An increasing number of lodges offer opportunities to explore the bush on mountain bike. But if you’re plotting a longer two-wheeled expedition, here’s six top tips to help you on your way.
Bring your own bike.
In Africa, it’s only in South Africa that you’re likely to find a good selection of suitable bikes. It’s better to buy, equip and get used to your machine at home before leaving on your big trip. Make sure you love your saddle, it’s going to be a close relationship…
Mountain bikes with 26-inch wheels are the way to go.
Only South Africa and Namibia have roads good enough for road bikes and their narrow tyres. Choose a steel-framed bike, which is a good bet for a long ride as it can easily be welded if the worst happens. Keep it simple.
For a long-haul trip, choose a bike with no suspension.
Alternatively, if your bike has suspension forks, make sure they are a reliable low-maintenance design and get them serviced before you go. Shocks, or front suspension, are great to have on Africa’s bad roads for a couple of weeks, but the longer the trip, the greater risk of breakdowns. Nobody takes a bike with rear suspension touring in Africa, but a suspension seatpost would be a simple and reliable way to cope with potholed roads.
Your choice of tyres will make all the difference.
Thorns are your biggest enemy, so get puncture-resistant tyres with Kevlar linings. Don’t go for knobby tyres unless your trip is mostly in loose mud or wet conditions — they are slower to ride on and much more easily punctured.
Carry all the spares you might need.
You probably won’t find good quality parts in most of Africa. And buy high-quality equipment like chains as these will last you many miles, while some of the cheap chains bought locally may only last as little as 10km.
Choose racks made of cromoly steel instead of aluminium.
It’s practically impossible to repair broken aluminium on the road except by making a splint of tent pegs and wire, but steel is easily welded, and it’s not hard to find bicycle-repair stands and shops. If you limit your kit, you can get by with only a rear rack.
What to take:
• A bike computer — basically a digital-age mileometer, recording your speed and distance, but very useful for navigating: a GPS is probably overkill unless you are off paved roads, and you would need a map to make much use of it.
• A compass — if you’re not used to being south of the equator, you can’t trust your instincts as to which way is north.
• Lightweight warm clothing — again, you won’t need much
• A good lightweight tent suitable for a bike, compact and with aluminium poles: look for natural colours if you want to camp in the wild and not attract attention; get a well-ventilated tent for the hotter regions.
• In most regions, a summer sleeping bag may be warm enough, but check climate charts before departure.
• Air-inflated Thermarest mattresses are luxurious, but very vulnerable to thorns, so consider their closed-cell foam alternative, the Z-rest, which is less compact but almost as thick (2cm rather than 2.5cm when air-filled) and will never succumb to a puncture.
• A small stove that will burn on petrol: you will find cheap and light steel pots locally easily enough.
• A Leatherman multitool will be invaluable.