SS/Fixed Touring? NZ/Laos??

I’ve been saving like mad for a overseas cycletouring mission with my wife and two options are on the table:

  1. South Island - New Zealand.
    Fly into Christchurch and stick mainly to the East Coast, perhaps North to Kaikoura and Nelson or South to Dunedin and Invercargil.

  2. Laos.
    Fly into Vientiane and head North thru Vang Vieng towards Luang Prabang.

Being mechanically challenged and a nutter, I’m keen to keep it simple and ride my Surly Steamroller (probably not fixed, most likely as a single speed). I can get a mate who is a framebuilder to weld on tabs for panniers… I’m already doing long distances on this bike and riding fixed over some bloody big hills so the step up to touring on this bike (as long as I keep the load light) shouldn’t be too big…

Anyway, what I wanted to ask is:

  1. Has anybody toured these countries?

  2. What is the terrain/roads like?

  3. Gearing suggestions relevant to the terrain? (Might run a ‘dingle’ or carry a few cogs)

  4. Has anyone ridden a ss/fixed tourer anywhere? (My mate Canadian Dave toured fixed thru Vic/Tas)

  5. Lightweight touring tips?

I’ve toured the South Island with a bunch of mates.

We landed in Dunedin.
Drove to Milford Sound for Newyears eve, then left the car in Queenstown where we started our tour. We headed west, then up the coast to Greymouth then over Arthurs pass and back to Christchurch.

Great way to see the state.

[li]Most roads in NZ have very little verge. Don’t tour in the holiday season as lots of people hire camper vans and drive around. They aren’t used to the extra 2 foot or so of width from these to their normal car[/li][li]Don’t fly Freedom Air. They suck balls[/li][li]Travel with 4 others. Beer comes in 1 litre jugs for about 7 bucks and the glasses are 200mm. You do the maths. 5 is a perfect number.[/li][list][li]Its wet on the west, but very worth it.[/li][li]Arthurs pass is a great climb, but you wouldn’t want to do down it (east to west) on a fixie. 15kms at average over 10% - spin like buggery.[/li][list][li]People are very friendly. Always want to know what you’re up to, where you’re from etc.[/li][li]Get Ortlieb Panniers. No others come close to them in quality and durability. you want your clothes to be dry when you get into camp. - When are you planning to go? If it’s before the end of april I could lend you some?[/li]

I planned a trip to Laos and Vietnam a while back, but we never got it off the ground. I’d be really interested to hear about it if you get there.

I’ll look for my list of tools/spares etc that I usually take and see if I can post it.

Hope that helped.
Ask away if you need anything else


my wife rode fixed south along the coast from christchurch with panniers and blew her legs up in the process… i’d say there are enough hills in NZ to warrant multiple gears. Other than that, she loved it :slight_smile:

Cheers JP. I have been told if I were to venture to the West Coast or North of Nelson that a geared bike is definatly necessary… but was wondering if the hills of the East Coast and South are low enough to deal with on a ss? (Remember I’m from Hobart and Hobart = Hills, also keep in mind that I’d be travelling super light, credit card style…) How big are the hills South of Christchurch?? How far did your wife ride??? Do you know what gearing she was on???

[quote="lats "]
[li]Get Ortlieb Panniers. No others come close to them in quality and durability. you want your clothes to be dry when you get into camp. - When are you planning to go? If it’s before the end of april I could lend you some? [/li][/quote]

Cheers for the offer Lats but already have pannier bags sorted… My wife bought some silvery/grey water proof bags awhile back for next to nix… also can borrow some Ortlieb bags off a mate down here… Ta though! Ah, as for when… well two options… 1 being when my contract expires in June and 2 being November…

Laos is definately on the cards… My brother-in-law is Laotian and he has a heap of family there (Vientiane) that we can stay with or call on for help… Have done a little research on touring over there and it seems plausable but it sounds like I’d need to be totally self reliant for mechanical repairs and parts etc etc… so this is another reason I was considering my single speed…

Slightly OT but I’ve been dreaming of going to Laos for a cycletour for ages now but commitments don’t permit. We’ll be in Vietnam this November for our honeymoon and will use that for a bit of a get-to-know-the-area type of thing, and when I’ve finished grad year in '09 I’ll probably head over and cruise around both countries for a few months. From the stories that part of the world sound amazing and definitely something I want to experience this lifetime!

Enjoy, whatever choice you make mate :slight_smile:

My girlfriend did a bike tour in Vietnam and she is the least bike interested person I know (Haven’t got her into it after two years).

From what she told me its pretty flat but the infrastructure like roads and rickety old bridges is a bit daunting. Plus the crazy locals on scooters. That area can’t be too bad the Viet Cong used bikes alot down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Personally I’ve been thinking of touring Tasmania.

You’d definately want gears. Hobart has hills, but NZ has mountains. I’ve lived in both and NZ is gnarlier.

South Island is a pretty straight run down the east, but gets hilly/mountainy towards the bottom. All the mountains run along the west coast and also down near Queenstown. The area on the way down to Bluff (the bottom of NZ) is pretty. I drove into Bluff once with hail half a meter deep on both sides of the road!

I wouldn’t touch the South Island in winter on a bike, it can get really nasty. A year ot two ago, (from memory) two guys got blown off the road and killed during a race.

NZ and Laos eh, I think I know a guy who did something similar…haha. Would be a seriously awesome trip I reckon. I guess NZ would be the way to go if you want to meet a Hobbit.

Are my panniers still at your place?

Slight thread deviation, but nurbs if you want to do Tassie you should check the GIRO page. You’ve probably seen it, but just in case…

I haven’t ridden down the east coast (NZ) on a bike but have hitched it plenty of times - its generally fairly flat in comparison to the west coast which I have ridden and would highly recommend it.

I rode from Greymouth down the west coast to Wanaka/Queenstown then through to Alexandra on my brother’s crappy old 8 speed back in 1986 - a memorable experience where I took minimal gear mostly lashed on the bars and carrier, slept in pubs, under bridges etc. I pushed the bike up most of the Haast Pass given the gradient and lack of gear ratios - there are some largish hills to negotiate and the last stretch between Lake Hawera and Wanaka used to be gravel - might be sealed now.

I would recommend you consider the west coast in preference to the east as the scenery is more spectacular than the east coast road (imho) - subtropical in the north, alpine/glaciers in the south, lakes, coast and everything in between. You could catch the Alpine express (train) with bikes from Ch/ch to Greymouth like I did - the train journey is also worth it.


It might be worth having a look at the Lonely Planet ‘Cycling in New Zealand.’

Cheers for all the replies guys. I emailed my friend Dave about NZ and Laos as he has recently completed of a tour of both Laos and the South Island. Dave toured Victoria and Tasmania fixed but he didn’t think NZ or Laos were the places to take a fixie…

Yeah this is exactly what Dave said as well: “I highly recommend gears for New Zealand and Laos. It really wont be fun without them and maybe not even possible with the steepness of some of the climbs”. and of Laos “Okay so the ride between Vietienne and Lunag probane is really hilly. One of the climbs is at about 1400 meters above sea level. I did a climb that went up 900 meters and that was hard. So once again you should get a bike with gears.”

again this is exactly what Dave said also: "So for The south island of new Zealnd I think like a month and 3/4 is a good amount of time to explore it but something tells me you might not be have that much time to do it. I’d say from christchurch head North up through kaikora. There’s like dolphin swiimming and whale watching there which is really good. On the ride out Kaikora heading north there’s like seal colonies for like 20 km which is cool. When I was there I stopped and watched the baby seals play in the little water pools. From there head to Nelson which is a nice chill city that has a fair amount of backpackers that are mostley really high class and nice. I can head west to abel tasman which is okay. A lot of people love it but i wasn’t that into it. I’d say head over to farewell spit which is the northen most point of the south island. There’s an abundance of birds that flock there from all over the world. Also on the spit it has big sandunes and it kinda feels like you’re in the middle of the desert. Mind you there is a massively steep pass to get there and golden bay. Mind you the decent is insanely fun. It’s only 790meters above sea level but this was one of the hardest climbs i had to do. Don’t do it middaylike i did. For new zealand you’ll need a wide range of gears. The more the better. The hills gett really steep. From there head down to the west coast. There’s a backpackers half way to the west coast which is awesome. It’s around Kaiwatiri. It’s written about in the lonely planet guide. The west coast is nice. It has franzjoseph and fox glacier which is cool and it also has it’s fair share of decents and climbs through forests. It starts off on the coast with cool rock formations and then it works its way inland into beautifull forests. After the west coast you can go through. Wanaka and and quenstown. You’ll have a steep climb at haast pass and a long climb between wanaka and Quenstown. From Queenstown head to Te anau and then ride into Milford sound. Don’t be a pussy and bus It’s a moderate 120km in and a hard 120 km out but non the less so beautifull. From there I’d say head across to the catlins which is a beautifull forest that meets the sea. Really cool. There’s yellow bellied penguins and a fossil forest which is cool and caves to explore. From there i guess head to Invercargill.Going from Christchurch to Invercargill isn’t that exciting. for the first 200km it’s FLat but after that it does get hilly and steep and a strong head wind.I guess what you could do is do a loop around to Mt Cook. So like start in Christchurch and head inland from there to Mt Cook. There will be a nice shoulder for part of the way but then that cuts off and well you have to share the road with the cars and trucks. There are some climbs. For the most part nothing to hard but there are like 2km sections of very steep climbing. The ride into MT cook you’ll battle a strong head wind. Mt cook is very beautifull. Something like 22 of the hishest mountains in Australasia are there. The climbs are all easy to Mtcook. From there you could finish the loop down south on the east coast. This loop is very beautifull and there’s lots of farm land to camp on. So the full loop will take you out to Omaru. From there you can head down to dunedan. Dunedan is a nice little uni city. You can discover the peninsula and maybe check out the albatrosses and yellow bellied penguins and maybe a sea lion or two. There’s lots of unsealed road to discover on the peninsula and walks and all that good stuff. There’s also a place to check out called Lanarc castle which is cool. From there you can ride on the Otago rail trail. You take a train to middle march and you can cycle on this path way that used to have train tracks on it. It takes you to clyde which is is the center of new Zealand. It’s like really baran and rocky land. Just like gold minning country with big mountains around. The path is very flat the whole way. From clyde you can head down to the catlins. The ride to the catlins is fairly up and down. So you can ride through the catlins which is beautifull and then down to Invercargill. This ride is okay. I’d highley recommend that you use a bike with gears and go the route i originally told you to take it’s a hundredtimes more beautifull.

i really want to do a cycle tour with some mates when i finish my post grad year in 09 aswell. This thread is great guys! lots of good tips and info.

I’m swaying towards vietnam as ive heard it is ideal and no too full on (riding conditions). Plus im guessing there would be more of a culture shock than NZ, the people there are way too nice!

West coast rocks but is wet. It averages 5M of rain a year along there. They had 1.2M or rain in the 24 hours before we got into Arthurs pass.
Beautiful scenery though, and coming over Haast pass through Wanaka and on to Queenstown would be beaut.

“You’ll have a steep climb at haast pass and a long climb between wanaka and Quenstown” I think it was this pass that Dave suggested would be impassible on a single speed…

Well, since you are finding it usefull… I post up the rest of Dave’s advice to me on Laos: " Okay so the ride between Vietienne and Lunag probane is really hilly. One of the climbs is at about 1400 meters above sea level. I did a climb that went up 900 meters and that was hard. So once again you should get a bike with gears. This hole area isn’t really that good in my opinion. It’s very touristy and not Laos at all. The rides between town would be nice. Vietienne isn’t anything special. Luang probange is okay. You really see the french influence on it. Van Vieng is just one big touristy party place. Don’t drink the mushroom shakes they’re evel. The reall beautifull Laos parts where there’s lots of wood and mud made villages to discover and nice people that havn’t been exposed to mass tourism is like Muang Xai and Luang Namtha and Muang sing. Although cycling through these places would mean steep climbs but nonetheless absolutley beautifull. We did some motor bike trips around this area and it was awesome. But yah that’s all I got for you. If you have any questions let me know. I’m just in Bangkok right now. I went for a cycle the other day and well it was just a little scary. Traffic laws don’t seem to apply here. Red light what red light? In about 20 minutes of my ride I saw a car People drive the wrong way down one ways like it’s nothing here."

Well given all the above advice… I’m going to lash out at some point in the near future and buy a frame that will take gears… Probably buy a Surly ‘Pacer’ or ‘Crosscheck’ as I could do some crit races on them as well as tour… But since writing this thread I’ve discovered a number of people who tour fixed… There is a guy in the Victorian Audax club who regularly snaps off 600’s (km) …but they are all touring in Nthn Europe, Aust, UK and US… not Laos or NZ…

Had Nigel Rushton’s book on cycle touring in NZ, ‘Pedallers’ Paradise’ strongly recommended to me by Dave. Apparently it has all the road gradients etc in it… There aren’t many stockist in Aus but you can buy it straight from Nigel complete with autograph and maps for AUS$15.00, just contact Nigel by email (I won’t post that here but if you Goolgle it, you’ll find it easily)
and he’ll send you one…

“Singlespeed touring is not as goofy an idea as it might sound at first blush - if you’re not in a hurry and value simplicity and reliability, a singlespeed is eminiently tourable. Yes, you might have to get off and walk up a few hills, but that’s hardly a tragedy, in fact sometimes it can be a nice change of pace! If you are in a hurry, why are you on a bicycle?” - Sheldon Brown.