This section is designed to be a very brief introduction to some of the aspects involved in touring by bicycle. The information is based on my personal experiences only. People who are serious about touring should visit a library where informative books can be found. A very extensive discussion of these topics and much more can be found at John Dorsey's website on the two FAQ pages.
If you are taking a self-sustained camping tour (no vehicle support), you will need everything a backpacker uses and more.
Bike: Mountain vs. Touring
If you are deciding on type of bicycle to get, remember: touring bikes require less work on the flats, possibly more on climbs (due to their larger wheel diameter), and may feel uncomfortable for some people. Mountain bikes are just the opposite and will make any off-road travel a bit easier.
That being said, I have been on tours with both road and mountain bikes and can honestly say that I see no difference between the two. It comes down to personal preference or whatever type bike you happen to have. Obviously, if you plan on off-roading a bit or would be happier if you had the option when the need arises (believe me, there is a lot of road construction going on out there), then having a mountain bike will make your ride a lot easier. People tour on some of the most bizarre set-ups you can imagine. Of course, they may not be having the most comfortable of trips! You can go a long way toward comfort on any type of bike by having a good saddle and many options for hand positions. Novice cyclists usually think the softer the seat, the more comfy. This couldn't be farther from the truth! You will sink into this kind of seat and the pain will never stop. Find a good firm seat that rises a little toward the rear, so that your "sit bones" can rest on the rise, lifting the rest of you off the saddle.
Concerning hand positions, traditional drop bars on touring bikes offer many choices, and some people add aero or time trial bars to have even more. If on a mountain bike, you MUST at least add bar ends. Straight bars just do not offer enough positions and your hands will hurt so bad, no kind of glove will help. Get creative, switch to drop bars on your mountain bike and have the best of both worlds!
Loading the Bike
The amount of stress put on the bicycle and its road handling are directly related to the distribution of your load and its weight. You should try to put as much weight in the front panniers as possible because most of your body weight rests on the rear. Low-rider front racks supposedly give better handling, and pack all panniers with heavy items low and toward the center of the bike. It takes a few weeks to master the daily ritual of packing and unpacking your bags. But soon enough, you will know exactly where that TVP is hiding! Before any big trip you should plan a fully loaded short excursion to test the bike and the gear. This is usually a real eye-opener, so allow several weeks to fine tune your rig. On to Route Finding