How to Start Bicycle Touring
The famed author Earnest Hemingway once said “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” Touring is a really different way of enjoying the humble bicycle and exploring your country. If you're curious about trying long distance riding heres how to get started. Distance Tours can be long or short. As long as years or as short as an overnight tour to your local park. Usually the longer the tour the more you have to prepare in advance and have in experience from prior tours before setting off. It is generally not recommended to to foreign and/or remote places on your first few tours until you get the hang of things. Start small and build your way up to multi-day and multi-week tours that cover more and more miles gradually. Bicycle While tours have been done on pretty much every type of bicycle imaginable they will be much more enjoyable on bicycles made and/or configured for touring. Usually a touring frame will have a wider wheelbase for smoother day after day riding + steering stability and come equipped with special braze-ons for touring-specific equipment such as touring racks, touring brakes, fenders, etc. Touring frames themselves are usually made out of the most dependable/repairable material - steel. The wheels on touring bicycles usually have 36 spokes and the wheels themselves can range wildly from 700c depending on what you want, to all terrain widths or even tiny clown-bike sized wheels that aid in the stability of your load. Bicycle Equipment Additional must-haves on touring bicycles are generally the following parts. Broken in Brooks Leather saddle (with cutout is better) which allows for day after day of 60-80 mile riding without beating you up like a synthetic saddle. A good pump to repair flats out on the road. Complimentary to a pump is a dual-sided kickstand which will allow you to remove wheels without disassembling your load to put your bike on the ground first. Touring wheels by themselves are great but a wheel with a generator hub for powering lights and mobile phone maps is a great investment. A supplementary or cheaper option may be to buy a solar panel and phone charging battery brick. Panniers are a must for storing all your stuff on your bike racks, and neon yellow ones from Ortlieb are highly recommended. Lastly and most importantly equipping yourself with a triple crank helps overcome almost any incline across any distance. You never know what youre going to encounter out there and its going to be more difficult on a fully loaded steel bike so you want to reduce the amount of walking as much as possible. Where to stay From camping to glamping theres something for everyone. Theres no right way to do it and heres some ideas for how to get started. Apps that help you find hotels such as Hotels Tonight or rentable homes such as AirBnB are a great way to lighten the load and ride without camping gear, planning around campsites. Apps such as Couch Surfing and Warm Showers are great for cheaper - more community orientated places to stop for the night. Lastly bringing your own gear and camping can be a great way to discover the local areas youre traveling through and make some new friends! Camping Gear You generally need only a few things such as a one-person tent, warm sleeping bag, warm clothing. You dont really need to buy these things to be bicycle specific but if you have a choice do look for things that are light-weight and pack down extra small if possible. For tents it helps to pick ones that are better quality and easy to put together quickly when tired or in the dark. A tent with two poles such as from North Face is highly recommended. For multiple days of camping it may be useful to bring a bag for collecting dirty clothing until you make it to a stop with a shower and a laundry machine. How to plan Generally speaking know how many miles you can do in a day and plan your route on Google Maps or similar application. Plan to not ride in the dark as many places outside of cities dont have good lighting and its not likely you will find a charger if you run out of battery. Look for campsites on google and other camping apps atleast a day in advance and check that the campsites are available, safe and affordable at-least one day ahead. Ask about AirBnB, Couch Surfing, Warmshowers at-least 2-3 days ahead so by the time you get there you have atleast one response. Asking your social network, friends and family is also a great way to reconnect and build stronger relationships. If planning a trip through a harsh environment its always good to consider what can go wrong and bring extra layers, water, repair tools, extra tubes, more food, satellite phone. In general for these more advanced trips its best to study all aspects of the trip more thoroughly and consults the experts on bicycle forums, reddit, etc. for advice and consider riding with a co-pilot so you can watch out for each other and each others stuff. In the end Theres always more to touring but these few points should cover the basics and get you rolling on your first overnight trip. For your very first trip cosider biking to your local park, campsite or nearby city and staying overnight. Remember to take notes on what works and what does not so you can improve on your next trip. Share your experience with friends!