Cycle touring = freedom. Forget letting bus and train routes dictate your schedule. Forget settling for tour operators’ carbon-copy itineraries. On a bicycle, you’re in control. Life slows enough for you to digest every sight, every smiling face, every facet of “place.”
This unique form of travel involves unique demands, however. A successful tour is the result of thoughtful preparation, and these 8 steps will help you get there.
1. Know what you’re getting into.
It’s essential to realize how cycle touring differs from conventional travel. The cliché proclaiming the journey to be more important than the destination really applies. You’ll need to enjoy the long stretches of empty prairie as much as the temple ruins you’re headed to. And yes, at some point you’re going to get tired, sore, wet, and discouraged.
That caveat notwithstanding, don’t psych yourself out by dwelling on any perceived hardships. Cycle touring is a very feasible and rewarding travel option; you simply need to be mentally prepared for what it takes.
2. Tailor your gear.
What kind of self-supported tour are you interested in? Two basic categories are credit-card touring (eat at restaurants and sleep in hotels) and fully loaded tours (camping equipment required). Which you choose will shape your gear needs.
Where are you going? Do you have your sights set on a multi-state trail ride along the Great Divide ? Or perhaps you want to trace the length of Vietnam’s National Highway 1. The bicycle you opt for depends on the surface you ride on. Mountain bikes with front or full suspension are preferable for off-road treks, while a touring-specific model is best for pavement. Visit www.adventure-cycling-guide.co.uk for more thoughts on this.
3. Understand your limits.
When mapping your route, set realistic distance and time expectations. Can you honestly pedal 120 miles in one day? Will you really enjoy cycling for a week straight? After all, this is supposed to be fun! Scheduling low-mileage and off-the-bike days will give both body and mind a rest. Plus, you’ll be able to more thoroughly explore your surroundings.
4. Seek out firsthand advice.
How much information specific to cycle touring does your typical destination guide include? A couple paragraphs? You need more. It’s good to know that Cambodia’s Highway 6 turns into a lake in the wet season, or that riding west on Australia’s Great Ocean Road puts you at odds with prevailing headwinds.
No matter where you’re going, chances are someone’s already been and has written about it on www.crazyguyonabike.com Another good resource is www.bikeforums.net, which also has a helpful maintenance forum. Do as much research as you can, and fine-tune your route plan and equipment list accordingly.
5. As in all travel, put safety first!
Staying safe and healthy is the best way to ensure a good tour. Beyond the commonsense measures any traveler should take, it’s recommended that you have a contingency plan in case you need to end the tour early. How will you get you and your bike home safely if this happens? Also, since cycling can place you in situations of increased vulnerability, stay abreast of information concerning crime or unrest in your travel area.
6. Get fit…if you want.
Each cyclist has his or her view on training for a tour. For an idea of how complex it can be, check out this .pdf document. Personally, I’ve found that nothing prepares you for sitting in the saddle all day like…well, sitting in the saddle all day. While you shouldn’t expect a magical transformation from full-time couch potato to super-tourer, the importance of a pre-tour training regimen is often overstated.
7. Test it out.
You have your bike. You have your racks, your panniers, and a respectable stash of travel-friendly tools. But do you know how everything works? How do you change a flat tire? What should you do if a shift cable breaks? And what the heck is a Hypercracker? The more familiar you become with issues like these, the less likely you’ll encounter a serious problem on the road.
Finally, throw everything together and go for a ride, even if only a short one. Learn how your bike handles under load, how best to pack everything, and whether or not it’s all going to fit!
8. Keep a record.
When completed, your tour will represent a point of pride, perhaps even a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment. So before you start, consider documenting your journey. Many travelers keep a daily journal, but why not do more? Internet access is easy to come by in much of the world, and blogging from the road is an excellent way to record your experiences. Your family and friends will enjoy following your progress, and all of us out here in cyberspace will share in your adventure as well!
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Hal Amen is managing editor at Matador. His personal travel blog is WayWorded.
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