Preparing for a bike tour is really nothing to worry about.
Oh sure, it’s true that you need to be in semi-reasonable shape to get started but remember: bicycle touring isn’t meant to be a race. You’re not trying to be the fastest rider on the road or cover the most miles. You’re just there to have fun.
There’s no need to rush on a bike tour, especially at the beginning. Take it easy while you’re getting used to life on the road and don’t over exert yourself. Photo by TravellingTwo.
There are a few logistical quirks to work out: what to pack, how to pack it and how to deal with daily routines such as cooking your evening meal on a camp stove. It doesn’t take much, however, to become comfortable with these things.
Start in your backyard. Take an hour or two to set up your tent and test your stove. Make sure you understand the equipment you’ll be carrying. Can you put up the tent easily and quickly, even in the dark? Do you have everything you need to patch a hole in your air mattress? Once you’re happy with the gear, try packing everything in your panniers or trailer.
Next, put the loaded bags on the bicycle and go a mile or two up the street. See how the bike feels and rearrange the weight if the bike doesn’t seem stable.
You could also try a day trip. Start with an unloaded bike. Just bring a small bag with essentials like snack food, water and a jacket. Pick a moderate route of 30-60km in an area that you’re familiar with. Have a friend on stand-by to pick you up, or plan a route that passes train and bus stations, so there’s always a lift nearby if you need it.
At the same time as you’re trying out day trips, build cycling into your daily routine. Use your bicycle to go to the supermarket or to get to work. Although this is more commuting than touring, it will give you experience with all kinds of situations you’ll encounter on tour like traffic, dogs and rain.
Once you’re comfortable with the unloaded day trip, plan a series of short bike tours. These can start with a few S240s or Sub 24-Hour Overnight bicycle trips, where you leave home, ride for a few hours, camp and then return home. As the name suggests, the idea of these mini getaways is to be back home within a day.
Add Weight & Challenges
Each time you have a successful tour, make the next one a little harder by adding a bit more weight, aiming for a longer distance or picking a route with a few more hills. After a few of these shorter trips you’ll have a good idea of how ready you are to tackle a bigger journey.
Little by little, increase your strength until you’re building up to the type of days you’d like to do on tour. The time it takes to reach your goal will depend on your current level of fitness and how ambitious your target is.
If you have to fit these trips around work and family commitments, give yourself at least a couple months to complete your training. Block your bike touring weekends off in advance so that ‘normal life’ doesn’t prevent you from getting a feel for life on the road before you leave.
Make sure you know how to set up your tent before you leave on a bike tour. Photo by TravellingTwo
Should You Train?
On extended tours of several weeks or months, you won’t necessarily need to train nearly as much as for shorter trips. That’s because your schedule tends to be more flexible. You can take it slow and build up your strength, endurance and routines over the course of several days.
Opting to train on the road also takes some of the stress out of pre-departure, especially if you’re planning a longer journey. Who has time to fit in multiple weekend trips when you’re trying to re-direct your mail, rent out your apartment, sell all your stuff and find someone to adopt the cat?
There are some caveats to the ‘learn it on the road’ method. All the usual tips for new bike tourists apply doubly to you, such as starting with modest daily distances, having a specific end-point in mind for the day and knowing where the campgrounds or hotels are located. That’s because you won’t have refined your routine as much as someone who’s trained before leaving.
Muster up your best zen-like attitude, to deal with the inevitable snags as you figure out what works best for you.
Take It Easy
Whether you decide to train diligently before your trip or just leap into the experience and start learning, take it easy for the first few days as you’re adjusting to your new lifestyle.
While most days will come easily, others will test your resolve with bad weather, flat tires and other challenges. When these tough moments come along, don’t be too hard on yourself. Treat yourself if you’re feeling down. Getting a hotel in bad weather or eating out can give you a much-needed break from the rigours of the road – just what you need to keep your spirits up and renew your energy for the next day.
Before long, you’ll find yourself naturally rising to bigger challenges. Longer days. Steeper hills. Free camping. After a few weeks you’ll start to feel like a real pro, taking everything in your stride.
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