Monthly Archives: June 2015

Bulletin #10 – Visas

March 26th, 2015


It is each participant’s responsibility to confirm with the relevant embassies in their home country the latest entry requirements.  That being said, for the majority of SAE participants there will be few, if any, visas that need to be applied for before the tour.

For example Canadians, U.K. citizens, Australians, New Zealanders and Europeans at this time do not require any visas in advance.  Americans and South Africans at this time do require a visa in advance for Bolivia.

Depending on your nationality you may be asked to pay a “reciprocity fee” to enter Argentina.  This can be done online at any time before the tour enters Argentina.

Depending on your nationality you may also be asked to pay a reciprocity fee when entering Colombia, however at this time they state that if you are continuing onto Cartagena then you are waived from paying this fee.

Please feel free to send us any questions regarding visas or any other topics regarding the upcoming tour.

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Bulletin #9 – Start Line Hotel

March 12th, 2015

Start Line Hotel

The start line hotel in Cartagena is the Caribe Cartagena. The night of July 10th is included in your entry fee. Additional nights can be booked directly through the hotel. A rate of US$141 for a double room is available for South American Epic riders. Please contact Claudia You can see more about the hotel on their website.

You can also arrange an airport pick-up with Claudia. The cost is approximately US$60 and includes you and your bike. Please arrange directly with her

We recommend that you arrive in Cartagena by July 9th at the latest in order to participate in rider meetings on July 10th and allow our bike mechanic enough time to help you get your bikes ready for your great adventure.

Cartagena is a very beautiful historic city. Here are some suggestions on things to do while you are there.

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Bulletin #8 – Packing

March 2nd, 2015



Each person is allowed 2 x 90L soft duffel bags for the Tour, each not weighing more than 23kg.  That does not include your bike, anything you carry on your bike, or 1 set of non-folding tires.  There is a further description regarding the type of duffel bag later on.


This bag will contain your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, enough cycling and casual clothes to last from one rest day to the next. This should also include toiletries, shoes, and headlamp.  You do not need a dish kit for the Tour, we will provide a plate, bowl, cups and cutlery.


This bag will contain all of your extra equipment including clothes, bike parts, medications, books, maps, repair kits, shoes and electronics that you don’t need each day, and will only have access to on rest days. Here are some more things you should know about our baggage policy:

*It’s a good idea to save room for things you’ll buy along the way.  If you have to sit on your bag to zip it up then it’s too full.
*Find a compact sleeping bag.  (more details on type of sleeping bag later on)
*Camping mattresses are now available in very small sizes (once deflated) Be sure to bring a patch kit.
*You are not allowed to have anything outside your bag or strapped to the outside of the bags. Everything you have with you must be contained inside the bags. This is to keep belongings organized and with a lesser risk of being lost, broken or discarded.
*We will have a brief baggage inspection at the start of the Tour and for new sectionals to check bag size and weight.  They are normally a quick and painless process and are designed to ensure fairness for all riders, and an efficiently run tour.


We recommend that you compartmentalize your personal belongings inside your duffel bags. Stuff sacks, compression sacs, plastic bags, or other small lightweight bags are a great way to separate your belongings inside your duffel bags. Here are a few suggested ways of organizing your bags:

*Shelter: Containing your tent, ground sheet, sleeping bag and sleeping pad/mattress. Keeping this separate from everything else will mean that you can keep it packed away while its not needed when in a hotel room.
*Clothes: Containing the clothes you’ll need from one rest day to the next, and toiletries.
*Repair:  Containing all your tent and bike repair tools, spare parts, and brushes.
*Office: This would contain your maps, books, journal, and stationary.
*Electronics: This would house all electronic gadgets, batteries and chargers.
*Valuables: Plane ticket, insurance, passport, cash, travelers checks all kept safe and dry and out of sight in your permanent bag.
*Toiletries: Your usual toilet supplies, small first aid kit, medications.
*Excess items: Everything else you have that is used less frequently.

*Note – the support vehicles are normally monitored by our staff or locked up when no one is around but your valuables, whether in the vehicle or in your tent or elsewhere, are your responsibility at all times.


The bags you use on the tour have to be duffel bags: waterproof and durable. They should not be hard sided, or with an internal frame – meaning they should be moldable, and shapeable to the space we have in our support vehicles. We cannot allow anyone to have hard cases on the tour. Space on the support vehicles is limited; duffel bags allow us to use that space in the most efficient way possible.

Here is one example; there are also less expensive versions, through companies like MEC in Canada or REI in the U.S.


If you have followed previous incarnations of our South American Epic (Vuelta Sudamericana) you have probably seen photos of cyclists riding in very cold conditions in the high plateau of Bolivia and Peru. We can also expect some colder days in Patagonia with very strong winds.

On the South American Epic there is potential for fairly extreme weather conditions: rain, wind and even snow/sleet as we traverse the mountain ranges. At the highest elevation points the temperature can drop dramatically at night. In 2011 we faced temperatures of -4 degrees Celsius on a few nights where we were camped above 4000m. We can also hit highs of above 35 degrees Celcius in the lower altitudes of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. For these reasons, you should carefully consider what clothing to bring, BUT we must stress, do not over pack.

Serious winter clothing like winter boots and heavy jackets are not necessary.  Outdoor companies make down jackets that pack down to an extremely small size.  Please also keep in mind that you will have ample opportunity along the route to stock up on items you may have forgotten, like jackets, gloves and hats, etc.

Everyone has their own preference, so we won’t get into specifics, but the key is to have clothing that can keep you dry in camp and on the bike.

As a general rule, for cycling in cold, wet or snowy weather you need to wear layers of clothing that can be easily stripped away as you warm up instead of thick bulky items. Keep this in mind when you are packing. You will not need to pack a lot of extra clothing for the tour, you will just be wearing a lot more of your cycling gear at one time. This will also help you to save space and not fill your bag with bulky items. Here are a few recommended items:

*Jacket – You should bring a lightweight, windproof, and waterproof shell. This should be appropriate for both cycling and for in camp.
*Base layers – on the cold or wet days it is a good idea to wear a thin breathable t-shirt or tank top under your jerseys and long underwear or full length insulated cycling tights.
*Outerwear – arm warmers and leg warmers are great as they can be easily removed during your ride when you heat up.
*Face and neck mask or scarf to prevent windchill.
*Head cover – Wearing a head cover under your cycling helmet that covers your ears is an excellent way to maintain your temperature. A lot of your body heat escapes through your head. A head cover will also help to prevent wind chill.
*Gloves – neoprene, waterproof, windproof, gloves are ideal. Nothing too bulky, but definitely something more substantial than a summer cycling glove.
*In camp – a good wool hat and sweater go a long way. It doesn’t hurt to pack one pair of warm pants as well.
*Shoe covers / booties to prevent moisture and windchill on your feet


You can save yourself some space in your bags by packing some bulky items (like your tent, sleeping bag, and mattress) into your bike box. If you do this, don’t pack anything too valuable into your bike box for obvious reasons.  As a general rule, a light packer should be able to pack ALL their stuff for the airplane into a bike box and one large duffel bag (with their 2nd duffel bag for the tour being stuffed, empty, into the bike box). For people who will not pack extra items in their bike box – one bike box and two duffel bags should be more than enough. These two duffel bags can then be used as your daily and permanent bags on the tour.


Most airlines now charge a fee for bringing your bike on the plane. There are also weight restrictions for both your luggage and your bicycle. On some airlines, your bicycle will count as one of your two checked bags whereas other airlines you must pay separately for your bike regardless of whether you have one or two additional bags. Speak with your travel agent for details on the policy for the airline you are flying with.? ?

The bike should be packed in a cardboard bike box. We do not have space to transport any bike bags or hard cases during the tour. You can get a cardboard box at your local bike store. Most shops will box the bike for you at a small charge, but if you plan on boxing the bike yourself, make sure it is well protected with cardboard, Styrofoam tubing, derailleur protectors, and fork stabilizers. Reinforce the handles on your bike box with packing tape. Reinforce the boxes edges and surfaces with duct tape to minimize the risk of damage during transport.


Don’t bring more than you need – you will regret it. If we all adhere to the baggage system then it means that we all have one less thing to distract us from the adventure that is out there on the roads – in between our campsites and hotels. Remember, part of your experience on the tour is to shed yourself of life’s excesses and focus on a goal without being distracted by the pressures of the modern world. Pack light, pack smart, and if you are not sure what to bring please don’t hesitate to call or email us, we will be happy to help.

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Bulletin #7 – Bike Selection and Bike Care

February 16th, 2015

Road Conditions

We will be sending out a more detailed description of road conditions once our tour leader Cristiano has completed the scouting for the trip.  However from running our previous tours in South America, much of which followed similar routes to what we are now riding, we can say that overall we will be on approximately 75% paved roads.  The remaining 25% will be a mix of gravel, dirt, mud, rocky roads, corrugated roads and to top it off a giant salt flat.

The bike options below would all be suitable for this tour depending on your own personal preferences and strengths.

Bike Selection

Whichever style of bike you bring make sure that is comfortable for you to ride long distances, the best bike in the world won’t help you if it doesn’t fit.

The most common bikes chosen for the SAE are touring bikes, cyclocross bikes, hybrid bikes and mountain bikes with front suspension.  Below is some information on those choices.

Cyclocross Bikes or Touring Bikes

This option is becoming more and more popular among our clients, as it combines the ruggedness of a mountain bike, with the speed and efficiency of a road bike. When fitted with slick tires these bikes are fast on the good roads.

While these bikes do accommodate wider off road tires they do not have suspension, and riders will be seriously challenged on the rougher off-road sections. Cyclecross or touring bikes are recommended for relatively fit and strong people who can handle the abuse of the rough roads while benefitting from the increased performance on the good roads.

Make sure that your bike can accommodate wider tires. Ideally you should be able to fit a tire that measures 700 x 40. These wider tires will help provide a bit of comfort and traction on the rough roads.

Mountain Bikes

A hard tail mountain bike provides suspension for the off roads, relative comfort, and with a thinner set of tires it also provides a decent ride on paved roads. The drawback is that with smaller diameter tires and front suspension, it will be a little slower, and a little less efficient than other bikes on pavement. Having locking front suspension is useful, as you can “lock out” on the smooth roads and engage the suspension on the rougher roads.

Some mountain bikes come in ‘29er’ size – meaning the wheel diameter is larger, like a cyclocross bike, giving you a little added momentum on the rough roads.

Hybrid Bike

This bike has the same wheel size as a cyclocross bike, but with straight handlebars instead of road style drop bars. Hybrids often also have front suspension. Hybrids are designed more for comfort and leisure rather than performance, and have more of an upright sitting position.

Some more thoughts…

We always preach to riders that simplicity and durability are best because the availability of replacement parts is greatly limited in most of the countries along the route. The tour’s bike mechanic may not have the tools to work with complex or unusual assemblies. A steel frame is preferred (if not steel then aluminum is the best choice), with simple components, simple suspension, and no hydraulics if possible.  Road racing bikes are not suitable for this tour.

Keeping your bike on the road

On your five and half month ride from Cartagena to Ushuaia in 2015 you will spend between 600 and 1000 hours on your bike.  That’s almost as much time as you would spend in an office chair at a 40 hour a week desk job! Your health and safety are very important to us and having a bike that fits well and is mechanically sound is critical to your completing the nearly 14,000 km journey successfully.

Much of the responsibility of taking care of your bike lies with you.  Our staff are there to take care of bike issues that go beyond daily maintenance. Below is a quick break down of the roles and responsibilities of our mechanic staff on tour and what we expect of you.

What we expect from you

Bring a mechanically sound bike that fits you well and that you have spent significant time riding and adjusting. The best way to ensure a proper bike fit is to seek advice from your local bike shop or your cycling friends. Of course, we are also happy to help answer your questions as they arise.

Here is a list of the necessary spare parts that you should bring. Every bike is different so make sure the spares you bring are specific to your bike.

  • Derailleur hanger – this is an important piece that you won’t find along the route. Most modern aluminum bikes have a removable derailleur hanger. They are a specific size and shape to fit your specific bike. Inquire about it at your local bike shop
  • 2-3 chains – compatible to your drive train.
  • 1 rear cassette
  • 5 patch kits
  • 5 – 10 spare tubes
  • Bottom bracket – this is not needed if you start the tour with a new bottom bracket
  • Chain rings – you only need to bring the ones used the most, be sure to match the bolt pattern
  • Spokes – you will need 3 lengths; front wheel, rear wheel drive side and rear wheel non-drive side. Bring 2 – 4 of each length
  • Brake and shifter cables, housing and fittings- make sure to get the proper sizes as they differ between mountain and road bikes
  • Brake pads
  • Bar tape/handlebar grips
  • Tires (max. 2 sets – folding tires preferred)
  • Extra nuts and bolts

NOTE – you are not allowed to bring a spare set of wheels


Most of the tools needed for the tour can be found on a good multi-tool. Any larger tools will be supplied by our mechanic. All that you need to bring are cleaning products and the basic tools that you will want to carry with you while riding. Here’s a short list:

  • Multi-tool
  • Mini-pump
  • Tire levers
  • Chain break tool
  • Gear brush
  • Chain lube, Degreaser, Rags

Don’t bring enough lube and degreaser to last the whole trip. There are places in larger cities that sell both of these items where you can restock

Knowledge of basic mechanics and having the basic tools needed to make adjustments to your bike is also something we expect of you. Ask your local bike shop to teach you the following skills and practice them before the tour:

  • How to change a tire
  • How to adjust your brakes
  • How to adjust your gears
  • How to clean your bike and oil your chain

What you can expect from our mechanic

Though we do ask that you be able to perform basic maintenance on your bike we are there to assist and share advice. Early in the tour our staff will run bike maintenance sessions to help you gain confidence in your bike maintenance skills.

Daily bike mechanic hours:  Each day on tour our mechanic will be available to assist you with bike related issues. During these ‘shop hours’ our mechanic will:

  • Replace parts that have worn out or broken
  • Perform major repairs such as drivetain overhauls*, wheel truing, suspension adjustment
  • Deal with specific issues you may have with bike fit
  • Provide access to specific tools you may need
  • Check your bike for any needed preventative maintenance
  • Help you with riding tips and bike maintenance tips

*Mechanics are not available to do drive train overhauls as the tour comes to an end

A reminder

In the 13 years of running our tours there have been a few bikes destroyed or damaged while in/on our vehicles due to accidents (no human injuries luckily).  While the TDA vehicles are insured, it is not possible for us to insure the contents of our vehicles.  This means that in the case of damage or loss of your bicycle it will be your insurance which will need to cover the cost of repair or replacement.  TDA does it’s best to prevent these situations but it’s important to be aware.  It’s also important to understand that TDA would not be able to run our Tours if we had to take financial responsibility for all damage caused by accidents, which is why we are stating this as clearly as possible at this time.  For this reason we highly recommend that you bring a strong, suitable bicycle for the trip, but please do not bring excessively expensive bicycles.  They are both more a target for theft and obviously much more expensive to repair/replace.

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Bulletin #6 – Training

February 11th, 2015


The best seat on the South American Epic is on your bicycle. From there you get a ground level view of the wonders of South America at cycling speed.

Presumably, all of you want to cycle as much as you can, and to have a ton of fun as you spin down the road. None of you are coming to South America to ride on a vehicle. However, embarking on a five and half month cycling expedition (or your section of this expedition) is no small feat, and should not be taken lightly.

Whatever your personal goals on the tour may be, the best way to prepare is through physical conditioning. We believe the better you train the quicker you will adapt to the challenges of the tour and the more you will enjoy the experience.

A good training regime prepares you not only for the sheer endurance of the South American Epic but also for the wide variety of terrain and road conditions that we traverse.

The South American Epic is open to all those who wish to take up the challenge. The riders generally can be grouped into one of the following 3 categories:

–         Amateur athletes in excellent overall fitness with a base in triathlon, marathon running, or competitive cycling. Such persons are already training experts, for them the information below will only serve as a reminder. Typically they make up about 20% of riders.

–         Persons in generally good to very good shape who balance active professional lives with outdoor physical activities and/or regular work out routines. For many of these folks cycling is a hobby, including some longer distance bike riding experience. Typically they make up about 60% of riders.

–         Persons of more or less average physical condition for whom the tour really does present the challenge of a lifetime, including some of our oldest riders, and persons with relatively little cycling experience. Typically they make up about 20% of riders.

Sectional riders also face a unique challenge – trying to keep up with the well trained full tour riders who have been cycling day in, day out since Cartagena. You arrive for your section and find yourself trying to get in shape the whole time you’re there. It’s better to come prepared, with a solid level of fitness.

A basic training schedule aimed at helping you to condition yourself for the Tour can be found here.

Additional suggestions, courtesy of professional cycling coach, Rob Grissom, can be found below. Although these were written for the 2012 Silk Route they certainly apply to the 2015 South American Epic.

Climbing Secrets
Hydration Tips
Becoming an Efficient rider
Cycling Posture
Bike Fit
Bike Nutrition Strategies
Mental Toughness

Of course, being in good physical shape is only part of what is required to succeed on the South American Epic. Mental toughness is another key. Mental fatigue can be as challenging to your performance as your physical health is. Perhaps the best method of mental training is simply to dream of South America.  As you interval train, visualize yourself riding along the volcanic range in Ecuador, or across the salt flats in Bolivia. Keep an open mind, don’t worry about the unknowns, and allow the journey to unfold in front of you. Through good routines and proper maintenance of your body, your mind, and your bike, you will maximize your tour experience.

In summary, whether your goal is to race or achieve EFI, to ride as much as possible, or to ride some half days, we encourage you to develop and stick with a training routine. Of course, the tour also provides support vehicles that will be there to pick up riders who are tired, sick, or injured. Space is however limited and priority goes to those most in need. On the other hand, everyone can count on having lots of adrenaline as their starting line approaches. And if you are not already in decent trim, the first couple of weeks will whip you into shape and help you to find your cycling comfort zone.

We look forward to riding down the South American roads with you.

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