Over the last two years, I’ve been on a few big bike-touring trips. Big, either in the sense of distance or in the terms of logistics. Bike touring, or adventure-cycling, takes its fair bit of planning and preparation. If it’s something you have never done, it can seem like quite the daunting task, but here’s a few pointers that I wish someone had told me about, before planning my first tour:
- Define your destination.
This may seem obvious, but it’s important. Key questions are:
– how much time do you have?
– how far are you capable of cycling every day over an extended period of time?
– what seasonality / weather do you prefer?
– do you like roughing it or do you prefer “credit-card touring” (referring to checking into a hotel with a hot shower every night)?
Once you have answered these questions for yourself and picked a destination, it’s time to move on to the 2nd crucial point.
- Plan your route.
Once you arrive at your destination you don’t want to be bothered with having to figure out where to go, where to sleep or if that road actually leads somewhere. Thus, planning out the detailed route including daily kilometers to ride and elevation to overcome is super important.
I like using the following services:
Strava: I am a premium member so I have access to Strava Heatmaps. It’s a great way to identify where people ride in a yet unfamiliar location. If there are roads that are heavily ridden on, it’s probably because it’s a great road to be on.
Ride with GPS: as mentioned, knowing your daily elevations to overcome is key. It’s easy to ride 100km on a downhill day, but when you have to climb several hundred or thousand meters in elevation on a fully loaded touring bike, you may want to keep you day a bit shorter.
I recommend going for a combination of long and shorter days. Also, when you easily ride 100km in 4 hours at home, be aware it will take you significantly longer with water and food breaks, looking around and taking photos on a fully loaded, heavy tourer. The longest day I’ve ever done on a touring trip is around 180km and it’s not pleasant. It can be done if needed, but bike touring is all about seeing where you are, meeting the people and enjoying yourself. So go easy and stick to distances no more than 100km and throw the occasional 70km in there for easy rest days.
Which brings me to the next point:
- Know what to see and where to stop.
I recommend reading up prior to departure on your destination. For popular cycling destinations, like Australia or New Zealand, you can just go ahead and buy the Lonely Planet Cycling guide (AUS and NZ). However, I recommend it as an add-on to above steps as most likely you will want to customize the route to your cycling ability and interest.
If no cycling guide is available, refer back to the good old internet, tripadvisor or any guidebook that lists highlights of where you are going.
While cycling you’ll have days where you love, love, loooooove it and then there’s time’s when you question yourself. Who had the idiotic idea to ride a bike for days or weeks? Why climb those mountains? Why has it been pouring for two days straight? How on earth did I get that crazy sunburn despite SPF 70?!?!
Remember to have fun! Lots of it. And the crazier the weather, the mountains, the flat tires, the camp set-ups, the better stories they’ll make later.
And on a serious note, the people you’ll meet and the landscapes and animals and skies you encounter are worth it tenfold. ENJOY.