A lot of people may like the thought of traveling by bicycle but knowing how to begin can pose quite a challenge. Those who have been in the game for a while know that the pure uncomplicated nature of bike trekking is one of the main reasons it’s so enjoyable.
Unfortunately, for those who are interested in getting started the options can seem confusing and even overwhelming. Here are a few facts about touring that will hopefully answer those questions typically asked by beginners interested in this fascinating and rewarding pastime.
Just About Anyone Can Go Bike Touring
Bike touring can be enjoyed by a wide variety of people from all walks of life in any number of ways. You can go solo, with friends or family, or as part of a guided tour. Bicycles are one of the world’s most popular forms of transportation and are used by people from many diverse locations and backgrounds. Age is no barrier either, with everyone from seniors in their eighties racing across America to kids in grade school cycling the entire Pan-American Trail, 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina through 15 countries.
Be Physically Prepared
Having a good time touring does not require that you be in shape for the Tour de France. However, it’s important that you condition yourself with some trial runs before your journey. In the first place, make sure your objectives are realistic and attainable in order to avoid any potential setbacks. Practice riding with the full gear you plan on carrying until you can comfortably cover the same distance that you expect to cross on a daily basis during your trip. If you can do this for a couple of days in a row and still feel well enough to be able to continue a third day, you’ll be in good position to start your tour, and will only continue to increase your fitness level as you go.
Determining Your Daily Distance
Estimating how far you’ll be traveling on a daily basis depends upon several factors, including what type of tour you’ll be taking, your fitness level, the terrain and what your individual aims are. In general, a person who’s taken the steps to physically prepare for the trip will be able to cover a good 65 miles per day on paved roads if carrying up to 20 lbs. of supplies, and still have time for breaks and sight-seeing along the way. If your supply load is increased to 20 – 40 lbs., you can reasonably expect to reach about 55 miles/day. Naturally, the rougher the terrain you’ll be traversing the greater the impact it will have on your distance, potentially cutting these estimates in half or more.
Those who have more experience touring will probably be able to go further, but it’s always wise to err on the side of caution. Allowing yourself more time during the day will allow for more enjoyment without feeling rushed, and will give you room to work around any unexpected issues that might arise.
Choosing Your Tour Bike
Bicycles used for touring come in all variety of shapes, sizes and types. While there are bicycles especially made for touring, just about any bicycle of good quality can be transformed into a touring bike. A few things to keep in mind when fitting a bike for trips are durability, comfort and gears for navigating hills and inclines. You may also want the option to fit luggage racks, fenders and tires that are a little wider than average. Of course, most of this is based on the style of touring you’ll be participating in, whether it be on-road, off-road, trails, long trips or shorter trips. Once you’ve done a few tours you’ll have more of an idea of what you like and don’t like, but there is definitely no “one-size-fits-all” bicycle. For more information on choosing a tour bike, check out this page.
Deciding Where to Go
There are many scenic and historical destinations available for touring cyclists. Some key considerations to remember when choosing your route are the amount of automobile traffic you’ll encounter and locating roads with adequate shoulders or bike lanes. Unfortunately, a lot of the sites you might like to visit (think national parks) are often clogged with traffic, making getting around on a bike there less than pleasant. If you’re mountain biking and covering more difficult terrain, it’s also important to determine if the entire route can be navigated while carrying your gear.
For more ideas on places to tour check out Adventure Cycling’s 41,399-mile National Bicycle Route Network and touring maps.
Carrying Supplies and Equipment
The most frequently used means for carrying supplies are bags, panniers and trailers. Bags for your bike come in a variety of shapes and sizes ( like these, for example) and attach to the handlebars, frame or racks. Panniers are containers that attach to racks on your bike which fit beside or over the tires. Some examples of panniers can be found here. And you should have no problem finding good luggage racks to fit just about any bike.
Bike trailers are also available in a wide assortment, normally sporting one or two wheels and are generally not difficult to fit on most bicycles. The Burley Nomad and BOB Ibex are two recommended options.
Generally speaking, Panniers are great for flat surface cycling and one-wheeled trailers are better suited for rougher terrain, but since either can function well for pretty much all types of touring, it basically comes down to a matter of personal choice.
When planning your tour you’ll need to decide if you want to camp or make arrangements for lodging. While camping tends to be a lot less expensive, more peaceful, and scenic, staying at a hotel or other lodging will be more comfortable and convenient. Tourism centers, chambers of commerce and visitor’s associations, as well as a multitude of online resources have information available about motels, campgrounds, B&Bs, etc. You can also find numerous maps and guides (such as the National Bicycle Route Network maps above) which provide local resources.
Is it safe to tour around the country? That’s one question that comes up quite often, and the answer is: Yes! Cyclists are generally recognized as non-threatening and friendly, and frequently treated cordially by strangers, who are often more than willing to help tourers in need of assistance while on the road. Realistically, the odds of experiencing something unsafe while touring aren’t any higher on the road than in your home town.
If you plan on camping and preparing all your meals yourself, you will definitely end up spending the least amount money. Not including gear and equipment packed beforehand, plan on $30 – $50 a day for food, campground fees and emergency cash, assuming you’re touring in the US. However, you could probably get by on as little as $10 if you really want to rough it, and there’s no limit to how much you can spend if comfort and convenience are top priority. You can make it as easy or challenging as your heart (or wallet) desires!