In New Zealand you can set yourself up on a bike with carriers and panniers for around NZD $3000. Any reputable bike shop will sell you a good quality bike for about $2000 (more or less, depending on your requirements). The remaining $1000 will cover racks and panniers.
Another good option is to buy second hand. Good used touring bikes and kit sometimes come up on TradeMe at reasonable prices. Natural High Rentals in Christchurch also regularly sell off good quality second hand gear.
Don't let cost be a barrier. I once met a cyclist successfully touring with makeshift panniers on a bike he'd bought for $20. He was having the time of his life.
Hybrid, Mountain or Touring bike?
Dedicated touring bikes are purpose built to be robust, low maintenance, and support long days in the saddle... but they are not cheap.
Unless you are planning an extended world tour a standard Mountain Bike or a Hybrid bike should be just fine. I have found hybrids suit New Zealand's wide variety of road surfaces and have travelled off-road and on sealed surfaces riding my old aluminium Giant Prodigy for many years. This has a straight handlebar with bull-bars attached and 700 mm wheels (aka, 29ers). But 'type of frame' is a hotly debated issue. Mountain bikes have fewer punctures because of their thicker tyres. They are rugged, with smaller frames and smaller wheels and are easier to put on buses and planes.
Tandems are fine but difficult to use with public transport. You really need to get on well with your partner to ride a tandem day after day.
Select your basic frame from any well known make including Giant, Marin, KHS, Kona, Surly, etc. Almost all frames are made in China. Some serious cyclists like a steel frame which is heavier but easier to weld if it gets a crack and more flexible to cycle on. Others use a chro-moly. But most frames bought today in a shop are light-weight aluminium. Although strongly built, the problem here is, you cannot easily weld aluminium if it cracks. Arguably more important than the frame, is the componentry that goes with it.
I suggest a good, basic starting place for your componentry (gears, brakes, bearings etc.) should be Shimano Deore. If you can afford it, Deore LX and Deore XT and XTR are better quality. Shimano Altus and Alivio are cheaper alternatives, but a bit lightweight in quality. You should get two good quality racks thrown in (Phillips are not bad for the price, Blackburn have a good name too) and Schwalbe Marathon tyres fitted. Try to get good quality rims with 32/36 holes/spokes.
Your bike will have around 24 - 30 gears. Ensure you have a good range of gears and a low, low ratio gear if you are a beginner. It makes the hills easier. In short, this means an extra-big cog on the rear cluster at the back. For the most part you will have to trust your dealer on this. Explain your requirements and be prepared to experiment before you get the bike set up correctly.
A good saddle (seat) is essential. Not too hard and not too soft, with fabric that does not absorb water. A good saddle is anywhere between $100 to $400. At the higher end of the range are Brookes leather saddles. In particular the B17 & its sprung equivalent the Flyer are favoured by cycle tourers the world over. Though expensive, once worn in a leather saddle moulds to your shape and can be ridden on for hours with minimal discomfort.
Handlebars are another important contact point with the bike. Long hours riding can put considerable strain on your hands. The key to avoiding discomfort is to have handlebars which allow you to change hand positions. European touring frames with drop handlebars are OK, but often unsuited to the wider variety of terrains you encounter in New Zealand. Much depends on your own physical body shape and what feels comfortable to you.
If you have flat bars then one easy and inexpensive option is to add bar ends: small extensions that attach to the end of bar. I started with cheap bar ends, eventually trading up to the more expensive Ergon grips which offer extra wrist support.
Be safe and get yourself a mirror. New Zealand does not have a cycling culture or cycle tracks as sophisticated as parts of Europe and the States. Sometimes you have little choice but to use a main road, and New Zealand drivers are not always careful when dealing with cyclists.
Some cyclists swear by the mirrors that attach to either your helmet or sunglasses. I’ve tried both, though without much success. Invariably the mirror shakes around and viewport is too small. Currently I have a good, large mirror that attaches to the bar end. Remember that, as we drive on the left, the mirror will be on the right-hand side.
Good quality panniers can set you back around $400 per pair. The best in my opinion is Ortlieb, a German company, but they are also the most expensive. Phillips make a good, cheaper waterproof alternative. Waterproof is the operative word, and I have had some disasters with cheaper canvas-type panniers. You can get away with just two rear panniers, but any serious cycle tourist will have two smaller, additional panniers on the front AND a handlebar bag. Be prepared to haggle and get 10 - 15% off if you are buying new. Most New Zealand cycle shops are reputable. It is a good idea to talk to a cycle mechanic rather than a salesman to start with.
If you know what you are doing, buy second-hand, and you may get some excellent deals. If you don't, keep asking around. Inform yourself on bikes and bike culture. If you can, take a short course in bike maintenance.
Bob-trailers (or similar) are also very popular, but a little trickier with public transport. Some cyclists swear by Bob-trailers, others by panniers. This is another hotly debated cycle issue.
Keep it lightweight and functional (about 3.5 kg or less generally if you are solo). Again, good quality fabric (rip-stop) will save any mishaps in isolated places. Look for properly sealed seams and a good hydrostatic head (AKA water-column) rating to prevent leakage when that torrential downpour comes. The best tents are arguably by Swedish company Hilleberg. Others are Macpac, Vaude and a host of reputable American and European companies. Make sure you can set up and pack down your tent in rain (it happens). Some makers prefer a tent style in which the tent inner clips onto the poles first and then the fly goes over top - difficult to set up in rain without the inner getting soaked.
Choose between a single lightweight if it is just for yourself or a Tunnel or a Dome tent if there are two of you. The tent should have adequate storage in the fly for your gear. I began with a cheaper tunnel tent which began to leak after two seasons. I went on to a Mac Micro-light which was wonderfully rugged, simple and light but a bit small. I now have a heavier Dome Fairydown. I prefer Dome tents to Tunnel tents because they are often freestanding plus you can exit either side, rather than through the front, which is less hassle in the middle of the night.
Tents are usually designated by seasons. Thus, a four-season tent would be more rugged, usually better quality, designed for alpine use and more expensive than a two or three season tent. But if you are a summer camper, you might find a four-season tent too hot (i.e. lacking inner mesh to minimize heat loss). Alas, there is no such thing as the perfect tent and you must strike the right balance between weight, size, performance and price. A good quality two to three-season is generally enough for touring.
I always carry a small plastic groundsheet with brass eyelets around the sides. The groundsheet stops small holes or punctures forming in the base of your tent if you pitch on stones or twigs. The groundsheet can also be used to wrap around your bike for travelling, even by plane. Just tie it round your bike using the eyelets and any bits of loose string.
I have a single sided Macpac lightweight down sleeping bag because I usually tour in summer. If it gets cold I put more clothes on. I can slip a Three Quarter Thermarest mattress into a sleeve underneath the bag. Down is the best material for wadding although there are excellent and cheaper man-made fibres (like Dacron) that can be used as alternatives. However, down packs down tighter and uses less space. The Mac model I have is sadly no longer made but the trick is to get something small and lightweight that you feel comfortable with. Much depends on whether you are a warm or a cool sleeper. It helps if the sleeping bag zips open into a duvet for those really warm nights.
Use a cheap, lightweight gas cartridge stove to start with. Carry a spare gas cartridge. Later you can go for more expensive liquid fuel stoves if you wish. MSR make a range of high-quality liquid fuel stoves. Most campgrounds in New Zealand have access to stoves, but you may need cooking gear. Buy quality Seagull stainless steel pot and fry-pan or equivalent with thick bases (thin bases buckle with intense heat) and include at least a sharp knife, cutlery and a tin opener. You can carry these in a plastic toothbrush container. Some cyclists like lighter weight anodyne or aluminium pots and pans. I do not. A tea towel and small abrasive pad is good. Ask around. Every cycle tourist has their own method and favourite style stove. It is illegal to take gas cartridges or fuel bottles on a plane. The former because of pressurisation issues, the latter because of the possibility of fumes and fire. Some travelling cyclists just rinse out their fuel bottle thoroughly and take it on the plane anyway, although this appears a bit cavalier to me.
I have a couple of rain covers for the rear panniers; not for waterproofing, but because they are brightly coloured and visible from a distance. It gives drivers more time to plan their approach and overtake safely.
Take a pillow slip and fill it with your jacket and clothes at night. It is never comfortable, but you get used to it. I have not had much success with micro-towels and prefer a medium weight regular towel. Take sunglasses, sun block and insect-repellent. For security, I prefer a D lock rather than a chain lock. The D Lock is heavier but harder to break. You can also use a D Lock as a hammer if the ground is too hard for tent pegs.
A toilet bag is always handy (available from Kathmandu stores), these are about $20 on sale. They include hook and mirror and various pockets for soap and shampoo etc.
One important item is a torch. I really like my compact four bulb Petzl Zipka head-light which enables me to read and is bright enough to put up a tent in the dark etc. I have even used it as a headlight at night on the bike. Carry a rear red light of top quality that has a flashing mode and at least 5 L.E.D's. Bolt this to your frame to prevent theft and don't leave the batteries in it. You will inevitably at some point turn it on accidentally and then have no light when you need it because of flat batteries.
Take a basic tool kit and one or two spare tubes.
- A spanner or Allen key to take off your pedals if necessary. Remember ONE of your pedals has a left-hand thread and the other a right-hand thread... don't strip the thread accidentally. The end of the pedal will have an L or R to indicate which way you need to turn the spanner.
- Oil, of course, and a toothbrush for cleaning the derailleur
- A rag is useful to wipe your hands if you get a flat
- Small needle nosed pliers
- 100 mm adjustable/crescent spanner
- A range of Allen keys to suit your handlebars and other bits/racks etc
- A two-way Phillips/regular screwdriver
- A good quality, small action (lightweight) pump that takes both tube-valve types (schrader and presta). The pump fits on your bike. Make sure the pump can inflate up to the pressure recommended for your tyre.
- A tube repair kit and sleeve/pad for possible splits in a tyre
- A spoke wrench
- Chain links for quick, on-the-road repairs
- A small roll of cloth tape can be used to repair just about anything
- A range of nylon ties is useful
- Also in my toolkit is the next best thing, a lightweight tool for removing the rear cassette in case of a broken spoke
This is my basic kit and it all fits in a large pouch (available from cycle shops) fitted underneath the rear of the seat.
Some cyclists carry spare spokes (in the tube below the seat post in the frame) and tools for chain adjustment and repair etc. Some also carry a spare tyre (sometimes wrapped around the front hub inside the spokes, sometimes folded up under the seat). It is all a matter of balancing light weight against the possibility of break-down in far-flung places.
You might want to have your bike fitted with a set of extra lugs so you can carry three water bottles or, if you wish, you might want to carry your fuel bottle on your bike frame instead of in the pannier. Drink plenty of water and save your kidneys.
Water from streams and lakes? Generally no, but if it is fast-running and coming from high up, you might want to take a chance. Just remember, you don't know what has died and/or fallen into the water supply further upstream!
First-aid kit should include some sort of painkillers (e.g., nurofen) and something to lessen fever, bandages for sprains, antiseptic cream, a good all round cream for anti-chaffing. Pads for severe cuts and a range of plasters for blisters and or light cuts. Scissors. Bring a high SPF suncream and use if liberally and often. In high summer the sunshine in New Zealand is very strong. You'll burn more easily here.
Two sets of cycle shorts, one long set of cycle longs for colder weather (it happens) and three cycle shirts. Start with (cheaper) cages on your pedals and wear regular sports shoes or similar until you feel more experienced and THEN switch to the more efficient clip-less shoes/pedals if you wish. I still use cages because I don't want to carry extra shoes with me. But this is a trade-off and another issue debated by cyclists. Some wear Tevas (sandals), but you can get fairly dry and cracked skin on your feet this way.
Buy a good, medium weight waterproof jacket, usually Goretex (up to 800 dollars) with gutter zips (armpit zips) and a hood. This will do to keep the rain off and also be able to be used when just walking around and sightseeing etc. Ensure it is long at the back to cover your backside when you are leaning forward on the bike. You will almost always sweat inside your jacket when cycling. Buy some sort of fleece, lightweight jacket. The rest of your wardrobe is up to you. Choose easy washable and quick dry fabrics. I am a fan of North Face zip off trousers (longs and shorts in one) and thin merino wool vests etc.
Aim for about 25 km and be ready for a sore rear end and aching muscles as your body gets used to the bike, and you fine-tune the bike to your body. Adjust your seat and/or handlebars to compensate for any back aches. Between-the-shoulder-blades ache and lower end backache are the two most common. Once you get the adjustment right, you can cycle all day with a minimum of soreness.
Keep left and cycle defensively!