In the third of the 5-part series on Mountain Cycling, Milind Date shares Pune-based cyclist, Dr. Ajay Nandgaonkar’s tips on various aspects of how to buy bicycles for a Himalayan Cycling Expedition.
(First-person account as transcribed by Milind Date)
- Buy a bike your size. There are a range of sizing charts available online. The stores will help you as well in choosing the right size.
- Crucial aspect is to buy the correct frame size.
- Rest all is adjustable: viz. seat height, seat position (front and back), handle bar height, handle bar distance from shoulders, (by using various stem lengths).
- Fitting the bike to your body is a process. Most cycle shops would let you take test rides, if not on a new bike but a similar bike for sure.
- If you are going for a mountain bike or a hybrid bike with front suspensions, then get lockable suspensions so that they can be locked to rigid during a climb.
- If you like speed, then go for rigid forks. Road bikes are good as well (with drop bars). Most road bikes are well built and they survive the Indian roads quite well.
- Avoid a bike with central suspensions — they are very dissipative. Most energy is lost in the central spring. The bikes without central suspensions are called “Hard Tails” … buy a hard tail.
- Don’t buy a bike unless you have gone for regular rides for a couple of months. Most bike shops have bikes on rental. Our choices are fixed during those rides.
- There are a range of brands to choose from and there are now a range of shops that offer a very good variety.
- When you buy one: make sure you buy one that makes your heart sing. That surely increases your probability to ride.
- Most mountain or hybrid bikes come in a combination of 3×6 to 3×9 gears, viz. 3 in front and 6,7,8 or 9 at the back.
- Avoid buying disc brakes as they are hard to maintain, especially with the mud and grime on Indian roads.
- Try to get v-brakes / calliper brakes (this is my personal choice). These are easy to replace at home and during a ride as well.
- Ensure that the saddle is comfortable and you like to sit on it. Don’t be overzealous and buy racing saddles if you aren’t a racer.
- I used two tyre sets — knobbed ones for rainy seasons and fast ones for long rides. You get a range of them so speak to your bicycle shop.
Other Gear and Accessories:
- A good, light helmet. There are various kinds available. Buy one preferably with a visor, for protection from the sun. Choose the helmet carefully with the right size! It should not move when you move your head sideways. Wearing the wrong helmet is worse than not wearing one. And always strap your helmet. Buy a good one. Never compromise on quality.
- Cycling gloves: They help you with the grip as well as save your hands if you have a fall. Pick both full and half gloves. You need the full ones in the Himalayas because the brake levers go very cold and so does the handle bar.
- Goggles: Plain and dark — for night and day time. You get ones with replaceable glasses such as plain, yellow, and dark for different conditions.
- Cycling shorts should be with padding and these are a must for long rides.
- Full T-shirts if you are going to ride in the sun.
- Bottle cages and bottles: I typically have 2 on my bike, for water.
- Seat Pouch for spare tubes and puncture kit storage. During the ride, punctures are to be expected.
- Allen Key Set for adjusting settings during the ride, replacing and tightening parts.
- Bicycle Lights: There are two types — ‘to see’ and ‘to be seen’. ‘To be seen’ are a must for both front and back. ‘To see’ are great for mornings, when you start early morning rides.
- Reflectors are required so that others can see you.
- Use cycling wind cheaters / jackets / t-shirts / sacks that have reflectors on them so that others can see you at night.
- Mud guards for rainy season, if you wish.
- Lots of spare tubes.
- Puncture kit.
- Chain and cable lubricant.
- Warm caps. Warmers for hands and legs, especially for the Himalayas. With buffs, make sure you can wear them inside the helmet and the helmet fits.
- Layered clothing for the Himalayas, that can be removed and put into the sack on your back.
- Sack with a hydration pack (a tube that comes out of the sack for water). These are very helpful in Indian summers. You get separate hydration packs as well.
- Sun screen is optional
- Rain coat and rain pants are needed in the Himalayas for sudden weather change. You don’t want to miss riding only because there is some cold rain.
- GU Gels / Chocolates / some emergency food should be on you always.