Now I'm well aware that many of you out there are into mountainbiking or roadracing, but I hope that the addition of this section may entice some of you to take the plunge and use your bikes for something other than getting muddy and sweaty!
The problem is that cycletouring puts special demands on a bike, and the cost of a "classic" touring mount starts at £500 and rises steeply from there. For those of you wanting to "have a go" that's a huge investment for something you might find you don't like. It's generally possible to cadge a pair of panniers and a tent from a mate, but people tend to be a bit funny about lending out their precious bike (me I don't let my wife touch mine let alone ride it, I'm only allowed to touch her bike if it needs fixing...) So in the absence of alternatives it's a case of making do with what you already have.
Here you roadies are in trouble, because quite honestly the worst bike to tour on is a pukka racing mount. It can be done but generally revolves around cycling with a rucksack and a lot of painkillers, enough to put you off for life. The better alternative is to tow a trailer but at £200 + that's going to hurt too - all is not lost however, read on...
It helps to set out what the bike needs to be able to do first. It needs to be strong, with low gears and good brakes, it also needs to be comfortable enough to be ridden gently all day. Now all these apply to a greater or lesser degree to a mountainbike. In recent years the trend for good mountainbikes to have a stretched out riding position means that you're going to suffer over a long run. In this respect cheap leisure mountainbikes score over their more expensive brethren. If you have a classy mountainbike things can be helped by fitting a shorter stem with as much rise as possible, and a pair of bars with some lift such as downhill bars. Bar-ends or curly bars will give you a range of hand positions. As for the other end just fit the comfiest saddle you can find, racing "knives" will kill you on a week long tour. The other problem with the top mountainbikes is that they often don't have dropout mounts for a rack. If the dropouts have a cutaway or hole in them you can bodge a rack on by using a bolt with two large washers to sandwich the dropout. I suppose if you're desperate you could get a bikeshop to drill and tap into the dropout but that seems a little drastic...
As for the rack itself avoid cheap alloy ones like the plague. They break and can't be repaired. Much better to buy a cheap steel rack, these are pretty indestructible and if they do break on tour any garage will weld them in a few minutes. A steel rack with three point fixing will be OK if you don't have braze-ons for a rack and don't want to risk your paint with clips round the seatstays. A set of mudguards would be nice, but more important is that you change the tyres. Those lovely "Killer Death Mudslingers" might be great on the muddy bits, but they're going to slow you down on the road. You'll also wear the knobblies off which could work out expensive in the end... Better to get a pair of hybrid tyres like Nokians "Mount and City", these are dirt cheap, roll well, last forever and are very reliable, suddenly you'll find your mountainbike has grown wings!
The total cost of this conversion should be less than £70, and the result will be a very capable touring machine. For the roadies out there you may even find someone prepared to lend out a hack mountainbike, or in extremis a cheap mountainbike bought second hand would get you touring for £100. If you do take this route then the one essential is that the rear hub must be a freehub, cheap rear hubs will break under touring loads.
As for the rest of the kit, if you don't have any friends with panniers, then just hang cheap rucksacks/bags/boxes off your shiny new rack, the point is to get out and do it rather than stay home because you can't afford the latest wonder kit...See you out there!
See Breton Bikes new venture! For those wanting a place to drive their sportscar...!