Bike touring basics

Bicycle touring is traveling using your bicycle as your means of transportation.

There are generally two types of touring – supported and unsupported.

A supported tour is one with some sort of sag wagon to carry your gear. It may be an organized tour with hundreds of riders and semi-trucks to carry gear, or just a family affair with your spouse driving the family car and meeting you at the campground or hotel at the end of the day.

cycling the Peruvian desertAn unsupported tour is one where you carry all your gear with you on your bicycle. If you will be camping, you will need to carry a tent and sleeping bag along with your clothes. If you plan to stay in hotels, your gear will be fairly minimal.

How do I start? Just go. You don’t need a lot of fancy-schmancy equipment for a short, two- or three-day tour. Buy a rack at any bike store to put on your bike, then attach your gear in whatever stuff sacks you have lying around. You’ll figure out real quickly what you need and what you don’t!

In time you will figure out that bike-specific gear like panniers (saddle bags for the bike) is easier in the long run, and will invest in it. But for now – don’t let lack of gear keep you from touring. Just get out and ride your bike!

Where do I go? It doesn’t matter where you go – just ride. If Grandma lives a day’s ride away, that would be a good destination. What about a state or national park a couple hundred miles away? You know the roads around your home, so choose one with little traffic and head out. There is no need to over-plan your journey.

How far should I ride each day? There is no hard and fast rule for this question. Just as there are thousands of cycle tourists, there are thousands of different answers. Some tourists find they enjoy doing long mileages – 100 or more miles every day. Others prefer a slow, languorous pace and ride only 30 or 40 miles daily. The overall average – and a good figure to plan on – is between 40 and 60 miles daily. You’ll figure out within a week if that is too much or too little for you.

You will also need to consider conditions. If you are traveling in flat country you’ll make a lot more miles than in the mountains. Extreme hot or cold will reduce daily mileage. Wind conditions will change as well.

The best answer to this question is to be flexible and know that every day is a new day!

Where do I sleep at night? This will depend on what kind of touring you are doing. Organized tours have set stops at night. Independent touring leads to more options. Many people plan their tours in such a way that they can reach a hotel or B & B every evening. Others tour through areas where there are no hotels or they choose to camp for financial reasons.

If you have opted out of hotels, you may need to get creative. There will always be a place to sleep, but sometimes it won’t be immediately apparent. One of the most common methods of finding a spot for your tent is to simply ask permission from someone out working in their garden. Most times, they will happily allow you to camp in their yard. Other times, stealth camping is in order – you simply pull off the road and hide in the woods for the night. Campgrounds are great if there is one in the area you want to stop. National forests and BLM land are both open for free camping.

Be assured – all people on earth understand that you need a place to sleep and almost all will help you find that place.

What do I eat? While touring, you are placing enormous demands on your body day in and day out and you need proper food to fuel it. Depending on how hard you push yourself, needing 5000 calories or more a day is not unreasonable.

The most important thing to consider is where those calories will come from. You’ll be tempted to fill up on cookies, chocolate, and ice cream – you deserve it, right? In the long run, however, you will find that your body simply cannot function efficiently on a poor diet.

Eat a balanced diet with plenty of carbs, protein, and fat. You will most likely find you need a higher percentage of fat than your normal diet – stock up on cheese and peanut butter. Check out this shopping list for bicycle tourists for more specific ideas.

The important thing is to simply get out and ride. You’ll learn the ropes quickly and will soon be as comfortable on the road as you were at home. Don’t stress about the planning – it’ll all come together. Most of all – enjoy!

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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