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Tour D’Afrique

CrapaudCrapaud Posts: 2,666
edited December 2008 in Tour & expedition
I’ve been contemplating doing the Tour D’Afrique for a few years now. There’re many other things that I’d been wanting to do as well. However, I’ve realised that there are too many and that I’ve not done, and am unlikely to do, any or all of them. So I’ve decided to work towards only one goal – the Tour D’Afrique! If time, money and circumstances permit, I may be able to fit some other things in, but it’s this Tour that I’m making my main objective.

Experience – the Tour du Canada – has taught me that planning is essential. In that case I spent two years scrimping and saving, and probably hundreds of hours researching bikes, tents etc, testing myself to make sure that I was capable of the distances involved, and could afford it all before committing myself. It was all time, and effort, well spent. However, I could have saved a lot of time and trouble if I'd asked for help from the forum.

What I’d like to use this thread for is to harness the power of the hive-mind that is Bikeradar; to enlist the help, knowledge and experiences of those that have cycled in similar environments to make equipment choices and plan ahead for any potential problems. Although I've done a little preliminary research there will be much that I've not thought of, so, any thoughts, suggestions, links to any blogs or articles that you think may be relevant or of interest are welcome. This, for me, is a mammoth once-in-a-lifetime undertaking so there is no detail so small that it's not worth consideration.

Up until now I‘ve only been concerning myself with the financial aspect and have a rough (very rough) idea what it will cost (so I’ve doubled it). I’m expecting the lead-time to be around 4 – 5 years. It’s time to move on to equipment.

First up is the bike:

Travelling from Cairo to Capetown'll involve a variety of terrains, from well surfaced roads to hard-pack dirt trails, long flat streches to steep, and long, mountainous sections. The tour's supported so there'll be no need for panniers. I intend to do the Tour as an 'expedition rider' as opposed to a racer. Naturally, I've had some thoughts on this, but I want to keep an open mind and see what's suggested. What type of bike and what specs should I be considering?

Sorry about the TL;DR post, but I felt that I had to go into a bit of background detail - even now, it doesn't seem detailed enough. Thanks for reading.
A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject - Churchill

Posts

  • amaferangaamaferanga Posts: 6,789
    If you've decided that this is for you then I won't try to persuade you otherwise, but IMO the experience of cycling Cairo to Cape Town unsupported on your own or with a friend or two would be massively more interesting, character building, etc., not to mention cheaper than the Tour d'Afrique. I see it as an idea born by Americans who would die of fright at the mere thought of cycling in Africa alone and personally I'd be quite embarassed to be part of the spectacle that is Tour d'Afrique. With all that support any reasonably fit cyclist could probably cycle just about anywhere in the world.

    Anyway, as for the bike..... Any reasonable hard tail would do. Since you won't be carrying much gear then there's no need to go 'expedition' bike with Sunn Rhyno rims, etc. I'd try to keep it fairly simple (say mechanical discs over hydraulic, thumbie shifters instead of STIs) - basically go for things that are less likely to break, but are simple as possible to fix is they do. I'm guessing you can take along a box of spares so unlike a 'normal' tour I'd say the bike is probably less critical. If you don't want punctures then go for Schwalbe Marathon XR tyres. But they're heavy. I'd probably go for some Schwalbe Fast Freds. A Rohloff might be worth considering, but I'd say its unnecessary for this sort of trip.
    More problems but still living....
  • andymillerandymiller Posts: 2,856
    On-One 456? Nice steel hardtail with everything you need for mounting a pannier rack if you do go unsupported. Won't cost you a load of money - will work with (IIRC) 440 forks, or On-One do forks that will work as well.
  • CrapaudCrapaud Posts: 2,666
    amaferanga wrote:
    If you've decided that this is for you then I won't try to persuade you otherwise, ...
    Nothing's set in stone. There may well be very good reasons not to go this way that I'm not aware of. It's one of the reasons that I've posted so far ahead.
    amaferanga wrote:
    ... but IMO the experience of cycling Cairo to Cape Town unsupported on your own or with a friend or two would be massively more interesting, character building, etc., not to mention cheaper than the Tour d'Afrique. ...
    I don't disagree with that, however, I've tried to organise such things in the past, but people invariably pull out and I'm left to do them on my own. The greatest stumbling blocks for others is getting time off work. I'm not even going to ask this time. One of the reasons for choosing a supported tour is that there will be people to share the experience with. Another is that a lot of the planning and research is already organised; to do it myself would be extremely time consuming.
    amaferanga wrote:
    ... I see it as an idea born by Americans who would die of fright at the mere thought of cycling in Africa alone and personally I'd be quite embarassed to be part of the spectacle that is Tour d'Afrique....
    While I think that I know what you're refering to, I'm not sure. What makes it such an embarrassing spectacle? Could you elaborate, please? (PM me if you prefer)
    amaferanga wrote:
    ... With all that support any reasonably fit cyclist could probably cycle just about anywhere in the world.
    This is true. There are aspects of the Td'A that seem overly supportive - a chef and a mechanic mainly. The TDC, IMO, had a better balance between support and leaving the riders to their own devices. Being supported does diminish the adventure, the challenge, the experience and, more importantly, the self sufficency, it's still an adventure, a challenge and an experience.

    I'm treating it more as a cycling holiday, a chance to see some of the great man-made and natural wonders, and to experience other cultures (even if it's more of a snapshot). I can always go back to the areas that interest me.
    A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject - Churchill
  • 456 would be a bit overkill, although if it were me a nice steel hardtail would be my choice, so maybe just a standard inbred with a reliable front lock-out fork (I'd go for a coil not air- less to go wrong in terms of it still being useable). v-brakes would be fine- can't imagine it's going to be too wet! or cable discs as suggested.
    2 (or more) bottle mounts would be useful I suppose (or at least space for tie-on/clip on bottle holders).
    Maybe consider an adjustable rise stem if they're reliable enough so you can adjust ride height and comfort when required- some bar ends also for the same reason.
    A seriously comfy saddle at almost any weight penalty.

    I've looked into Tour d'Afrique and thought that these are things I'd choose for a bike.
  • GyatsoLaGyatsoLa Posts: 667
    I'd look seriously at a Rohloff hubbed bike for a trip like this, it will save a huge amount of maintenance. After a long day in the saddle, I suspect the last thing you'll want to be doing is lots of chain/gear maintenance. All you need with a Rohloff is an odd oil change and keep an eye on the chain.

    I'd actually favour a 'cross bike over an mtb for a trip like this. I think the geometry and set up would be more comfortable, and the larger wheels will give you a fraction more comfort. And they are usually significantly lighter, while the better ones are tough enough to withstand the rigors of the race. Good handbuilt wheels would be essential of course. I'd bring a range of tyres, from racy type ones for the tarmac stretches, to Schwalbe marathons for the tougher stuff. No need to have anything as heavy as the XR, since you have support to carry a few spares and changes.

    If you did go for an mtb, I'd consider a 29er, as this would roll a little better over rough, broken and sandy roads.

    I can't link to it now (censored work pc won't let me open the page), but from memory, Van Nicholas do a Rohloff version of their Amazon 'cross/light touring bike. I think that would be pretty much perfect - while ti seems a luxury, it will give a nicer ride for long days, and it will withstand truck/boat trips and rough handling better than the alu frames on most other bikes.
  • andymillerandymiller Posts: 2,856
    After a long day in the saddle, I suspect the last thing you'll want to be doing is lots of chain/gear maintenance.

    Rohloff chains are self-cleaning? Wow.

    The trip sounds expensive enough as it is, without adding a Rohloff into the mix.

    456 would be a bit overkill, although if it were me a nice steel hardtail would be my choice

    According to On-One, the the thicker top and down tubes on the 456 frame add 100g to the weight of a standard Inbred. so not deperately over the top - I find it a relaxed comfortable all-terrain do-it-all tourer. Both are nice steel hardtails though.
  • GyatsoLaGyatsoLa Posts: 667
    Rohloff chains are self-cleaning? Wow.

    Not quite, but in dry dusty conditions, but with the simple clean chainline and a good dose of wax lube, using a good singlespeed chain (like Rohloffs own or a KMC), the maintenence is the least of your worries. i've cycled across half the tibetan plateau and a good chunk of Ladakh with just a few applications of dry lube to top it up... nothing else was needed to the gears or chain. Might be different if you hit lots of rain and mud, it would need the odd spot of cleaning too, but not really essential.

    The trip sounds expensive enough as it is, without adding a Rohloff into the mix.

    The price of a Rohloff is roughly equivalent to XTR or Dura-Ace. Bikes with Rohloff fitted are not noticeably more expensive than any other top of the range bikes. But by the end of the Tour the Rohloff will be nicely bedded in and ready for another few 10's of thousands of km.
  • CrapaudCrapaud Posts: 2,666
    From the photos in the blogs I've been looking at, it looks like the tour has been done on just about every type of bike available (except a BMX and a Chopper :D ). One guy even did it on a full-on carbon racer, though he had to have a new frame shipped out 2/3rds of the way.

    At first I considered an MTB as it would cover the worst road conditions, but wondered whether the extra weight on the longer days ( this blog has the longest day at 195km), in what's bound to be very warm / hot weather, might be a bit much. Likewise, the gearing of an MTB strikes me as a bit low. Would an MTB take 52 / 42 chainrings?

    GyatsoLa, the 'cross bike's an interesting suggestion, and one that I hadn't thought of. I've had a look at a few - they seem to be somewhere in between a tourer and an audax bike. I'm not sure about the carbon forks, which appear to be standard, though.
    andymiller wrote:
    The trip sounds expensive enough as it is, without adding a Rohloff into the mix.
    At this point the cost isn't important. Once I've worked out what's going to perform best, and the overall cost, I'll be able to see whether it's affordable or whether I'll have to make compromises. It's another reason for posting so far ahead - to get a more accurate idea of cost and work out some kind of savings plan.

    Had a look at the Van Nic Amazon: I see there're 2 versions, a triple with drops and the Rolhoff with flat bars. I've only ever used drops. Would flat bars give more control over the rougher terrain? I like the look of the Specialized tricross comp as well.

    PS [off topic]GyatsoLa, do you have a blog of your tour on the tibetan plateau?[/off topic]
    A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject - Churchill
  • stu99stu99 Posts: 177
    This was on my list of things to do for a while and I followed the blogs and websites quite closely.

    Solo vs group: down to individual preference but I wouldn't consider a solo trip (and I lived in Africa for a number of years). You're just too vulnerable if things go wrong - illness, theft, intimidation bribes. I think the Sudan can't be pleasant for a solo cyclist but once you're down to Kenya things will be easier and safer. You could probably do it quite cheaply as a solo rider relying on the goodwill of people along the way - I know someone who hitched from London to Cape Town in the mid 90s for £100 all in. Travelling in an organised tour group means you don't have to haul 10-15kgs worth of gear with you - a big plus with daily temperatures of 20-40 degrees!

    Bike: I wouldn't consider anything other than a hard tail or even rigid fork mountain bike for a trip like this - the roads in Africa will remind you that you are in the third world. Keep it as simple as possible - I'd go for V-brakes and probably forego shocks - less to go wrong and easier to repair. Choose the wheel/ tyre combination carefully.

    It will be the trip of a lifetime - go for it!
  • GyatsoLaGyatsoLa Posts: 667
    Crapaud, sorry, no blog of my tour! But there are plenty of blogs about Tibet on www.crazyguyonabike.com (I think that site is under maintenance at the moment. I'd be happy to answer any questions you have on it.

    As for handlebars, I don't think there is a simple answer to this, they are as personal a thing as saddles. If you are used to drops, then I think thats what you should stick with. Just be aware that if you went for a Rohloff, the twist cgrip doesn't fit well onto drops, I think they place it on the stem. But you'd need very comfy bar tape (i think its possible to get gel inserts) for such a long distance ride. Straight bars do give more leverage, but I doubt if thats all that relevant for any apart from the very worst sections of the Td'A. But if you do go for straight bars, I'd suggest using ergon grips and bar ends, preferably the Cane Creek ones. They give you more options and comfort. I've even known tourers who swear by clip-on aero bars to straight bar bikes for all day comfort.

    For what its worth, I was talking about this some time ago to a physio who does a lot of work with cyclists, and she maintained that having a grip at right angles to your body (as you would riding the hoods or using bar ends) results in less stress on the shoulders and chest.

    One thing I've often wondered about the T'deA is if some use more than one bike. I've seen some on very lightweight road bikes - I don't know whether they have an mtb on hold, or they just do a lot of maintenance when in the rougher parts of the continent.

    I know there are terrible roads on the way, but I would still maintain that a tough cross/audax/light tour bike with well built wheels and good components should be able to stand up to it. If so, then such a bike would be more comfortable and significantly faster than a rigid mtb. Just compare the weights - a steel mtb would be at least 1.5 kg heavier than a tough crosser. It would be more aero if you are fighting headwinds and the larger wheels will ride over rough roads more smoothly. Plenty of people have ridden very tough routes on such bikes, often with significant loads. I've know several people who have toured happily on very poor roads in SE Asia on Specialized Allez roadbikes. Also, as someone who tours all the time on an On One Inbred, I'm not convinced this bike is the best for all day rides on roads - they are very overbuilt (one reason I tour on them) and the geometry isn't really ideal for all day comfort. As well as the Inbred, I ride a singlespeed Kona Unit (steel Explosif frame), and I find the shorter cockpit of that bike much more comfortable for a long time in the saddle (the frame is also significantly lighter). If I was to do the T'de A tomorrow with the bikes I have, I'd put my Rohloff from my Inbred onto the Unit and ride that bike instead.

    As for carbon forks, in theory, they would be better than steel or alu for an event like that, because carbon does not suffer from fatigue like metal does. If its strong enough to take the roughest roads, then its strong enough to do the full continent (**disclaimer** I am not an engineer**). Of course, 'theory' doesn't always take account for badly bonded steerers, manufacturing flaws, etc., but i'd still think a good carbon fork would be fine.
  • andymillerandymiller Posts: 2,856
    GyatsoLa wrote:
    For what its worth, I was talking about this some time ago to a physio who does a lot of work with cyclists, and she maintained that having a grip at right angles to your body (as you would riding the hoods or using bar ends) results in less stress on the shoulders and chest.

    I can believe that. Bullhorn aero bars are also well worth considering.
    One thing I've often wondered about the T'deA is if some use more than one bike. I've seen some on very lightweight road bikes - I don't know whether they have an mtb on hold, or they just do a lot of maintenance when in the rougher parts of the continent.

    Great idea, but the logistics of getting two or more bikes out there?
    I know there are terrible roads on the way, but I would still maintain that a tough cross/audax/light tour bike with well built wheels and good components should be able to stand up to it. If so, then such a bike would be more comfortable and significantly faster than a rigid mtb. Just compare the weights - a steel mtb would be at least 1.5 kg heavier than a tough crosser. It would be more aero if you are fighting headwinds and the larger wheels will ride over rough roads more smoothly. Plenty of people have ridden very tough routes on such bike.

    Presumably that weight difference is based on the extra weight of a hydraulic fork? Depending on what sort of roads you are riding on, the extra weight would be (wholly? partly? - I don't know) compensated for by the reduced vibration. Alternatively a rigid MTB would offer the ability to have big fat tyres for very bad dirt roads with the ability to convert to slicks for road sections without much of a weight penalty. (Two sets of wheels might be an option to consider).

    You're right that a decent cross-bike should be as tough as an MTB.

    I appreciate the argument about suspension forks being something else to go wrong. (I've been having this debate with myself). You can reduce the risk of catastrophic failure by going for non-air suspension forks (eg Rockshox Recon Coils or certain older Marzocchi forks).
  • GyatsoLaGyatsoLa Posts: 667
    Presumably that weight difference is based on the extra weight of a hydraulic fork?

    I think it would be more than the fork - mtb frames are usually quite a bit heavier, as are some of the components, such as cranks and so on. I might be wrong on this, but I've always thought of mid-to high spec tough road bikes as being around the 22-24 lb range, while similar hard tails would be 26-28lbs. Yes, I know there are significantly lighter xc race mtb's, but I think a lot of their components wouldn't be suitable for the TdeA. I do agree though, that sus forks would help with fatigue. That said, my Marzochi MX forks proved to be pretty useless when facing washboard surfaces, they still near rattled my teeth out whenever I hit them. Most sus forks that I know of are designed for absorbing single hits, not suppressing vibrations.

    On the subject of mtb's for doing the tour, if the OP's budget is very high, one I'd go for would be the Moots YBB soft-tail. The bit of suspension on the tail could make a big difference with comfort.
  • You know ..I've seriously considered doing it but I just think it's too damn expensive. They simply can't justify the staggering fee they charge, imo.

    With the poor exchange rate now, flights and the fact there are 20 rest days where you pay for everything..the whole thing would end up costing nearly ten grand and averages about 70 quid a day for a campsites and some very basic food.

    On the plus side, it's supported and reasonably safe - police often guard the campgrounds etc...

    I am not adventurous enough to do an unsupported tour like that on my own (I know those who have and have nothing but admiration for them). However, I think it's just way too much money. People could buy a 4x4 and drive the whole continent for less (yes, I know...sacrilege to suggest it :) )

    Here is the journal of a guy who did it last year.

    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=3 ... =3205&v=5J
  • £10000?! That's basically my budget for the trip i'm planning to cycle from the UK to Cape Town, but spread over a 2-year period - thereby leaving me with plenty of time to do other things and see different places.
    I have no doubt that the Td'A will be an amazing trip - especially if you like the company and camaraderie of a supported, organised tour - just not my thing.

    I've just spent all afternoon looking round bike shops in London and I've convinced myself that the Thorn Raven Tour will be the best for me - steel, 26in wheel base, rohloff, rigid forks, flat bars is basically the criteria I think i'll need. Difference with my trip is that i'll be carrying all my own gear and have to rely on my limited supplies or African 'bike shops' for repairs.

    Apart from what others have already said (and no doubt based on more knowledge than I have), you could check out the other Thorn bikes - www.thorncycles.co.uk - sjscycles who make them come from a touring background and seem extremely knowledgeable about what is needed in a bike for exactly this kind of venture.

    There's links to a couple of sites of people who have toured through Africa on my website which may or may not be of use.

    Well, good luck with the planning....
  • GyatsoLaGyatsoLa Posts: 667
    takeonafrica - that sounds like an amazing trip. Have you seen this website?

    http://www.koreatocapetown.co.uk/thebike.asp

    He has used a Thorn, I think he was pretty happy with it.
  • Yes - I've seen this website. The guy, also known as Big Dan, did a trip from london to cape town (via East Africa) before this too.
    There was an article in the Times about his latest effort only a few weeks ago.

    He did indeed use a Thorn (Raven Tour) - which is what I intend to get - he used a trailer though whereas I shall be going for the panniers option.

    Helen
  • You have my respect TOA. Hope it's one eye-opening expedition for you.
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