a rideable bike on any day.
Component choice is a wider playing field, but again I think durability should be the number one priority, durability and his good friend simplicity. Wheels should have many spokes, 32 or 36, hubs should be easily serviceable cup and cone designs, (i.e. anything from Shimano), rims should be sturdy, double walled, and eye-letted. I prefer disc brakes over rim brakes, they are less finicky, less sensitive to wheel truing, and you’ll be glad to have the extra stopping power on those steep potholed descents. Most touring and cyclocross bikes are being sold with disc brakes as standard now, Avid BB7’s being my first choice. Hydraulics are not a good idea, there’s many opportunities for a line to get cut and all your braking power lost along with the trickling oil. Most people will think I’m old fashioned, but nothing beats bar end or friction shifters for simplicity and durability, extra points for anyone who has a pair on their bike. A wide gear range is needed, either a compact road crank or a triple, with an 11-32 (34) cassette will serve you well. The ability to mount a front or rear rack will reward you countless times, no one likes a sweaty back and backpack. If you’re leaning towards a touring bike or cyclocross bike, it should be able to fit wide tires, at least 40mm. A front shock on a mountain bike is a nice thing to have sometimes, but ultimately a potential maintenance headache and a lot heavier than a rigid front end. A full suspension mountain bike has no place on a long cross continental bike tour, it’s a Pandora’s Box of maintenance issues, and can’t even carry a proper rack!!!
20 Comments for "Picking the Perfect Bike for the Tour d’Afrique"
Would the same advice go for all your other trips, even the European ones?
That blog was essentially geared towards the African trip. This one offers more general advice – https://tdaglobalcycling.com/2014/05/choosing-a-bicycle-for-long-distance-touring/
[…] It is a long trip from top to bottom of Africa and you need to be comfortable with your bike. The perfect bike is the one you choose. We recommend a light steel bike that can take wider tires, preferably a hard […]
Damn i want to do this at some point. What a great event to say you have completed!
I made Andes trail on my full suspension carbon Storck mountain bike and didn’t have any problems. I’m considering to join you on a tour Cairo-Cape Town and was thinking of taking the same bike. Really didn’t think at all, to take any other bike.Otherwise I’m touring on a recumbent trike. What do you think?
I recommend you read this blog as well on choosing a bike.
We prefer if our cyclists do not bring carbon bikes, and a full suspension bike is probably more than you need. The most common style on the Tour d’Afrique is a touring or cyclocross bike that is more efficient than full suspension on the paved roads (80 % of the route is paved). Obviously, we do not restrict people and the decision in the end is yours, but an expensive bike like a Storck would tend to get bumped and bruised alot over the course of 4 months in Africa – so its not ideal. Carbon bikes tend to show their scraps and scratches very well 🙂
I am trying to plan to do the last two sections of TDA in 2019. I was thinking of flying to Johannesburg and buying a bike there, then donating at the end of the ride, rather than transporting from/to the United States. Any recommendations on bike shops or used bike market that would stand a good chance of working out?
This is one of the biggest bike shops in JHB, good mix of bikes – http://cyclelab.com/
What do you think about a Koga? I’ve been looking at the World Traveller for a long time now, but my trips have always been on relatively civilized road/trail conditions. The Koga has an aluminum frame.
The World Traveller is a seriously capable bike, and would be a great fit on any of our tours, or for that matter, pretty much any bike tour short of mountain biking.
What is your opinion on the Rohloff hub for the World Traveller?
The Rohloff’s reputation for reliability and durability is well deserved, however certainly far from necessary. 99.9% of our cyclists do just fine with a standard drivetrain. On a longer tour, I believe it would exceed the oil change interval of the Rohloff, and so an oil change may need to be done halfway through.
Hi, we are thinking of joint the tour d’Afrique in 2019 or 2020. We are now picking new bikes as our old ones can not be used. We got an advice to buy the CUBE Nuroad pro
Probably we will need different wheels (more robust). What do you think of this advice?
That bike would do fine. You may want to get bigger and more robust tires – most riders use 700x40c Schwalbe Marathon for the dirt road sections.
I notice that this model comes with hydraulic brakes – which you caution against. If the bikes are new/well serviced and lines run internally as on this model, how big a concern is this really?
Sometimes the parts and materials needed for a repair will not be available in the field. However, many bikes now come with hydraulic brakes, and they usually do not need any major service during a tour. But if they do it can sometimes be an issue.
I am considering doing the tour with a Cannondale Slate with a “lefty” fork (30 mm of suspension). The bike has 650b wheels. Comments? Thanks.
It could be a good option. I would suggest checking with your bike shop about the lefty fork, as from what I remember they tend to require frequent service that could be difficult or impossible during the tour. Also take a look and make sure that you can find good touring tires for the paved road sections of the tour.
Hello again, I am now looking seriously at the Kona Sutra and really liking it. What do you think? Thanks!
That would be a great choice. I used to have one and the founder of TDA is riding one now too.