Hello and thanks very much for the post Ali.
Am currently cycling from Argentina to Alaska. 9 months into my trip in Ecuador just crossed the Equator a couple of days ago. I post a blog on travelblog approximately once a month.
Following up on Conor´s post above thought I would put down a few of my bike-specific ideas down about (1) preparation and (2) life on the road for a long distance trips. It is not meant to be an exhaustive or definitive list.
Preparation-What kind of bike to ride?
I am riding an old mountain bike with a steel frame (English make Orange P7). No front or back suspension. My basic philosophy is the simpler the better. Fewer things to go wrong and easier to fix if they do.
Steel frame is important in case you need to get it welded (I had to get my frame welded twice in Chile).
2. Gears and components
Get good Shimano components fitted (gears, chain, wheel hubs etc).
Get some strong wheels fitted (sorry can´t remember what mine are called but so far, touch wood, they have been brilliant Dan and Greg will be able to tell you if you get in touch with them see below). Make sure the hole for yor tyre valve is wide enough so that both types of inner tube (Presta and Schraeder) will fit through.
I think 26 inch wheels rather than 28 inch wheels are probably easier to get fixed, buy spokes for and new tyres etc.
Schwalb Marathon tyres are the ones that a lot of cycle tourists use and are probably the best (met a German bloke a couple of weeks ago who has them and has gone 19,000 km without a puncture). At the moment I have a Specialised Flakjacket tyre on my back wheel and it is pretty good.
I have gone through 5 so far. At the moment I have a Brooks saddle (without springs) and am really happy with it. Very comfortable after it has been broken in.
Like most long distance riders I have met, I am riding with waterproof hiking boots (Asolo), flat pedas and straps. Clip in shoes and pedals I think are too complicated plus you have to carry hiking boots if you have them. Would also recommend a pair of sandals that you can slip on easily in case you have to cross a stream.
Not carrying much. 2 pairs of pants. 2 pairs of socks. 3 pairs of cycling shorts. 3 tops for cycling in. Have waterproof trousers and good waterproof jacket, a windbreaker top 1 pair of long johns and a feather down body warmer.
8. Prescription sunglasses
Are a good idea if you wear glasses. If you are camping contact lenses can be a hassle and you also get sand in your eyes when you are riding in dusty places.
Are a pain if you are on a bike. They have a chase reflex instinct. This is another way of saying that they are really really really stupid. I now have a DogDazer. Small machine that emits an ultrasonic blast which dogs hate (but is painless). Would recommend getting one. (Rabies jabs only give you extra time to get to the hospital for more jabs.)
Get a decent water filiter if you are going somewhere remote. One I have got at the moment isn´t much good as filter has to be replaced after 100 litres (so I have tablets and liquid as well too). You can get much better ones.
Wear a helmet at all times. On a previous cycling holiday I fell off and now have a big scar on my forehead. I was wearing a helmet at the time, it smashed and it would have been much much worse without it.
12. Trailer or Paniers?
Am Using a Bob Ibex trailer (i.e with suspension) to carry all my gear in. I love my Bob trailer and often spend my nights staring fondly at it. I would recommend them to anyone. But if you decide to go with the more traditional panniers get Ortleib bags and Tubus pannier racks. Again I wouldn´t recommend aluminium panniers. Generally the less stuff you take the easier and more fun the riding is. If there are two of you share a tent and cooking stove.
Pretzl headlamps are useful and so is my Leatherman Wave knife. Also have an iPod (with Spanish lessons on it)
If you are going to do a ride why not do it for charity and set up a page on the www.justgiving.com site (I am riding for Medecins Sans Frontieres)? I also have a letter from MSF in Spanish and English to explain to people what I am doing and also thought it might be useful in case in contact with officials, police etc.
15. local bike shop
Find a bike shop near to your home and tell them what you are going to do. Dan and Greg at Moose Cycles in Colliers Wood, London (www.moosecycles.com) gave me a lot of help and were really friendly. I don´t think you need to be a good bike mechanic. I have been able to find mechanics everywhere I have been so far. I am not a good bike mechanic. So long as you try and keep your bike clean , especially the chain and do basic stuff like fix punctures and mend a broken chain you should be ok.
Before I went on this trip I went to Peru for a three week biking holiday with a company called Redspokes (www.redspokes.co.uk). Run by a very funny if mad bloke called Dermot. I had a really good time. You don´t carry your stuff, that is put in a support vehicle. If you are not sure if cycle touring is your thing you could try something like this first before going off on a big trip.
Am using conventional V brakes. Disc brakes too complicated for long distance touring.
Life on the road
1. Riding with other people or on your own is a matter of personal preference. I have met loads of other bikers and people often meet on the road and ride together which can be great fun. In northern Argentina there were about 12 riders in the same hostel (Terra Occulta 361 Cordoba, brilliant really friendly people). Generally I think though I prefer to ride on my own and do my own thing. If you can´t find someone to ride with you should still give it a go. Riding is better than not riding.
2. I don´t carry guide books not much use if you going to be going through lots of small villages and for bigger places it is pretty easy to find somewhere to stay and work out what is going on. I do carry books, novels etc. otherwise I would go mad.
3. Smaller quieter unpaved roads are almost always much more fun to ride than busy paved roads. It takes much longer on an unpaved road though and is harder going but the scenery is better.
Hope the above is what you had in mind Conor
All the best. If you are thinking about doing it do it.
Pushonnorth aka Tim Malloch