Bicycle touring is one of the purest forms of travel. You are at the mercy of your own schedule, powered by your legs turning the pedals. You don't need to worry about making reservations or being late for something because the local transport is less than adequate. For some, the idea of riding all day for a holiday seems absurd, but to others, it can be an extremely satisfying way to travel and provides an escape from the realities of everyday life. The beauty of the bicycle is that it's self-powered, and unlike other forms of transport that mean you need to rely on external factors, the only thing you need to worry about when travelling this way is yourself and your bike.
Whether you’re certain you want to give it a try or you’re on the fence, we’ve put together a handy guide so that you can decide whether bicycle touring is something you might want to try for your next vacation.
The first step to planning your bicycle tour is knowing where you want to go. This is, of course, limited somewhat to how long you can tear yourself away from the real world. If you've accrued a lot of vacation time from work and can take a two to three-week trip, you'll be able to go a lot further than on a weekend away.
Your destination should be somewhere that you’ve long dreamt of, not somewhere that you think is close enough or most convenient. There's no shame in starting your trip on the train or other transport so that you can begin your tour in another part of the country. You’ll also want to plan for a destination that is within your riding abilities. If you’re planning on starting from home, make sure you don’t over-estimate how far or long you can ride, as you could fall behind schedule, and then you might find your trip ends with a frosty drive home after you’ve been rescued by a significant other…
The beauty of bicycle touring is that you get to choose where, how far and how fast you ride each day. If you want to ride through a national park then you can, or if you want to tackle something point to point, then you have the freedom to choose your own journey.
If you’re mapping it electronically, consider using one of the popular cycling mapping applications. Garmin Connect, Strava, RideWithGPS and Komoot can show you popular routes in the area so you can check whether a road is particularly busy or if it’s avoided by local cyclists. You can also choose routes based on elevation and terrain, depending on the application, which allows you to simplify your route plotting even more. Modern technology makes it much easier than before to map routes, but make sure you have an analogue version with you in case your GPS device fails on you.
You'll also need to decide if you're camping en route, or if you’ll be staying in hotels or B&Bs during your trip. This will influence the number of miles you need to cover each day, as you'll have to make sure you arrive at your destinations for check-in, and it will also change the amount of luggage you’ll need to carry with you.
Whether you're planning on touring for a weekend or a month, you'll be getting to know your bike quite well so you should make sure it’s functional as well as comfortable. You might think that spending more money on the lightest carbon-framed disc brake bike will make the journey more enjoyable, and to an extent, it might. But you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on new equipment. Bicycle touring isn’t about speed or aerodynamics, it’s about enjoying the journey and getting to see new parts of the world upon two wheels.
Your bike is important – arguably the most important, besides the endurance in your legs and lungs – and you’ll want to make sure it’s suitable for your tour. If you’re travelling on tracks and trails and you have skinny road tires, you’ll want to reconsider your tire choice. If you’re riding in a hilly area and you only have a 53/39 crankset, you may want to look at equipping your bike with a compact or semi-compact crankset instead. As long as your bike is well maintained and is suitable for your tour, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to enjoy yourself.
One thing you will want to get dialed in though is your saddle – if you’ve never had any problems with saddle sores even after long rides, you should be okay. But if you’re planning on increasing your mileage significantly on your tour, it’s well worth, even vital, that you do a few test runs and make sure you’re sitting comfortably.
Your kit and gear are going to be vitally important on your trip. If you decide to camp rather than stay in hotels every night, you'll also have to pack suitable sleeping equipment and a tent/bivvy bag. This will increase the load on your bike substantially, but with the recent surge in popularity of bikepacking, modern solutions for carrying luggage (such as those from Restrap) and sleeping equipment don't have to be as expensive, or as bulky, as you might think. You'll also want to think about the kit you wear. Make sure you pack for every eventuality as we all know how wrong the weather forecast can be. Check out our handy kit list for more inspiration.
Once you’ve decided on your destination, your route, and you know where you’re staying and what to bring, it’s time to make sure you’re up to speed with staying safe on the road. Make sure you check out the local laws around cycling, what side of the road they ride/drive on, and any other rules and regulations you might need to know.
Being self-sufficient is also important on your trips. The last thing you want is to be stranded two days in because you didn’t bring the right tool to solve your bike issue roadside. Make sure you take an up-to-date toolkit and can fix minor mechanical issues on your bike. Things like tube replacement, replacing a derailleur hanger, and fixing your chain after snapping a link should be top of the list. Unfortunately, accidents happen and tires get punctured, so put yourself in the best position possible should the circumstance arise.
It’s important to be well organized on your cycle tour. You need to know where you’re riding and take the right kit with you, but you also want to enjoy yourself. Bicycle touring is a great way to get to know a new area and take things in at a slower pace than if you were in a car. The freedom of bicycle travel is incredible, but if you’re stuck for inspiration, make sure you check out our website in the next few weeks for new cycle tour ideas and packages that we can design around you and your riding needs.