Bicycle touring can be as simple as a couple of days on a local trail, or as monumental as an around-the-world adventure. Whichever approach you choose, be assured it will be an exciting and healthy way to explore. Best of all, bicycle touring can be enjoyed by practically anyone, no matter how much or little riding you've done in the past.
To get started you'll need a bike, obviously, and some gear. However, the bike, gear and clothing you need for a bicycle tour depends on the kind of trip you plan.
Your decision may be affected by a number of factors:
There are several types of touring. Each has its negatives and positives.
On "credit card tours", cyclists carry basic cycling gear and clothing, then pay for things like meals, supplies and overnight accommodations as they travel.
On a self-supported tour, you carry all of the equipment and clothing you need with you on your bicycle. You may make occasional stops for food and other basic supplies. In general, though, you're prepared to handle everything from foul weather to sleeping outdoors.
Here, cyclists store most of their equipment and supplies in a support vehicle that travels with them as they ride.
These tours are planned, organized and run by commercial outfitters. Some are full-service affairs where every detail is addressed. Others are basic services that provide route planning and accommodation assistance only.
Small tour groups (two to six people) are easier to plan, organize and manage than large tour groups, especially if you're a novice. They are also safer than touring alone, since other people are around to help with breakdowns, injuries and other tour problems.
Larger touring groups (more than six people) can also be a lot of fun, but they can be a challenge to organize. If you're a beginner and are interested in large group tours, spend some time touring with more experienced cyclists or with organized tours before you plan a large tour on your own.
Short solo tours (afternoon or full-day rides) can be great opportunities for novice touring cyclists to practice basic touring skills and get accustomed to self-sufficiency on the road. Overnight solo tours can be great fun for experienced cyclists, but they're not a good idea for novices. They require special riding, safety and organizational skills that only come with experience.
If you choose to go with a group, keep these points in mind:
The size of your group and the type of tour you're planning is just the beginning of your decision-making process. Keep the following considerations in mind as well, both when buying gear for touring and when packing for specific tours.
The closer your route is to sources of assistance (bike repair shops, general stores, telephones and so on), the easier it is to get help. Plan your first few tours close to home (or other developed areas).
The amount of mileage you plan for each day can affect the kind of tour you have. More mileage means less time to stop and check out the scenery or go sightseeing, especially if you have a pre-designated stopover point to reach that day.
Bike touring can be enjoyed on just about any type of terrain. However, if you're a novice, stick to relatively level terrain at first, then gradually increase the difficulty of your routes.
Traffic is one of the most significant dangers that touring cyclists face. To avoid problems, plan routes on secondary-use roads. On unpaved trails, make sure that bicycles are allowed on the trails that you plan to explore. Check to see if such trails are heavily used by hikers, pack animals or off-road vehicles.
Do your best to avoid narrow tunnels and bridges, busy stretches of road, construction zones and similar danger zones.
Roads best suited for bike touring in terms of scenery and traffic (secondary roads, farm lanes, bike trails and so on) are not always well-maintained. Do everything you can to find out about the quality of questionable roadways before you finalize any route plans.
For a multi-day tour, choose a route that offers a variety of acceptable overnight destinations. Consider your group's expectations, their camping experience, their gear and their budget. Then decide if you should be looking for a campground or a bed and breakfast.
A good way to avoid traffic and accommodation problems during tours is to time your travel plans wisely. Certain times of year (holidays, summer months) are busier than others. Certain times of the day (rush hour) can also be busier and potentially more dangerous.
Find out when a particular area tends to get a lot of rain or when it gets extremely hot or cold. Weather that's perfect for other outdoor pursuits is not always the best weather for bike touring. Hot, sunny conditions, for example, can make long rides uncomfortable. Sunny, cool weather is usually the best for bike touring.
Wind can turn an enjoyable ride into a long slog. Specific regions often have fairly predictable wind patterns. Charts are occasionally available to help you gauge common wind variables.
You're invited to visit the pre-planned tours of REI Adventures, REI's own travel service. REI Adventures offers a value-priced, hassle-free way to cycle through some of the world's great destinations.
By T.D. Wood
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Last updated: 08/14/2012
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