The bike touring experience can be vastly different, simply depending on whether you decide to strike out solo, go with a friend or in a big group.
Will you go bike touring on your own, or find a friend to keep you company along the way? The choice is yours. Photo by Marija Kozin.
Hitting the road on your own means you run the show. You determine how fast to go, when to stop for a coffee break or to take a picture. You also decide how much to spend on your daily expenses (without any pressure to join the group for lunch in a restaurant) and when you’re tired, you can just call it quits for the day.
Some people think that touring alone means you’ll be lonely, especially when covering desolate, monotonous landscapes. That can happen but solitude doesn’t necessarily mean loneliness.
Riding solo can actually be quite pleasant. You’ll have a lot of time to ponder your thoughts without any distractions (something that’s very hard to find on a daily basis in our busy, working lives). At the end of the trip, you’ll also have a special sense of achievement, knowing that you had the resilience and strength to over come all the challenges along the way.
It is true, however, that when you get the 10th flat tire of the afternoon there won’t be anyone there to help lift the mood. You’ll have to rely on yourself to sort out any issues that pop up along the way.
Two Is Company.
With friends, it’s just the opposite. You’ll have someone to celebrate milestones with. There will also be help on hand when you get sick, when the bike breaks or storm clouds roll in.
You can keep each other entertained with plenty of conversation and you can divide up tasks based on each other’s strengths and talents. Don’t like cooking? Maybe your food-loving friend can make the evening meal, if you offer to do the dishes.
Choose carefully though: best friends at home aren’t always best friends on the road. It’s crucial to ensure you have similar ideas of what a good bike tour entails before you set out. Ideally, you’d take a few day and weekend trips together first before embarking on a longer tour. Small differences in style can quickly become irritating and it’s best if you know about them before you leave. If you want to start cycling at 7am, for example, and your friend loves to sleep late, you could be in for more stress than fun.
Above all, be prepared to compromise. Touring with other people means trying to reach a group decision. That in turn means there’s always someone who doesn’t get what they want.
Three’s A Crowd?
The bigger the group, the more the benefits and downsides to touring with friends are exaggerated.
Large groups usually have a main organiser. This means you are freed of the responsibility of planning a route or even carrying a map – just follow the person in front!
Big groups are also great because you see a wide variety of touring styles at once. We can spend whole evenings just going around the campsite, checking out the different bikes, tents and other paraphernalia that people have chosen for touring.
When disaster strikes in a big group, you really appreciate the ‘crowd effect’. You can easily find 20 people willing to assist and you may not even have to change your own flat tire if someone else decides to step in and help.
On the other hand, things that are simple for solo cyclists or small groups of friends such as wild camping or stopping to take a photo become impossible in a very large group. Even grabbing a ‘quick’ cup of coffee can take an hour before everyone is ready to move on and if you get hungry an hour before the scheduled lunch break you can’t just pull over and make an early meal. Instead, you’ll probably have to settle for a quick handful of trail mix from your handlebar bag and push on through.
It’s also harder to find the tranquillity that attracts so many people to bike touring. In a small group you can pull ahead of the crowd for a while, but in a big group there’s always someone coming up alongside for a chat.
10 QUESTIONS TO ASK
Before committing to a bike tour with someone else, it’s good to sit down for a chat. Ask each other about your style of touring and your expectations. Here are some of the questions you might ask, to help reveal if you’re really compatible touring partners:
1. How far do you expect to go per day?
2. How fast do you cycle?
3. What is your daily budget?
4. Should we stay in hotels, campsites or try to wild camp for free?
5. How often do you want to take a rest day?
6. What time of the day do you like to get started?
7. If the weather turns nasty, do we ride through the storm or seek shelter and shorten the tour?
8. Do you want to cook meals together, or apart?
9. What excites you about touring, and what do you think the most challenging part will be?
10. What would your ideal day on the road be like?