For me, cycle touring is the ultimate bicycle based adventure: the pinnacle of free and easy living, where the simple pleasure of riding a bike is amplified ten-fold.
Fancy touring yourself? Check out our Cycle Touring: Everything You Need to Know for all the info you need to get on the road.
The thrill of the open road: nothing but you, your bike, and the wind in your hair. Well, that and a couple of panniers stuffed with essentials. You’re immersed in the scenery, an extension of the landscape as you feel the earth’s undulations underfoot, or under wheel. The journey is the reason for your trip, rather than a means to an end.
It’s the only way to explore – slow enough to inhale your surroundings with gusto, but sufficiently fast that you can cover large swathes of your chosen country.
Cycle touring offers freedom and flexibility; pull over and stop whenever and wherever you please, linger over campfire cuppas or gourmet lunches. Why not sleep out in the wilderness, hang your hammock in an orchard or check into a boutique hotel?
There’s so much pleasure in giving in to the whims of the weather, your body (and your bike!) and just ‘going’ with it.
However, that’s not to say that a little bit of planning wouldn’t go amiss. To help ensure you draw the maximum pleasure from your time on the road, we’re going to show you how to get started.
[part title="Touring kit"]
Before you get overexcited and start booking time off work, have a think about your kit.
Bicycles for cycle touring need to be strong, sturdy and in good condition. If you're buying a new steed specifically for the trip, visit a reputable bike shop and take your time, don't get bamboozled into buying the first one you try, shop around.
If you're taking your bike along, make sure you take it in for a service if you’re unsure about it. Tell your mechanic that you’re going cycle touring and ask them to replace any worn parts, then stock up on spares and brush up on your own skills – ideally you need to be able to change tubes, fix punctures, adjust your brakes and replace links in your chain.
Carrying your luggage:
Next you’ll need a rack for your bike, to which you’ll attach your panniers; your specially adapted luggage. Most cycle touring bikes will have eyelets to mount a rack; if your bike doesn’t, it is possible to find racks that attach to your axle and brake bosses.
Look for a strong, lightweight rack you can trust; steel ones are often a good bet.
When it comes to choosing luggage for your trip, think seriously about how much stuff you really need to take. If you’re staying in B&Bs you can definitely get away with just two rear panniers, but if you’re taking a tent, sleeping mats and the like, you may have to add some front panniers too.
We recommend waterproof panniers with extra easy accessible pockets for stashing items you need regularly, such as sunglasses and snacks. A handlebar bag can be very useful for your money and camera, particularly if it has a waterproof map compartment so you can check where you’re going, and a small saddlebag for your tools can be handy too.
Getting the right pair of padded lycra shorts should be top of your list when you select your clothes. A sore bottom is the most common cause of discomfort when cycle touring. I add a soft, lightweight pair of regular shorts over the top so that I don’t draw attention to myself when I reach civilization. A good base layer is essential, as is a reliable waterproof jacket and sturdy shoes or SPDs.
Kit sorted; you’ll need to work out where you’re going. There are many travel companies offering supported cycle tours, so if you’re nervous about going it alone, these can be a good bet.
The level of support can vary, as can the daily mileage; some transport your luggage from stop to stop, whereas others set you up with a route and just leave you to it.
If you’re keen to strike out independently, do plenty of research before setting off. There’s a cycle touring adventure for people of all ability, however, it pays to be realistic about your fitness and to allow room for rest days.
If you’re a regular commuter, you shouldn’t struggle with about 50 flattish kilometres a day, but it’s essential to consider the terrain of your chosen country – chuck in a few hills and you’ll find that 50 km passes very slowly.
Consider the climate and look for the best time of year for your trip – avoid the hottest months, as you’ll need to carry huge amounts of water.
[part title="Protection for you and your bike"]
When booking your flight, make sure you tell your airline that you’re travelling with a bike. Often, passengers are limited to two pieces of hold luggage, so stash all your panniers, saddles bags and bits and pieces inside one large poly bag that you can jettison at the other end.
The CTC sells giant polythene bags for your bike as well, so in theory you just deflate your tyres, remove your pedals, turn your bars and pop your bike in the bag. Though many people successfully transport their bikes in these, I don’t trust the airlines not to squash my bike so I prefer to hard case or a box, which I leave in the left luggage at the other end. Yes, it bumps up the cost of my trip, but the thought or arriving to a squashed bike is just too much to bear!
Which brings me neatly to insurance – the minute you book your trip, book your insurance as well. Though you don’t need cycle touring specific insurance, check your policy carefully to ensure that it covers the full value of your bike, repatriation of your bike in the event of an emergency and theft of cycling accessories, such as panniers. If you plan on riding off-road, again, check that you’re covered as many insurers request a premium for this.
What are you waiting for, the world is your oyster!
Why not spend the dull, dark months of winter planning your first cycle touring adventure?
Whether it’s a weekend in Norfolk or a month in India, pootling through Corsica or tackling the Alps, there’s a cycle touring trip for everyone, you’re only limited by your imagination… Well, that and how much time you can get off work!
Get planning now! Read our Cycle Touring: Hints, Tips and Everything You Need to Know and head off on an adventure.
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