My first tour was on a super stiff aluminum frame with an equally stiff aluminum fork using worn out bar tape on set of Michelin Highlight Super Comp 700c x 20mm tires. I didn’t wear gloves. It destroyed my hands inside of eight days. I still feel the effects 14 years later. Pay particular attention to the equipment that interfaces your body to your bicycle. Hands, feet, and your butt all make contact with the bike and need to be protected to have a successful tour.
On day 8 I could no longer work the brake levers. I could not properly inflate a tire. I could not patch a tire. Counting change was a challenge. Yet I was headstrong and prepared to ‘ride through the pain’. This worked with my aching knees, but the hands were never ready for the constant jarring from the aluminum frame and fork coupled with a set of racing tires. I had never liked gloves and rarely rode with them when training. I had never thought bicycle touring would be any harder on the hands than regular cycling. Eight days of 90 plus miles on my Cannondale through Pennsylvania’s backroads had taught me a valuable lesson. I finally broke down and got a pair of gloves.
The gloves made things bearable but I was never comfortable throughout my 35 day trek from NYC to Los Angeles. Upon completion of my trip I had lost the use of both left and right pinky and ring fingers. I could barely operate a fingernail clipper, can opener, house keys, vending machine, and even zipping a zipper was difficult. If dexterity was required I was helpless.
My only saving grace was a spectacularly well tempered, understanding, and competent riding buddy.The hands recovered over the course of fourteen years but working with a keyboard and mouse effectively was a challenge for a long time. They still ache like hell after a long ride and I need to take them into account when planning a good number of adventures. Even a week long fishing trip requires extra special preperation.
On my second cross country trip I had gloves, good grips, and was on a steel mountain bike running 1.5 inch slicks. I thought I was good but because of the damage on the previous trip my hands were in a constant state of agony at the end of each day. The photos above and below are one of the many things I tried to create a bit of cushion on my handlebars – sponges and electric tape. I tried everything to include taping “sponges” to the handlebars in an effort to dampen the vibration on my hands.
On my third cross country tour I employed a lightweight suspension fork to take the edge off the road. This worked wonders. I could say ‘Live and Learn’ except for the fact that I used an untested pair of new cycling shoes. They were a wee bit too small and began causing sharp pains during the second week of cycling. They resulted in 2 lost toenails, several blisters, and needed to be replaced mid trip. I had to avoid wearing flip flops all summer for fear of being labeled a mutant.
THANKFULLY I always wore quality bicycle shorts, bicycle saddle, and had a good fit on the bike. I have never had a saddle sore. I have covered the United States 3 times coast to coast. I usually average 90-100 miles per day and I don’t take too many days off. How much do you have to ride to get a saddle sore?
The main point here is it is of the utmost importance to pay particular attention to any point of contact on the bike. Stick with solutions that you know work and are comfortable. Don’t try any new ideas/gear when it comes to gloves, shoes, and/or your saddle and shorts. If you are making a decision to try out some new gear make sure it is tested rigorously. Better yet have a trusted friend back home with any ‘back up’ equipment that they can ship to you while you are out on the road.